He sat alone, inconspicuous to the fans around him and to the action inside of the ring, just off to the side of the stage. It was the first seat in the first row right behind the barrier next to the stage. Those were the seats that intentionally weren’t filled and had played host to a revolving-door of fighters and entourages throughout the night. This was the place where the winners and losers found themselves after their night had ended just to watch the show, this was where Ben Edwards found himself moments after Errol Zimmerman had put him down and out in the first round of their fight.
Edwards was sporting a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt, looking calm, collected, not tired at all or like he had just been involved in a fight of any kind. He may have been knocked out, but his face lacked the markings of someone who had just taken a series of punches to it. A fan or two in the crowd might have yelled out his name, but he was incognito, almost removed from the event entirely. I watched as he shook his head at the sight of Pat Barry going down for a second time, getting his brains scrambled. Edwards distinctly understood the disappointment that Barry was going through at that moment.
Sometimes it is difficult to humanize the guys that train their hearts out for our entertainment, difficult to understand their sacrifices that they make and how after the bell has rung, they are just as human as you or I are. Today I rolled out of bed facing a ten-year old car that decided not to start, just one month shy now of a wedding that is costing a lot more than we had initially projected. It’s just another cost and another inconvenience among many of late for me. Yesterday was also a day where a job that owes me seven months of pay sent me one month and asked if I’d start working again. I hate saying no, in just about any situation, but I barely have time to collect my thoughts right now, never mind work for a promise while the bills stack up.
It’s safe to say that some days I understand what Ben Edwards was thinking about as he sat there at GLORY 16 in Broomfield, Colorado quite well. I introduced myself to him as he sat there, alone, taking in the atmosphere. He looked relaxed, calm, a bit embarrassed to be found out in his seat. We stood about the same height, similar build, but one of us was just a God of War who was now adjusting to life as a mortal again. That guy was having a rough night. Ben was quick to apologize, to say that he made a mistake, that he got sloppy, but I assured him that it was no big deal and that he’s come so far in the past few years. He knows that I’ve been following his career and knows that I’m quick to talk up his technical evolution over the past few years. We talked about his technical breakdown of Catalin Morosanu from a few months prior before I left him to stew in his thoughts, knowing that having a rough night means that conversation can be laborious -- especially moments after being humanized.
Raymond Daniels, who fought on the undercard, was walking around the floor of the arena where fans were shouting out his name and stopping to take photos with him while Ben Edwards sat watching Errol Zimmerman walking to the ring again. I won’t even pretend to understand his thought process at the moment, although I could make some educated guesses. I myself found the surreal in seeing Edwards sitting there, watching Zimmerman walk to the ring, Daniels being mobbed, while Josh Jauncey and his brother Jay walked by with Andy Souwer in tow and everyone seemed completely unaware of the gravity and sheer madness of the situation.
All I could think is that Edwards was seconds away from being that guy walking to the ring. Edwards was raining down punishment on Zimmerman, but got caught, so here he is, in the stands, watching the world turn without him, a mortal like the rest of us. On that night he was far from home and all of the countries that he’d been to, all of the big shows that he’s fought on, all of the accolades that he had gained throughout his career didn’t matter, he was just another guy who had a rough night on the job. He was just another observer. There was a strong disconnect from victory and defeat.
We talk about these fighters from a distance, we weigh their perceived value and potential matchups. We place them in numbered lists and assign them value based on the last time that we saw them, but sometimes forget to humanize them and relate them to our own day-to-day struggles. Today I woke up thinking about all of the work that I had waiting for me, quickly dismissing messages on my phone asking when I’d have an article up or if I saw their last message. Sometimes I consider changing professions, pulling away from the sliver of the public eye that I have and the abuse that I open myself to daily. I know that I’m not alone in thinking that, either.
The other day Ben Edwards posted on his Facebook that he was available to dog-sit for anyone in his town that needed it. There was a hint of playfulness in it, just like changing his occupation to “Dog Sitter,” but Ben is already back at work training for an upcoming fight. Just like I continue on, Ben Edwards continues on, re-assimilating himself into the image that the world knows him in. The world keeps turning and Ben Edwards is making sure that he’s not just along for the ride, but for one night he was a human being whose hopes and dreams were as fragile and elusive as our own all are. That night I saw Ben Edwards be larger-than-life in the ring, fighting as one of the best Heavyweight in the world against one of the best Heavyweights in the world, then saw him as a vulnerable guy who was much more than the public’s image of him, the promotion’s image of him, my image of him or his own image of himself.
He’s the amalgamation of those images and he’s not them at all, just like we all are.