It’s an all-too-familiar feeling for anyone who has ever competed; the stomach-churning, tight, clammy sensation of fear and anxiety that comes before your toes even reach the mat or cage.
Fighters face things every day that others are terrified of; getting punched, choked, taken down, and all other parts of a regular training regimen.
But these things don’t scare us. We’re used to them; we’ve learned how to deal with them rationally.
That being said, it’s possible that the biggest threat to a fighter is not their opponent, but their own psychology.
Of all the athletic psyches, the fighter’s must be the most delicate. Nothing is more fragile, more easily built up, and more easily torn down.
And the biggest risk to a fighter’s ego is the monster known as fear.
Fear takes many forms; it can be mild nervousness, all the way to paralyzing terror.
But it’s fear’s ability to cut through confidence that really puts a fighter at risk.
In a fight, every millisecond counts. All it takes is one punch to find its mark, one takedown to get stuffed, one submission to be lost, and suddenly, the fight is completely turned around.
It’s during this kind of turbulence that fighters must learn how to reinforce their confidence.
Anyone willing to step into competition has one fear or another. And the ways fighters deal with these fears are as innumerable as the fighters themselves.
One of the largest fears, however, is the fear of losing.
In a cut-and-dry competition format like combat sports, losses are probably the most terrifying thing to a fighter. One win can set your career on a fast track to success, while one loss can bring your career to an abrupt stop.
Combat athletes invest countless hours, weeks, months, and years into perfecting their craft and preparing for victory. But, when two people step into the cage or onto the mat for one-on-one combat, the reality is that one person is going to lose.
How does one deal with that unfortunate fact?
Professional MMA fighter Lacey Schuckman offers her insight:
“Although I have a fear of losing, it’s something you can’t predict, all you can control is how hard you train and your conditioning. Over time I’ve realized while losing is hard, sometimes it makes you so much better and stronger as long as you persevere.”
To others, the fear of injury is always imminent. Injuries can wreak havoc on a fighter’s training, and even their career; but there is a lot to be said about the amazing drive of those who place this fear aside and go in anyway. To cope with a fear of injury, many work as best as they can in conditioning to prepare themselves for whatever comes at them. Others train defensive movements to avoid taking punishment in an attempt to diffuse the risk of injury. After doing all they physically can, many fighters often leave the rest up to hope or their religious faith to protect them.
It has often been said that the only way to defeat fear is to confront it. But in the fierce world of combat sports, often times the negative energy of fear is converted into confidence, used by the athlete to physically and mentally prepare themselves and deal with whatever negativity might remain in their mind.
“I usually hype myself up and keep every bit of negative energy out of my mind days coming up to the fight,” says Pro fighter Zoila Frausto. “I believe any bit of negative energy could start a downward spiral to defeat before the fight is even started. So it is very important that I push myself past my limits and prepare myself mentally and physically for every fight.”
Schuckman stresses confidence when dealing with fear. “You have to be pretty confident at all times in the fight and in training camp. As soon as you lose it you beat yourself, and that is the worst thing that could happen in my opinion!”
Held evident by various tattoos of scripture and the prefight rituals of prayer, it’s no secret that many fighters also look to religion as a final source of confidence to dispel fear.
“Before a fight, I usually ask God to watch over me and keep me safe, happy & healthy, and mentally strong to overcome any obstacle…and it usually works,” says Frausto, currently 5-0 in her mixed martial arts career.
Schuckman agrees with this sentiment. “I am always anxious to fight, so I get antsy. The only way to calm my nerves is to pray and read the bible. I like to always look for strength from God to overcome emotion and just do what I need to get done. I pray with myself, I pray with my team, hell, I’ve even prayed with my opponents many times! Other than that, I just put in my headphones, shadowbox, and just meditate on my mission and how to obtain my goal.”
In the end, fighters must realize that fear is only a natural part of competing. It’s the invisible opponent that makes us think twice about our motives, our preparation, and our abilities. But with the right mindset and a firm base of confidence, it can be overcome.