The path that leads to the unknown is perfectly laid out in front of you.
Beads of sweat slowly trickle down your forehead as you step through the curtains. In an instant, chaos erupts all around you, but everything is suppressed in an eerie internal silence.
You look out into a sea of unfamiliar faces. Despite being in the presence of thousands, you're all alone.
There is no turning back. Every step feels like 100 pounds as you trudge toward the brightly lit, eight-sided structure. Sound vibrations reverberate throughout the arena, but the only thing your ears resonate with is the sound of your heart beating rapidly against your chest.
Despite showing a composed face, there is an inner struggle of fear and uncertainty raging from within.
Have you done everything possible to prepare? What if you lose and all of the hard work was for nothing? What if you get seriously injured? What if you let everyone down?
No, snap out of it!
Suddenly, you're surrounded by the only familiar faces amid the madness around you. They each embrace you one by one as if you're a young bird preparing to take its first flight.
The feeling of loneliness sinks in deeper. No one can help you. This step of the journey has to be taken alone.
The chaos slowly dissipates as acceptance finally hits. This is who you are, and these are the moments you prepare for. All is calm as you turn to face a small staircase at the end of the path.
You take a deep breath and step into the unknown.
For the average person, it's tough to comprehend stepping into the cage and competing in MMA. While the sport is fun to watch from afar, there are few people in this world with an appetite for getting punched in the face.
Those who are uneducated about the sport often paint pictures of fighters as savages or people with anger issues, but in reality, people who compete in MMA come from all different backgrounds.
Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin was a math teacher in Ohio before embarking on his MMA journey. Women's MMA star Rosi Sexton is a Cambridge graduate with a first-class math degree and a Ph.D.
Former UFC heavyweight Christian Wellisch graduated from law school, and now he runs his own firm.
As with any sport, fighters come from all walks of life. Still, there is something different about a person who chooses to fight for a living.
Combat sports are among the loneliest forms of competition in the world. You step into the ring or cage already accepting the inevitability of physical harm.
Unlike most mainstream sports, there aren't any teammates to offer help or place blame on. The onus falls completely on your shoulders.
It's a tough psychological battle that would overwhelm most athletes. Why can some do it and others can't? Why do people fight?
Newly crowned UFC women's bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey summed up the beauty of fighting during an appearance on ESPN's Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable:
I don't enjoy hurting people, but you know, it's part of my job. It's the most real sport that there is. There's something innately human about fighting. People live such soft lives now. I think it's something that we need. I mean, think of when was the last time something rough even touched your skin. When was the last time you touched grass or sandpaper or anything.
You know, you're constantly covered in clothes and sitting in cushy chairs and going from your couch to your bed. People just live such pampered and soft lives now that sometimes we need to get a little bit hurt and need to get into a little bit of a fight just to be reminded that we're still human and that we're not living in bubble wrap.
Fighting is competition stripped to its rawest form, and fans appreciate it as such.
The cage is referred to as "the unknown" due to the unpredictable and dangerous nature of what goes on inside. It's a different feeling knowing another person has been preparing weeks in advance with the intention to hurt you.
It takes an abnormal mind to step over the threshold into that form of competition. People fight simply because they're able to.
As Rousey states, MMA is "the most real sport that there is," and few possess the physical and mental makeup needed to step into the cage.
So, you want to be a fighter?
If Rousey's words speak to you, maybe you should consider it.
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