Irvin's candid advice at UFC Summit
Different sport. Same result.
Michael Irvin warned about the trappings that come with fame and fortune when speaking last month at the NFL’s rookie symposium. His impassioned talk was universally well-received by incoming draft picks. They heard a Hall of Fame wide receiver deliver a frank “do as I say, not as I did” admonition as an ex-player who admits he wishes someone would have given him such advice when first entering the league.
The powerful message that Irvin attempted to send isn’t one that applies solely to football. That’s why Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White commissioned Irvin to appear earlier this week at a UFC Summit in Las Vegas.
UFC star middleweight Michael Bisping was one of the 332 mixed martial arts fighters to attend the mandatory gathering, which has the same constructive intent as the NFL Rookie Symposium in trying to help athletes avoid the pitfalls that can come with their professional standing. Although considered one of UFC’s most well-grounded competitors outside the Octagon, Bisping told FOXSports that he still gets goose bumps thinking about Irvin’s address.
“It was an amazing talk about how to handle yourself,” Bisping said. “It was really mind-blowing.
“For me, Michael was the highlight but I found the whole (Summit) very useful. I’ve been around a long time. I can only imagine how useful this was to the younger fighters. There were a lot of people there who are just starting out. I wish someone had sat me down when I entered UFC in 2005 and told me all the things that were said.”
The two-day event covered a swath of topics. For the first time, UFC presented its fighters with a written policy for performance-enhancing drugs and had a medical expert speak about their dangers. White stressed financial accountability that included a reminder about annually paying income tax. UFC executive and chief legal counsel Lawrence Epstein told FOXSports the company emphasized making sure that fighters “are being socially conscious and sensitive to all different groups of people” by avoiding legal trouble like DUIs (i.e. UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones) and inappropriate comments on social media.
But like he did while earning his “Playmaker” nickname on the gridiron, Irvin highlighted the Summit by telling his cautionary tale.
“He explained to these guys about the responsibility standpoint of being a professional athlete,” said Epstein, who helped set the Summit’s agenda. “He said, ‘Listen, I want you guys to learn from the mistakes I made. You cannot make the mistakes I made and be a success.’
“This was a big thing. I sat through both days he talked and people were riveted by him.”
Irvin has a fascinating story to tell. One of 17 children, Irvin used football to raise himself out of poverty. After starring at the University of Miami, Irvin enjoyed a 12-year career with the Dallas Cowboys that ultimately led to his Hall of Fame induction.
Irvin, though, was admittedly not the same caliber of person during his playing days. He was arrested and suspended five games by the NFL for pleading no contest to a 1996 cocaine possession charge. He also engaged in several off-field brawls.
Irvin told FOXSports that one of the toughest conversations he had as a parent was explaining his past to his two young sons after they had typed his name into a Google search.
“My heart hit the bottom of my feet,” said Irvin, who is now a nationally syndicated radio show host and NFL Network analyst. “I don’t want any other man to have to stand in front of his son and have that conversation. But I told these guys that one day if they don’t make the right decision that’s what’s going to happen.”
A diehard MMA fan (he took his family to UFC 148 last weekend in Las Vegas), Irvin said he was honored that White asked him to speak at the UFC Summit. While some may consider the genre barbaric, Irvin believes there is a much larger reason for MMA’s rapid growth besides bloodlust.
“This is not just about people getting beat up but grabbing inspiration deep down,” Irvin said. “The reality is that life is going to hit you and make you cry. You have to fight back.”
At age 46, Irvin has done just that metaphorically and matured in the process. Irvin recalled how he steamed for three weeks after recently being shoved during a pick-up basketball game but knows he did the right thing by not retaliating.
Irvin encouraged UFC fighters to walk away from the negative influences and situations in their lives by remembering the legacies they will leave behind.
“I’ve lived with a great deal of regret in my life,” Irvin said. “I don’t want others to deal with that.
“Hopefully, I’m helping people. But this is also helping me more than anything.”
That’s one of the reasons Irvin’s UFC speech was a knockout.
“He said, ‘Even if you don’t want to do things for yourself, do them for the people in your heart. Do them for your children and your family,’” Bisping said. “It was very inspiring.”