A great deal of what makes men contrastingly different from women, has a lot to do with testosterone. With high testosterone comes greater aggression, dexterity, cognitive focus and also, greater sex drive. Thus making testosterone a biological element that is tantamount to the success of competitive athletes.
So what happens to an athlete’s career if something happens to lower his testosterone levels for extended periods? Something like having a child?
Studies show that testosterone levels plunge in men who recently fathered a child. This particular study focused on a large representative test population from the Philippines. The test notices that single, non-fathering men who tested for high testosterone were more likely to succeed at mating hence achieving fatherhood, and after which had significantly lower testosterone compared to their single non-fathering counterparts of the same age group.
Additionally, based off studies of various avian species, and followed by a 10-year study of US Servicemen, it suggests that “there is also increasing evidence that caregiving predicts which fathers have lowest Testosterone.” To put it simply, more nurturing fathers who participate actively in their children’s upbringing similarly showcases lower testosterone than single, non-fathers. This drop in testosterone levels for partnered and actively participating fathers, is still significant even after taking into account the natural drop in testosterone due to age.
Yet, we often see amazing athletes and sportsmen continue to succeed, and in some cases, excel above and beyond, after the birth of their child. Look no further than Tennis player Novak Djokovic, Ice Hockey player Alex Burrows and Nascar driver Kevin Harvick for examples of athletes whose performance improved since becoming a father. In all three cases, the fathers attributed their success to a change in their priorities. Initially, the win was all there was, whether on the tennis court, the ice ring or the racing track. Now, life is bigger than the matches; priorities have shifted to the memories and experiences created with their newborn babies.
When asked how financial responsibilities affect professional athletes, Gettler, the author of the study we referred to earlier on, stated in an interview,
Given that professional athletes’ careers are generally pretty short-lived, I would conjecture that this additional motivation to secure their family’s future, could fully compensate for whatever marginal effects a dip in testosterone might have for [athletes] at the apex of their sport…
But how does the significant drop in testosterone affect fighters? In a sport that is predicated on aggression at its purest and most natural form. We interviewed three fighters, all from very different walks of life, to better understand how being a father has affected them in their fighting careers. Here are their bios followed by their personal accounts.
BURN “HITMAN” SORIANO
Burn Soriano is a professional MMA fighter who is based in Manila, Philippines and has carved a reputation for putting on exciting and highly entertaining fights that have been pushing fans to the edge of their seats. A current bantamweight competing in ONE Championship, holding a record of 3 wins – 3 losses, the “Hitman” has been thrilling MMA fans all around Asia on the big stage no matter the outcome of his fights. The fact that none of his matches has ever been decided by the judges is a testament to the exhilarating style that he brings each time he steps into the cage.
Burn has recently become a father and is still adapting to the dual roles of being a caregiver at home, and pain-dealer in the cage or at the gym. He has no doubt that fatherhood has affected him as a fighter and is happy to be sharing his experience with us on the subject.
JAY “PRIMO” SOLMIANO
Jay Solmiano is an accomplished professional boxer who came from humble beginnings in San Andres, Catanduanes and rose to fame in the regional circuit by becoming a Philippine Lightweight Champion and World Boxing Organization (WBO) Interim Asia Pacific Light-Welterweight Champion back in 2013.
Jay begun training in boxing since he was 14 years old and started competing at 18 in amateur boxing, and occasionally in Muay Thai and even MMA (URCC) in the Philippines. He transitioned into pro boxing 10 years ago at age 20 and has competed extensively in the Philippines, and in recent years in Japan and Hong Kong. He holds a successful record of 19 wins – 3 losses – 1 draw in his pro career. Jay is currently based in Hong Kong and is a full-time boxing coach at V2 Sports Studio. Jay is also amid resurging his boxing career and is now riding a 2-fight win streak since making his comeback into the ring.
Solmiano entered fatherhood 5 years ago and is now a proud father of 2 children. He claims that fatherhood has significantly impact his life and changed him as a fighter. While he works and lives in Hong Kong, his family still resides in the Philippines and Jay constantly misses them.
