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The Anatomy of a Tapout: Addressing the Whole Fighter for a Strong Mental Game

Updated on January 21, 2016

Working with an MMA Legend

We have all witnessed it. An MMA legend tries to make a comeback, even after a long illustrious career, only to be rocked by a punch and taps out in the first round. Ever wonder what could be going on inside the fighter’s head? After working with an MMA fighter through his losing streak, I was able to gain some insight into what was going on during those crucial minutes.

Most of the reason had to do with working only with conscious thought, which does not yield the type of results one is seeking when it comes to the mental game. When I was working with one such fighter, I was able to see what the result of this strategy was.

A strong mental game begins with addressing the types of thought patterns we use to avoid our inner pain.

Round 1

The fighter walks into the ring consciously believing he is the greatest in the world and cannot be defeated. He believes falsely that his opponent does not have the skills he possesses and he has a secret weapon no one else has.

The fighter’s opponent lands one good solid punch and clearly rocks the fighter. That punch immediately challenges the fighter’s belief that he is the greatest in the world, because after all, how can the greatest fighter in the world be nearly flattened with one punch? Any game plan disappears, because the conscious thought process is completely disrupted.

Because the conscious has been knocked out to lunch, the subconscious takes over. Since the fighter never did any inner work to dispel his own inner demons, all the fears, past trauma, and childhood issues overwhelm the fighter and overtake the conscious. All those statements the fighter repeated over and over again to himself are gone. The fighter keeps getting hit and can’t think straight. He is in survival mode, his mind racing with all the negative events form his past clouding his mind and preventing him from executing any kind of offense.

The bell rings. He survived round one. His trainers are barking commands at him, and telling him the same rhetoric they had been filling his head with throughout training camp, but all he can hear is his head is all those people telling him he should have retired, he’s not good enough, and all the other negative statements from his past haunting him like ghosts.

Round 2

The bell rings. The fighter has had a moment to recover and thinks, I have been here before. I’ll do what I do best and take him to the ground.

However, he’s already at a disadvantage. He tries to shoot for a takedown, but he still has all the chatter in his head from his subconscious that was brought out when he nearly got his lights knocked out in the first round. This chatter interferes with his efforts so much, he almost seems as if he makes a half effort at the takedown. His opponent turns it around on him on the ground and pounds on him. The more he gets hit the more his subconscious says, give up. The next thing he knows, he is caught in a rear naked choke. The fighter taps out. His big comeback ends in a flash.

It takes more than practicing the moves to succeed as an athlete.

Training the Whole Fighter

Fighters are under extreme pressure to perform in a short window of time, and if they cannot rise to the occasion, their careers can end after repeated losses. Unfortunately, no matter how many times a fighter has won in the past, no matter how illustrious of a career one has established, as a fighter, you are only as good as your last fight.

The problem lies in ignoring the rest of the fighter. No matter how good your training camp and coaches are, they can’t help you with the emotions and mental patterns that could be holding back your success in the sport you love most. Nor are they qualified in helping you with emotional issues.

This is why you often hear advice like, “Just get past it,” or “Tough it out/Man up.” These types of statements demonstrate these people’s lack of training and education in helping you with emotional issues. In addition, these type of statements are not helpful in addressing the emotional and mental patterns that are holding back your mental game.

Fighters have personal experiences and personal histories, just like everyone else. These experiences can interfere at any time or at any point during a person’s career, no matter how many wins they have had in the past or how many titles they have won.

As you can see, ignoring the rest of the fighter can be tricky business. Building up the fighter only on a conscious level doesn’t work unless the fighter can work with the subconscious to believe it too, regardless what happens in the ring.

A fighter needs to build self-confidence based upon a strong foundation, out of a respect for oneself, not out of how much a fighter wins or loses. The most effective way of building yourself into a winning machine is to make certain that all parts of you, your past, your present, your conscious, and your subconscious, are all working in unison so you have complete control over your actions in the ring.

The above description of this fighter’s match is a perfect example of how the battle between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind, which I have named Gemini Mind, can interfere even with the performance of fighting legends

As you can see, one can repeat over and over again how great he is, but if the fighter has had experiences with others that contradicts this statement, the moment the opponent gets one solid hit, it immediately contradicts all those months of building “self-confidence” on the conscious level, and all of those repressed bad memories are immediately reinforced.

Conquer the battle within to conquer in the ring.

Conquer Your Inner Demons to Solidify Your Mental Game

I find in my practice that fighters are not only fighting their opponents in the ring and their own inner demons. This is why ignoring one’s past could be a recipe for disaster in the ring.

To perform as a single fighting machine, you have to be as brave at facing your own inner demons as you are at facing your opponents in the ring. If you do not resolve the issues from your past, they will come back to haunt you. The more trauma in your past, the higher the chance it will interfere in your match and distract you from executing a positive, solid match.

Begin by addressing what is coming up in your head the moment your world is rocked. If you need help, seek out a professional with experience in helping athletes succeed.

How is your mental game?

How do you handle being hit?

See results


  • Even past champions making a comeback might not have a good mental game in place to use when things don't go as planned.
  • Building yourself up with positive mantras is like building a card house. Your mental game can collapse just as easily using only positive statements without having a backup plan.
  • A strong mental game helps you develop an attitude of how to handle any scenario.

How do you avoid losing your mental game when things don't go as planned in a fight?

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