Just over a week ago, we witnessed a watershed in UK combat sports, and a moment of contrasting fortunes for two elite athletes. Anthony Joshua was ultimately unsuccessful in his attempt to regain the world heavyweight boxing belts, while mixed martial arts star, Leon Edwards overcame enormous obstacles to become the UFC welterweight champion of the world. 

We caught up with two of our Fight for Peace coaches, Nathaniel and John, to talk about these performances, get their take on victory and defeat, and discuss the impact and legacy of these athletes’ work. 

“It was a big loss”, said Nathaniel, reflecting on the Joshua v Usyk boxing clash. “But what it will teach a lot of people, a lot of boxers, is that there is always going to be someone or something that will set you back, it just depends on how many times you get back up after those setbacks.”

The ability to get back up after a setback is, of course, something that is central to all combat sports, not to mention an essential skill that can help us in all of our lives outside the ring. 

“We should always find things that are challenges and you might fail at the challenges 1000 times but the thousand and first time you get up you’ll succeed.”

“It can teach young people and even people like myself that you are going to get knockdowns in life. If you don’t then you are not being as competitive as you should be. We should always find things that are challenges and you might fail at the challenges 1000 times but the thousand and first time you get up you’ll succeed.”

For Nathaniel, who coaches boxing to 14-25 year olds at the Fight for Peace Academy in North Woolwich, defeat is an essential ingredient in the journey, albeit a devastating lesson for those athletes and coaches experiencing it.

“I think that defeat is very, very important. No one wants to lose, but it will happen here and there,” he explained. “It will then teach you about consistency and perseverance, and discipline and resilience – that if you stick with something one day it will click. It’s about understanding that it takes time to develop.”

Ultimately, Nathaniel is sure that despite defeat, the impact AJ has had on aspiring athletes is set in stone:

“He has given a lot of people a place or a reason to start. Sport gives you that balance within your mental state and that’s how AJ has impacted lots of young people, he has shown them that light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s an amazing thing.”

For mixed martial artist Leon Edwards, competing later on Saturday night in Utah, USA, the story could not have been any different.

“It was full of ups and downs and momentum swings. Leon’s corner did a great job between rounds telling him what needed to be done and using their personal connection to reach him and get him mentally prepared for the next rounds,” reflected John, who coaches Brazilian jiu jitsu at Fight for Peace. 

“Seeing Edwards’ complete shock and overwhelming excitement and full set of emotions on display was great to witness and fully captivated the audience and viewers at home, including myself,” said John. 

Leon with his mum following his return to Birmingham (Credit: @leonedwardsmma)

By winning his contest with a late knockout, Leon made history, becoming the UK’s first UFC welterweight world champion. It is the culmination of a journey which has seen the Jamaican-born, Birmingham-based fighter face extraordinary adversity and misfortune in his quest to be crowned champion. 

“Leon’s win tells us that when you have a goal and want to achieve something along the way there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs and many people will count you out, but through determination and hard work the ceiling can be high as you want it to be,” said John.

“Through determination and hard work the ceiling can be high as you want it to be.”

There’s no doubt that the manner of victory, coupled with Leon’s story and his reaction to reaching his goal will motivate many aspiring martial artists. As John explains, “his story and rise will be legendary and will be motivation for the whole country for many generations to come.”

“This will inspire people to take up the sport of MMA and other martial arts. Leon didn’t come from the money and the glitz and glamour. To quote him he came from the trenches, and worked extremely hard to get where he is.”

The storylines provided on one very special Saturday night at the elite level of combat sports give us a snapshot of the profound lessons combat sports teach us – about winning, handling loss and developing ourselves as athletes and people. This is something John can relate to firsthand:

“Speaking from my own experience, MMA is a huge foundation of being a great martial artist and also a better person. It helped mould who I am today, not only giving me guidance for how I want to live my life, but also the skills to teach and compete. It also gave me key life skills and helped me make lifelong friends along the way.”

We can’t wait to see what’s next for AJ, as his resurrection begins, and for Leon, as he writes another chapter in his incredible life story, and to see the impact the lessons of their latest performances have on rising UK champions in North Woolwich and across the country. 

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