NAIMUL AMAL OTHMAN
Naimul Amal is the embodiment of a modern day MMA warrior in Malaysia. His path in sport fighting started since he was a child, when he begun training in his nation’s most esteemed martial art, Silat, which he excelled as a young standout. While Silat remains his constant passion, Naimul’s curiosity and strong desire to expand his paradigm in fighting, drove him to pick up Taekwondo and also Boxing through adolescence.
In 2013, Naimul formally embraced MMA holistically and begun serious training to compete within Malaysia’s amateur circuits. He currently holds an impressive record of 9 wins 4 losses in amateur MMA, as well as a professional Silat record of 2 wins 2 losses. Naimul Amal fights out of Kuala Lumpur city, where he shuttles between CTR-313 Muay Thai, Legion Fitness MMA and Persatuan Silat Banji Harimau Merah for the specific trainings he needs to hone his craft.
Naimul became a father to a beautiful daughter in 2014. As he would share, family life seems to be mostly positive for the Malaysian. As a husband, father and a fighter, he channels his fighting spirit in all aspects of life, and acknowledges that family support is what fuels that same spirit; responsible for all that is successful for him.
As a fighter, did you notice any changes either physically or mentally after becoming a father?
(Burn Soriano) I did not know that men go through hormonal changes during fatherhood prior to this interview. Thinking back now, I’d say yes, there is a huge difference. Physically, I could feel that I am not the same as before, but the biggest change for me is psychological. I noticed the “killer instinct” that I had naturally before, has decreased a lot after my daughter was born. And along with it, my drive to compete and to fight had also dropped. It was harder to stay motivated and remain aggressive during trainings. All this was right around the time of my first fight in ONE Championship, where I had lost.
(Jay Solmiano) Yes. For me, the change started once my first baby was born. Before that, even in the 9 months of my wife’s pregnancy, I did not think about or cared much for the well-being of the baby. I was only focused in my boxing career. But everything changed after I have met my daughter. My entire mindset regarding my career slowly changed as I started to think a lot about my financial responsibilities for my family and my children’s future. The mindset played a part in my decision to halt my boxing career in 2014 and to relocate to Hong Kong for a more stable job and income.
I also felt the difference physically. My body did not feel the same since becoming a father. And the aggression that used to come naturally for me as a fighter has also decreased.
(Naimul Amal) Not physically, but there was a difference mentally. Before I became a father, I had no fear of the risks that comes with fighting. I do not think about the consequences of injury that could potentially put me out of work, or render me incapable of taking care of or even just enjoying life with my family. But now, thoughts of those fears cross my mind frequently.
Would you say the change had a negative impact on your performance during trainings and competitions?
(Burn Soriano) Hmm… I can’t say for sure it did, but it was certainly a tough period for me while I was adapting to the changes in my life.
(Jay Solmiano) The change is not significant enough to affect my performance as a fighter. Perhaps it’s because I am a positive person by nature, so I try to overcome all that when I train and during fights by willing my body through. I would tell myself in my mind: “Come on! I can do this! I can go harder!” I am still able to control my levels of aggression during fights consciously.
(Naimul Amal) It did not affect my performance negatively at all. In fact, I would say it had a positive impact for me. Once I get past the risk and consequences part in my mind, my family then becomes my source of motivation to perform better. I fight because I love the sport and I want to do well because I want to make my family proud of my achievements. I wish to set an example for my daughter, to instil the values of hard work, determination and passion for the things you love to do in life.
Did fatherhood affect the way you train and prepare for fights?
(Burn Soriano) Yes, it does. Absolutely! Now thinking back to when I was single, I used to live, breath and think about fighting all the time, even when I go to sleep. My “killer instinct” was always present in me 24/7, especially during training camps.
And when my wife became pregnant until shortly after my daughter was born, I was still doing my training camps during the day and going home every night to be with them. Unlike some other cultures, where fighters separate themselves from their families during training camps; in the Philippines, we have strong family ties, so it was the normal thing to do. I had a really hard time adjusting to the change in my life, because my wife had expectations for me to be around more during her pregnancy. Plus, I had to constantly switch my mindset every day from an aggressive state to being a family guy and back and forth again. It was disruptive for my focus to train and to mentally prepare for fights.
