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Conor McGregor Beat Nate Diaz Because MMA is 90% Mental

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Moments after watching The Notorious win a close decision against Nate Diaz, Psychology Professor and martial artist David Klonsky, PhD, catches his breath and shares some thoughts.

 

Many of the best fighters – George St. Pierre, Dominick Cruz – say that fighting is 90% mental. But it is not always clear to MMA fans what this means. I can think of no better fight to illustrate how mental qualities make a difference at the highest levels of MMA than McGregor-Diaz 2.

When Conor McGregor beat Nate Diaz in their closely fought rematch, the mental dynamics at play were truly special. An important starting point is to acknowledge that McGregor and Diaz are closely matched in terms of physical skills, perhaps with an edge to Diaz. McGregor has better movement, distance control, and striking diversity, while Diaz has better size, stamina, boxing, and ground skills. The difference in outcomes between their two fights was due to McGregor’s edge in the mental game.

Numerous mental skills help make a fighter elite. Below are three that played key roles in McGregor’s win over Diaz.

 

Readiness to Fight

The first mental skill an elite fighter needs is readiness to fight. When the bell sounds to start Round 1, there can be many reasons why a fighter is not at his best: nerves, over-excitement, fatigue due to adrenaline dump, intimidation by an opponent, and many others. For example, Carla Esparza looked defeated before her fight with Joanna Jędrzejczyk began, as have many of McGregor’s opponents. Donald Cerrone and Ross Pearson have both spoken about their struggles to avoid slow starts to fights. So how do McGregor and Diaz compare?

When it comes to Fight Readiness, The Notorious has a clear advantage over Diaz. McGregor has finished several fights in the 1st round, and has won round 1 against every UFC opponent except Chad Mendes. McGregor starts, and usually wins, fast. In contrast, despite tremendous mental toughness, Diaz often starts slow even in victories. He lost Round 1 in each of his last two wins, against McGregor and Michael Johnson. He also lost Round 1 in his rematch with McGregor. McGregor’s Round 1 success in the rematch not only left Diaz slowed on a damaged leg, but proved the difference on the judge’s scorecards in a very close majority decision win.

 

Game Planning

The second mental skill an elite fighter needs it game planning. At the highest levels of MMA it is rare that one fighter is better than another in all areas. Consequently, the elite fighter develops and executes a strategy to enhance his own strengths and avoid or negate his opponent’s.

This principle may sound obvious, but many veteran UFC fighters do not game plan. For example, Diego Sanchez is a warrior and “Fight of the Night” regular, but he is not much of a game planner. His fans know what to expect every time, and so do his opponents, who can prepare accordingly.

In contrast, George St. Pierre is an elite game planner. He dictates where the fight takes place and can look very different depending on his opponent and strategy. Against a wrestler in Josh Koscheck, GSP stayed on the feet and dominated with jabs and distance control. Against strikers in Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit, and Dan Hardy, GSP took the fight to the ground utilizing a combined 27 takedowns. GSP adapts his game to each opponent.

In the McGregor-Diaz rematch we saw a stark difference in game planning. Diaz came out with the same approach he always uses, excellent boxing and constant forward pressure.  In contrast, the Notorious One used the five months between fights to prepare several adjustments. McGregor planned for more leg kicks to slow Diaz, prepared combinations and angles optimized for a southpaw opponent, and sparred with middleweights to ensure he was ready for a 5-round war against a larger opponent.

Each of these adjustments proved key for defeating Diaz. By the end of the 1st Round Diaz was less able to move and plant on his lead leg. McGregor also landed several knockdowns and hurt Diaz with punches more than in the first fight. And while McGregor once again struggled with fatigue during Rounds 2 through 5, he was much more efficient with his energy – whereas fatigue led Conor to lose by submission in the first fight, in the second fight he stayed efficient and poised through the fatigue and thereby remained effective enough to survive and win.

