Against the Grain: How the UFC Used a Bad Image to Achieve Triumph

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So long as men praise you, you can only be sure that you are not yet on your own true path but on someone else’s.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

I don’t have to make an introduction about the UFC. Most people nowadays know about that brand. Today, the UFC would be worth around 3.5 billion $ (or more) making it among the most lucrative sport franchise in the world. They host fights all around the world including Japan, China, Australia, Brazil and United Kingdom. They have major TV deals around the world, most importantly a deal with Fox in the United States. UFC is now mainstream. Whatever we can say about the actual star power problem and the performance drug crisis, UFC is getting bigger year after year. They own the majority of the “mix martial art” market around the world.

It all began with Ultimate Fighting Championship 1 in 1993. It was the idea of Rorion Gracie (a jiu jitsu expert from Brazil) and Arthur Davie. It was launched with the backing of SEG. They thought about making a tournament where experts from different martial arts disciplines would face each other. A discipline would be crown the best at the end of the event. The tournament featured experts in kickboxing, karate, wrestling, boxing, sumo and jiu-jitsu. The first event was a success. People were asking for a second tournament. It was a surprise. It was supposed to be a one shot thing. They didn’t even know they were about to create a sport.

It was different from today. There were no weight classes (not before UFC 12). Fighters could wear clothing traditional to their discipline. No time limit. No judges. No gloves. Almost no rules. The referee was only present to stop the fight after a knockout or a submission. The UFC had to choose states that didn’t have athletic commissions to avoid regulation. Their was an aura of clandestinity to those fights. SEG used that to its advantage. They promoted the fight as brutal and “no holds barred”. Using the shocking aspect of violence helped being talked about. Talk good, talk bad, but talk about it. You can guess what happened next.

Critics started to emerge from everywhere to attack the UFC. One of them was United States Senator John McCain. He claimed that the UFC was a kind of “human cockfighting”. He asked states governors and cities to forbid UFC to held fights. It worked and UFC started to have a lot of opposition. It was banned in 36 states. It was harder and harder to organize events. Cable companies started to refuse the broadcasting of the pay-per-views.  At that point, UFC needed to get into an adaptation mode. They milk the cow as much as they could. They surf on the popularity of the brutality aspect. But changes were necessary to reach a broader audience. In 2001, UFC was bought by a group led by Frank and Lorenzo Ferttita (which will become Zuffa). Lorenzo Ferttita said later that he knew UFC wasn’t worth that much in itself, but he was after the image.

“What you don’t understand is I’m getting the most valuable thing that I could possibly have, which is those three letters: UFC. That is what’s going to make this thing work. Everybody knows that brand, whether they like it or they don’t like it, they react to it.” – Lorenzo Ferttita

From that point, the sport evolved to what it is today. A deal was done with the Nevada Athletic Commission, which gives the UFC the chance to held fight in Las Vegas. It crossed the line to become mainstream. Today, it’s still a brutal sport, but the changes of rules make it much more legitimate. As you can see, UFC own a big part of its success because they didn’t follow the trends. They didn’t care that people would talk bad about it. You can see examples of brands that go against the grain today, one of them being Tesla. We can see that Elon Musk is trying to make shift in the automobile industry. Uber is another brand that is making a lot of noise recently. They want to change the current model of personal transportation service. It’s a total war with the cab business. Like the UFC, they both want to bring something new to the table. By wanting to bring changes, they fuel the army of dissidents. On the other side, the more they talk about them, the bigger the become. Being the bad guy isn’t always a bad thing in itself.

Learning From Losers: Why They Matter As Much as Winners

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I went to a seminar a while ago on the invitation of a friend. A guy was speaking about winning in life (and other bullshit self-help stuff). He said that he never lost at anything, that he was first everywhere he went. Okay good, a seminar by a narcissist, things could be worse. At one point that charlatan said that we should never read about losers, that they don’t matter. That was too much, I felt anger rising in me. I had to calm down. I completely disagree and here is why.

It’s like saying that we shouldn’t learn about Napoleon I because he lost in a crushing defeat at Waterloo. Same goes for the Tsar Nicolas II in Russia that was the victim of the October Revolution. Anyone remember Spartacus? The gladiator started a civil war before being defeated by Crassus and his Roman legion.

What about people who learn from defeat. I’ve talked about GSP bouncing from his worst defeat into victory. We can think of Donald Trump who has filed for corporate bankruptcy four times and went back on his feet each time. I could go on and give you 100 more examples.

I think we should never look down at people who have tried, who have risk it all. We should avoid the tendency to see things in black or white. Reality is more complex than that. Don’t look down at the defeated. They could give your most valuable life teaching.

Unbreakable

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There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time. – Malcolm X

We often look at the best like they never have any struggles. We imagine that they have a kind of magic aura, that nothing can defeat them. The bests aren’t gods, they are humans just like us. They have known countless struggles in their journey, They have tasted defeat. George ”Rush” St-Pierre, the ex UFC welterweight (170 pounds) champion, isn’t an exception. GPS’s career had his ups and downs. Let’s rewind to November 2006. At that time, St-Pierre had the chance to face Matt Hughes for the championship belt. St-Pierre gave a brilliant performance and won a remarkable victory over Matt Hughes by way of knockout.

