Mind Games: The Best UFC Fighters
Everyone knows the physical requirements needed to be an MMA fighter. It’s a relentless grind that continues every day with strict dieting and training way past the point of exhaustion. However, rarely discussed is the other side of the fight game, the mental component. From the press conference, to the weigh-in stare down, and finally glaring at your opponent from across the cage, the mental side of combat sports is always present.
Some fighters are experts at using these emotions as a catalyst to affect their opponent’s mindset either in the cage or in the build up to the fight. Watching their opponent get tilted is like watching them get hurt in the bout, it gives them confidence and energy to feed off of. Experts that study these mental processes say that there are many possible effects of tilt but normally a fighter reacts by deviating from their game plan and making mistakes. These are some of the best UFC fighters we’ve ever seen when it comes to mind games.
When fans think of mind games, they immediately think of fighters trash talking their opponents to break down their will during press conferences. However, Masvidal is a great example of a fighter who has mind games that apply to actual combat. Masvidal is known for having a very high fight IQ and he uses a chess-like approach to fighting.
Someone like Wonderboy is “tricky” because he has explosive speed and agility. Lyoto Machida is tricky because he utilizes excessive feints and disguises his movements. Masvidal is tricky because he uses a complex bait/counter system to attack his opponent from high to mid to low and back again. He anticipates your movements and counters while looking for openings and he does it quite well.
The Diaz brothers are both soft spoken and infamously adverse to press conferences altogether. They simply don’t want to be bothered with anything until it is fight time. In the cage however, Diaz will absolutely wreck your confidence. His taunting and trash talking mid-fight have made him a legend.
It’s not just his antics either. Diaz employs mind games through his relentless aggression, boxing mixups, scaling his power in his strikes so you will never know when the heavy shots are coming, and his seemingly infinite gas tank that constantly keeps you afraid of tiring out.
The undisputed king of mental warfare is McGregor. His complete dismantling of Jose Aldo before he won the 145lbs title will never be forgotten. From the press conferences, to the walk out music he uses, everything McGregor does is choreographed to break down his opponent’s mental state and he is absolutely relentless.
This list of McGregor quotes can give you an insight into his madness. However, it is worth noting that inside the cage McGregor is all business and does not taunt his opponents.
Sonnen is another famous trash talker. Whether or not he is actually proficient at mind games is up for debate but he certainly has a way of getting in his opponents head and that’s what it’s all about right? Sonnen is a very smooth (likely rehearsed) trash talker that will get the whole crowd laughing at his opponent.
Dominick Cruz vs Cody Garbrandt
There are some analysts that don’t believe that mind games have a big effect on the fighter. They claim that these trained professionals leave all the nonsense behind once they step in the cage. For an example of a counter argument, you can look to the fight between Dominick Cruz and Cody Garbrandt.
In particular, Cruz is phenomenal when it comes to the mind games. He has an excellent way of getting into his opponent’s head during interviews and media events. Most would say that his mental warfare against TJ Dillashaw was crucial to winning the title. When it came time for Cruz to fight Garbrandt, he employed the same tactics.
However, this time the outcome was not the same. Garbrandt was clearly frustrated by Cruz’s constant poking and prodding. When it came time to fight, most fans expected the hot headed Garbrandt to fight too aggressively, ultimately blowing the fight. However, he had a cool, systematic gameplan and won the title from Cruz by decision. While the mind games were clearly effective before the bout, they did little to help Cruz in the fight.