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Mixed Martial Arts

Dealing with Pre-Fight Nerves - The silent opponent

By Kevin O'Hagan

Every fighter whether it be a novice or a World Champion will get some form of pre fight nerves. These feelings are those of adrenaline, which pump around your body in various stages of intensity.

As far back as when you sign your fight contract, send off your application form or confirm your opponent by a telephone call you will get a surge of adrenaline in the belly. This is called Think Fight fear, you get this in anticipation of confrontation. It can have a corrosive effect on your body and mind. It is like a dripping tap and the build up is gradual and slow. It can hit you anytime. When you are watching TV, driving, lying in bed. You will get a sudden burst of it from nowhere and you have got to deal positively with it or it can wear down your resolve.

Normally a good run, punching the bag or some type of workout will channel this think fight adrenaline positively and it helps get rid of any negative shit that has crept up on you. By using this nervous feeling in a positive way you will feel more confident and mentally stronger.

At the end of your workout the feeling of unease will be gone but beware just like a bad penny it will come back again and once more will crept up on you when you are least expecting it. Be prepared for it. If it gives you negative vibes, tell it to f_ _k off. Tell it you are fit, strong and going to win your fight. Positive self-talk is a powerful weapon in combating Think fight fear.

I have seen umpteen people talk themselves out of training, competing, sparring or fighting because of this type of adrenaline. It can be a killer. My advice to anybody going to compete for instance in say the amateur trials is to get that application form immediately. Fill it in. Send it back and now the commitment is made. No second thoughts. ‘No hmmming and hahhing. No backing out. This is the way to conquer Think fight fear.

I can remember being at the ringside for Ultimate Combat 1. In my mind I had decided to watch the show and if I thought I could get in there and do a job myself then I would put my name forward for UC2.

As the show ended and the crowds were leaving, I hunted down the promoter Dale Adams and asked him there and then to get me on the next show. I knew I needed to make that firm decision at that moment otherwise if I had gone off and thought about it for a few days I would have thought up a hundred reasons not to do it. I acted before the Think fight adrenaline kicked in.

Before an actual fight you will experience Pre confrontation fear. This is the steady build up now come to a head. This is where the body is priming itself for a fight. This can be called the Fight or Flight mechanism. It is a survival instinct from our prehistoric ancestors. They used this to survive against larger man eating predators. These feelings come to the surface in modern day when we face some sort of conflict, confrontation, danger or violence. For the fighter they must learn to live with these feelings, understand and except them for what they are and deal with them.

The seasoned pro can handle this adrenaline better than the novice. Indeed they is a saying. The difference between a hero and a coward is the hero knows how to control his fear. This is very true.

Fear is a negative thought and can be overcome.

F.E.A.R. False Evidence Appearing Real.

Adrenaline on the other hand is a natural body response to fear. We cannot get rid of it but we can learn to control it.

The veteran fighter has exposed themselves to this pre confrontation adrenaline many many times so they know what to expect and go into their personal way of dealing with it. The novice may be more edgy and nervous but believe me novice and veteran alike are having the same feelings. It is nature. We all get them.

I have seen many different ways a fighter will deal with pre confrontation adrenaline. Some will like to totally chill out, lie down and take a nap or listen to music on a personal head set. Others like to mingle with the crowd and soak up the atmosphere. Some will indeed watch early fights before they go on themselves. Other individuals look frightened to death, others are laughing and joking. It is just their ways. I have learnt never to judge a book by its cover or take anybody at face value. It can be your downfall.

I have seen individuals be physically sick. Others very talkative and animated. Some really quiet. When I trained and cornered James ‘The Colossus’ Thompson, there was a time to gee him up and get him in the ‘zone’ and then a time to leave him to his own thoughts. A good trainer will know this. My good mate and fellow MMA coach Rob Cannon has done this for me on numerous occasions.

It is certainly important to have a good positive fight team around you and for everybody to know their job and their place. Remember the saying ‘Too many cooks’?
Personally when I fought I didn’t want to see my opponent, the cage, the crowd or anything until it was time to go out there. My team knew this and kept it that way. I found this was the way I liked to prepare. Isolated and quiet. That is why I always found the busy format of the amateurs harder to deal with and could never get myself ‘fully up’ for the fights. But this is just my personal opinion. Fighters will all do their own thing to keep the nerves at bay and keep their edge.

It can be a great insight into this subject watching fighters behind the scenes waiting to go out to the ring or the cage, much can be learnt. Also I advise younger fighters to speak to the more experienced guys and ask them how they deal with pre fight nerves, it can be a worthwhile thing to do. Maybe MMA Universe might open up a page for well known fighters to share their tips on pre fight nerves with the readers?

I have studied sports psychology and learnt much also about violent confrontation and how the body reacts and find it fascinating. The fight game can be about 70% mental battles and the rest physical. If you want to understand more about how the body reacts to confrontation and violence check out my new book called ‘In the face of violence.’

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