Artem Lobov was the 'man in the arena' at UFC Fight Night 138, but is that all we're allowed to say?
If the Teddy Roosevelt quote didn’t exist, social media would have had to invent it. You know the one, the “man in the arena” quote. The one that has shown up in more Facebook memes and Twitter posts than all those exhortations to live, laugh and love combined.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
John Kavanagh, the longtime coach to Artem Lobov and Conor McGregor, is the latest to lean on it in a Facebook post defending Lobov after his third straight loss at UFC Fight Night 138 on Saturday night.
“If it’s just records you’re interested in, if someone’s win/loss record is as deep as your analysis is capable of then I’d stop reading now,” Kavanagh wrote the day after Lobov’s fight. “Actually if you’ve never really tried to achieve anything yourself and instead enjoy making snide remarks and commentating on where ‘the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better’ then I recommend Chuck Mindenhall’s recent article.”
That last part is a reference to an MMA Fighting column in which The Man In The Hat examined the fun that some fans online have had with pretending that Lobov is the GOAT. The column itself isn’t at all mean-spirited. Instead it’s a fair and honest look at that weirdly popular online fiction and how it meshes with the reality of a fighter who is 2-5 in the UFC, yet continues to get prominent placement on fight cards.
But see, there I go mentioning wins and losses without giving due respect to Lobov as a “doer of deeds” and a strong man “in the arena.” You can see why combat sports people love this Roosevelt quote. Not only is the imagery right up their alley, but it’s versatile enough to act as a shield against virtually any criticism.
Richard Nixon was a big fan of it. He sent the quote to supporters after losing the 1960 Presidential election to John F. Kennedy, then used it again in his resignation speech in 1974. Kind of ironic, considering that it was the deeds he had been the doer of that forced him to resign in the first place.
It’s easier to sympathize when it comes from fighters and coaches. Fighters work extremely hard to prepare themselves for this one contest on this one night. They take great risks, make intense sacrifices, and then they expose themselves to potential ridicule and embarrassment in a deeply intimate way before a mostly unforgiving audience.
Of course, they also do it because they want to. They do it for themselves, for money or for glory or to quiet some nagging voice from childhood that’s still telling them they’re not good enough. Everyone has their own reasons, even if some of them (did I mention the money?) can’t help but overlap.
You can see why it must sting for a coach like Kavanagh to see his fighter made into a punchline. He knows the guy, sees the work he puts in and probably feels like he deserves better. As Kavanagh pointed out, it’s not like he’s getting totally steamrolled in these losses.
At the same time, when that’s the best thing you can say about a fighter, you’ve just told us something. What complicates the ballad of Artem Lobov is the same thing that made it possible – his association with McGregor.
Rightly or wrongly, the general perception is that Lobov has stuck around this long in the UFC because he’s pals with the biggest superstar in the sport. The UFC wants to make McGregor happy, so it keeps Lobov employed.
Fans notice this. How can they not? While we can all selectively decide when records do and don’t matter, the fact is that you just don’t see a whole lot of 13-14 fighters in the co-headlining spot of UFC events. In a sport that sells itself as a vicious meritocracy, here’s a guy proving that it still helps to know people.
But in terms of actual physical ability, he’s not a spotlight-caliber fighter. Even Kavanagh essentially admitted as much when he wrote that Lobov doesn’t have “the skills to be a UFC world champion.” If that’s the way your own..
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