I first stepped into the blue basement of the legendary Renzo Gracie Academy in early 2005 when I lived in…
What Makes A World Champion?
When I was at a dinner with friends in Tokyo last week, I was asked what makes a World Champion. I paused to think of a short and simple answer because there are many elements and traits that make a World Champion. Over the last 30+ years, I’ve been blessed with the good fortune of working with, and/or training with, and/or learning from many World Champions. I’ve witnessed first-hand the process of forging a beginner into a World Champion several times. And I’ve also been “behind-the-scenes” with many world-class athletes who went on to fulfill their dreams of becoming World Champions. I could talk at length about this fascinating subject, but I will keep it short.
For me, one defining characteristic is an athlete who can perform under any circumstance. Most athletes can perform when conditions are perfect, but it is the rare athlete who can perform when conditions are terrible. If you talk to any World Champion, he/she will tell you of stories when he/she had to compete with a fever, a serious injury, a broken bone, no training, food poisoning, family problems, malnutrition, jet lag, poverty, a poor training camp, dehydration, or even pneumonia. And yet, they somehow emerged victorious. This X factor is not about talent or hard work or competence. It is 100% about what is in a person’s soul. It is the will to win, and the application of that will to find a way to win. It is a level of mental toughness and intelligence that very few people in the world truly understand.
Another key characteristic is the rate of learning. As Charles Darwin so aptly put it, it is not the strongest or smartest that survives. It is the one that adapts, learns, and evolves most efficiently to the changing environment that survives. In the martial arts world, humility is the key to learning. Humble athletes listen, learn, absorb, adapt, and evolve. They don’t close their minds to new ways, but they also don’t shun old ways. They surround themselves with greatness to unleash their greatness. They learn from everyone around them. Of course, it is very difficult to maintain humility throughout the process of going from beginner to World Champion. Fame and money do a lot to destroy humility. However, it is no coincidence that some of the most humble people I know are all World Champions. They are the rare ones who resisted the temptations of success and maintained a level of humility and hunger throughout the process.
In my job, people tell me all the time that they want to be a World Champion and that I should sign them up or support their career. The sad reality is that 99% of these athletes really have no clue what it takes. They want the fame, glory, and money of a World Champion, but they are unwilling to endure the suffering, pain, and heartbreak of that dream. The journey is a long arduous one that requires thousands of hours of boring, focused, mundane training, numerous failures, many heartbreaks, and super human resiliency. It also requires an army of family, friends, training partners, coaches, businessmen, companies, and fans to make it happen. The truth is that talent and hard work are simply prerequisites for this journey. Lastly, it takes a lot of good luck to become a World Champion. The road to becoming a World Champion is littered with many, many talented and hard-working athletes who never got a lucky break. When you put all of these pieces together, it highlights why a World Champion is 1 in 7 billion.
Chatri Sityodtong is a self-made entrepreneur and lifelong martial artist from Thailand. His rags-to-riches life story has inspired millions around the world on BBC News, CNN, Financial Times, Bloomberg TV, CNBC, Channel NewsAsia, and other major media. He is the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of ONE Championship, Asia’s largest global sports media property in history with a global broadcast to over 1.7 billion potential viewers across 136 countries around the world. Forbes most recently selected Sityodtong as one of Asia’s next generation tycoons. He was also named “Asia’s King of Martial Arts” by the Financial Times and the “3rd Most Powerful Person in Sports in Asia” by FOX Sports. He is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD, Europe’s top business school. Sityodtong holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Tufts University.