The difference between MMA fighters and MMA athletes

Fighters, Athletes and the New Breed

SPARTAN from 300The differences between an athlete and a fighter are rather obvious and yet, how these differences influence the outcome in the octagon may not be totally clear. Why, do we (and by “we” I mean all the coaches at MMA Mind Power) think that athletes are more advantaged? Why, in our opinion, athletes are more likely to succeed and remain at the top for longer? The most obvious way to look at this and understand why this is true, is to look at who is at the top right now; if you look at the top 3 in each division you will be able to see that, although counterintuitive, athletes are more successful in their MMA career than fighters tend to be. Obviously not all athletes are always successful but in general terms they tend to have longer and happier careers.

People like George St Pierre and Frank Mir are athletes whereas people like the Diaz brothers, Vitor Belfort and even Wanderlei Silva are amongst the last few fighters left in the game. Only a few years ago there were several people like BJ Penn, Shamrock, Phil Baroni, Matt Serra and others of the kind who would definitely be categorised as fighters. Clearly these were amazing MMArtists but times changed and they had to make way to the new-school entries. This is what has always happened in any combat sport since the beginning of time. Fighters can either change into athletes when possible at all, or they are destined to be overpowered by athletes. Here are the 3 main reasons:

1. Athletes compete with no or less emotional interferences

One could argue that emotional drives can push an athlete to perform better and that is true when the emotions are 1. controlled and 2. related to their goals instead of being emotional reactions or states toward our opponent. Being free from emotions allow athletes to be free from anger, stress, animosity and frustration which all cause tension. Tension is responsible for underperformance especially because the body is less responsive and less loose when tense and the ability to make good, strategic decisions decreases when tense. Being emotionally too engaged also limits the ability to ear and act upon the instructions of the corner.

2. Athletes generally have less personal issues

I don’t want to generalise but if you look into the historic data, you will find that, apart from the issues like DUI or PED, athletes bring less personal issues into their camps. By no means does this mean that athletes do not have personal issues or even that they have less than “fighters” do; in their private lives they may have as many issues or more. What I mean by this is that athletes tend to have less issues within their camp, they create less issues within their team and the main reason is the same as the point above: they have less emotional involvement and thus are less likely to snap, think irrationally and engage in the type of dangerous and confronting behaviour that more emotionally involved people tent to engage in.

3. Athletes have winning drives – Fighters have beating drives

Whereas athletes do all they can to win fights, fighters tent to lose sight of the W during a match as they focus more on inflicting punishment to their opponent. Condit vs Diaz is the perfect example of that. Another great example is Machida vs Ortiz. Again, this does not represent the truth 100% of the time as Shogan Rua, who I think falls into the category of fighters, imposed his way on Machida in 2 occasions. However, I do feel that this does represent the vast majority.

The birth of a new breed

So there was the fighter, then there came the athlete and now what’s next? It is obvious to think that being an athlete is not enough! There are traits of fighters which are worth keeping and included in the “new breed”; tenacity, passion and other personality aspect are often sharper in the fighter’s type. So the next step-up is a MMArtsit who can light the internal fire than fighters are fuelled by and control it with the same proficiency that athletes have used to claim the advantage in the last few months. So how can MMArtists make that transformation?

The bad news is that if you were born a fighter you will remain a fighter and if you were born without that fire inside, it’s going to be hard to manufacture it. The good news is that the new breed is neither a fighter, nor is an athlete. The new breed is a MMArtist who has learnt to develop the resilience, the aggressiveness and the “wildness” of fighters; he is a fighter who has learnt to control and channel the emotions and use them to his advantage. The new breed looks a lot like Benson Henderson, JDS, Frankie Edgar, Daniel Cornier and many others.

Whilst MMA Sports Psychology and Mind Coaching can help you make that transition, there are simple ways of initiating that leap. The most obvious and simple one, is to understand which of the two, fighter or athlete, you are and then write down all the good aspects of the opposite style. Once you have these written down put that paper where you can see it often. Now focus on developing these positive aspects of the “opposite” style whilst keeping the advantageous aspects of your own style. As simple and as obvious as this may seems, the very fact that you are aware of the breakdown of these differences and their effect on your game, you have done 70% of the work and your mind will begin to make the required changes.

Good luck.

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