Last night, I watched two incredibly large and talented UFC fighters square off for the Heavyweight Title. There’s something about the heavyweight division, in all combat sports, that draws the attention of any hardcore or fairweather fight fan. It’s likely the sheer force these giant men bring to the arena and the danger of their strength. At our core, I think human beings love to watch two giants square off to see which one is left standing. The brutality of it is captivating… Maybe we haven’t evolved all that much since the days of gladiators?
A little background on the fighters before analysing the results. There’s a valuable lesson here for entrepreneurs.
The defending champion is a class-act named Stipe Miocic. He’s the quintessential hardworking badass. Still works as a full time firefighter, if you can believe it, and has held the UFC Heavyweight Title for a couple of years. A win last night would give him the record for most title defenses by a heavyweight in UFC history. A win last night would, arguably, make him the greatest UFC giant of all time…
Stipe has paid his dues to get to the top and delivered remarkably. He took the long road to the title, beating the toughest guys in the UFC, including three former champions. Stipe has fought martial artists with very different skill-sets (boxers, jiu-jitsu and judo black belts as well as wrestlers), thus learning how to deal with a swath of dangerous and challenging scenarios. He can adjust because of his diverse experiences in the octagon. Oh, and leading up to his MMA career Stipe was a D1 wrestler and winner of a golden glove boxing event. He has a diverse skill-set and knowledge base because his journey to the pinnacle was long and well-earned. Remember that…
Francis Ngannou was Stipe’s opponent last night. He is the highly touted up-and-comer in the heavyweight division. Raw talent and a very dangerous man capable of knocking fighters out with one punch. He’s a massive man – walks around at near 265 pounds and looks like he was carved from granite.
Ngannou’s background story is very inspiring (and sellable, which is probably why the UFC has such high hopes for him), having been born in Cameroon; and up until five years ago, Ngannou was homeless. He was fighting last night with many grand narratives building behind him, including the potential to be the first African born UFC champion.
Mr. Ngannou’s rise to the top of the division as number one contender was meteoric and came with flare. He knocked out a few household names in the UFC, and in dramatic fashion. And due to the spectacle of his knockouts, and his presence as a whole, he was given a title shot very quickly. It’s important to note that Ngannou has only been practicing martial arts for about five years. As the legend goes, he walked into a gym off the street and said he wanted to compete in the UFC. The rest is history.
There is a lot of truth to the phrase “too much too soon.” As with many things in life, entrepreneurship chief among them, taking the so-called long road, which comes with many valuable lessons, is critically important for several reasons, especially when you get into a problem. It’s essential to have done ‘the work’ if you want to stay on top for a meaningful duration when you finally get there… understanding that it is work ethic, repetition (experience), and perseverance that wins out 99% of the time is critical for anything that involves intense competition. As we all know, entrepreneurship is one great competition.
One of the worst things that ever happened to me early in my career investing in startups was the first investment I ever made did very, very well. I thought it was easy and began underestimating the risks commonly associated with startups. I bought a fancy new car and started upping the ante immediately afterward – all the rookie mistakes. Sure enough, I took a bath on several consecutive investments preceding that first win.
In a similar vein, we saw the same happen to Francis Ngannou last night in his title fight against Stipe Miocic.
Ngannou came into the fight with the same game plan he’s always had against his opponents (because it has worked). He was going to run right through Stipe in the first round and knock him out with his patented left-handed uppercut. And for a few moments in that first round, it looked as though that was going to happen. But once Stipe realized Ngannou had the same gameplan as always, he went to work on the giant in true tactician fashion…
Ngannou swung with bad intentions, Stipe slipped and jabbed. Then he slipped and tackled Ngannou in effortless fashion. It became apparent Ngannou hadn’t practiced much groundwork or takedown defense. He was hopelessly lying on the ground or kneeling against the fence taking vicious knees to the ribs and punches to the head for virtually the remaining 20 minutes of the fight.
Even when the ref stood the two goliaths back up, Ngannou was laboring for air and wobbly. His broad and pure muscle frame, which requires a tremendous amount of oxygen when being brutally beaten like that, let him down. He wasn’t familiar with this type of scenario, and Ngannou’s mental game wasn’t ready for a championship fight. He lacked experience and the know-how for a battle like this. He was steamrolled by a fighter who had decades of battle scars and the knowledge base to deal with any scenario in the octagon. Ngannou’s rise to the top was quick and famed; Stipe’s the exact opposite. The latter won…
The fight went to a decision, but there was never any doubt who would win after the first couple minutes. Stipe won 50-44 unanimously – as dominating on the scorecard as you can get.
Ngannou admitted in his post-fight interview exactly what you would expect from a fighter who has all the talent in the world but got his shot at the title too soon. He said, in respect to Stipe, “I think I underestimated him a little…”
Too much too soon.
There’s tremendous value in learning through experience. There’s value in going through adversity and coming out the other end better for it. And there is exceptional value in losing from time to time along the way. There’s no such thing as ‘overnight success,’ especially in entrepreneurship. It’s a stupid expression. Paying your dues is honorable and its importance is not to be overlooked. It’s a right of passage. Quick rises to the top, just like fast money, come and go.
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