Makwan Amirkhani – Unstoppable | Episode 2/3 (Documentary)
I have been following boxing since I was a little kid. As a kid I used to go to this wrestling and boxing gym at Hakaniemen Tarmo – that’s where I got my interest in these sports. Back then there wasn’t much more – than wrestling and boxing. No kickboxing, no thaiboxing, not to mention mixed martial arts. Roughly 55 years ago I mean. My first contact with mixed martial arts was over 20 years ago as a doctor. I was a doctor at the first professional MMA event in Finland that was held in Turku. The early days of MMA were quite brutal and amateurish in Finland and probably elsewhere too. MMA was an unusual sport in that – the professional scene developed much quicker than the amateur scene. It went right from being more of a spectacle with no weight classes and very few rules – all the way to today, where we have a world-wide amateur scene, a very structured amateur scene. And it’s great to see that the amateurs have genuine career paths now. I didn’t really like the idea that people had no real amateur careers. Maybe they wrestled, or did at boxing or did at jujitsu – and then after one or two amateur fights they’d be professional. Which is crazy compared to boxing, where boxers can have a hundred amateur fights. If it wasn’t for mixed martial arts, or any martial arts, I wouldn’t be who I am today. It teaches you so much in life – discipline, patience, when to react, when not to react, to see things. I wouldn’t be who I am today, and Makwan wouldn’t be who he is today if it wasn’t for martial arts. There are certainly risks involved in mixed martial arts. It is a contact sport. But it’s not as dangerous as most people think. For example, horse racing is far more dangerous, statistically speaking. Mixed martial arts is a tough sport. Essentially anything can happen. They experience all kinds of accidents that very often lead to surgeries. Shoulder, knee and ankle surgeries are very common. MMA has developed a lot in the last 15 years. Particularly when it comes to contestant’s safety. That’s what we also work on, to make the sport as safe as possible. The referees are very precise these days. They know when to break off the fight – it wasn’t always like that. In the early days, the referees were not trained well enough for them to realize – if someone’s been choked unconscious. If you still continue choking after that, then it really becomes a life-threatening situation. When I was younger, if I heard my brother was in a fight, I was scared for him. But if I’m in that situation myself, then there’s no fear. Fighting out on the street growing up is quite different than fighting in a big arena – where we have rules, we have a referee, everything is supposed to go well. If something happens, there’s a doctor. All the insurances are taken care of. The body parts that could be severely damaged – are forbidden contact areas. And I should be afraid? No. What should I be afraid of? My opponent? Someone who is unarmed, no weapons at all. Worst case scenario is, I get knocked out or choked – I wake up, and it’s over. And people say I’m supposed to be afraid of this? I should be afraid of something I have worked for – my entire life. Since I was 5 years old and weighed 40 pounds, I’ve trained and done sports. Broken bones, blood. I have like 17 professional fights and maybe 800 to 900 wrestling matches under my belt. Brazilian jujitsu, grappling, kickboxing, boxing – freestyle wrestling, Greco-Roman, I’ve done it all. I go out for a run every morning. And now that I’ve made it to this point, I’m supposed to be afraid? It’s crazy to think like that. Whenever I fight, I’m in control. So when I watch Makwan fight, I get nervous. I’m not in control, I don’t know what’s going to happen. So much is on the line. There’s excitement, fear, nervousness. As much as six emotions crammed into one, you’re like on a roller coaster. It’s crazy. You want the best outcome for your friend, but you’re picturing all the bad outcomes. You know what’s on the line, how much he’s trained and what it means to him. It’s a crazy sport. MMA is of course different if you compare it to team sports – in that you are completely on your own. You cannot have a bad shift. In ice hockey you can have a bad period, a streak of 10 bad games – and still be successful. There’s always a second chance. Quite a few second chances actually. In MMA you don’t. You are alone in the cage and alone you must survive. No one’s coming to help. The thing about martial arts is – you cannot blame it on the team. When you lose, it’s as bitter as it gets – and the person responsible is staring right back at you in the mirror. Understanding the importance of losses is something we try to get athletes used to early on. We want to start trying to associate, sounds odd, but positive feelings towards failing. Because the first thing you realize, especially if you do something like Brazilian jujitsu is – you’re getting submitted, or losing every day on the mat, multiple times. And you – I guess you can react two ways to that. One, it can make you mad and you can quit. That’s what I would say failing down towards quitting. Or, the other side is that you can start losing or failing up towards success. Everybody that got a black belt had to go through this test of fire, and be submitted a whole bunch of times. I think whatever skill you’re trying to get good at, you’re going to be terrible at the start. This is one of those sports where accidents can happen. One shot gets through and hits the right spot. Then it’s lights out. How do you take it from there? To each his own I guess. In a situation like that, it would probably mean a couple weeks of rest – and then just back to work and moving on. Professionals are not going to stay and wallow in that kind of negativity. It is tough if it happens to be a fight you really need to win. If it affects your career. If you lose, your career is basically over. Your future is on the line. That’s why it’s important to have people supporting you – people who value you not just for the fighter you are, but for the person you are. Quite often after disappointments – a lot of athletes think about their careers and whether it makes any sense. Particularly when you’re a professional athlete, training 4 to 5 hours a day – waking up every morning under pressure of not knowing if you’ll be successful. It’s a tough way of life. Some deal with it just fine, and fast. For some, it’s more difficult. It helps to have a support network: trainers, friends, girlfriends and boyfriends. That’s a mainstay for many athletes when they face defeat and adversity. When you learn to fail on the mat, get submitted, or if you’re wrestling you get thrown – or if you’re training boxing, there’s shots landing you and you fail on your shots – when you’re learning that daily – then in ten years time, if you’re fighting in UFC and you have a loss, it’s not devastating. We wouldn’t want that to be the first time you experience a setback, you’d have no idea how to deal with it. That would possibly lead to a mental breakdown. But when you’ve had small bites, you’ve been micro-conditioned over a long period of time – then, the sun still rises the next day. There are different kinds of people. The last time he lost – I cried, our mother cried, my wife cried. Many of his fans cried over there. And – at the same time I understand everybody’s there to win. No one goes there to lose. It’s a game where sometimes things are looking up, sometimes you’re facing adversity. The important thing is to come back strong. We don’t have any – I try to avoid it as a rule having very strong rituals in the lead of a fight. Because what if you miss one of them? What if you forget your lucky pair of socks that day? I don’t want to patch too much emphasis on rituals. On fight night, you need your shorts, your protection, your mouthpiece, and you walk. If the training was done well in the months and years leading up to that, we’re going to have a good night. Having your grannie’s lucky cat’s bell around your neck is not changing that. As they’re walking towards the ring, a lot of fighters are nervous or even shaking. But usually, it helps as the fight begins. I think the best cure for that is being in good shape and having trained well. Then it’s a lot safer to step into that ring. No words can express the pressure at that moment. And no words can express what it feels like to win. It’s the kind of euphoria I think is impossible to get any other way. When the match ends, I’m thinking, “Man, I wish we had a couple more rounds left”. You know, “Let’s go for a couple more. Then I would have choked you again”. After a match you always realize the truth, without even thinking. That it was all kind of mind games. Now that it’s over, there’s no reason to be an asshole. I will go to shake hands and show my respect. It’s fun to notice that people in combat sports, MMA fighters, boxers and others – they’re extremely nice people. You don’t see any big talkers, like you do in other sports. They don’t exist in combat sports. If you mention this to people in combat sports, they’ll just laugh and say – “When you have your ass handed to you every single day, it tends to make a man humble”.