Why do you want to fight?
You need to get the reasons straight in your head first. Make sure your reasons will be strong enough motivators to make you train hard and prepare well. You are not just representing yourself but also your team and your coach.
The best reasons to compete are to test your skills and training or maybe this is your first step on a fight career. If you just want to have a go at it so you can tell your friends that you’re a fighter, I would advise against it. It takes a lot of hard work and commitment to train for a fight, even if it’s just a low level amateur fight.
When are you ready to fight?
You are ready to fight when your coach tells you are ready. Your coach should have enough experience to know when his students are ready to compete (if he doesn’t then think about training elsewhere). Don’t ask your coach to get you a fight; it puts him in the awkward position of having to tell you that you aren’t good enough. Ask the other fighters at your gym how they started and what sort of volume of training they did before their first fight and then try to follow in their footsteps.
What experience to have first?
I’d recommend that most people train for about 6 months to 1 year before they have their first fight. This is the minimum time required to get comfortable with the fundamental skills (basic kicks, punches, takedowns & grappling) needed for MMA. Don’t try to fight without being good at the fundamentals of striking & Grappling. You wouldn’t take part in a triathlon if you could ride a bike and run but don’t know how to swim. It’s pointless, you need to be comfortable with all the skills first before you try to utilise them in a competitive environment.
It’s a good idea to have competed in some grappling or BJJ competitions too. However, don’t spend too much time competing in other sports such as BJJ because the rules, point system and skill set is too different and you might struggle to adapt your style to MMA when you fight.
Where to start?
I recommend starting off in either amateur MMA tournaments or in interclub sparring events. Amateur MMA is a good way to learn and test your skills without too much pressure or danger. The amateur rules that I fought under allowed grappling, striking and takedowns but with no strikes allowed too the head. Some have criticised these rules for being unrealistic however during my amateur competition days I saw many future UFC stars such as Dan Hardy & Michael Bisping also competing and they all went on to have successful fight careers.
These events won’t have as many spectators so there is less added pressure. Your first few fights should be just an experimental and learning process where you are trying to figure out your own style and your strengths and weaknesses without the added pressure of 2000 people watching.
It’s also not fair on the audience to have to pay $60 to watch someone fight for the first time. Of course we can admire the bravery of first time fighters for getting in the ring but I wouldn’t expect anyone to pay to watch me play tennis for the first time so why am I paying to watch a kung Fu guy have his first MMA fight and get bashed for three rounds. It makes the sport look very amateurish.
How to prepare and what to expect from your first fight
The most important consideration is to make sure your fitness is up to scratch. There is absolutely no excuse for having poor cardio as it’s 100% within your control. This means lots of running, hill sprints, endless rounds of pad-work and grappling in the lead up to your first fight
Another important reason for working on your fitness is because the pre-fight nerves will really zap your energy and affect your fitness. You have to be ready for that. Don’t worry if you feel nervous or jittery before the fight. Everyone experiences this. It doesn’t mean you are afraid to fight. If you were afraid you wouldn’t be in the changing room getting your hands wrapped, you’d be back at home watching UFC on TV shouting advice from your sofa like an armchair warrior. The reason you feel nervousness is that your body is preparing for action. You just have to focus on the task at hand and be confident that all the work you’ve done so far will be enough to get you through.
Alternatively, you may be nervous because you genuinely know that you are unprepared for the beating that you are about to receive. In which case please read my’ finding a good MMA gym’ article.
Have a clear game-plan of what you are going to do during the fight. What is your first move going to be? What if you get stuck under side-control? Don’t just go in and try to see what happens because it will leave too much to chance and gives you too much to think about. Choose five or six things that you will definitely try to do during the match and options from each position.
Don’t expect it to be easy. Your opponent is likely to be just as well prepared as you and so you should expect not everything to go your way during the match.
After your first fight, what next?
The point of competing, especially in your first few fights is to treat it as a learning experience. After the fight you need to think about what you did right and wrong and what your strengths and weaknesses were. Whether you win or lose you need to analyse your performance and figure out what lessons you can learn to help your future training and performance. Also be realistic about the fight, maybe you won but the opponent was just very unprepared or made a silly mistake, that isn’t going to help to make you a better fighter. Maybe you fought really well and did everything right but your opponent was also really good and he just managed to get the win by decision. In this case you should be happy with your performance and just keep working hard and trying to improve so you can fight even better next time.
Here is another article on how to make the most of your Martial Arts Training: