The “lucky” punch always lands against the overwhelming favorite. It usually materializes out of nowhere, and our hero almost never sees it coming. The idea of a lucky anything (punch, kick, knee, etc.) resides in the eyes of the fan. Surprising and unexpected? Yes. Lucky? No.
Everyone Gets Caught
Any lucky punch, kick, submission, or decision—any way a person can win a fight—can be turned into a commentary on luck. Scores of MMA fans declared that Brian Bowles’ KO victory against Miguel Torres at WEC 42 to be the result of a lucky punch. Bowles simply said, “We train to knock each other out, so how can a punch be lucky?” Fighters spend thousands of hours punching and defending punches, submitting and defending submissions. What fans may see as lucky is actually the byproduct of a lot of hard work. MMA is a game of milliseconds and millimeters. No matter how good a fighter is and no matter how hard he works, one mistake can be the end. The underdog isn’t always lucky. Sometimes he just avoids making a fatal mistake and capitalizes on his opponent’s error. That’s not luck, that’s smart fighting.
When I am watching fights, I look for certain “fatal” errors and mistakes. Even the best fighters are guilty of these, especially as the fight wears on. These errors have the potential to make one fighter seem very lucky and another very unhappy. Is the fighter who finds a way to capitalize on another guy’s mistake in the last minute of the round lucky? Or did he just have better strength and conditioning to keep him going late in the round?
Why We Want to Believe It
The lucky punch is always in the realm of David vs. Goliath. We expect the greats to win with one punch KOs. When it’s David knocking out Goliath with the same shot, it has to be luck. In some strange way it almost makes us feel good. It makes us feel as if the everyman always has a chance of winning if the dice fall the right way. No matter how much of an underdog someone is, it can always go their way. However, deep down, it scares every fighter. The knowledge that no matter how great you are, it can all change in the blink of an eye scares almost everyone. Sometimes a lucky punch is the excuse we need to keep going. If we believe that luck was on the other guy’s side, even if just for a second, we can write it off as an unnatural act. It takes some of the sting away and makes going back to training a little easier.
I tell my fighters there are three inevitabilities in MMA: You will get hurt, you will lose, and you will end up on a highlight reel at the wrong end of a seemingly lucky punch. It will happen, and we will keep going after it does. Good coaches have to make sure that fighters believe in themselves, not in luck. Every loss has to be examined and lessons learned.