Sunday, 23 August 2015

How important is your team for success in MMA?


Boxing Vs MMA : Teams


One of the major differences between professional Boxing and MMA is the emphasis on teams rather than on the individual fighters. In boxing everyone knows all about Mayweather and Pacquiao but not too much about their training partners. It's usually the opposite in MMA. If there is one successful fighter from a team there are usually plenty more where they came from.


This has been the case right from the start. The first major team that had a lot of success was the Lions Den which featured Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock, Guy Mezger and many others. Following on from their example many other successful teams came along over the years such as Miletich Fighting Systems (Pat Miletich, Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver), Chute Box (Pele, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Shogun Rua), Team Punishment (Tito Ortitz, Chuck Liddell, Ricco Rodriguez) and Brazilian Top Team (Nogueria Brothers, Mario Sperry, Ricardo Arona).

The Team System

The team system has worked so well that pretty much all the successful fighters in the history of MMA can trace their success back to being part of a successful team. This has continued up to the present day with the results of teams such as Jacksons MMA, Roufus Sport, AKA and Tristar Gym.

The career trajectory of a professional boxer is usually a lot different. Boxers typically start off at an amateur club where they are taught by volunteers a few evenings a week. If they ever become good enough to turn professional they will need to hire full time trainers and managers. They will also  need to pay sparring partners to come in and help them prepare for fights. The big difference here is that in MMA the sparring partners are usually working together to help each other improve. Boxing sparring partners are just there for the benefit of the star fighter. The sparring partners are not told to ‘look after’ each other. In some cases sparring partners would get paid a bonus if they could knock out the star fighter in training.

Iron Sharpens Iron

MMA camps usually consist of teams of people who train together all year round not just before fights. All members of the team try to improve each other and develop the others skills especially in sparring. In the long term this will lead to each fighter having better and more skilled training partners to train with. In professional boxing all of the sparring partners are just there to improve the big name boxer. The star boxer isn’t really concerned with developing the skills of the sparring partners.

Right from the beginning MMA has been a team focused sport. Pretty much all the champions in UFC and Pride have come through the tried and tested team system. Over the years there have been a few examples of MMA ‘superstars’ who tried to follow the professional boxing model instead such as Brock Lesnar and Alastair Overreem. These fighters usually have very limited success when they try to break away from the team system and are eventually faced with either retiring from the sport or returning to a successful team.

Advantages of a Team

What are the advantages of a team? Firstly, you get out what you put in. If you turn up consistently and train hard with a good, helpful attitude you will have good training partners who will in turn help you to develop into an even better fighter. If you come to the gym sporadically, train with the wrong attitude and injure your training partners nobody will be willing to train with you. This will make it very difficult to be successful as a fighter. You will be faced with the option of having to pay sparring partners. However MMA fighters don’t get paid enough to justify paying sparring partners and there aren’t really any MMA sparring partners for hire like there are in professional boxing.

Another advantage is that it is possible to produce multiple good fighters using the team system rather than just being focused on one person. This is because the trainers, sparring partners, training systems and structure remain consistent and if they have produced good results for one person then they can continue to reproduce the same results and success for others.

When a fighter steps into the ring or cage they are in there on their own but what happens and how they perform once the bell rings is determined by the team that they have been surrounded by up until that point.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Why Fighters Lose MMA Fights



Here are some of the most common ways in which fighters sabotage their potential success in the sport of MMA.

1. Training with coaches who don't understand the sport of MMA. The coach may be skilled in individual areas such as striking or BJJ but lack the ability and experience to prepare fighters properly for MMA.


2. Failing to fix the holes in your game and being too reliant on one skill set. An MMA fighter needs to be skilled in the areas of striking, takedowns and groundwork and be able to combine them. Focusing on only one area at the expense of other skills will leave holes in your game which will be easily exploited by opponents.


3. Jumping into professional level fights too soon without adequate amateur experience. Amateur fights are necessary to develop and build up your skills and experience. Its very important not to fight above your level too soon as a bad loss may be very demoralizing and affect your future training and performance in fights.


4. Failing to get experience in individual combat sports such as kickboxing and BJJ before fighting in MMA. Competing in other combat sports is a good safe way to gain valuable experience and develop your skills so that you are more well rounded and more of a threat when you fight in MMA.


