As a lifelong practitioner of judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, not to mention a founding member of MMA’s famed American Top Team academy, noted MMA manager Alex Davis has seen the sport grow from the beaches and jungles of his native Brazil to a global phenomenon.
And while Davis believes there are still plenty of opportunities for growth in the sport, he’s also bothered by a growing enemy within the sport: ego.
“Time and time again, I find myself staring ego in the face,” Davis recently told MMAjunkie.com. “A lot of money has been spent, events have been created, fights have been accepted, enemies have been made and big decisions taken – all based on ego.”
“Ego is a part of us, it is a definition, it is a part of our mind that we use to identify our self. It is a subjective factor that drives many of us. And it is also a major factor in our sport. Many decisions are based on ego, strange as it may seem.”
In some ways, ego is an integral part of a fighter’s psyche. After all, in order to lock yourself in the cage with another man intent on separating you from consciousness, a certain confidence is required. But even if MMA’s fighters are forced to toe the line of cockiness, Davis believes the athlete’s support team should be available to make more rational evaluations. However, Davis said he doesn’t believe this is always the case in today’s MMA landscape.
“I don’t know why ego so permeates MMA,” Davis said. “Maybe it’s the feeling that we get when we watch a fight that brings it out? We see a great fighter obtain a knockout or a submission, and we watch as he celebrates. At that moment, he is the man – the hero, the winner! We all want to be like him; we want that aura. We want to be looked at in the same way we are looking at him. We want to be near him, to participate in the glory; we want a piece of this. It’s intoxicating. It touches us right in our ego, doesn’t it?
“But, it’s not reality. Whatever motivated this same guy to end up in that ring, a whole lot of hard work also went into it – a lot of sweat and a lot of pain. And here is where ego gets in the way. Your normal person, who for the most part has never really taken any activity as far as where these guys have taken what they do in order to do it, don’t get it. They do not understand this reality. All they know, and its unconscious, is that they want a part of that glory. They want to be like that, and a lot of people act on that feeling. They act motivated by ego, and they will try to buy that feeling.
“Ego is a sorry decision-maker. It’s a sorry trainer and sparring partner. It’s a lousy manager. Ego turns champions into losers. It makes them forget what got them there in the first place. Some guys seem to be inoculated against it. Other guys are completely moved by it, and a whole bunch of other wackos are intoxicated by it.”
It’s Davis’ perceived influx of those “wackos” into the sport that have him most concerned. It’s new breed of manager, a new wave of trainers – perhaps even a few prospective professional fighters – who have allowed ego to overtake the true spirit of martial arts.
“Decisions based on ego will always be the wrong ones,” Davis said. “It’s not a logical factor. It’s a feeling, although a real one, and decisions based on it will deviate from the objective, which in our case is to win fights.
“Martial arts teach us humility, teaches us about ourselves. When we step on a mat to compete or into a ring to fight, at that moment we are all by ourselves. No friend or trainer can share that moment. It’s us and that other guy giving us that dirty look from the other side as he goes through and deals with the same moment.”
It’s an ages-old creed for those who train in traditional martial arts. Honor and respect over ego and personal gain. But as MMA continues its rapid global expansion, Davis believes some late arrivals to the scene are searching for financial gains and ego boosts instead of remaining true to the roots of the sport.
“The potential damage ego can cause is something a lot of people getting involved in this sport need to learn,” Davis said. “It’s pathetic to run into these people that just jumped on the bus but seem to think that they can just come up and buy a window seat in the front. Reality is not like that and careers are being ruined by this attitude. Fighters are being pried away from places like Greg Jackson’s or American Top Team and fed an illusion of what some newcomer can do for them – what a Greg, who has spent a lifetime time doing this, supposedly can’t. And what is all of this based on? Ego!
“I guess it also has to do with our culture – what we see on TV, how heroes are created and fed to us. I have been many, many times to Japan for fights, and one thing that has always struck me is the completely different way in which the Japanese fans see fights and fighters. In Japan, a loser can be as much a hero as the winner. He is appreciated by how hard and valiantly he fought. He is worshiped for never giving up, even though in the end, he lost.
“There is a deeper meaning to martial arts and MMA. It’s what makes this sport noble rather then a bloodsport. Ego has no part of it. Ego is shallow and futile in comparison. The fighter learns that lesson, and that’s why for the most part, fighters can be some of the nicest people out there. But in all aspects of MMA, not just fighting, we must learn to separate ourselves from our ego.
“What makes fighters win fights? Hard training with the right people and the right attitudes at the right times. It’s determination. It’s the will to overcome, to stick with it, to surpass our own selves, to become better and better. Maybe some people are motivated to do this out of their own ego. I guess what makes each person tick is different. But for sure, the moment ego takes over as the main decision-maker, things will go downhill.”