Fear is a fickle friend.

Often, it’s a welcome accomplice on some of your greatest victories, heightening your senses while keeping the adrenaline flowing.

Other times, fear is the unwanted stowaway, still clinging on desperately as you try to shake any vestiges of anxiety and fraught nerves from its presence.

There’s a scene in Gladiator that sticks out.

Moments before his first tournament as a gladiator, as Maximus Decimus Meridius waits under the dark of the arena, chained to the man before him, he suddenly feels something wet. He glances down and catches the sight of a puddle pooling at his feet. The guy in front had just peed himself.

That was me before every fight, I kid you not.

As the cameras pan backstage, trying to afford the audiences a glimpse of my pre-fight warmups, I wear a face of intense concentration, all the while masking my near exploding unease.

As if all the stretching in the world could ever undo the knots in my stomach.

One of humanity’s primal instincts, fear has often informed the way we respond to threats and dangers around us.

More commonly, it induces the fight or flight response that many of us are familiar with today. One could almost make a literal reference in my profession, but I digress.

Humans have a strange relationship with fear. Right on cue, he delivers an adrenaline shot. Suddenly, we are sharp, alert and hypersensitive. 

However, just as we are quick to accept his good graces, fear reveals his ugly side. The increased sweating, an elevated heartbeat, the doubts and crippling anxiety are part of the package and unfortunately, there is no return to sender. 

Over the years and after so many fights, I think I’ve gotten a bit better at dealing with fear. But I’d be lying if I told you it was ever easy.

Here’s a conversation I had with Jeremy Horn, a 100-fight veteran who cornered me early in my career.

“Hey Jeremy, when does this feeling of like nerves, anxiety and fear go away?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but when it does, I’ll let you know.”

Yet, once I step inside the octagon, the sights and sounds take me back and I instantly feel right at home. The bell rings, someone throws that first punch and it’s game time!

I power through, handle my business and get my hand raised. With a microphone in my face after the match, I sound all the usual notes of a working-class hero awash with gratitude but also eager for my next fight. Only to repeat the whole nerve wrecking process all over again backstage the next time round.

I’ll cross that bridge when it comes, I convince myself.

It’s a cycle of insanity I tell you. None of it makes sense outside of a lifelong passion for the sport. Maybe only to the MMA cognoscenti or truly hardcore fans.

My love for what I do, my dedication and my commitment to my sport is perhaps the best counterbalance to the terrifying mental battles I have with fear.

In a previous post, I made slight references to courage and the supposed projection of perfection. There is no courage without fear, that much is clear.

There’s a famous quote, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather action in the face of it.”

Forever the challenge, if we can learn to live with fear as a natural yet important emotion, then perhaps we will realize that fear is actually a pretty handy friend to have around.