What’s the worst possible outcome for any athlete?
The answer to that question is obvious: a loss.
It could be argued that In MMA, the feeling a fighter has after a loss is multiple notches higher compared to an athlete in a team sport. The simple reason for this is that teams usually have another game coming up in the very near future. Fighters often do not. They train for weeks, and sometimes even months, for one moment and usually need time off between fights to let their body heal.
While the wins are very high, the losses are equally low. However, not all losses are the same. Where a fighter stands in their career and other surrounding circumstances can influence how that particular fighter handles a loss.
Resurrection Fighting Alliance 34 competitor Joe Guerrero is a testament to this statement. He suffered his first loss in 2013 when he made his amateur debut. Fast-forward to 2016. Now, Guerrero is the owner of a six-fight winning streak. That streak, however, came to an end in his last fight. Guerrero is once again on the bounce-back trail. This time, though, he feels he is better equipped to handle a setback.
“My first loss, I didn’t know what to expect,” Guerrero told Combat Press. “I just knew I was going to fight, and that’s all I pretty much knew. I didn’t know much about the sport as a whole yet. Then losing just made me want to work so much harder and made me want to get those wins and see what it is like to be on the other side.
“Then, when I had all those wins and put all those wins together before I got that second loss, it kind of hit me in a different spot. It made me think of how much work I’ve been putting in and whether or not I was putting enough in or how serious I was taking the sport. So my mindset went to see if this is what I want to do. I came from wrestling, and I lost in wrestling — I lost a lot. But even back then after a loss, I would just say, ‘Let’s get back in the gym and work on things so then I don’t lose again.’”
A wrestling base is always a good start for any fighter. Guerrero has a head start in that department. He started wrestling at an early age. Now, he feels the need to round out his game to reach the highest levels of mixed martial arts. To do so, he competed for GLORY, one of the top kickboxing promotions in the world. What better way to improve his stand-up skills than by accepting a fight that exclusively takes place on the feet?
Things did not go Guerrero’s way that night, but it was more about the experience than the actual outcome for the young fighter’s career.
“The experience of competing for GLORY was unreal,” said Guerrero. “Knowing that is the top level of stage for kickboxing was enough to get me jittery, other than the fight itself. That experience was, to put it in short words, it was very fun, awesome and an amazing experience — and scary.”
Most fighters who are about to step inside a combat competition, regardless of the discipline, are likely to feel a little bit of nerves heading in there. That’s especially true when a fighter exits their own comfort zone.
“I’ll probably do kickboxing again, but I don’t think I’ll ever go full-time to kickboxing unless I complete all my goals in MMA,” Guerrero said. “I want to conquer all the goals I have set out. If I complete all my goals in MMA and I get done with doing what I am doing and my career has [come] to a pretty good stop and I am happy with where I am, then I’ll maybe think about kickboxing.”
Guerrero seems to be at least a few years away from reaching his goals, so it is safe to say we won’t see him move to full-time kickboxing in the near future. However, the timeline for his goals has nothing to do with a lack of talent or a great team surrounding to surround him. He has solid check marks in both of these areas. The thing is, Guerrero hasn’t even gone pro yet.
The Denver native started his amateur career a little over two years ago. The 22-year-old has already fought eight times as an amateur, making him a rare breed in MMA. Most fighters have just a few amateur fights very close to each other and then make the jump to the pro circuit. Guerrero and his team are taking a different approach.
“I choose to have an extensive amateur career at the very beginning, before I even had my first fight,” he revealed. “I planned on having at least eight to 10 fights as an amateur. Growing up in wrestling, it took me so long to develop. I’m a hard worker, but I don’t have that natural talent. I mean, everyone has it, but you have to dig deep to find it. You have to make sure it’s for you. I had a plan set out that I wanted to get the experience for MMA because, coming from wrestling, I needed to learn all the angles for MMA and become the best mixed martial artist that I could, because I take this as serious as anyone, even as the guys in the top level. I take it just as serious as they do, because that is where I want to be. That’s why I am taking my time with my amateur career.”
Here we are in 2016. Guerrero is heading into his ninth amateur fight. Will he be making the jump to the professional ranks later this year? Maybe after this fight?
Well, the answer to that question is no.
Guerrero is coming off a loss, albeit a very close split decision, and that might have thrown a wrench into his master plan. A loss this late into his amateur campaign has made Guerrero reevaluate when he wants to make the move.
“It put me back on my butt and made me think,” said Guerrero. “I had to take a little bit of time off. I wasn’t at the gym for a while; I wasn’t training. I got a side job working as a bouncer at a bar. I just had to take it to heart and think if I want to go pro I needed to work three times as hard. I need to put in the work. I was on a six-fight winning streak and then I lost. I didn’t lose because he was completely better than me. I didn’t lose because I wasn’t able to compete with that fighter. I lost because I wasn’t performing to the best of my ability.
“I wasn’t giving it all I had at practice when I knew I could’ve given more. It definitely set me back on my heels a little bit and made me think. It really opened my eyes to how much dedication I need to put into this to accomplish the goals that I want.”
Guerrero is still a very young talent in the sport, though. Even the fighter himself would be quick to admit that he still has a ton to learn. If his education is progressing thanks to all his amateur experience, as he says it is, all the up-and-coming pros in the 125-pound division need to take note of the name Joe Guerrero. They’ll be hearing it plenty in the future.