"Icarus" by Chris Rini
On January 19th, 2008, 25-year-old Joe "Daddy" Stevenson found himself headlining UFC 80, fighting for the lightweight title against BJ Penn in Newcastle, England.
Stevenson had come to prominence two-and-a-half years earlier by winning The Ultimate Fighter season 2 as a welterweight. Shortly afterwards, he dropped down to lightweight and finished his next three opponents, Yves Edwards (TKO by doctor stoppage), Dokonjonosuke Mishima (guillotine), and Melvin Guillard (guillotine). A unanimous decision victory over Kurt Pellegrino earned him a shot at the interim lightweight championship.
Good as he was, though, Stevenson couldn’t keep up with Penn. Seconds into their fight Stevenson was dropped by an uppercut. Penn was relentless on the ground, refusing to allow Stevenson to sweep, get up, or mount any significant offense. With less than a minute to go in the first round, Penn landed a slicing elbow to the center of Stevenson's forehead, which immediately began pouring blood. In the second round, Penn landed another hard shot. This time when they hit the ground, Stevenson was unable to maintain position. Penn secured the mount, and began landing strikes. In an attempt to escape, Stevenson gave up his back, which allowed Penn to sink in a rear naked choke. Stevenson tapped out.
Joe "Daddy" would remain in the UFC for three and half more years, but his career was never the same after his fight with Penn. It's possible that the wear and tear of professional fighting for nine years wouldn’t allow him to surpass his previous accomplishments, but the psychological anguish of the loss to Penn was apparent in his bloody face right after the fight. Crouched down on his hands and knees, he seemed to be feeling the pain of unmet aspirations more than any cut or bruise.
Athletes are often served a double loss in situations like these. Losing a competition is a disheartening experience, but the second loss, of one's dreams, can be much harder to bear. I wanted to try and capture some part of that anguish.