How to Be a Champion
Author: Lauren Hunsberger | Photography: Yasmeen Nayfeh | Posted In: Meet | December 2022
Over the years, member Tony Sablan has gleaned a lot of wisdom from coaching and competing in sports, having a family, and achieving his professional goals. However, he says success in all these arenas came from the same core principles. So here’s his best advice for starting a new year stronger than ever, no matter the objective.
The most striking thing about Tony Sablan is how calm he is as he sits down for an 8 a.m. interview. He’s already worked out, grabbed coffee, and prepped for his day job as a financial planner.
I don’t know what I expected from someone who spends the other half of his day coaching world-class mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters and training his own skills. Call me naive, but I thought there’d be a bit more bellicose energy—a little more chaos, maybe?
“The sport has elevated me in so many ways,” Sablan says. “It’s all about discipline, confidence, having goals, and working through things without giving up. It’s elevated me as a father and professional because they’re all connected. They all follow shockingly similar principles.”
It’s clear those principles have worked for him. For more than two decades, Sablan has trained and coached at AMC, an MMA gym in Woodinville that’s home to champion fighters such as Matt Hume, Josh Barnett, Rich Franklin and Demetrious Johnson—arguably some of the most successful fighters of this generation.
A few months before publication, he stood in Johnson’s corner, coaching him through a win at the ONE Championship, the Super Bowl of MMA events. “It was the culmination of all the hard work, being able to lift my friend’s arm in the middle of the ring for a giant fight airing on Amazon Prime.”
When he’s not sparring with some of the most accomplished athletes in the world, he’s busy helping others plan their financial futures. He cowrote a book, Money Off the Table: Decision Science and the Secret to Smarter Investing, and, in general, advises his clients on how to achieve their own dreams.
“With everything, you have to have the right mindset and commitment to be a champion,” Sablan says. “My talent is to help people get there.”
During our conversation, Sablan had many nuggets of wisdom, and he’s right: they apply to topics outside the sports arena. Here’s what he’s learned throughout the years as an athlete, coach and money manager for Ultimate Wealth Strategies. “There are so many parallels, it’s crazy,” he says.
“I signed up for my first fight six months after training for the first time. I got a draw. I gassed out my first fight, but it shone a mirror on everything I needed to work on. Often, in life and fighting, you think you’re prepared, but you don’t know what you don’t know until you test yourself. When you do, there’s a whole host of other reactions, emotions and strategies revealed.”
Think about what’s next.
“In training camp, we’re always talking about what’s next. With sports, your time is limited by age. You can’t rely on it for your whole future. So I’m always talking to the younger guys about the importance of planning your life.”
Leave your ego at the door.
“Be open and willing to learn from other people. Part of being a champion is the willingness to be open to new ways of thinking. Not leading with ‘This is how I do it, and it’s the only right way.”
Recognize life is an art.
“That’s what makes a great fighter, recognizing it is an art. You have all these tools at your disposal, and you can pick and choose exactly how and when to use them. That’s the talent. Life is so similar. It’s an art too, and I ask myself often, ‘How are you painting your picture?”
You can rarely teach your own kids.
“Coaches are underrated influences on kids. They are the people who can instill things in your kids when they resist your guidance. And I know because I have two young boys.”
Pay attention to instant feedback.
“If someone punches you, you didn’t do something right. Set standards for yourself, and if you say you’re not going to get hit in the head, do what you need to do. In work, if you want a promotion, do everything possible to be promotable. In a relationship, there’s plenty of instant feedback telling you if you’re doing the right things.”
You can’t clock in without intention.
“You must ask yourself, what am I working for? What do I want my life to look like?
Sablan attended college at Seattle U, where he got his undergraduate degree and MBA. His cousin introduced him to the sport, and after college, he signed
up at AMC because it was close.“Little did I know it was the first MMA gym in the US, and one of the oldest in the world,” Sablan says. He continued as a fighter for a few years, then transitioned into the role of coach, all under the training of Matt Hume.
Reach out to Tony
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