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MMA Psychologist James Barraclough talks McGregor`s mentality ahead of Diaz rematch

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Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz will meet for the second time on August 20th at UFC 202 in the T-Mobile arena Las Vegas in what is being anticipated as the biggest fight of the year. McGregor has gained a reputation for his trash talking and bold predictions so much so he has been compared to the great Muhammad Ali on multiple occasions. McGregor has constantly talked about his mentality being bulletproof and how he approaches the game differently to every fighter on the roster. However after losing the first fight to Diaz last March how will McGregor approach the rematch mentally? We talked to sports MMA psychologist James Barraclough the author of the MMA Sport Psychology Manual to get his take on McGregor’s mental approach.

 

Barraclough believes the loss to Diaz will have a positive effect on McGregor’s mind-set and says McGregor possess traits familiar with some of the best athlete’s in the world.

It could definitely be a positive. Looking at his comments on BJ Penn’s website McGregor looks like he is demonstrating a sub-conscious trait that a lot of top athletes show called a self-serving bias. This means that these athletes will use what is essentially a defence mechanism by blaming something in the run up to their performance for their loss. In McGregor’s case this was linked to his pre-fight nutrition:

“I am forever, forever learning,” McGregor told ESPN. “I think in the last fight [against Nate Diaz in March], I mismanaged my weight. I was working with my nutritionist for the lightweight title fight to make 155 pounds. I was on track. Nine days out from the fight, I’m in phenomenal condition, and then the weight got changed [to 170] and all of a sudden I’m 10 pounds below and I’m like, I don’t need this diet because I need to eat up to the weight. So I threw that out. I disengaged from that. I started eating two steaks a day, two breakfasts. I’d have a coffee and some cookies with that, please, also. I’d be in the gym six to eight hours on fight week. I’ve got bags of energy. I can do this all day. But it came back and bit me in the ass. My body went into shock. I over trained and then mismanaged the weight, and it came back to bite me on the ass.”

This may look like he is making excuses, but from a psychological point of view this is most definitely a positive. He is refusing to blame any lack of ability on his part and is ‘attributing’ failure to external and unstable factors according to Weiner’s Attribution Theory (1985):

barra

 

This is essential to an athlete’s confidence. The first statement about “forever learning” also demonstrates what is known as a ‘growth mind-set’ (Dweck, 2006) and shows that he is using the experience as a positive learning opportunity instead of as a setback. This is also a huge factor in motivation and maintaining high self-confidence. In the short-term it may well have ‘brought him down to Earth’, but from the reports this was in a good way as it has helped him identify ways to improve and he has taken appropriate action to do so. The situation reminds me a little of Lennox Lewis’ two fights against Hasim Rahman, where in the first fight he was perhaps a little overconfident and perhaps even complacent. His loss gave him a ‘kick up the backside’ and huge motivation for revenge, which would have driven his efforts in training.

McGregor has also (allegedly) come under criticism from sparring partner Chris van Heerden for having a video of them training together “cut to make McGregor look good”. This may well be the case, but again this would be good for McGregor’s confidence. This is a visualisation technique used by sport psychologists known as ‘performance accomplishments’, otherwise known as a personal highlights reel to remind them of how good they can be. This is less about trying to make van Heerden look bad and more about enhancing McGregor’s belief; it would make no sense whatsoever in putting in bits where the former had the upper hand. It may have been useful to discuss any perceived mistakes/weaknesses in the post-mortem of the first fight (such as what went wrong –for example, how did McGregor get into the situation where Diaz got his back and choked him and how could this be prevented next time) for this to be used in the tactical approach to the next one. Then this would not be mentioned as the second fight comes around – any important tactical/psychological elements should have been covered in the training camp. Another visualisation technique (mental rehearsal) could then be used for McGregor to ‘practice his lines’ – his tactics for the upcoming fight.

 

Many people argue that Diaz will also have the upper hand in the rematch given the fact he only had eleven days’ notice for the fight but will the fact Diaz will have a full camp have any impact on McGregor`s mental preparation for the rematch?

I think this depends on how his coaching team handle the situation. Again, going back to Attribution theory, if they attribute McGregor’s loss to external/unstable factors then they can do the same with Diaz being victorious i.e. ‘he got lucky’.

So what will a second loss to Diaz do to affect McGregor`s confidence?

This could be an issue in the short-term as any top athlete is affected by losing. However, if he applies what I believe to be his approach to his initial loss to Diaz, then in the long-term it can make him an even better performer. He could also attribute a potential loss to external/unstable factors such as task difficulty (i.e. fighting out of his ‘normal’ weight), rather than ability.

Dana White has constantly said McGregor was obsessed with this rematch at the same weight. Why do you think that is? After the first fight he replayed the fight 20 times before attending the post-fight press conference. What does this show about his mentality? Is this obsession a positive mentality?

