Nov 29, 2017
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
Hi. I’m Mitch. I deal with depression and social anxiety. I also work as a sports writer, covering mostly football and mixed martial arts from a web desk. It’s very rare that I get too emotionally wrapped up in what I cover, but there was a special moment recently that really spoke to me, which I wanted to share.
It was Saturday, November 4th and the UFC was making its return to New York City at Madison Square Garden with three title fights headlining the show.
Perhaps the greatest fighter of all time Georges St-Pierre was in the main event, making his return from a four-year absence against middleweight title holder Michael Bisping and getting the bulk of the attention. Bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt and challenger T.J. Dillashaw were looking to squash a longtime rivalry in a heated co-main event. And the third headliner wasn’t getting as much hype as undefeated women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk looked like a heavy favorite against “Thug” Rose Namajunas.
Like most, I had bought into the idea that Jedrzejczyk was on a level of her own and the last two scheduled fights would be the ones to most look forward to. Also, having found a connection to Namajunas, I was scared to get my hopes up for her only to see her night ruined like Jedrzejczyk had done to every other fighter in her path.
About a month before their fight, Rose (as I prefer to call her) and Jedrzejczyk faced off on stage as all fighters typically do while promoting their match, but in this instance, the champion decided to lay some heavy trash talk. Rose revealed a few weeks later that Jedrzejczyk had attacked her mental health that day.
“I think she started out by saying like ‘mentally unstable’ and she said something else that … once she said that, I think I just like blanked out,” Namajunas told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour about their staredown. “Joanna can say I’m mentally unstable and this and that — and she might be right. I have a history of it in my family.”
Thug. Rose. Nama. Junas.
It is so rare to see athletes admit mental health issues and concede that they could affect their performance for fear that others will use it as ammo against them. Rose had the ammo shot at her and remained strong enough to concede there is some merit to Jedrzejczyk’s claim, but that didn’t stop her from taking the fight now, did it?
As the card began, you could almost feel the electricity in the air through the television screen as the first eight fights of the night were setting up for some stunning upsets, including…
Thug. Rose. Nama. Junas.
With a first-round knockout, Rose ended Jedrzejczyk’s 14-fight undefeated streak and claimed the strawweight title as the largest betting underdog of the night. And even if you aren’t someone who is impressed by the fight game, what Rose said in her post-fight interview – just seconds after strapping the belt around her waist – was inspirational.
Interviewer Joe Rogan referring to the intense leadup to the fight: “What was going through your mind when all this was happening?”
Just be a good person. That’s it.
Rose: “There’s so much crap going on in the media, news, and stuff, I just want to try and use my gift of martial arts to try and make this world a better place and to change the world.
“This belt don’t mean nothing, man. Just be a good person. That’s it.
“This (referring to her belt), this is extra. This is awesome, but let’s just give each other hugs and be nice, man. I mean, I know we fight but this is entertainment, you know, afterwards its nothing.”
Rogan: “…You are the new strawweight champion of the world. Tell us how you feel.”
Rose: “I feel like a normal person, man. That’s it. I’m just regular. Ain’t nothing special here.”
Something about that interview just stuck with me – hit me right in my heart. I could feel it in my bones that this was something I had recognized, but maybe never really seen before.
About two and a half hours later, my shift ended. The card finished with two more incredibly exciting finishes, including the triumphant return of GSP, one of Canada’s greatest athletic heroes.
While the buzz seemed to stay with St-Pierre and how exciting it will be for MMA to get back its golden boy, I didn’t seem to care as much about the return of this superstar who made my country so proud. Two quotes kept floating through my head.
“Just be a good person.”
“I’m just regular. Ain’t nothing special here.”
In the biggest moment of her career – possibly her life – Rose stayed as humble as could be and true to herself. She also made me feel less alone.
Any time I’ve had success in my life, I’ve felt a little uncomfortable with it. Happy, but unsure how to express it. I don’t celebrate for more than a few seconds. I don’t gloat. I feel like a large amount of luck had to have been involved. I don’t attach it to my self worth. I don’t want to get too high about it. And what I’ve figured out is that it’s all linked to mental health – I don’t want to feel too good about myself because I know depression can take it all away.
She also made me feel less alone.
Rose helped me figure that out and I realize there’s nothing wrong success in stride. I mean, as I write it out like this, it seems obvious, but I had never really seen it from someone else.
I can’t sit here and say I would have said the same thing as her if I had just won a UFC title. I have no idea what it takes to get there or what it’s like to be on that stage, but I was so damn proud that someone who sees the world in a similar light had achieved what she did and took the chance to spread a message of such positivity and love, despite having just punched someone in the face a lot.
“Just be a good person.”
That’s the best advice I can give myself or anyone else who is just trying to navigate through the day with some sense that your mental health problems aren’t getting the best of you. Don’t worry about becoming the UFC strawweight champion of the world or send your depression away forever everyday, just try to be a good person and good things will happen.