Conor McGregor’s mind games could give him the edge

The countdown is well and truly underway. With less than a week to go to UFC 194 the MMA world waits with bated breath in a state of almost unbearable anticipation as two of the best UFC fighters of their generation prepare for the fight of the year.

This Saturday, the Notorious Conor McGregor will attempt to pry the featherweight title from the undefeated UFC champion Jose Aldo. With both fighters known for their vicious attacking style, this is unmissable.

The guys at caught up with sports psychologist James Barraclough and asked him to break down the mental aspect of the fight. Barraclough is a lecturer at the College of Manchester and is also the author of The MMA Psychology Manual. He has been involved in the psychology of MMA since 2003 and has worked with several elite fighters including two world champions.

Barraclough said this fight will come down to who is ready not just physically but more importantly, mentally. He also claimed that McGregor’s mind games and mental toughness may have given the Irishman the edge he needs to unify the featherweight belts.

“I would certainly agree that McGregor is mentally tough. He talks the talk but also walks the walk. I think being arrogant is excusable if you’re that good. However, he needs to ensure that he doesn’t start to slacken off.

The Notorious is known for taunting his opponents while in the octagon, something which Barraclough said can hugely affect a fighter’s confidence.

“Talking to your opponent may be effective again dependent on your opponent’s mindset. It can undermine them if they’re vulnerable. An MMA coach I worked with was expert at this from the corner, constantly talking to his own fighter but in a way that chipped away at the other fighters confidence.”

“An example I’ve used in the past is “Rocky 3.” The first time he fights Clubber Lang and takes victory for granted and loses. I know it’s fiction but art imitates life.”

McGregor’s mind games could prove to be the deciding factor according to Barraclough who used Tyson Fury’s antics as an example.

“What’s very topical now is how Tyson Fury got into Klitschko’s head last week. There was the batman stuff, and then making them change the ring and Klitschko not being able to wrap his hands in private.

“There can be a tiny fraction of 1% difference between winning & losing so top athletes use whatever they can, what Dave Brailsford at British cycling called marginal gains. That could be the difference in this fight.”

Former UFC champion Uriah Faber, who lost his belt to Aldo, said “the most important thing in a fighter is his mentality. Do you really believe that you’re the baddest dude on the planet?” Barraclough certainly agreed with this insight.

“At elite level it’s probably mostly mental as physical/technical/tactical tend to balance out, depends on fighter’s strengths/weaknesses ie ground game/stand up. It’s how fighters deal with mental factors on the night such as concentration, confidence and dealing with nerves.

“That’s what it could come down to.”

Barraclough admitted that McGregor’s antics may plant a seed of doubt in Aldo’s mind if the Brazilian is not 100 percent confident ahead of their much anticipated bout.

“Trash talking fighters can have positive or negative effect depending on the person on the receiving end and how they handle it. It can unsettle some fighters, others can laugh it off and see through it as mind games.

“Self-confidence would be massive here. Any insecurity could cause trash talk to be more effective. This would probably need to be managed effectively by Aldo’s team.”

Barraclough conceded that while McGregor’s mind games may cause opponents to fear the Irishman, they could also backfire if he doesn’t respect his opponent, privately at least.

“I think an aura of invincibility can be good as it can put doubts in the other fighter’s mind. Mike Tyson & Muhammad Ali were masters at this. This is a danger of being over confident and believing your own hype which could potentially make you too arrogant and consequently become a bit lazy and complacent.

“Therefore, you still need to respect your opponent in private if not in public.”

Follow Ciaran O'Fynn on Twitter.

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