Big Losses – What They Mean, What To Do

In the world of sports, there are always wins and losses. I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that losses are ultimately good for you, because competing is...

In the world of sports, there are always wins and losses. I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that losses are ultimately good for you, because competing is a chance for feedback and only ever being told, “that’s good enough,” which is what a win tells you, doesn’t make very fertile ground. You need the disappointment of loss to push you and you need the feedback of a loss to focus your progress. Losing always feels shitty, but it’s a necessary part of the whole process.

But then there is such a thing as a big loss. How you recover from those losses determines how big they really are, in terms of defeat, but you can miss out on opportunities with a loss. You can watch possibility slip through your fingers and disappear and it’s gone. It’s not so much the platitude of “you either win or you learn,” but more in lines of you either got on the train or you didn’t. If you missed the train, you will have a different set of opportunities – your life is not over. But standing on that platform and figuring out what to do now and being on a train that is launching through space and time on a mission are two very different realities. You just have to work from where you are.

I’ve just suffered one such loss, a big loss. On the Queen’s Birthday this year I was given the opportunity to face the best female fighter in the world at my weight, Loma Lookboonmee. I’ve fought her 3 times before and I’ve never won. She’s just incredibly hard to fight and because she’s got a pretty simple approach, she seems possible to solve. She’s not unbeatable. Because this was such a big opportunity – for a number of reasons, not just being that it’s Loma but also on a big production through connections which could lead to other things, blah blah – I ended up having to say no to a number of other opportunities in order to make sure this came through. I hate saying no to fights, but it was necessary for this one. So, I missed out on probably 2-3 fights in order to have this one. It was an investment. And I trained for it in a way I’ve never trained for anything before, adding privates with Rambaa Somdet M16 in the mornings after my regular sessions and just getting my ass handed to me, on a daily basis. I was trying to condition myself to keep standing when the earth below me was unstable, because that’s what it is to fight Loma. Emotionally, it was the hardest 10 days of my 4 years here in Thailand.

I didn’t have a corner for this fight, so I kind of casually asked my hero, Karuhat Sor. Supawan, if he had any friends already in Bangkok who would be willing to work my corner. My jaw dropped when he wrote back that he’d do it. No pressure, right? Then, backstage with Karuhat taking care of me while I geeked out over loving him so much (watching his fights on Youtube on my phone with him 2 feet away from me to psych myself up), another hero of mine strolls in and B-lines over to me: Dieselnoi, the King of Knees. He comes straight over to me and starts giving me detailed instructions of what he wants me to do in the fight and Karuhat has to kind of tell him to chill out. Un-fucking-believable. Who has this as part of their life?!

I live streamed the whole pre-fight with two legends you can see it here.

Honestly, I felt great going into this fight. I’d worked hard, I’d made strides in my training and I’d mentally prepared for what I thought I needed to face Loma. Maybe I built it up too much with that training; maybe I did the wrong work mentally. Whatever it was, I wasn’t able to pull the trigger in the actual fight and everything I’d worked on, everything I’d worked for, wasn’t accessible to me in the fight. Arguably, I did worse than if I’d not trained anything specific at all because I ended up doing the opposite of what I knew I needed to do, especially in the clinch. That’s mental, not physical. In the second round of what turned out to be only a 3 round fight, I was spun to the ground by one of Loma’s incredible throws and landed on my neck/head in such a way that I became concussed. I got up and kept going, but I was rung. I think the referee knew and if you slow down to look you can see him cradling my head as he helps me up from that throw. My lizard brain took over and I kept fighting – I’m told I actually fought better, maybe because my mind before the fall was all wrong – but I can’t remember anything more than snippets after that. I fought in absolutely no way like I meant to, like I was supposed to, or like I needed to in order to face Loma, from even the very first bell. I failed in many, many ways. Not only did I have two absolute legends and men I look up to, immensely, in my corner and cheering me on, but I don’t remember it. I have snippets, but that’s it. I have photos of me looking absolutely gone after the fight while Dieselnoi talks to me – there is absolutely no recognition in my eyes – so I know he talked to me, but I have zero memory of it. Apparently I asked if I’d been knocked out about 30 times, every 20-30 seconds, for about 20 minutes. I was given the answer over and over again, but nothing stuck. I’d just ask again, the only thing I could grasp was that something was wrong with me and I must have been KO’d. Weirdly, I can remember the decision being read and trying to clap with one hand while the other wrist was being grasped by the referee, but that wasn’t in my mind at the time I guess.

