A Champion Doesn’t Need a Belt

As an athlete, your singular goal is to win, period. Of course learning, growing, and improving on previous results are important as well, but the ultimate objective is to win. No one dreams of getting a silver medal in the Olympics, or making it to the Super Bowl and losing.

Photo credit: ESPN

Photo credit: ESPN

We all want to win. Scratch that— we all NEED to win, because when we lose, the world collapses. I should know, I lost my first amateur MMA fight and I thought the sky was falling (that’s right, amateur fight, where your record doesn’t even matter). To the passionate athlete, losing means getting your beating heart ripped out before your very eyes à la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

We think we exist in a world where winning is good and losing is bad. Winning equals happiness, while losing equals death. And yet Dominick Cruz proved us wrong. 

The fall and rise of a champ

Cruz was the reigning UFC champ, dominating all of his opponents, standing head and shoulders above the rest of his division. But then multiple ACL surgeries and a groin tear forced the UFC to strip Cruz of his belt, simply due to his lengthy absence from competition.

Photo credit: mmafrenzy.com

Photo credit: mmafrenzy.com

While Cruz struggled to overcome his injuries, rising star TJ Dillashaw seized control of the vacant throne, vanquishing all of his opponents in devastating fashion. Despite never losing a single fight in the UFC, Cruz suddenly became an afterthought while Dillashaw was the king. 

In January 2016, after 1,569 days since his last fight as the champion, Cruz returned to the Octagon and managed to edge out Dillashaw in a close decision victory. To return, after so much time and so many setbacks, to reclaim what’s rightfully yours, to silence all of the haters…that has to be an athlete’s ultimate dream come true. 

What is winning?

In a post fight interview, Cruz is asked if this is the greatest moment in his life. He replies, “The greatest moment in my life is realizing that I didn’t need a belt to be happy.”

Let that sink in. 

A fighter, whose career is judged solely on the W’s and L’s that follow his name, just experienced a moment that would surely top anything else in an athlete’s life. But realizing that he can be happy without the belt, without the “win,” without the ultimate goal, that is a powerful thing.

It made me reflect on my life, not just as an athlete, but as a human. When I think too much, I often find myself stuck in state of despair because I’m not the top dog. Because I’m not good enough to do ‘x’, I’m not smart enough to accomplish ‘y’. I don’t have the skills to embark on [insert personal quest] yet. 

But then…fuck it.

Live in the moment, find happiness. That’s ultimately what you’re searching for, right? Why do you need the “win” to be happy? 

In these moments of revelation, I’m drawn back to one of my favorite quotes:

For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…
— Victor Frankl

So love the grind. Love the training. Love the growth. Love the wins. And love the losses.

At the end of the day, happiness is a choice. Choose wisely. 


Dom actually read and liked this article. I'm so stoked, thank you for supporting!