Getting to the top will be tough, but knowing when to cash in can be tougher

The road to being good at almost any skilled endeavor such as martial arts, musicianship or sports is a tough one. But to truly get to the top of your game as anyone from such a background will testify, it requires an exceptional level of commitment, sacrifice and dedication. One side effect can be getting too accustomed to a Spartan lifestyle, finding the transition and then realizing you deserve more a difficult switch.

The subject here was inspired by a conversation I had with a good friend of mine. He was ranked #1 in UK Muay Thai before signing with the international K1 organization, Envision.

The conversation came about after an interesting visit to see my friend and English UFC Fighter, Arnold Allen at BKK Fighters in Colchester. I commented on how much he had matured in his perspective towards the business aspect of his sport and at that time, he would’ve only looked from a sports or fighters angle. Now, he has a much more well-rounded perspective realizing he was part of a multi-billion dollar business and had a right to a share of it. Without a shadow of a doubt, Arnie’s positive change comes from being in and around the very top level of the sport (Mixed Martial Arts). As well as rubbing shoulders with people who have achieved great things that are now reaping the benefits, such as George St Pierre or his coach Firas Zahabi. Gaining the mindset of not just a sporting winner, but a life winner too, is not quite as simple as it may sound.

Juan made an excellent observation, “In order to have gained the skills to compete at a high level in this sport, in his case Muay Thai, it’s almost necessary to turn your back on materialistic goals. And when the time comes that you could maybe earned some real money, your focus or even maybe desire for material wealth has often disappeared. ”

Juan’s insight is both, absolutely on or off the money, and at the same time, represents an issue for those wishing to have their cake and to eat it too. How do you gain the skills you need emerging from the gates of the temple as a master? How do you switch your mind to the task of success without losing what you gained in the first place?

One of the first mistakes I have often observed is that from the outside looking in, most people, and very importantly people aspiring to be the people they are looking at, firmly believe fiscal success is simply a direct consequence of success in a particular area. While this may well be true in some cases, I know it’s the exception and not the rule—especially in sports pursuits.

The top of the top make a lot of money for sure, especially in a sport where there is a lot of money available to sportsmen. However I’ve met boxers who had world title fights for major organizations (WBC, IBF) who, ten years later, are as broke as when they went into boxing. The message here is it is not automatic.

I once heard someone describe making money likened to a man catching fish on a fast flowing stream. The opportunities pass by at speed. Sometimes there are many and sometimes there are few. But what’s important, is to make the most of when they are abundant and capture what’s available when they are few.

I loved that analogy. Many fighters, musicians and sportsmen assume when the opportunities are good, they will never end. This is a massive mistake. Any decent look at what has passed, will teach them otherwise. It’s easy to look at the success stories but more difficult to look at instances where things didn’t have such a happy ending.

The main issue is often appalling management. With fighters and athletes focused 100% on what is real to them, at a time when the sport and the transition from amateur to pro, to the big league champion, is often from their perspective. It is less of a change than many of us outside of the business can imagine. The fans see the rise, the glory and the TV coverage. But the athletes see the same training and diet plans. Perhaps only the stadiums get bigger and the hotel rooms are better in their minds. You only need to spend a little time with guys in the top ten of their combat sport to realize, for the most part, things have not changed much from their amateur days.

Great management, delivered by top guys such as Audie Attar at Paradigm or Jason House at Iridium Sports Management, will certainly make a major difference to a fighter’s long term career. But often fighters don’t even consider management until they are hitting a brick wall in terms of progression. This can often be too late. One of the impressive things I heard from Audie in a conversation a long time ago, and considering the level of their clientele, was how much attention they paid to post career planning!”

A simple summary of this article for any aspiring athlete, is to go into the sport with your eyes open. You are going to spend the best part of your career getting to the point where you have an opportunity to make hay in the sun. But keeping an eye on your opportunities all the way through and making sure you develop your longer term strategy, just like you would for a fight, may pay massive dividends later.

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Alex Wright Alex Wright is well known in the United Kingdom from his extensive work in the Mixed Martial Arts Industry for over a decade. He's been involved as a coach, fighter and industry mogul since around 2000 and now heads up the European division for REVGEAR Sports.