MMA

Regrets, fighters all have a few — but some linger longer than others

Regrets, fighters all have a few — but some linger longer than others

Jalin Turner (bottom) made a crucial mistake against Renato Moicano at UFC 300 that ended up costing him the fight. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

UFC president Dana White could only wince in sympathy when Jalin Turner’s name got brought up in the post-fight news conference. That moment he’d had in the first round against Renato Moicano at UFC 300, the one where he dropped Moicano with a clean punch and then turned to walk off rather than following up for a quick finish? It didn’t exactly pan out, seeing as how Moicano recovered and then came back to beat Turner in the second round.

“He’s going to regret that one for the next few weeks,” White said. “Beautiful shot, should have jumped on him and finished him. Yeah, I feel sorry for the kid.”

Talk to fighters about this kind of thing, and you might find out that the next few weeks is only the beginning. For some fighters, those regrets can live on in their memories for years.

Brian Stann retired over a decade ago and sometimes he still thinks about his decision to throw an inside leg kick at Chael Sonnen, an opponent he knew was looking for just such an opportunity to take him down and beat him on the mat. That fight was in 2011. Stann later became a UFC commentator, then left the job to get his MBA, eventually becoming a high-level executive at multiple real estate companies. To this day his mind still sometimes returns to that inside leg kick, just that one isolated moment of poor decision-making.

“Those are the ones that bother you,” Stann said. “You know, like a year before that I fought Phil Davis. I can say now that, matchup-wise and athleticism-wise, I know I’m not beating him on my best day. But I had a good training camp for that fight and I gave him everything I had that night, so that one doesn’t bother me. But the one against Chael, you make really dumb mistakes like throwing an inside leg kick in the second round that he easily catches and converts on, what the hell are you thinking? That's stupid. You worked so hard to get to that point and that moment. Those things will recycle through your head a little bit.”

For Jim Miller, the longtime UFC vet who recently became the only person to fight at every UFC centennial event, the one that still bugs him was a fight against Diego Sanchez in 2016.

“I had him up against the cage and I had been working this choke, squeezing it a certain way,” Miller said. “The way he defended it, he put himself into another choke, but I just didn’t see it at the time.”

The thing is, in the grand scope of Miller’s prolific career this wasn’t such a consequential fight. Winning the fights is always better than losing them, but it’s not like a victory over Sanchez at UFC 196 would have propelled Miller to a title shot. It probably would not have changed the overall arc of his career at all.

Jim Miller (top) grapples with Diego Sanchez in their lightweight bout at UFC 196 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 5, 2016, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

One of the major differences between fight sports and other pro sports is that you get far fewer overall opportunities to compete. Three UFC fights in one year is a solid output. Four fights in a year is a packed schedule. The number of fighters who’ve ever squeezed in more than that in one calendar year, well, you could count them on two hands.

Meanwhile, a guy in the NFL who only plays in five games a season is typically considered a non-factor. And a baseball player who appears in five games all year? He’s not even a footnote.

The other thing about fighting is that everything is happening so fast, one big blur of action and adrenaline, and then it’s over. Fighters don’t get to return to the locker room and talk it over halfway through. They get, at most, a few 60-second breaks between rounds. It’s just long enough to breathe, get a drink of water and maybe absorb one or two coaching tips before the battle resumes.

Even those brief respites aren’t guaranteed. Make a mistake, which sometimes feel less like conscious decisions than reactions or reflexes, and it might be over in minutes or seconds. That leaves a long time to dwell on things before the next one.

The pain of regret only gets worse when the mistake and the fight are both excruciatingly consequential. Chad Mendes used to say his wife could tell when he was thinking back to his loss in the NCAA wrestling championship match as he lay in bed because his body was so tense it was almost like he was hovering on top of the sheets. If Shane Carwin’s teammates even mentioned his UFC heavyweight title fight with Brock Lesnar — the one where Carwin seemed just one or two well-placed punches away from riches and stardom before gassing out and losing in the second round — you could actually watch his face fall.

Then there’s Chris Weidman, who was the undefeated UFC middleweight champion until one night in 2015 when he made the mistake of throwing a spinning back kick at title challenger Luke Rockhold. Not only did the kick miss, it gave Rockhold the chance to take his back and bring him down. Once there, Weidman soon found himself stuck under a barrage of strikes. Before he knew it, the referee was pulling Rockhold off him.

The part that really bothered him later, Weidman said, was that the spinning back kick wasn’t even a part of his usual game. He’d been doing well kicking Rockhold to the body, then he got carried way.

“It’s like, why would I do that?” Weidman said. “Stupid. I never do that, and I’m going to just decide to do it then? Such a dumb thing.”

Luke Rockhold celebrates after defeating Chris Weidman in their middleweight championship bout during UFC 194 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on Dec. 12, 2015, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

It cost him his UFC middleweight title and his undefeated record. He went from having a career with no real moments of meaningful regret to a string of bad-beat losses that disturbed his sleep for one reason or another.

“The ‘Jacare’ [Souza] fight, I’m winning two rounds to zero, and I’m still pressing and trying to exchange with him,” Weidman said. “The Yoel Romero fight, I’m winning and decide to shoot to the wrong side and, boom, he comes up with a beautiful flying knee. The [Gegard] Mousasi fight, that one pisses me off probably the most, just because of what happened and the confusion with the rules.”

But what he was forced to learn, Weidman said, was that fighting isn’t a vocation where you can let yourself dwell on the past all that much. There are so many variables in any fight, so many ways for fortune to smile on or smite you, that you’ll go crazy if you keep replaying the past in your head.

“I don’t want to be the guy who lives with regret,” Weidman said. “One thing I know by now is crap happens. You’ve got to move on, learn to find the blessings in disguise. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at that. … Every one of my losses I can think back on and go, 'F***, that sucked.' I don’t like that my record is where it is, because I know I’m better than that. But you can’t stop what happened. It is what it is.”

It’s just that you wouldn’t be human if, every once in a while, the facts of what is and what was didn’t bubble to the surface to remind you. And so maybe the only thing you can do is learn how to acknowledge them when they appear, whether it’s in bed at three in the morning or sitting in traffic some weekday afternoon, then put them back in their little drawer within your mind. And then slam it shut again.

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