MMA Mind Power: Being a Fighter vs. an Athlete

June 8, 2012
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Fighters, Athletes and the New Breed!

MMA Mind PowerThe 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, are athletes 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 three in each division, you will be able to see that, although counterintuitive, athletes are more successful in their MMA career than fighters tent to be.

People like George St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, and Jon Jones 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, Chuck Liddell, Phil Baroni, Matt Serra, and others of the kind who would definitely be categorized as fighters. Clearly these were amazing mixed martial artists, 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, or they are destined to be overpowered by athletes.

Here are the 3 main reasons:

1. Athletes Compete with Less or No Emotional Interferences

One could argue that emotional drives can push an athlete to perform better and that is true when the emotions are one, controlled, and two, 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 hear and act upon the instructions of the corner.

2. Athletes Generally Have Less Personal Issues

I don’t want to generalize, but if you look into the historic data, you will find that, apart from the issues like DUIs or PEDs, 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 behavior that more emotionally involved people tend 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-percent of the time, as Shogun Rua, who I think falls into the category of fighters, imposed his way on Machida on two 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 that 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 mixed martial artist that can light the internal fire that fighters are fueled by and control it with the same proficiency that athletes have used to claim the advantage in the last few months. So how can mixed martial artists 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 an athlete. The new breed is a mixed martial artist that 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, Junior dos Santos, 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 seem, the very fact that you are aware of the breakdown of these differences and their effect on your game, you have done 70 percent of the work and your mind will begin to make the required changes.

Good luck.

Luca Senatore
Head Mind Coach
MMA Mind Power

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  • pooby

    Anderson Silva is not a fighter? Just because a man can control his emotions and defeat an opponent using a calculated strategy rather than anger and hate, doesn’t mean he isn’t a fighter.

    Ask Rich Franklin if he thought Silva was a fighter after he turned his nose sideways twice.

  • BlackDog2009

    you’re missing the point, athletes fight, it’s a fighting sport after all… but a ‘fighter’ would have beaten the crap out of losers like Leites, Maia and Cote … Silva did not fight them. As for Franklyn, I don’t think Franklyn ever heard of the mui thai clinch in those days, Silva kept grabbing him at will and kept him in there while Franklyn decided to remain in it and eat knees all night long.

    • MuayThaiFood

      This is about the most ridiculous load of crap ever. Athletes have fewer personal issues? Newsflash, there are athletes in every sport and there are plenty of them with personal problems. How do you put Vitor in the fighter category based on your criteria. Wouldn’t he have to be in the “new breed”? I’m not saying he’s not a fighter but if he’s not an athlete then wtf? Vitor has been around since the early UFC so I guess “new breed” doesn’t sound right either. Pretty obvious that every person is different and you can’t put them in three categories.

      There are so many contradictions in this article. Ever heard the saying “baffle them with bullshit”? I can’t believe people buy into this garbage. Now that there is money to be made in MMA everyone wants a slice of the pie.

  • wiiliamstanley

    Stupidest article ever. They are all fighters. Some may be more athletic than others or take an athletic approach to a fight, but only a fighter will fight and get a thrill off it. I get the point of this article but to say for instance that GSP is an athlete before a fighter is just stupid.

  • RubeKegal

    MMAWeekly, what the hell? Didn’t the last MMA Mind Power article have just about everyone asking for the removal of these stupid articles?

    Pure quack fucckery!!!

  • rsnowbass

    Hurting for some material…writers getting desperate these days it seems. Lots of articles lately seem to serve moreso as filler.