 

Humility

The third mental skill an elite fighter needs is the humility to learn and be coachable. True champions must achieve a tricky mental balance. They must be confident enough to dominate, but humble enough to recognize their weaknesses, own their mistakes, and learn from others.

Some fighters become so confident that they have difficulty seeing their limitations and taking the advice of others. For all of Ronda Rousey’s elite mental and physical skills, she would probably have benefitted from taking the advice of her mom, Tim Kennedy, and numerous others to find a head coach other than Edmund Tarverdyan. Arguably, her loyalty to Tarverdyan not only stunted the overall development of her physical skills (e.g., striking, distance control), but left her without a reasonable game plan against Holly Holm.

While many call Conor McGregor arrogant, he has actually mastered the tricky balance of confidence and humility. He is confident enough to dominate, as he has shown that over and over against the best of the UFC featherweight division. At the same time, McGregor is intensely interested in his weaknesses and mistakes, and intensely committed to learning from his coach John Kavanagh.

McGregor’s game plan (discussed above) for his rematch against Diaz is one example of McGregor’s commitment to learn from his mistakes and his coach. But there is also another way that McGregor’s humility helped him beat Diaz in the rematch.

In the first fight, after early success, McGregor fatigued in Round 2. In response, he panicked (McGregor’s own word choice) and threw power shots in the hopes of ending the fight as quickly as possible. This response increased his fatigue (power shots take energy), and moments later he found himself both mentally and physically defeated.

There was a truly special moment in the rematch when it appeared history was repeating itself. Once again McGregor handily won Round 1 and the first part of Round 2, but once against he tired toward the end of Round 2 while Diaz pressured and swarmed with strikes. It was Déjà vu for those watching, and probably for McGregor and Diaz as well. Except that McGregor was a different fighter in the rematch.

McGregor learned from the first fight. He stared his mistakes in the face and evolved. In numerous interviews since the first fight McGregor has recounted his panic in the first fight, his desperate power shots, and his even more desperate takedown attempt. He has embraced these mistakes, and taken them with him into his fight camp and training.

Fast forward to Round 2 of the rematch, and a fatigued McGregor did not become desperate, did not try to end the fight with power shots, and did not try to escape Diaz’s pressure with a takedown attempt. Instead, McGregor became efficient: he used the clinch to buy time, he stuck to his game plan of finesse striking as energy permitted, and he certainly did not attempt a takedown. Mcgregor had been there before, and because he had the humility to learn and grow from his mistakes, this time he survived and won.

 

Conclusion

I do not mean for this analysis to take anything away from Nate Diaz. Diaz is an elite martial artist and his mental toughness is second to none. He also has tremendous fight instincts in the areas of boxing and jiu-jitsu, the result of years of training with high-level coaches and partners.

At the same time, Conor McGregor displays a rare combination of physical and mental skills and deserves to be celebrated. It is an honor to watch him compete and an honor to share my analysis of his mental qualities with you.

 

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Ovince Saint Preux Steps in to Face Corey Anderson at UFC 217

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UFC 217 just got even more interesting. Earlier this week, Patrick Cummins pulled out of his light heavyweight matchup with Corey Anderson due to a Staph infection. Corey “Overtime” Anderson was not happy with his opponents decision, even calling out his opponent on Instagram asking how Cummins could, “call it quits so far from fight night”.

The UFC left Anderson on the card, and he found an opponent through the magic of Twitter. Ovince Saint Preux tweeted out directly to Anderson stating:

It didn’t take long for Anderson to respond agreeing to the fight, tagging Mick Maynard and Dana White in his response.

Only a few short hours later, the fight announcement came from the official UFC twitter account.

 

This top 10 Light Heavyweight matchup should add to an already amazing card coming in November at Madison Square Garden. Saint Preux is coming off of back to back wins both due to the very rare von flue choke, he finds himself ranked #7th in the latest edition of the 205-pound rankings. Corey “Overtime” Anderson is 4-2 in his last 6 fights, but is coming off a brutal first round knockout loss to Jimi Manuwa in March.