Loads of people came to support me in this fight and were watching from the audience (shout out to Emma, Tu, Sean, Kate, Olivia and Bella and others) as I flopped. People watched the streaming show online, also seeing me do absolutely nothing I’d prepared for. It was a big opportunity and I had support from people who believe in me, from people who know me, and from absolute legends, so how could any of that be a loss? In a way, it’s not. It’s an incredible experience and I’m grateful for it – for all of it. But at the same time, the difference between doing well in that fight and flopping in that fight is huge. Due to the concussion I had to cancel two fights I had scheduled, two days later, up in Chiang Mai, one against a world champion. So, lose one fight and lose the opportunity for two more at the same time. Plus however long it takes me to recover from the concussion, however many fights I might miss there. Then, having to cancel those fights means a tarnish on the relationship I’m fostering with the Chiang Mai connection – will I be able to rebook? Having fought the worst yet out of the 4 times we’ve fought, will I get to fight Loma again at all? I sacrificed maybe 5 or 6 valuable fights altogether, just for this one chance.

When you fight a lot, when you have 150 fights, no one win or one loss means a whole lot. When you’re just getting experience, even when you only have a few fights, no single loss means a great deal because you’re just learning. You win, you lose. I’ve gotten messages from folks over the years who are devastated by a loss, maybe because it’s their first loss or because they have very few fights all together and so they think that two losses in a row means they’re failures. I frequently point out to these people that you have to look at a larger picture. Look at a given night of fights, where there are maybe 10 bouts on a card: in almost all scenarios, 50% of the people who participated are walking out of the venue having lost. Are they all failures? Are you even thinking about those people with pity or a headshake or anything at all? It doesn’t matter, it’s not a judgement on your worth or your value or even your ability. We all get lost in ourselves and the mire of how shitty it feels to lose and make too big of a deal over it. On any given night, in any given game, 50% of the participants will lose. It’s okay. And that’s what I know for myself after this loss. It’s okay. And I’ve had big losses in the past. My crushing loss to Lommanee for Yokkao two and half years ago shook everything. My loss to Cherry just before I faced Saya Ito on the Queen’s Birthday was terrible at the time. Both have shaped me for the positive.

There comes a time in your path when getting on the train means one set of opportunities – maybe big ones, maybe really important ones. For me, that moment is now. My husband lost one of his biggest clients and we’ve taken a significant financial hit as a result. It puts the timeline of being in Thailand long enough to meet my goal of 200 fights in jeopardy. I may have damaged my connection with Chiang Mai, which has been a life-preserver at a time when it is becoming more difficult for me to find opponents in order to keep up my fight rate. It doesn’t matter so much that I lost, the fact of not winning isn’t the point. It’s that I failed. It’s that I didn’t meet the opportunity with the weight it deserved; I didn’t fight the fight I needed to. It’s crushing. The loss is not having lost the fight – losing to Loma is no shame, she’s the best – it’s the loss of everything that was attached to it. It’s having missed. Or maybe having failed to really fire when the opportunity was there.

And so here I am, having to take 5 days of total rest in order to get a handle on my concussion and to know what to look for when I get back to training. I need to monitor my symptoms so that I have a baseline to compare whether I’m getting better or worse. So I just get to sit with myself. Normally, I deal with the disappointment of a loss by getting right back to work, to correct the mistakes. But I can’t get back to work. I can’t reload the gun. I’m sitting on the platform while the puff of smoke from the train’s engine disappears on the horizon and I’ve got to figure out how to proceed. First step: don’t sit here feeling sorry for myself. Second step: figure out if I still want to go where that train was headed. If yes, follow the tracks or start building a train. Big loss, big work.

You can read my husband’s take on the events of that night here.

 

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Posted In
Muay Thai

A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see patreon.com/sylviemuay

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