Have you ever been cornered and asked, “So, what do you do?” Or maybe, “What’s your major?” Sometimes, it can be tough be explain. Everyone thinks they know what a pro athlete does. But do we really know? In The Crossover, Blake Griffin has been cross-training with top athletes from various sports, the latest being MMA fighter Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. This is What You Don’t Know About: MMA.
Here’s what most people don’t understand about MMA: It may not be a “real job,” but if you want to be successful, you have to treat it like one.
Like any job, you have to develop a set of skills. When MMA first started, people were like, “Aw, that’s just human cockfighting or whatever.” But I’m always stressing how we’re just like every other professional athlete. People don’t know how much work goes into this — how many hours I needed to become great at Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, judo, boxing, kickboxing. There are many different levels and layers I‘ve had to master. There are days when you don’t want to train — when you feel tired, sore. But when I wake up and don’t want to go to the gym, I’m like, “What do you mean you don’t want to go to the gym? You get to go to the gym, instead of putting on a tie and working like a regular person!”
This is what I love. There’s nothing I’d rather do.
So yeah, fighting is a bloody sport. But people are just starting to get that we’re not just some drunken backyard brawlers throwing down. We’re real athletes.
When I was younger, I would look for trouble. That’s what me and my friends would do. Friday and Saturday nights, I’m fighting. It didn’t take much to start a fight, either. You’re walking to your car and I yell at you like, “What??!!” Bam! All of a sudden, there it is. I always gravitated towards that. It was either get women or go throw down. That was my good time. I was fucking nuts.
I was also pretty aimless, and I needed to find something I was good at. For a while, I was bull-riding … which also led to lots of fights. (Those crazy-ass cowboys!) Then my friend Mike told me to come with him to this kickboxing dojo. I was like, “Kickboxing? What the hell is that?” But I went, and I loved it. Pretty soon, I was entering tournaments every chance I could. There’d be last-minute calls for fights and I would take them wherever they were, just to see the world. I fought in Japan. Africa. I went 28-0 with 18 first-round knockouts, so I guess I was pretty good.
But I wasn’t making much money — usually $300-500 a fight, $1500 at the most. I would spend more money flying a buddy out with me than I’d actually make.
Then in 2006, this organization called Ring of Fire in Denver offered me $5000 to take an MMA fight. I was like, “Hell, yeah!” I had no idea what I was doing, but still won in the first round. Thirteen days later, I did another Ring of Fire event. Second-round win. I was undefeated after six or seven fights, and I was also at that age where I had to figure out what I was gonna do when I grow up. I told my Grandpa I would give it a year to make this work. It wasn’t but a couple weeks later that I stumbled into a gym where they were holding auditions for the show Tapout. I hadn’t been invited. I just showed up to train and had no idea this was happening. But I got picked for an episode, and through Tapout, I met Reed Harris, who started World Extreme Cagefighting. I signed with them, and after that, my career took off really fast.
Had it not, I would have been forced to get a “real job.”
Most people probably assume every fight is personal for me. They’re not. I used to get all pissed off, but when I control my being, I fight so much smarter. When you fight out of anger, you make stupid mistakes. All those martial arts movies have a great teacher who says, “Don’t fight out of anger.” That is real life, man. Make the mistake of ignoring that, you’ll get your ass whipped.
I learned the hard way against Nate Diaz in 2011. I fought him out of anger. He was pissing me off. He always had a comment. I was just trying too hard in that fight, and he beat me on points. So I don’t let the bullshit affect me anymore. Now I can get in the ring, fight, then go out to dinner with my opponent afterward. It’s not personal.
Again, this is my job.
People probably also assume MMA fighters become impervious to pain. In reality, you never get used to the pain. Don’t get me wrong, you gotta be a tough son of a bitch to do this. But I feel pain every single time. Every time I kick, it hurts. You punch me and rock me, I’m gonna feel it. Fighting that purple fuzz is hard, man.
Thankfully for me, that’s also when the craziness goes off in my brain. You can beat somebody up all day, no problem. But getting hit? That’s when the “fight or flight” comes in, and that’s when you gotta be like, Yeah, motherfucker! There have been times where literally crazy thoughts go through my mind. People would probably lock me up if they heard them. I’m getting rocked, and instead of blocking, I’m just giving it back. If you’re arm-barring me, the loco in my brain is gonna tell me to keep throttling you. It’s insane.
But again, this still hurts. After the fight, all I want to do is get something to eat, then go to my RV and chill and recover, because this is murder on your body. My ankles and knees are usually pretty sore for 3-4 days. I got punched in the throat one time and it took like two weeks before I was right again. I always tell everyone there’s not much that five or six shots of Jack Daniels can’t help, but post-fight pain really puts that liquor to the test.
But here’s the biggest secret about MMA fighters: We’re just a reflection and extension of every regular person’s natural psyche.
Fighting is pre-biblical, man. It’s so raw and ingrained into everybody. If it wasn’t for what we’ve been taught is right and wrong, what we’ve been taught to look down on, I still think people would solve most things through fighting. I think that fight lives in everybody to some degree, and MMA has sanctioned what everybody feels deep down inside — where you’re gonna fight or flight, where you choose which side of the coin you’re gonna take: live or die.
At the end of the day, people love that violence. Dana White says it best. You could have four corners. Hockey game in one. Basketball game in another. Baseball in another. And a fight breaks out in the fourth, everyone is gonna turn to watch the fight.
It’s what we love, whether we admit it or not.
But here’s where I’m a little different than everybody else. I think my breed of fighter is dying off. I’m a true fighter. You remember when Pogs came out, those little cardboard things? Everyone had to have a fucking Pog. Well, MMA is now the new fad like that. I see guys in the gyms now, a lot of athletes trying to become fighters. What I mean by that is they’re great in the wrestling and the Jiu Jitsu, but they fold when the hits start coming. And that’s where I thrive the most. I can’t speak for every fighter, but for me, the option of quitting …. Never. No fucking way. Never. If we got an alley fight, and there’s seven of you and one of me, you’ll still have to literally kill me to stop me.
Everyone likes to see themselves as these raw alpha males. That’s why people like to watch MMA, why they live vicariously through MMA fighters and why some even give it a try. But a lot of guys want to do wolf shit until it’s time to do wolf shit. Then they hesitate, you know what I mean?
It’s weird. I’m really good at beating someone up. Hell, it’s the only thing I was ever good at. I just love fighting. I crave it.
A fight in the Octagon is just something I really want. Anyone. Any place. Any time.
Want to watch Blake and Cowboy in action? Click here to watch the video on redbull.com. Cowboy Cerrone’s next fight is Saturday, Dec. 19th against Rafael dos Anjos in Orlando, Florida.