There is a good chance that McGregor has perfectionist tendencies (as many, many top athletes do). There are clearly documented links between perfectionism and obsessive behaviour. This may explain his drive to avenge his first loss and why he wants to do it at the same weight. Perfectionists have an inability to accept mistakes and will strive relentlessly to put them right. This can potentially be detrimental if it becomes all-consuming. Rugby union player Jonny Wilkinson has been noted as missing one or two kicks in training and then having to stay for hours to ‘put it right’. This can have negative effects in terms of potential overtraining leading to injury and possibly even burnout and retirement. On the other hand, it won England the Rugby World Cup in 2003! It really depends again on how he is managed by his team and most importantly how he manages himself.

Conor McGregor takes on Nate Diaz at UFC 202 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. For all the latest news in the world of MMA make sure to follow MMA Latest News on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

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Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Official for UFC 224

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Brazils second UFC event of the new year added another middleweight contest. UFC officials announced, Kelvin Gastelum will face Jacare Souza in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 224.

The inevitable main card booking of Souza comes after headlining UFC on Fox 27. The Brazilian fighter is 3-2 in his last 5. His recent contests only look worrisome in comparison to the entirety of his long career. Prior to his past 5, Souza held an eight fight win streak. In that period of time, he defeated Gegard Mousasi, Derek Brunson (for the first time), and Chris Camozzi twice. Despite the drama words and numbers on screens create, his recent record is nothing to have concern over. A split decision loss to Yoel Romero in 2015, and a 2017 TKO loss to division champion, Robert Whittaker is manageable. Defeating Derek Brunson in the opening round of their main event bout kept him deep in the milky opaque froth that is the middleweight title picture. Clearly his position in that photo lies upon the upcoming match up.

Looking ahead for Jacare Souza, assuming he wins, becomes interesting, just as it devastating for Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum is 3-1 since returning to middleweight, technically his record sits at 2-1 and 1 No Contest. He tested positive for marijuana in a sample collected the night of his bout against Vitor Belfort by USADA in March of 2017. Originally, the outcome of the bout read the way viewers remembered it; a 1st rd. TKO in favor of Gastelum. On May 7th, 2017, the win was officially overturned and changed to a No Contest. He also received a 90 day suspension, adjusted to the day of the failed test (March 11th).

In the aftermath of the failed test, his scheduled contest against Anderson Silva. He then split his next two contests, losing to Chris Weidman and defeating Michael Bisping emphatically, yet under odd circumstances. A win for Gastelum certainly muddies the waters of middleweight contenders, while adding to a good 185 lb. resume.

UFC 224 takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 12th, 2018 at the Jeunesse Arena. A battle betwen Brazilians is set for the date as Lyoto Machida takes on Vitor Belfort. Other featured bouts include; Aleksei Oleynik vs. Junior Albini*, Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson*, Alberto Mina vs. Ramazan Emeev, and Davi Ramos vs. Nick Hein*.

*Bouts reportedly set for UFC 224

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Exclusive: Mike Ekundayo, “He could come with anything, I don’t care”

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In a little less than a week, Rise of Champions crowns its inaugural bantamweight champion. The crowning of the first 135 lb. champion marks the young promotions first champion. It makes sense why the promotion owned and operated by UK MMA star, Brad Pickett, and Team Titan head coach, Mickey Papas plan to crown the promotions first champion in the bantamweight division. Pickett competed in the division throughout his tenure with the WEC, and ultimately the entity which absorbed the light weight promotion, the UFC. Even more-so, two young and rising prospects of the division. One undefeated in his professional and amateur career, the other riding a seven consecutive victories, five by submission. The two meet February 17th, Mike Ekundayo puts his career unbeaten streak up against Jonas Magard’s at ROC 5, for the aforementioned, inaugural bantamweight championship.

Speaking to the undefeated Ekundayo before his fight, he believes this opportunity to be inevitable. Born in Hackney, (a borough of London) early in life, Ekundayo was no stranger to cramming his belongings into large cardboard boxes. At the age of 7, he moved from Hackney to Herne Hill, a district located in South London. Two years later he found himself in similar situation, moving from his vaguely new home in Herne Hill to Brixton. A road trip in the car to his new home, took approximately 5 minutes.

It is admittedly, not an easy life. In a harrowing article describing the horrors of gang life in London by the metro.uk, former gang member turned community activist, made the claim, “When you are from Brixton, from Peckham, west London, anywhere in London, you are seeing hardship where a lot of communities can’t reach their full potential”.

In his own words, Ekundayo describes his home as, “not the best start to have in your life. It’s not the best upbringing”. But that couldn’t matter any less for him. Not only does the London resident consistently work to grow his potential, he gets to see it every day. His coaches Brad Pickett and Mickey Papas hold the knowledge as well as first-hand experience, increasing his limits with every session. “We’re all close”, speaking of his coaches and team. “My head coach is Mickey Papas, he’s very knowable in the game. He’s been around for a very long time. He teaches me a lot, I can learn a lot of stuff from Mickey Papas. Sometimes I just think, how does he know all of this? Where did he get this information from?”

He continued, “While I was coming up through amateur, Brad (Pickett) was still an active fighter, but nowadays he’s taken a coaching approach. So he’s coaching us prospects getting us to where he got to and further… He’s been through it all, gotten to the top, and stayed at the top”.

