From The Straits Times    |

Credit: OneFC

A fighter’s greatest battle will not be with the opponent standing in front of them. No, a fighter’s greatest battle will be from within – within their mind and within themselves.

We strive for greatness. Our goal is to be the best. We feel the pressure. The weight is on our shoulders. There are people’s expectations. Our own expectations. We need to succeed. We need to be triumphant. Victorious. Win at all costs. What are we willing to sacrifice? Or what do we sacrifice?

It’s true, our sport makes us stronger, both physically and mentally. There are also other things that are true: burnout, fatigue, exhaustion, doubt, negativity, and failure. As human beings, we are meant to push ourselves. However, at what point do we grow and at what point do we break?

I realised this after I crashed my car back in 2017. Up until that point, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. But now, I can say through that experience, we all have a breaking point and there are signs that we can look out for to help prevent us from breaking.

For me, the signs I should’ve been paying attention to were: under-eating, over-training, dealing with too much stress and pressure, having a tunnel vision mentality, and not having a safe space to speak about my true feelings.

As painful as it is to share and as hard as it is to hear, people need to see the other side of the coin. Too often, this side gets overlooked. Being a fighter looks cool. It will make me tough. Being a World Champion is my dream. I want to be the greatest. Yes, that’s great. But with everything great in life, there also comes struggle.

Our goal is to share the full picture. It is not to dissuade people from the fight game. But often, there is a great darkness that comes with all the lights.

A darkness that consumes your mind and your heart. A darkness that tells you you’re worthless, a failure, a fraud. This darkness is our inner voice, our harshest critic. We need to learn to control it. Our mind is the most powerful muscle in our body. It can be strengthened, and it can be trained – trained to see the light, trained to see the good, and trained to be resilient.

This darkness…it’s something we need to talk about.

This topic needs to be addressed, for the athletes now and for future generations to come.

This is especially important for our youth. They have to navigate through these complex thoughts, feelings, and emotions with far less life experience. They have far less time to understand that what they feel doesn’t always have to be that way.

For all the athletes reading this, I encourage you and implore you to let your guard down. Show you are human. Share every part of your journey: the good, the bad, the triumphs, and the hardships. Because at the end of the day, we aren’t meant to be perfect. We are meant to be resilient human beings.

It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to have flaws.

In fact, your flaws may not be flaws at all, but rather things that make you special and unique. We live, and we learn. That’s all life is. It’s a journey, a process. We aren’t meant to have it all figured out.

We must support the mental health of our combat sports athletes. We must advocate the importance of good mental health in the fight world. We must remind our athletes to keep their mental health in check while pursuing their dreams. Nothing is worth losing yourself.

Maintaining a healthy and positive mindset for athletes in combat sports is crucial. Too often, athletes, especially fighters, are seen as some of the toughest and strongest people in the world. The world would be shocked to know that many times, we feel the weakest. The weight on our shoulders; the need to be successful; the need to win at all costs.

Sometimes, what is supposed to drive us ends up breaking us.

You need to be reminded: take care of yourself first.

Nothing is more important than your health. No amount of wins, medals, or belts. All of those pale in comparison.

People talk about the trifecta: mind, body, and spirit.

But there’s a reason why your mind is at the top of that triangle. Your mind is the strongest muscle in your body. It is the most important out of the three.

We need to take care of and strengthen our mind just as much, or even more than our body. Your mind can push your body past its limits. That can be a good thing, but also, that can be dangerous at times.

Your mind controls your body and your heart. Be kind to your mind.

And that’s all mental health is. It’s taking care of your mind. Your brain. It’s a muscle in your body. Taking care of your mental health is taking care of your body.

Taking care of your mental health is taking care of YOU.

Angela has been a professional MMA Fighter since 2015 and is a 6x MMA World Champion in ONE Championship. She founded the mental health non-profit organisation, FightStory, in honour of her younger sister, Victoria, after losing her to suicide in December 2022. Angela has been endlessly working in both her professional, and interpersonal life to ensure that narratives of mental health and illness are not left in the dark. She wishes to use her platform on social media and the world of MMA to leave a positive impact on the world. Find out more about FightStory here.