Inside the head of an MMA fighter

One of the most fascinating aspects of sport is the psychological factor.

Passion, emotion, discipline and mindset. To reach the very top, many athletes will do anything to gain a psychological edge over their opponent and in combat sport that can be everything. Many fighters in the UFC go through vigorous training routines but are they training the most important tool they possess, their mind?

Over the past 12 months I have spoken to several fighters, coaches and sport psychologists and they will all tell you the fight game is all mental. Anyone can get in physical shape but come fight night they may crumble. Visualisation is key, many fighters will visualise the whole fight night in the week before. From warm-up backstage, to walking to the octagon, to their name being announced. They will replay this visualisation over and over again so once fight night arrives they are comfortable in their surroundings.

The best fighters in the world all have their own traits when it comes to gaining a psychological edge.

Muhammed Ali: Ali was the first fighter to trash talk his opponents and he was a master at it. From insults to his quick wit rhymes to taunting in the ring. Take his fight with George Foreman for example. Foreman is landing big body shots. Ali takes the shots while shouting "is that all you got George?" Ali had fighters beaten before he stepped into ring.

Mike Tyson: What Tyson used more than any other fighter was his ability to intimidate. If you ever look back on any of Tyson's fights he never once takes his eyes off his opponent. After he retired, Tyson often that he acted angry in the ring but he wasn't, it was all an act. He did it to intimidate his opponent.

Ronda Rousey:  If you have ever watched Ronda Rousey fight, you will notice as she enters the arena she remains motionless, glare-eyed, head down and storms towards the octagon. Even though Ronda's just walking to the cage it's an entrance she is now known for.

In the UFC today Conor McGregor is now the king of mind-games. There are a number of factors that contribute to McGregor being one of the best in the business.

Visualisation: McGregor constantly talks about how he visualised how the fight would go, how his shots would land. How he visualised himself as a UFC champion.

Trash Talk : McGregor, like Ali, likes to insult and taunt his opponents. The minute a fight with McGregor is announced the mind-games begin. Many fighters have fallen for the trap of becoming too emotionally invested when they fight McGregor.

Persona: The flashy suits, the increased media attention and the tiger and gorilla tattoos all play a part in the psychological battle fighters face when fighting McGregor.

The margin between winning and losing can be small, so fighters will use any advantage they can. Some fighters have built an aura of invincibility about them. Look at McGregor's antics for example.

From confronting Jose Aldo in the crowd after he defeated Dennis Siver at UFC Boston to constant taunting of Rafael Dos Anjos at the UFC 197 press conference last week. When you fight McGregor it's the McGregor show and you’re just playing your part in it.

Over the coming months we will see a lot more fighters develop their approaches to the mental side of the fight game. Have the mental fight won and the rest will take care of itself.



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