Nobody likes a bully. Whether it be children, work or internet trolls, when one is in the depths of being bullied, it can be a terribly difficult time in their life. MMA, a sport known for its extremely confident warriors and tough exterior athletes, is no exception when it comes to those who have suffered at the beastly hands of bullies. Numerous stars of the sport have spoken candidly about the subject, whether it be encountering some form of bullying in their past, or supporting initiatives to stamp it out.
Most recently, former interim UFC heavyweight champion, Shane Carwin took to Reddit to reveal that he, too, had suffered from bullying as a youngster. The ex-champ left a link to his Instagram with a throwback photo of him as a child dressed in football gear, alongside a haunting message for his past bullies:
I was poor and those teeth grew faster than I did. I was picked on a lot. If you are reading this I remember. I hope you worry about bumping into me at Lowes.
Carwin also goes on to mention on the thread (which you can check out fully HERE) that he keeps an Arya Stark-inspired list of all the names of his former bullies. Of course, we'd never endorse violence as an act of revenge, but it's easy to see how Carwin now feels, looking back in hindsight. Transforming himself into the athlete he is today has given him confidence, and he understands that if those that harassed him as a child knew he'd become a UFC champ one day, nobody would have messed with him back in school. In fact, he'd probably have been one of the popular kids.
Thankfully, MMA is an incredible resource when it comes to helping those being tortured by bullies. It not only provides an incredible outlet for kids suffering from bullying, but also for those seeking a direction in life. By instilling a sense of confidence and creating a positive outlook, MMA can truly make all the difference. There is also a strong sense of belonging when you join an MMA gym. Those training around you aren't just your teammates, they are your family.
Another high profile UFC star who recently opened up about her tough past with bullying was Paige VanZant.
"There were so many days I just wanted to give up, but I made it and it feels really good," commented VanZant to PeopleTVWatch. "Now, hopefully some people connect to my story and it will help them.”
Speaking before her successful stint on the 22nd season of ABC's Dancing With The Stars, Paige VanZant revealed her bullying got so bad in high school that her father resorted to moving the entire family to Reno, Nevada. What helped give VanZant a new lease of life, as well as confidence, was MMA. Since then, VanZant has not only gone on to prove that girls can hit just as hard as boys within the UFC, but also that the women of MMA are just as incredible athletes as their male counterparts. With her success on DWTS, VanZant never once shied away from her bullying or fighting background, providing a source for inspiration for young children and women to not just overcome bullying, but also encouraged them to join the world of mixed martial arts.
Paige VanZant is one of the lucky ones to have gone through bullying so bad that it forced her from her home, but still managed to go on to succeed in her adult life. Lately, the UFC star has been visiting high schools, giving speeches about her past and how to help stop bullying. She even managed to face her demons and return to the school where her problems originated, inspiring the students to help one another and combat bullying.
VanZant attributes fighting as the main coping mechanism she used to escape her tormentors. Without them, maybe we'd never have seen "12 Gauge" make her walk to the Octagon.
It can be reassuring to hear these stories from children or individuals who were in the same predicament; muscle-packed athletes would seem like the last people on earth you'd expect to be the victims of bullying. Thankfully, MMA can create an escape and also help prevent the act of bullying in many circumstances.
Surely MMA Can Only Teach Self-Defense?
I hear you, but in reality, no. Of course, self-defense is one of the main principles of MMA, and at times, your only method of repelling bullies, but MMA can provide so much more. Instilling a sense of confidence into children and victims of bullying is of paramount importance. Bullies will pick on people who look as if they lack confidence. Training in mixed martial arts will not only give you an abundance of confidence, it will also give you the ability to let your bully know that you're not to be messed with. Exuding an air of assurance about yourself is half the battle.
Alongside that newfound confidence, MMA gives an antidote to the feelings of fear and insecurity. Programs such as Gracie Bullyproof are excellent examples of how children can learn martial arts disciplines and utilize them to overcome bullying by non-violent means.
MMA Can Also Encounter Bullying
Unfortunately, bullying can also seep its way into the world of sport, and subsequently MMA. The best example of this would be to look no further than the Brazilian MMA superstar, Cris 'Cyborg' Justino. The world's most dangerous woman inside a cage has had a tough time when it comes to the media outside the cage. For years, Cyborg was mocked by big names within the UFC, including Ronda Rousey, Joe Rogan and even UFC president, Dana White likening her to male fighter, Wanderlei Silva. One can forget she has feelings, due to her stellar performances and utter domination of every woman she faces. Her response was one of hurt, but also inspiration.
"I find it hypocritical of Ronda Rousey to complain about people in Hollywood being critical of her body image, talking about her arms or the extra weight she carries between fights," offered Cyborg. "For the past five years this same Ronda Rousey and Dana White have used the media to bully me, opening the door for other opponents to try the same tactics."
Instead of fighting fire with fire, Cris Justino set up the Pink Belt initiative with the aim of promoting fitness, self-esteem and friendship among women, through the medium of mixed martial arts. The group, which meets every few months at the Huntington Beach, Ca. Punishment Training Center, is made up of civilian women who want to learn about MMA; the program provides a safe environment to learn at all levels, and form friendships for life. In this inclusive environment, women are encouraged to support one another in the hopes that the more they feel encouraged and loved, the less likely they will feel the need to bully and encourage others to follow suit.
“I want the girls to know that I’m a normal person too, I’m not a machine, I’m a person and we all need to love ourselves and stop comparing our lives to others,” Justino said. “I have to accept bullies are a part of life, and prove them wrong.”
With new initiatives and gyms popping up all around the globe as the sport continues to grow, together we can help make a change. As Paige VanZant stated above, "Strong people stand up for themselves but the strongest people stand up for others."