Why are MMA fighters fearful to admit fear?
Somewhere along the line, we equated fighting with fearlessness. The thought process was… Fear is a sign of weakness. If my opponent senses my fear, they will unmercifully bounce on me and beat me into oblivion. So fighters conclude… If I don’t admit to fear, I will be an unstoppable, confident ass-kicker!
Let’s examine how this theory is seriously flawed.
Follow this scenario and see if it resonates with you… Your training has gone well. You feel you have the conditioning to make it through each round (more or less). Your striking feels good. You have worked on your take down defense. Your ground game is solid. You have done the necessary work to feel confident for the fight. You hit the locker room and get ready by hitting the pads… then suddenly that little f***er appears called fear. You run through different scenarios in your head, “What if I can’t make it through the entire fight. I should have trained harder. I have never seen this opponent, what if he bashes my face in. I lost my last fight; I will probably lose again. I can’t drop my hands like I normally do or shoot from too far out. Holy freakin’ shit!”
Little do you know that the fighter in the other locker room is thinking, “What if I can make it through the entire fight. I should have trained harder. I have never seen this opponent, what if he bashes my face in. I lost my last fight; I will probably lose again. I can’t drop my hands like I normally do or shoot from too far out. Holy freakin’ shit!”
No MMA fighter wants to be squashed like a grape (I bet, if grapes could talk, they wouldn’t want to be squashed like a grapes either.)
But denying the fear or pretending it’s not there will NOT work! Being cocky and talking shit about how you will dominate every second of the fight will NOT work! In fact, engaging in this thought process is counter-productive. Pretending that there is not an ounce of fear in your body will cause fear to grow making you feel tense in the ring, veer off your game plan, mess with your head, increase the chances of critical mistakes, cause you to be overly cautious and result in not fighting to the best of your abilities. At this point, you sign on to fight in a handicap match as you face off against your opponent and the now-full-grown-super-heavy weight, FEAR!
Don’t get it twisted, fear is normal, especially when you are confronting potential physical or mental (such as your ego) harm. After all, one fighter will lose and both fighters may experience some face rearranging, choking hazards or threat of having your limbs ripped off.
Thinking about what a soldier goes through… A soldier in a war zone faces death practically every second of the day. There is no soldier on the planet believes he or she will capture every single enemy, overthrow an oppressive regime and save the world. Not at all… All soldiers are afraid. Now, you may not be fight in a war-ravaged country but you are in a competition war zone that carries with it risks and that little f***er named fear.
So get over it… And understand fear is real and normal for everyone. If you understand and accept that fear is normal, it won’t feel so overwhelming.
Georges St-Pierre, former champion and one of the greatest UFC fighters of all time admits there is a level of fear within him prior to every fight:
ST-PIERRE: “I'm the kind of guy that I'm not afraid to admit that I'm afraid when I go fight... Even though I'm scared and I'm afraid to fail, when I walk to the Octagon, I look like I'm, it's impossible for me to fail and I look very confident, like I'm going to kick ass for sure. But the truth is, deep down inside, I'm scared as hell.”
How does St-Pierre get past that fear?
St-Pierre admits the fear and accepts fear to be a part of the fighting process, then focuses externally to get out of his own head.
ST-PIERRE: As I'm acting, my mind starts changing and listens to my body. For me, it works very well because I get very anxious before I fight. That's my trick, when I walk [to the Octagon], I'm scared and that's how I feel, but as I'm walking, the closer I get the more confident I get.
Admitting fear is the first step in managing fear and not allowing it to consume you. The next step is to focus on something other than fear: your training, breathing, gloves, a word you wrote on your wraps, a motivational phrase, the feel of your mouth guard, your match strategy, etc. As your focuses changes, your confidence will build.
If this strategy is effective for one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, why not adopt the same for your next fight?