5. Too much Sparring - Focusing exclusively on sparring rather than taking the time to develop your skills in each range. Making an effort to develop your BJJ, Wrestling or Muay Thai skills individually will give you more weapons to use in when you fight.


6. Avoiding MMA sparring - MMA sparring is necessary to simulate what will happen in the fight. Grappling and Kickboxing sparring will only get you so far. MMA sparring is necessary to bridge the gap between ranges and teach you how combine your skills.


7. Too much conditioning training at the expense of skill development training. It won't matter how good your strength or cardio is if you are making basic mistakes which could lead to losing a fight and which could be corrected with proper technical training.


8. Neglecting your conditioning and hoping that you'll be able to get by on skills alone. The fighter needs to prepare for the worst case scenario. This means being prepared to push the pace throughout the duration of the fight without being afraid of getting tired.


9. Not getting enough information about their opponent. Fighters need to find out as much information as possible about their upcoming opponent such as their strengths and weaknesses or how they have won or lost their previous fights. This information can give the fighter a huge advantage over the opponent.


10. Inadequate mental preparation - ignoring the nerves and pressure of the upcoming fight until its too late rather than mentally preparing for the fight so that you are ready to deal with the stress before the fight and calm and focused when the fight starts.



'One thing I have learned as a competitor is that there are clear distinctions between what it takes to be decent, what it takes to be good, what it takes to be great, and what it takes to be among the best. If your goal is to be mediocre, then you have a considerable margin for error... If you hurt your toe , you can take six weeks watching TV and eating potato chips, most people think of injuries as setbacks, something they have to recover from or deal with... every time I tweak my body well intentioned people suggest that I take a few weeks off training. What they don't realize is that If I were to stop training whenever something hurt, I would spend my whole year on the couch. Almost without exception I am back on the mats the next day figuring out how to use my new situation to heighten elements of my game. If I want to be the best I have to take risks that others would avoid, always optimizing the learning potential of the moment and turning adversity to my advantage.'

Josh Waitzkin - The Art of Learning.



Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Mental Tougness in Combat Sports


Here is a short interview which I recently did with one of my clients who is completing a sports science degree regarding mental toughness and mental preparation in combat sports. 


How do you define "mental toughness"? 

I would define mental toughness in sports as ability to reproduce an athletes best performance under adverse & unfavorable conditions such as stress, pain or fear of injury. 

What do you believe contributes to mental toughness (e.g. nature vs. nurture, experiences, environments, upbringing)? 

The main contributing factor in developing mental toughness is gaining experience in overcoming obstacles. When an athlete repeatedly comes up against tough experiences and is able to overcome them he will develop mental toughness & confidence which will help him overcome further challenges & tough experiences in the future. It is important that an athlete is gradually tested against tougher opposition. In terms of combat sports this would mean starting off sparring against opponents who are on a similar or lower level and then gradually increasing the level of sparring partners as the athletes confidence & ability increases. It is important that the athlete is not just continually sparring people who he can beat & don’t present a challenge. This may boost his confidence but will give him a false sense of security & his lack of mental toughness will be exposed when he comes up against tougher opposition. The other side of this is that if the athlete is sparring against opponents who are too experienced for him it may be detrimental and lead to him losing confidence in his abilities and ruin his potential for developing mental toughness. 

How do you try to instil mental toughness in your athletes? 

To help build mental toughness in my athletes I like to use several types of sparring drills & exercises, these may include. 
  • Line ups - these involve sparring against a group of fresh opponents one after another. This is tough for the athlete as he is already fatigued from the previous rounds & needs to still perform well against fresh opponents. 
  • Fight Simulation Drills / Circuits - This involves placing the athlete in a series of disadvantageous positions for a set period of time which he must escape from or complete a set task before progressing to the next station. 
  • Winner Stays On Sparring - This involves a group of sparring partners & an objective such as scoring a take-down or submission, this will result in the winner then having to spar against a new opponent & trying to stay in against new opponents for as long as possible. 
  • Conditioning exercises such as sprints or 'burpees' done at the end of the training session when the athlete is already fatigued and trying to get the athlete to keep going & outworking his training partners. 

Do you think there are any downfalls to being mentally tough? 

Athletes who are very mentally tough may be likely to push themselves to extreme lengths and may take excessive risks such as continuing to train or compete in-spite of injury. There is also a risk in combat sports that an athlete may allow himself to take excessive punishment rather than quitting. This is obviously very dangerous and can be fatal in some cases.