Real Fighters

I have seen what a true fighter is. Today, I ask that we pay our proper respect and never forget. “Fight” is an interesting word, isn’t it? We win some, we lose some, but more than anything, we respect the act of the competitive nature of the fight.

Recently, the word took on a much different, much clearer meaning for me.

In my “other” life as a cast member of FOX NFL Sunday as their NFL Insider, we recently took the 30-hour trip to a military base in Afghanistan to broadcast our show to help raise morale and support our troops.

But, a funny thing happened during my time there. I found myself slowly feeling uncomfortable talking about “fighting” to people who really are, well, fighting. I actually struggled with it. Our fights in MMA usually end up with us meeting at the bar afterward, basking in the glory of a great show.

A soldier’s fight—too often—ends up with a casket. As Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long, Michael Strahan, Curt Menefee, our bosses, and myself were about to leave, our departure was abruptly delayed by the result of a true fight.

We stood on the tarmac, lined in rows showing respect, awaiting the body of a fallen hero. The casket was brought via Hummer to the runway and taken onto our C-17 where we held a service for what I realized was a true fighter.

His entire platoon flanked the tarmac, the rigors of their fight clear on their faces and more so on their souls.

As the holiday season approaches, I continue to think about all these soldiers and the true fight they wage for us, day in and day out. Many of these troops will spend the holidays fighting in the mountains and deserts rather than gathering around the TV watching the UFC’s New Year’s event.

They fight for us, fight for people they will never meet. Often, they fight for those who oppose them fighting. Yet, they risk their lives every second of their day, many of them seeing their families just 15 days a year. Fifteen! Can you imagine that?

The danger these fighters live under ever day is mind-boggling. During our five days, we knew we were in constant danger, and it certainly weighed heavily on us. But to these soldiers, they were numb to the threat of the constant fight. Rockets were launched on a regular basis at Bagram Airfield, a military base built to resemble a small town. The week we left, they were hit with five rockets one day and an average of one to two death pods per day.

The week prior to our arrival, the base had cyanide in the water as well as a mustard gas scare. The incident forced everyone on the base to completely avoid water for a period of time.

Rounds often whizzed through the base trying to kill fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, and wives.

We were there to provide a break, escapism to the unending tension of living in a war zone. Despite taking the trip to talk about football, MMA was also one of my priorities. To all who would listen, I gave updates to the troops who were unable to keep up with the daily news in our MMA community. I even held a formal Q&A session with the troops and taught a submission grappling clinic to approximately 50 soldiers.

It just struck me that while we sit and enjoy the escapism that MMA fights provide us, too often, we forget about the real fighters sacrificing everything so we can sit and watch and cheer and feel oh so safe. We’re not safe. In fact, we’re probably in more danger now than we were prior to 9-11. However, because of the bravery of the most selfless of fighters, we go about our lives feeling safer than ever.

The brotherhood we have in the fight game is one of the things I love most about our sport. Those who train and fight together have a certain bond, a fraternity of those willing and able to do what most are unwilling and unable to do. But in Afghanistan, I was humbled by how much further a brotherhood can grow.

Terry Bradshaw and I were talking with a soldier in the hospital recovering from the fourth time he was, as he put it, “blown up by a bomb.” The fourth time! Yet, all he was concerned with was getting back out to fight. Four times and he refused to quit on the stool. Nobody would have blamed him if he threw in the towel, would they? His answer was stunning when I asked him, “Why?”

“I have to get out there for my brothers. For my brother to my right, my brother to my left. I gotta get back there for them. That’s what we do for each other.”

Wow. Wow. Wow.

How does one reply to such selfless courage? I used to feel good sacrificing my face and head for my training partners to beat on in sparring to help them prepare for UFC fights. I felt selfless, I felt like a good teammate. But this was true teamwork. This was … wow.

So, as I write this column, I ask one simple thing. I ask that we all appreciate the true “fighters.” I ask that we never forget their “fight.” I ask that while we sit and revel in the joy of the holidays with our loved ones, while we sit and cheer on the fighters in the next UFC, we take time to appreciate what our military fighters are doing and have done so we can celebrate in peace.

There will be no eggnog for them. There will be no presents. There will be no family and no crowds to cheer them on as they fight their fights.

If you see a soldier or know somebody coming back from the fight, a simple “thank you” and a handshake or hug would go a long way. They are our real fighters.

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