GSP was now at the top of the world. He was the undisputed champion and the best welterweight fighter on the planet. The wind was in his favor. His future was really promising at 25 years old. He was young, popular and good-looking. He had truly everything. It was time for celebrations and it’s exactly what George did during the months following his conquest. GSP was living the lifestyle of the rich and famous. For his first title defense, he would have to face Matt Serra. His adversary was a total underdog. He didn’t even had an impressive record. It was considered a piece of cake by George. The fight wasn’t hyped, people thought GSP would easily beat Serra. Matt Serra even said in an interview that he felt out of place being in the same cage as GSP.

That night of April 7th 2007 in Houston will forever be in GSP’s head. Against all expectations, Matt ”The Terror” Serra gave St-Pierre the beating of his life. It is seen by far as the biggest upset of the UFC history.  What were the odds for that result? What went wrong? GSP didn’t make any excuses for his bad performance. Many years after the event, it was said that GSP wasn’t prepared for the fight mentally. He had many distractions leading up to the fight, one of them being his father death. The other being that he disregarded his opponent. Serra took everything from GSP that night. He let a bittersweet taste in St-Pierre’s mouth that would last for a year.

It could have been a downfall from their. It isn’t unusual to see good fighters crumble after a reversal of faith like Serra vs St-Pierre (see football player Tim Tebow).  During the succeeding months, GSP had to learn what it meant to truly be unbreakable. He had to face himself in the mirror. The only thing he was thinking about was vengeance against Matt Serra. He was completely numbed by that desire. He wasn’t thinking about his actual next opponent: Josh Koscheck. The truth? He wasn’t ready. He realized his mistake after meeting with a sport psychologist. He talked about that critical moment in his book  Way of the Fight. The psychologist told him that he was carrying a brick. That brick was Matt Serra. As long as he would carry that brick he wouldn’t be able to be himself again. He told GSP to write the name of Matt Serra on brick and carry it. When I would be ready to embrace his future, he would have to throw the brick in the river. And that’s exactly what George did.

GSP choose another path. He understood that he was defeated, but he wasn’t destroyed. He knew that he hasn’t said his last word. He made the decision that he would learn as much as possible from that defeat. Never again that situation would happen. He would be back and nothing would stop him. After that understanding, GSP consecutively defeated Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes in the following months. He was once again on the path of glory. The 19th April 2008, GSP was back in Montreal. It was time for GSP vs Serra II. Face to face with his nemesis. He finally got the chance to redeem himself from that painful night. St-Pierre came to fight with a killer instinct. He took back his lost prize in a devastating fashion. After that fight, GSP went undefeated for 5 years until his retirement from competition in 2013. He was unbreakable until the end.

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

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“Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.” – Michel de Montaigne

Human being tend to overestimate his own knowledge. He will often make small mistakes because of that. Nothing to worry. From time to time a huge and fatal mistake can happen. We see a lot of examples in our daily lives of people doing errors because of pure ignorance. Right off the bat, I can think about one of my brother’s co-worker. My brother was starting weightlifting few months ago. He did a great job and increased his squat to 200 pounds ass to grass after few months of work. The co-worker started to claim that he could do the same thing without any training. This guy doesn’t even do sports. He went to Crossfit once and that’s about it. He doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about, yet he did ONE single Crossfit training. That’s a lot of knowledge. I can already see him attempting that squat and hurting himself badly.

You want another example? A friend of a friend was good boxer. I cannot deny it, he had a lot of skills. Fast, good punch and strong. He decided to make the transition to MMA. His first fight was knockout in 30 seconds. He went into his second fight thinking that he would totally destroy his opponent. For the sake of the show, he went for a fast takedown. Unfortunately for him, his opponent was great in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. I think you can guess what happened next. That was the end of his MMA career. Was it a problem of little information about is adversary? Maybe. Was it a problem of little knowledge of Mix Martial Art? Probably. Any proper MMA fighter will avoid the ground against someone with good skills in BJJ. He should have kept the fight on his feet where he had the most skills. He paid the price for his little knowledge.

Let’s head to personal finance. I see many people who start investment like they are seasoned Wall Street traders. You can see they know nothing we they talk about “playing”. That’s why they will lose thousands of dollars doing bad moves. You need proper skills and knowledge in the field. Thinking that you will make thousands of dollars when you start trading, is like thinking you will hit a home run the first time you play a baseball game. It’s possible, but in most case you’ll be strike out. I’ve stumbled on a surprising news a week ago. You know Jack Johnson? He’s a hockey player for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The guy earned 17 million dollars in is his career. Well…he filled for bankrupt last month. Bad investments and decisions lead to his downfall That is really crazy.

History is full of mistakes done by ignorance and we repeat the pattern. It’s like we never learn. In Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb write about medical harm in history. A lot of time, more harm was done by doing something than doing nothing. We see mistakes of not accepting new discovery because we think we already know everything. The first patient treated effectively with penicillin was during the 1880s, the second one during 1940s. It’s not different today. It’s most likely probable that some people are currently treated the wrong way.

Two wars you can remember were started with little knowledge. In Vietnam, United States had no clue what would happen there. They didn’t know that the communists would resist that much. Added to that, they didn’t have a good knowledge of the field, clearly not as much as the communists. More than 58 000 americans died over their. In Irak it was a bit different. United States won fast in 2003. But, they didn’t know that an asymmetric war would last for years. Knowing that before hand, maybe they could have prepare for it or simply avoid that war altogether.

The less we know something, the more we think we know it. The more we know something, the less we think we know it. Isn’t that a paradox?

Listening to: Lana Del Rey – Born to Die