There are several definitions. I have fought under professional MMA rules with punches & elbows on the floor, 5 minute rounds, getting paid in some way to compete. I wouldn’t say though that I’ve ever been a professional MMA fighter. Throughout my fight career I’ve always had another job to support myself, fighting was just an ambition, a hobby & something I had to pursue on my own time.
Professionalism is rare in the world of fighting sports. Pretty much anyone can be a professional fighter, as long as they agree to fight a certain person on a certain date under specified rules. After that they will forever be considered as a professional fighter, this is in spite of the fact that we can clearly see from their performances & attitude that they’re preparation hasn’t been professional.
Unfortunately for us, fighting sports are something that literally anyone can do & can become a professional at. People will turn up (& pay) to watch literally anyone having a punch up. The same cannot be said for other sports, for example no one will turn up to watch two untrained people having a tennis match or playing golf.
The lack of professionalism in fighting sports both from competitors and coaching staff is something that would not be tolerated in other professional sports.
This is from a typical daily schedule from a professional Rugby team
Skill work for the Backs followed by a strength training session
Skill work for the Forwards followed by a strength training session
Team video study, includes notational and statistical analysis
Player Massage appointments
Team Defence and aerobic conditioning.
As you can see the schedule is organised and everyone knows where they have to be and what they have to do at a certain time. In professional sports teams players are fined if they miss training sessions. If they are injured they still attend training to do rehab exercises & still work on other skills which will not interfere with their recovery from the injury
To me this kind of organisation is the real meaning of professionalism & it’s something I haven’t seen in the world of fighting sports anywhere in the world, bearing in mind that I’ve trained in Brazil, Japan, USA, Australia & all over Europe. Fight sports in general are the opposite of professional.
I understand that not everyone can commit the time required of a professional athlete but I think this is the standard that we need to aim for in terms of professionalism & organisation. Don’t be happy to just do what everyone else is doing & kidding ourselves that we are professionals when in reality we are treating the sport like a hobby.
If you truly want to be a professional the first step is to act like a professional.