A dream came true for Gurdarshan “Saint Lion” Mangat at the ONE Elite Retreat earlier this month.
Out in Phuket, Thailand, the Indian mixed martial artist got the chance to meet his hero, Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort for the first time, and share the remarkable story of how he inspired him to discover martial arts and live a better life.
Belfort is known for being one of the most spectacular athletes in mixed martial arts history. The multi-time World Champion has competed across various weight classes, against a who’s who of all-time greats of the sport.
However, many newer fans may not know the struggles and torment he went through when he lost his sister to kidnappers 15 years ago. He was on the verge of martial arts greatness, with a World Title shot just weeks away, when his life was turned upside down.
At the ONE athlete retreat, Brazilian legend Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort found out the profound impact he had on the life of Indian superstar Gurdarshan Gary "Saint Lion" Mangat Download the ONE Super App now http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp
Posted by ONE Championship on Wednesday, 17 April 2019
“My pain started when my sister got kidnapped in 2004, three weeks before my title fight. She’s still missing,” he explains.
Remarkably, Belfort has opened up and shared the details of the pain caused by losing his sister.
And after putting out a video sharing his pain, some 15 years later, he met a fellow martial artist whose life he touched with his words back then.
“You’ve got to accept pain. You’ve got to learn how to digest pain,” he adds.
“The day after my fight, they invited me to do a talk. I sat in a chair, and I shared everything I could. They compiled what I said and put out a video, and that video changed the life of this amazing fighter.”
That man was Mangat, who explained the huge impact that Belfort’s situation had on his own personal pain as he shared his own story of how tragedy struck early in his life, and how Belfort’s words proved transformative for his own personal wellbeing.
“This man was literally part of my childhood from the age of 6. Not just his fighting, but what he holds on a personal level to me,” he explains.
“Me and my cousin, who was Vitor’s age, we used to always watch his fights. He was much older than me, and I loved being around him. He looked like Vitor, he talked like Vitor, and he had the same build. Years later, my cousin passed away. He committed suicide.
“I came home after winning a medal in swimming, excited to show him, only to find out that they had found him passed away inside a car.
“This is where this hate built inside of me, this anger built inside of me. I created such hate towards the world because he was everything to me.”
As well as anger towards the world, Mangat also battled with mental issues during his school years.
“I started dealing with depression as I got older,” he says.
“I started dealing with anxiety. I started having very low self-esteem all through high school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.”
But things changed when he moved away from home and received news that his hero was returning to competition, and had also been through the most difficult time of his life.
Mangat absorbed everything “The Phenom” had to say, but struggled to come to terms with it, at first.
“I moved out to the big city, only to realize that Vitor had made a comeback – and he had made a video,” he continues.
“He was talking about how you must use your pain to inspire others. You must go through what you must go through to be able to change other people’s lives.
“At that time, I didn’t understand. How was this man able to not hold anger knowing that his sister had been kidnapped, had gone through what they had, knowing what he had known from Brazil? And I’m holding all this anger.”
Belfort’s message resonated with Mangat in a profound way. The ONE flyweight star took the Brazilian legend’s words to heart and used them to rebuild his inner strength and start a new chapter in his life.
“I would watch that video like medicine,” he reveals.
“I would watch it three, four times a day. I would take the words from it and apply it.
“From there, I found mixed martial arts. From mixed martial arts, I discovered the power of our mind, and it was through Vitor. I’m like, ‘What he’s discovering, I can discover also.’
“And from that, I started learning lessons from what he was saying in that video. Even to this day, I still watch that video.”
“I don’t hold that pain and hurt anymore. I fought depression, I fought anxiety, and I was able to rebound back.”
When Mangat met his inspirational idol in person, he was finally able to share his story with Belfort, and thank him for the words that inspired him to resolve his deepest, darkest issues.
“This moment was 25 years in the making, and truly, I thought it wouldn’t come true,” he admits.
“I’ve waited for 25 years to meet this man, to be able to tell him about the pain that he saved me from – the tragedy he saved me from.”
Belfort’s reply was typically modest.
“You know that we are one, and it’s a privilege for me to share my pain, and my pain becomes your healing,” he said.
Inspired by a martial arts legend, “Saint Lion” offered valuable words of advice for anyone else who might be going through painful times.
“Whatever pain you have, you have to share with the world,” he adds.
“Whenever I feel like I don’t need to inspire people, I remember what this man did for me. You don’t know whose life it’s going to save. Use your pain as a platform.”