I was checking out Twitter, as I sometimes do looking for article ideas and I came across an article written by Invicta FC fighter Peggy Morgan. I found it so amazing, I immediately reached out to her and asked her permission to share it here on our site. It is an in depth look at what it means to be a fighter, and how wins and losses stay on your psyche as well as your record. So with no further delay, I’d like to share the amazing work of Peggy Morgan. Her blog can be found here. You can learn more about reaching Peggy at the bottom of her article.
It became clear somewhere around fifteen seconds into the first round that things were not going to unfold as I had planned. When the bell rang, my opponent and I charged across the cage toward one another and hovered just out of striking range for a few seconds. Then I came forward and threw a rear leg teep that fell an inch short of her face. Shortly thereafter, I ate a hard right cross to the jaw, and my memory of everything that happened next is pretty hazy.
I know I got punched many times, hard. I tried for a takedown and failed. I think I might have been knocked down, but I’m not sure; I know I swept her from my back, but I don’t remember how I got there. I heard my manager yell from the corner that there was only a minute left in the round, and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t last that long.’ Not that I didn’t want to, and not that I didn’t try, but I felt like I was moving underwater. My legs wobbled. My arms pawed the air uselessly. I fell with my back to the cage, and the ref dove between us to stop the fight.
I knew something was wrong with my face because I was quickly ushered out of the cage into the backroom where a doctor ordered me to have a seat on a folding table and immediately began probing the inside of my mouth with his gloved finger in search of broken teeth. Could I open my mouth? Could I move my lower jaw from side to side? Did it hurt when he pressed down here? How about here? ‘I feel fine,’ I insisted, but the doctor urged me to get my jaw x-rayed. I refused. I couldn’t understand why everyone was being so damn dramatic. I wasn’t going to the hospital. I was going to go get an ice cream cone and then go to bed.
Then I looked in the mirror, and it all made sense. My lower left cheek down around my jaw had a hematoma the size of a water balloon. Seriously. It looked like my face was pregnant with another face.
Predictably, the internet took notice. In the weeks that followed, my purple cheek pillow became a celebrity in its own right. Pictures of my grotesquely distended face with headlines like “Female MMA Fighter Suffers Horrific Injury” popped up all over Facebook and Twitter. My mom called to tell me that someone she works with had seen an article about my face on the USA Today homepage. My face-balloon was trending!
My cheek healed within a couple of weeks, but the memory of my face-balloon lives in internet infamy. Even now, five months later, I occasionally stumble across a photo of myself slumped against the cage, the corner of my mouth stretched improbably around a massive, drooping protuberance.
Honestly, though, seeing this photo doesn’t bother me as much as you might expect.
What’s more difficult for me to deal with is footage from the fight. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen film of yourself being slowly beaten insensible, but it’s not an easy thing to watch. Fortunately, it’s not something I encounter often in my daily strolls through social media.
Except for this week. This week is different because Megan Anderson – the woman who beat an extra face onto my face – is fighting for the interim featherweight championship in the main event at Invicta FC 21 on Saturday, which means that the internet is awash with promo videos for the event featuring highlight reel footage of my head being knocked off.
In one clip, Anderson blasts me with a hard two-three combination and I crumble to the canvas. In another, she hits me with a straight right that sends me reeling. Of course, I’m not the only fighter the promo shows Anderson destroying. After all, the video isn’t about me. And if I’d wanted to, I could have refrained from watching it. I mean, it’s not like I was strapped in the chair of torture and my eyes held open with specula to force me to watch the film. But I did watch it. Because it’s there. I encounter it every time I scroll through my twitter timeline and my Facebook feed, and I decided it was preferable to know rather than to just imagine what scenes it shows of me getting my ass kicked.
I’m not trying to get sympathy here. I don’t expect it, and I don’t want it. When I stepped into the cage with Anderson, I assumed the risk of losing terribly and of having footage of my defeat rebroadcast until the collapse of civilization severs humankind’s connection to the internet. I’m cool with that. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard.
The scariest aspect of fighting – at least for me, and I suspect for many others as well – has always been the danger of humiliation. Pain doesn’t frighten me, and instances of serious injury in MMA are rare enough that it’s not something I often even think about. My most immediate fear – the thing I lay awake at night worrying about (at least with regard to fighting) – is failing. Miserably. In front of everyone.
I used to think of it as stage fright, but it seems to me now that it’s more than that. I’ve come to see it as a fear of exposure, of revealing something too real and too intimate about myself to the world, of being vulnerable. It’s the same fear that keeps people from dancing at weddings even when they really secretly want to and that makes people feel embarrassed for crying in public even when they feel really sad and that keeps people from telling someone that they love them even when they really do.
People have told me I’m brave for fighting. And I am. But not extraordinarily so. The courage I evince by getting into the cage is really the same as that of a chubby girl who gets up and dances even though she’s afraid of being laughed at or of a dweeby high school kid who finally works up the nerve to ask his crush if she’ll go with him to the prom even though he knows she might say no. The only real difference is that in these situations, the audience is smaller and nobody is filming (hopefully – although this is never a certainty in the age of digital media).
What makes seeing footage of myself losing feel so shitty is knowing that other people are also seeing it. People all around the world – total strangers – have seen me in a moment of abject weakness. And I know that many of them won’t understand. They’ll mock my failure. But what they won’t realize is that the thing they’re really mocking isn’t my failure, but my humanity.
“Your losses don’t define you” is one of the many trite – though well-intentioned – things people say to comfort a fighter in the aftermath of a defeat. And it’s true. Losing a fight doesn’t define me as a person or as a fighter. But to pretend it doesn’t affect me would be disingenuous. It hurts and it sucks, not least because what is in many ways a deeply intimate and personal experience becomes a public spectacle. There is a strange beauty in it as well, though. It’s difficult to explain, but something about being so completely, genuinely vulnerable in front of the world feels liberating and somehow sort of meaningful. The way a poem or a painting can be meaningful. It feels like art.
I wrote the last three sentences knowing that there are people who won’t understand what I’m saying and will, in all likelihood, make fun of me for saying it. But at this point, I’m okay with that. I know what it’s like to fail horribly and publicly, and I know I can handle it. I can handle failure. I can handle vulnerability. I can even handle ridicule. And you know what? It’s not that bad. It’s better than hiding from failure by refusing to try, or pretending nothing bothers me because I don’t want anyone to see me hurt, or not saying the thing I really want to say because I’m afraid that someone might make fun of me for saying it.
At least I can say that I tried.
(BTW, I fucking hate Adele)