With such a exciting fight added to this card, what do you see happening November 4th?  Will Corey Anderson bounce back and look to jump into the top 5 of the rankings, or will Ovince Saint Preux go for a third straight von flue choke? Let us know.

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*Watch* Bellator 185 Weigh in: Live Stream, Results

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Watch the live weigh-ins for Bellator 185 here.

Gegard Mousasi takes on Alexander Slemenko live this Friday night October 20th at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville CT. This is the first appearance for Mousasi in the Bellator cage as he looks to secure a title shot with a win over the very tough former Bellator champion Slemenko. Joining these men of the main card will be a pair of welterweights as Neiman Gracie from the famous Gracie BJJ family takes on Zak Bucia in the co-main event.

Full Weigh-in Results: (Updated in real time)

Main Card:

Gegard Mousasi (185) vs. Alexander Shlemenko (186)
Neiman Gracie (170.5) vs. Zak Bucia (170)
Heather Hardy (126) vs. Kristina Williams (126)
Ryan Quinn (155.5) vs. Marcus Surin (155)
Ana Julaton (125.5) vs. Lisa Blaine (122)

Preliminary Card:

Jordan Young (200) vs. Alec Hooben (194)
Costello van Steenis (185) vs. Steve Skrzat (186)
Vinicius de Jesus (170) vs. Joaquin Buckley (171)
John Beneduce (154.5) vs. Dean Hancock (155)
Timothy Wheeler (144) vs. Pete Rogers (144)
Don Shainis (150) vs. Matthew Denning (149)
Frank Sforza (149) vs. Vovka Clay (150)
Kevin Carrier (156) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (153)
John Lopez (126) vs. Billy Giovanella (125)

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Bellator 185 Fight to Watch: Heather Hardy vs. Kristina Williams

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Heather Hardy will compete in MMA for the second time at Bellator 185 on Friday night, as she faces Kristina Williams in a strawweight contest. The fight takes place on the main card at the Mohican Sun Arena in Connecticut.

Potentially, what Bellator have in Heather ‘The Heat’ Hardy is a major draw that they can build their 125 pound division around. While relatively new to the organisation she is fast becoming one of the more popular names on the roster. Her career is in the early stages, but many have already started to draw comparisons with former boxer turned MMA star, Holly Holm. Holm’s UFC success partly inspired the native New Yorker to make the switch from boxing.

Hardy is already an established world champion in the land of the ‘sweet science’, holding a 21 fight undefeated professional record. She made her MMA debut in June this year with a victory over Alice Yauger, at Bellator 180. At 35, Hardy is a late starter in the sport, but proved at Madison Square Garden against the credible Yauger that she has a bright future.

Hardy’s first outing in the cage was disciplined and composed. Despite a slow start in round one, Hardy grew in confidence as the fight progressed and her cardio never faltered. She mixed in plenty of kicks that complimented her boxing and looked at ease in the clinch, even defending a couple of takedown attempts in the process.

Despite looking on course for a decision win, Hardy forced the TKO stoppage with just thirteen seconds remaining in round three. Even a large cut that required seven stitches from an accidental head clash could not deny her victory.

Hardy was fighting an experienced professional, competing for the tenth time in MMA, which makes the win over Yauger more impressive. However, her upcoming opponent Kristina Williams will be making her professional debut.

There is little known about Williams except that she is 3-0 at amateur level. One of those wins came by way of submission so there may well be a threat to Hardy if the fight goes to the ground. More importantly for Williams is how she copes on the big stage against a popular opponent, who is more familiar competing in high pressure combat situations. If Williams can produce an upset it will be a huge boost in her young career.

But in all honesty, this fight is about Hardy. It’s about getting the win and gaining valuable experience. The boxing career is on hold while MMA takes centre stage. Beating Williams will mean she likely continues fighting inside a cage rather than a boxing ring.

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