You could say that MMA fighting is as much a mental sport as it is a physical one. Therefore, you must be prepared mentally and physically for the challenge you’ll face in the ring. You’ve put hours upon hours in at the gym, and you’ve got your nutrition down to a science. You’re determined to make it happen, and you’re excited about getting into the ring. But before you do, you have got to get yourself prepared mentally. We’ve created this step-by-step guide for mentally getting ready for the big fight with that in mind.
If this is your first bout, these tips will make you more comfortable getting into the ring. The object here is to train and spar under the same conditions as you would if you were in an actual fight. This way, you are not stepping into a completely foreign environment when you step into the ring. Instead, it’s going to feel as comfortable and familiar to you as going to the gym.
First, be sure to get the right equipment that fits you well. Then, wear that equipment and clothing when sparring. Training with the same equipment you’ll compete in will get you used to how you feel through round after round of fighting.
You may think the ring at the gym will feel pretty much the same as what you will be fighting in, but it’s not. The lights, the noise, and a host of other things at an actual fight are going to throw you off if you are not ready for them. There are just too many distractions when you are in the ring. So when possible, recreate the same environment you will be facing in the ring. You should try to generate the same environment for sparring as you’ll have for the fight. These are some of the things you may want to consider incorporating into your training sessions:
- Adjust to fighting bare-chested.
- Train with 3-minute rounds.
- Practice sparring in front of friends and family — have some cheer and some boo your entry.
- Train using your competition ruleset.
- Adjust to fighting under bright lights. If there is a chance people will be allowing flash photography, train with that as well.
This is the most valuable advice we can give you before a real fight. Flow sparring is good, but it’s not going to give you the feel of full-contact fighting. You don’t know what it feels like to hit or kick someone until you actually make full contact with a human being. Join local fighting events so that you mentally and physically know what’s coming. This is where you want to make your mistakes and learn from them. If you can find enough of these kinds of fights before your first match, then you will enter the ring as a seasoned pro, not an inexperienced first-timer.
It is said that “competence breeds confidence.” Therefore, during your training, you want to work on your competence so that you are confident when you get in the ring.
When your head is crammed against the fence, how do you get up from your back? How do you react when the other fighter rushes you immediately after the horn goes off? Think of every possible scenario, and then visualize your reaction to it in your mind.
Closing your eyes and visualizing the actions you need to take to perform well has been shown in studies to improve performance.
If you’re not exactly sure what to do, seek advice from trainers and sparring partners. Then, run it repeatedly through your mind and drill through the reactions obsessively until it becomes instinct. This way, when you get into the cage, you’ll know that there is nothing that the other guy can throw at you that you haven’t faced in training.
Gather as much information about your opponent from every source available. Ask your trainers and gym mates if they know anything about them. Check out MMA online databases and Youtube, where you can find photos and videos of your opponent’s previous fights.
Once you have the research, get together with your trainer and start analyzing the other fighter’s strengths and weaknesses — then form a strategy. Knowing what to expect from your opponent and how you will counter their moves will give you a big mental advantage and lots of confidence before the big match.
Nerves are going to be your biggest obstacle while you are in the locker room waiting for that bell to ring. Therefore, a significant part of preparing you for the fight is calming those nerves and getting your head focused on the task at hand.
Put together a pre-fight playlist and fight song. Use your playlist as you warm up to music that moves and motivates you. You want familiar music that speaks to you and encourages you to feel more powerful.
A great way to beat fear that some fighters like to practice is Tai Chi or other martial arts that link breath to physical movement. It’s a great way to increase your focus and calm your nerves. There are also many breathing exercises that you can do to help you focus, get lots of oxygen into your bloodstream, and keep you calm.
Use the time before the fight to visualize the fight. Picture taking your opponent down. Go through the scenarios you worked out when you were training and run them through your mind with victorious results. Then, visualize beating the other fighter over and over again. In the words of Kobus Huisamen, former fighter and coach, “Believe in your victory – visualize it. Talk to yourself and say that it is going to happen. The more you say it, the more you believe it.”
When it comes time to make your entry, there’s nothing more motivating than doing it in style. So put a little money into a great-looking robe that speaks to you. It will not only help to keep your muscles warm, but it will also help you keep your mind fully focused and give you that extra boost of confidence.
Then, when it’s time to enter the ring, find a great, motivating fight song to announce your entrance. From there, stick with the same entrance song for every match. Not only will it motivate you, but it will also excite your fans when they know you are making your entrance.
Believe it or not, your mental attitude after a fight is just as important for your longevity in the sport as your mental attitude before the fight. What you learn from your wins and losses will either keep your mental focus where it needs to be or allow you to fall victim to a number of distractions that will eventually cause you to quit altogether.
Get your mind around the fact that losing is just part of the process. Accepting your losses and learning from them is essential to your career as a fighter. If you want to mentally beat yourself up for something stupid you did to cause you to fail, that’s fine. Give yourself a day, then move on. Too many fighters meditate on their failures to the point that it becomes debilitating to them. They become so fixated on never making that mistake again that they either develop an irrational fear of it or focus so hard on making sure that it never happens again that they ignore their training in other areas.
Yes, it’s natural to feel bad about making a mistake, but only for a short time. Then it’s time to move on. Here are the steps you want to take once you’ve gotten over the loss:
- Take a close look at your mistake and analyze it.
- Review your mistake with your coach and create a counter or game plan for correcting it.
- Practice your counter or game plan until it becomes second nature.
- Move on. Get it out of your head. And go back to training as usual.
Embracing your losses and even having a sense of humor about them will help you to move past them and keep you focused on what is important, which is your next match.
Conor McGregor once said in an interview that he’s seen success take out as many fighters as a failure. His point was that fighters who begin believing the hype generated by their own success are doomed to fail. McGregor believes that ego and believing that you are indestructible will take your focus off what is important: your training and your next opponent.
Athletes, rock stars, actors, and anyone else thrust into the public eye share the same danger of relying on the hype and their ego instead of focusing on the work it took to get them there in the first place. Many believe this to be what caused the downfall of Ronda Rousey. They point to her over-promotion and undertraining for her devastating losses to Amanda Nunes and Holly Holm. Those two final matches broke her undefeated 12 win record and led to her retirement from UFC fighting.
If you work hard enough and stick with it, you will find success. But the hype and gravitas behind the success have to be ignored. The UFC champion in each weight class has the same job as the new kid entering the ring for the first time: to beat their next opponent. And that takes the same amount of work and focus for the next opponent you will face as it did with the last one you defeated. Over and over, three things you will hear from successful athletes, coaches, and trainers alike:
Never lose your focus on the task at hand, Never let up, Never quit!