There are different levels of being a fighter. A person will call themselves a fighter, even if they have never stepped in the ring. Even more commonly, a person with a fight or two will identify as a fighter. Some fight professionally, having a solid list of fights under their belt, and still hold a day job to pay the bills. Few ever can make fighting their primary job.
Being a fighter comes at a price. A fighter sacrifices many things. They can't always eat or drink what they want. Sometimes, they can't take time to relax. At fight time, they can't spend the night they way they might like to with the person they might like to. Lots of stuff get sacrificed.
The fighter also will certainly experience bumps and bruises, sprains and strains. They'll have unhealed sore spots and maybe an scary itchy or warm sore pimple-like spot that will warrant trips to the doctor.
No matter what the level of dedication, fighting definitely takes its toll on the body, and sometimes the head.
This is what I want to focus on for a bit. We've all seen the shakes of Muhammed Ali and Freddie Roach. While you can often see the puffy ears, flattened noses and scarred faces of a career fighter clearly from several feet away, it's a scarier thing to see the cumulative effect of a fight career on a person's speech.
Having met many Thais with hundreds of fights, I've seen only handful of Muay Thai fighters who are "punch drunk" or "punchy". Having only met a handful of top-level boxers, I've seen the majority of them with visible wear to their brains. The MMA fighters I've known are somewhere in the middle.
So, why is it that the boxers I know, with 20-40 fights show more wear than Thais with 200+? Of course, boxers take more head hits in each fight, but that still doesn't account for the disparity. So, what is it? Who knows... There isn't much research on the subject. But, as far as I can tell, it's more about the training.
Thais don't try to hurt each other during sparring. They want to get better, practice being in a fight against an opponent who is trying to avoid being hit and hit them. If someone gets caught in Thai sparring, the other fighter lays off, taking it easy. If you drop your sparring partner to the body, you poke fun at them and help them off the canvas. If you wobble your training partner to the head, you totally lay off. If you drop your sparring partner to the head, you are an asshole, or at least feel like one. You apologize. You make sure they are ok. You help them up, make sure they take it easy, get them water and check up on them.
They are done for the day. they take it easy for the next few days before sparring again, at least.
This is not true for boxing gyms and some MMA gyms. Here, it's regular practice to knock out training partners. If you wobble your sparring partner to the head, you step on the gas pedal. If you knock your sparring partner out: good job, it's what you're supposed to do.
This is the problem, in my opinion. Boxers and MMA fighters are taking beatings in the gym that Thai fighters never would. Thai fighters save it for the ring and can therefore fight more often. They remember their times tables and don't stutter when they have had 40 fights. They can remember how to tie their shoes and can keep their hands steady enough to do it for themselves.
Fighting comes with risk, with sacrifice, and at a price. But if done right, a fighter can be safe during training. It's important to the longevity of a career and to having a chance at enjoying life after competition.
Please spar safely, boys and girls. Punch your friends like they're your friends.
Fight in the ring, learn in the gym.