Fighters are torn about kids in MMA
While many doctors, lawyers and Wall Street investment bankers -- at least those not in jail or being investigated by Congress -- would likely encourage their children to follow in their footsteps, what about mixed martial arts parents?
After all, the life of a fighter is a harsh one. The cream of the crop may earn salaries that rival -- surpass, even -- what the aforementioned white-collar professionals bring home, but most cage fighters live modest paycheck-to-paycheck lives with little or no job security.
And there is the physical price. Could MMA parents stand to see their kids get the snot beaten out of them, knocked unconscious and suffer potentially life-altering injuries?
Former Icon Sport middleweight champion Frank Trigg, the father of two sons and a daughter, said he wouldn't want his kids following in his footsteps simply because they would forever be compared to him.
"My son, we had this conversation, he said he wanted to be a fighter; I told him to go play tennis," Trigg said. "Don't follow in your father's footsteps. Go do something else. Be better than your father, but do it in your own right. Follow your own path."
Trigg noted that Ken Norton Jr. could have been a great boxer like his father, but because he wanted to be his own man, he chose instead to play football. Norton won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.
Trigg doesn't want his kids to have to try following in his footsteps. "How many NASCAR drivers do you know whose kids are NASCAR drivers?" Trigg said. "How many drag-racing drivers [are there] whose kids are drag-racing drivers? There are very few. Now, if the kid really has a passion for it and they really want to be an MMA fighter, that's cool. But are they going to be any good at it? Genetically, they should be, but who knows?"
Pioneering female MMA fighter Debi Purcell doesn't have any kids of her own, but her fiancé, Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Ronald Assumpcao, has a 14-year-old son who is, for all intents and purposes, her stepson. Having grown up around jiu-jitsu his whole life, the teenager has not surprisingly expressed an interest in becoming a professional fighter.
"He's been training since he was 5," Purcell said. "It's funny, because he told me he wants to be a fighter because he just wants to relax all day and then train. And I said, 'It's not like that.' So he doesn't fully understand what it's really about."
Purcell believes the teen's misunderstanding may come from "jiu-jitsu being an easier … not an easier sport, but it's different than professional fighting."
Purcell conceded that if the boy wanted to seriously pursue a fighting career, she would support him -- as long as he earns a college degree first and has something to fall back on.
I was trying to be an MMA fighter when it was stupid. It was legal in three states. I made $750 my first UFC. There was no fame.” -- Jens Pulver on his mother advising him to graduate college before pursuing MMA
"I'm all for it, but I say it with reservations because I want him to have a realistic idea of what it actually entails," she said. "It's a lot of hard work. It's not easy and fun. It's a job. If you're going to do it professionally, it has to be a job. You have to make a lot of sacrifices, and it's a very selfish sport" that leaves one little time for much of anything or anyone else.
Middleweight Benji Radach doesn't have children, but he plans to be a father someday. What if his kids want to follow his career path?
"I'd tell them to get ready for a big pile of crap," Radach said, "because the majority of what you get from the sport is just a bunch of hardship."
Radach is currently appealing what he considers an early stoppage of his last fight, a knockout loss to Scott Smith at a Strikeforce event in April.
"On the flip side, all the things you gain from those hardships and trials and tribulations, you can't replace," Radach said. "So I think I would definitely -- not push my kid into it -- but support them in everything they want to do. I wouldn't be against it at all."
Featherweight Jens Pulver said that if his 5-month-old son one day declares he wants to become an MMA fighter like his father, he -- like Purcell -- will point to college.
"You graduate college, you can do whatever you want," Pulver said. "That's what my mom said to me, and I was trying to be an MMA fighter when it was stupid. It was legal in three states. I made $750 my first UFC. There was no fame."
Pulver said he would insist that his son get a college degree first, not only as a backup plan but also to live away from home and gain some real-world experience. Only then, Pulver said, will his son be able to gauge whether he really wants to become a fighter or if it's just a passing fancy.
"You would think they would really start to figure it out then," Pulver said. "As you are figuring out who you are for the next five years going to school, if you still want to train MMA while you're getting your grades, for sure. You don't have to listen to me. You're over 18. You can do whatever you want."
But long before college, Pulver said, he would "absolutely" let his son start training in the gym as a child. That goes double, he said, for his 6-year-old daughter, for very personal yet pragmatic reasons.
"She has to train, at least in submissions," Pulver said. "Because think about the rape position. What position is that? Oh, you're in my guard. Think about the sport of jiu-jitsu. It's supposed to be a weaker, smaller person fending off a bigger, stronger person, so, absolutely, my daughter has to train."
Mike Harris contributes to Sherdog.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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