But all that is changed now because I have switched training camps. I am currently training with ONE Heavyweight Champion Brandon Vera, Bellator Middleweight A.J. Matthews and coach George Castro, where my entire training regime, diet and nutrition is totally different. I also live and train on weekdays with my camp now and I only see my family on weekends. Though I miss my family badly all week, but I feel that this arrangement is working well for me. Most importantly, I have the full support from my wife to do this and that is the biggest factor for me. So, we’ll have to see how it all turns out based on the results of my next fight, which is coming soon in May.
(Jay Solmiano) My situation is unique because I live overseas apart from my family. My family does not react well during the process of me going through fights. So I keep competitive boxing separate from my family life. I find that I can concentrate on my preparations better if my family weren’t around me during training camps. So even if I am living together with my family, I will move out for the entire duration of training camp until the actual fight, so that I can fully commit myself to the competition without distractions.
(Naimul Amal) I think it is affected and this is the toughest part for me since becoming a family man. The juggling of commitments between my family, my job as an executive and for training as a fighter. These are all important parts of my life right now and sometimes, scheduling to make everything fit well into my life can be hard to deal with.
Would you say becoming a father has made you a different fighter or changed the way you approach fighting?
(Burn Soriano) Not at all. My mind-set as a fighter is still the same. For example, during fight days, when I’m readying my mind while my coach is wrapping my hands, I will keep thoughts of my family out of my mind and focus entirely on defeating my opponent, because that is my goal. This is what I love to do and it’s the reason why I love fighting. So, that part of me has never changed.
(Jay Solmiano) I think it did change me mentally. Now, I am inspired to do well for my wife and children. I wish to reinvigorate my career in boxing again, but now, I do so because I want to provide more for my family’s future. I take financial considerations more seriously now when accepting fights.
(Naimul Amal) I feel I am still the same fighter physically and stylistically. I still fight with the same aggressive pace as I did before becoming a father. But I think I have become a better fighter now because I approach fights more intelligently. By recognising the risks and consequences better, it makes me evaluate my strategies more in order to win. So I would say my family gave me a stronger desire to win my fights.
Having my family around on fight day is also important to me. I try to look out to see them in the crowd when I am walking out to the cage or ring for my fights. They are my source of strength and seeing them just before battle motivates me to perform to my best.
How will you react if your child tells you one day that he/she wishes to pursue a career in fighting just like you?
(Burn Soriano) Oh shit… No! No way! The fight world is crazy and I don’t think I can deal with that! I think that’s because I only have a daughter and I love her too much. Perhaps it would be alright I had a boy, but because she is a girl and she is my sweetheart…
(at this point, I highlighted to Burn a list of highly successful women in the fight game today for his consideration…)
No. I think I will still be against it.
(Jay Solmiano) I do not like the idea of my children choosing a career in fighting. But if they are serious about it, then I guess I must support their decision. And I believe that I can help by training them right. However, I do not think I am able to bring myself to watch their fights. As a father, I think it will break my heart to see someone else try to hurt my children inside the ring.
(Naimul Amal) [Laughs…] My daughter has already told me that she wishes to become a fighter when she grows up! And frankly, it makes me happy to know she thinks that way. I will support her if that is truly her decision later in life. I will even train her to be successful.
Though this interview comes nowhere close to providing a conclusive study on the subject, it did however give us a glimpse into the ways having a baby could potentially affect fighters. For better or worse, procreating is after all one of life’s most significant chapters that impacts everyone going through it. While Burn and Jay both experienced a slight dip in their physical states and more notably, a knowing decrease in their levels of aggression, Naimul however did not. But one thing for sure that affected all three fighters was how the change in lifestyle proved disruptive to their training and preparation for fights.
In conclusion and citing a common theme we’ve gleaned out of all three cases, is the importance of having family support in the course of their fighting careers. From a psychological standpoint, more good seems to come out of having a family that provides motivation for a fighter to excel in their martial paths.
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FightGeek would like to thank Burn Soriano, Jay Solmiano and Naimul Amal Othman for contributing their precious life experiences for this article.
Biggest thanks to Joey Tan for her extensive research and diligent input in making this possible.