UFC fights can be very short, intense events. Watching one on TV, you often feel that everything goes down so fast and it’s incredible how the next UFC champion can take over the throne in as little as five minutes. But before every fight, no matter how long or short it may be, there are weeks, even months, of equally intense preparation. One might think that combat sports such as MMA are mostly physical, and that strength is the main decisive factor, but in reality, this sport is as much about training the mind as it is about training the body. MMA fighters obviously need to be in peak physical condition and train diligently every day leading up to the event, but preparation also happens at a mental level.

You’ll often hear MMA fighters that preparing for the match was more difficult than the match itself. So why exactly is that and what do pro MMA fighters do to outsmart their opponents?

The first step: MMA training camps

Few sports engage the body more than Mixed Martial Arts. As a full-combat sport that involves everything from grappling to striking your opponent to the ground, heavy muscle mass and endurance are a must. According to many, MMA is the purest competitive sport and it can be very dangerous even if you’re in perfect shape.

To get ready for a UFC fight, professionals go through eight to ten weeks of intense training, called training camps. These camps aren’t the same for everyone. Depending on each fighter’s physical condition, strengths, and weaknesses, their coach will recommend them a different routine. Apart from weight training and perfecting the strategy for the fight, pros also have to work on their weight management and stay on a very strict diet. Towards the end of the training camp, they generally have to work out less, drain their bodies of water to reach their required weight in their category. The secret is maintaining a balanced diet and being disciplined: 20% fats, 20% protein, and 60% carbs. This isn’t a sport where you can indulge and have too many “cheat meals” because going off the plan recommended by the nutritionist can quite literally make you unfit to compete.

Next in line: Training the mind

Training the body is not enough to prepare a champion, no matter what type of sports they are engaging in. If one does not enter a competition with a mind that is focused on winning, there are very few chances they will win. If the actual training is more physical than mental, when they get into the Octagon, as the MMA ring is called, things tend to switch around a bit. When fighters enter the ring, their mental state matters the most, and the reasons are quite easy to understand. By the time they enter the ring, their physical training is complete, meaning the only thing they need to focus on is the mind. When you are 100% focused, it becomes much easier to plan your attack, know-how, and where to hit, and even intimidate your adversary enough to win the fight without much physical contact.

But training the mind is actually much more complicated than it may appear. When inside the octagon, there are many things that can distract a fighter. The crowd cheering, knowing friends, family, or important people in the business have their eyes on them, or the opponent’s supporters trying to discourage them, are all elements that can lead to losing focus.

To be psychologically ready for a fight, champions use all sorts of techniques, such as playing paintball or airsoft, as John Lineker is doing, or actually learning about sports psychology. Others focus on learning more about their opponents, and then tailor their behavior in a way that intimidates the other fighter.

Putting the past behind

The MMA world can be a cruel one sometimes, as many of the fighters don’t come from happy backgrounds. Conor McGregor, for example, was only a plumber when he started to get interested in MMA. When he first met his trainer, John Kavanagh, he got a bit too engaged in a fight with a couple of Kavanagh’s best fighters and defeated them. Kavanagh saw McGregor’s anger management problems and forced him to promise he was interested in actually training himself, and not just getting into physical fights.

McGregor did not receive the support of his family when he decided to give up his plumbing job to train full time, but he was determined to make a name for himself, and so he did. Being able to put his past behind and focus on training turned McGregor into the champion that he is now.

It takes a lot of mental training to be able to forget about anything else while you are in the ring, and focus on defeating your opponent. Psychologists say that confidence is key, and being able to show genuine belief in oneself takes a lot of practice. Again, this is where Conor McGregor seems to succeed.

Faking confidence can only work to a point, but if you have to face a more mentally prepared opponent, they will see right through it. We all remember McGregor’s infamous fight against Jose Aldo when he managed to defeat the previous champion in just 13 seconds. Those who have analyzed the fight, have concluded that the victory may have more to do with the way McGregor presents himself, rather than his indisputable fighting techniques. McGregor is able to present the kind of confidence that really makes you believe you have no chance against him. During his press conferences, he makes remarks about how fast he is going to defeat his opponent, directly threatening them.

This sort of confidence and intimidation technique sends to the way Muhammad Ali used to pick on his opponents in order to intimidate them, and we all know how brilliantly that worked out.

MMA is much more than getting in a ring and throwing fists until one of the fighters can’t stand straight. Apart from physical training, mental training plays a huge part in the way champions manage to get where they are now. From paintball playing to sports psychology, fighters recur to all sorts of techniques that allow them to get into their opponent’s mind and trick them into losing confidence.

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