Fighters know that when they step inside the cage they’re going to get hurt. It doesn’t matter
who you are, when you get punched or kicked, you’re going to feel it. The question is, how
do you stay focused and win the fight? Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin
said, “training for a fight is about 90% physical and 10% mental, yet when you enter the
Octagon, it becomes about 90% mental and 10% physical.”
Many fighters and coaches believe that mental toughness is the most critical attribute a
fighter can have, and it often explains why some fights go against popular sports betting
predictions and upset the odds.
Mental strength exercises
No matter the sport, serial winners are often those guys who are able to conquer fear and
doubt and stay in control. Tiger Woods, Tom Brady and Novak Djokovic are just some of the
greats who owe their success to an unbelievable mental strength that has consistently
gotten them over the line. Luckily, mental toughness is a skill that all athletes can learn and
Many martial arts teach mental control as part of their discipline and meditation is a big part
of that. But if you need proof it works then just look at UFC Light Heavyweight fighter, Jiri
Prochazka. The Czech Republic fighter has admitted to spending three whole days in a dark
room without any food in order to prepare for a fight. He said, “That’s all in darkness for three
days, and there you can work with your demons and train what you want.”
Conor McGregor, Lyoto Machida, Jon Jones, Diego Sanchez and Anderson Silva are just a
few of the MMA champions who have used meditation to improve their performances.
By running extensive visualization simulations before a fight, athletes aim to remove pre-fight
anxiety by making everything feel familiar. The complexity of these visualizations varies, with
each fighter focusing on different things. Some imagine the roar of the crowd, the walk to the
cage, landing their first punch, and even being announced the winner. Through using a
series of different visualizations, a fighter will not be negatively impacted if everything isn’t
exactly how they imagined it to be.
Those who have used the technique include former world heavyweight boxing champion
Mike Tyson, and UFC legends Jon Jones and George St Pierre. Former UFC featherweight
and lightweight double-champion Conor McGregor said:
“I visualise. I think ahead, I can do it now, sitting here. I think ahead to the walk-in, I can hear
the crowd, the music, I can feel the cameras all around me, I can feel movements in my
body as I am heading there, I can bring up that incredible feeling you get when you step into
This isn’t as simple as suddenly deciding you’re going to win a fight and then walking out to
an inevitable victory. Positive thought is a way of life that positively impacts mental and
physical health. By training your brain to think positively, negative thoughts become
obstacles to be overcome and defeats become opportunities to learn and improve as a
Factors that affect a fighter’s mental condition
Loss of confidence
Most athletes will go through a crisis of confidence at some stage in their careers. It could be
a concern over getting too old, suffering a bad defeat or simply not feeling like they’re at their
best. But any doubts can negatively impact a fighter’s performance.
We all have enough going on day to day to keep us distracted from the here and now,
whether that’s relationship issues, money worries, health scares or family concerns. MMA
fighters more than most, need to push all of that to the back of their minds if they are to stay
focused and avoid a painful defeat.
Lack of sleep
Studies have shown that getting the right amount of sleep is vital to our physical and mental
health, impacting not just the physical performance, but cognitive capacity, moods, and a low
sense of well-being.
Athletes that suffer serious injuries will inevitably have doubts: Will they ever fight again, will
they be as good as they were before? What if they have the same injury again? Plus there
are the inevitable mental scars around the pain and suffering that long-term injuries cause.
George St. Pierre famously admitted to suffering mental health problems, including pre-fight
anxiety. At UFC 244 in 2019, fighter Darren Till opened up on the mental battles he and
others faced: “Every fighter asks themselves before they’re going out for a fight why they’re
doing this to themselves. Why me? I’m scared, I’m this, I’m that, I’m so ready. The emotions
that go through you before a fight, I can’t put into words for you.”