Further discussing his coach, “For UK MMA, you could definitely call Brad a legend. He’s done a lot in his career, and someone who I rate highly as an MMA fighter is Demetrious Johnson, and of course Brad has got a win over (him). I feel like just being surrounded by someone like Brad, you’re working towards the right things. When he passes information onto you, you respect it that bit more because of far he got in his career. He’s definitely given me the right guidance, I trust his guidance”.

When it comes to the upcoming title fight, confidence poured out from where praise and respect had once been. “I just think it’s my time, to be honest. I really do believe it’s my time for all of this. The work I put in, certain things become inevitable”, he said. “I actually called this after I won my third fight, I called for belts and big shows. I spoke it to existence”. He continued, “It’s my time to finally to get a strap of some sort. All the straps is what we’re going for, all of them. We’re going for every one”.

“Rise of Champions is my show… That’s how I feel when I’m performing on ROC, it’s just my show, it’s my time to shine. Everyone knows who there here to see, there not really there to see the other guys. It’s my time, it’s my show and I’m going to put on a show on February 17th and I’m going to win that belt”.

The infectious nature of his positive attitude was palpable. Although we only spoke through small rectangular devices, I could feel his energy in the room. His attitude shined brightest when talking about what it would mean to be the first ever ROC Bantamweight champion. Ekundayo claimed, “It just means a lot to have my first belt in anything to be honest… Within myself, I call myself a champion, every day. But now, other people would have to call me a champion because I’ve got a belt… And one thing I really want to do is, which sounds a bit weird, I just want to take the belt home to my area, to Brixton.”

“I just want to take it to my area, and just show the people of that area what hard work can achieve… I want to just take it to my people and show them that not for nothing, we are from Brixton, it’s not the best start to have in your life. It’s not the best upbringing but you can rise above it and you can achieve your goals and that’s what the belt will mean”.

When the conversation shifted to the topic of his opponent, Ekundayo had less encouraging words rolling off his tongue. Jonas Magard, the second half of the ROC 5 main event, holds a record of 7-4. Currently he owns a seven fight win streak after starting his career 1-3. Ekundayo thought, “He did fight quite decent guys in his three loses… but in the seven fight win streak, none of his opponents have been of caliber”.

He elaborated further, “What’s in my thoughts is more me, then it is of him. So, he could come with anything, I don’t care. I’m just focused on how I’m going to be picture perfect. How I’m going to paint a masterpiece, how I’m going to make it a beautifully perfect performance. That’s what my primary focus is on, so what he does to me is irrelevant, I’m just going to focus on how I’m going to be perfect on the night of February 17th”.

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UFC 222 Re-Worked with Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya, and Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega

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UFC 222 has been saved, and it didn’t take a superhero to lift the burning boulder which was Max Holloway’s injury and withdrawal. All it took was a female named Cyborg and a man with a demeanor so smooth, he could be mistaken for an alter-ego. Cris Cyborg now serves as the UFC 222 main event when she defends her featherweight belt against Yana Kunitskaya. Frankie Edgar bumped down to the co-main event to face Brian Ortega in what is likely a title eliminator. The news of the UFC 222 revival originally stemmed from a report by MMAFighting.com and confirmed later in the evening by the UFC.

Over the course of the week, reports surrounded the Las Vegas card and whether it would survive. Multiple options were reportedly being mulled over; cancelling the card outright, changing the pay-per-view (PPV) to a ‘Fight Night’ with an Edgar vs. Ortega main event, Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt 2 main event, among others. Ultimately, the promotion landed on Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya as the new main event, while also booking Brian Ortega.

This adjustment of the card places their women’s Featherweight champion in the second PPV main event in three months. Cris Cyborg recently put her undisputed Featherweight title on the line against Holly Holm at the year ending card, UFC 219. She successfully defended her belt by unanimous decision, in what was an amazing technical display from the Brazilian. In her octagon career, Cyborg is undefeated in her four appearances with three KO/TKO stoppages.

The second half of the new main event, Yana Kunitskaya, makes her UFC debut against the scariest women on the roster. If the 145 lb. champion was not enough of a challenge, Kunitskaya also makes her first appearance in the division since defeating Cindy Dandois in December of 2010. Of Russia descent, her most recent performances came inside the Invicta FC cage. At the female-only promotion, she posted a record of 1-1, with 1 No Contest. Her loss and no contest, both came at the hands of former UFC Featherweight title challenger, Tonya Evinger.

Turning to the co-main event, both fighters have been relatively inactive but, for good reason. Brian Ortega amazingly forced perennial men’s Featherweight contender, Cub Swanson, to tap in the second round of their ‘Fight Night: Fresno’ contest. Ortega fought twice in 2017, but more-so stayed inactive following his stoppage victory over Swanson. The Californian contender announced his desire to wait in line for the next title shot following the recent victory.

For Frankie Edgar, his last fight took place at UFC 211 when he absolutely demolished young and rising star, Yair Rodriguez. A card which took place last May. While Ortega holds an undefeated record, Edgar is undefeated in his previous 9 fights, excluding people named Jose Aldo.

UFC 222 takes place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 3rd.

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