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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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Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg

Harry Davies

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The UFC has added Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas 2, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry to their UFC Winnipeg card on December 16th.

The two fights were announced as official today on the UFC’s Twitter account.

Aldo (26-3) last fought at UFC 212 in June, where he lost by third round TKO to Max Holloway. After being promoted to the undisputed 145-pound champion last November, he was looking to make the first defence of the title against Holloway.

Lamas first faced Aldo back in 2014 at UFC 169. Aldo, who was again featherweight champion at the time, defeated Lamas with ease winning by unanimous decision (49-46) on all scorecards. Lamas is on a two-fight winning streak after defeating both Charles Oliveira and Jason Knight with impressive finishes.

Since his last UFC loss to Lorenz Larkin back in 2015, Ponzinnibio (25-3) has won five consecutive fights. His most recent victory was a upset win over Gunnar Nelson in July at UFC Glasgow. There was some controversy after the fight, as replays seemed to show a short grab and several eyes pokes from Ponzinnibio before knocking out Nelson in the first round.

Mike Perry has taken the UFC by storm since making his debut for the promotion last August. Picking up four wins all by knockout, the only loss ‘Platinum’ suffered was too Alan Jouban by decision. Ranked at #9 in the welterweight division, a win over Ponzinnibio could definitely propel Perry into the top ten at 170-pounds.

With the additon of these two fantastic fights, the lineup for UFC Winnipeg is as follows:

  • Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos – Welterweight bout
  • Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov – Light heavyweight bout
  • Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jared Cannonier – Light heavyweight bout
  • Tim Elliott vs. Justin Scoggins – Flyweight bout
  • Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bafondo – Welterweight bout
  • Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose – Middleweight bout
  • Vitor Miranda vs. Julian Marquez – Middleweight bout
  • John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo – Lightweight bout
  • Nordine Taleb vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight bout
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Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions

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  • The debacle that were the UFC 216 weigh-in last Friday further highlighted current weight cutting problems in mixed martial arts.

More specifically in this case it was in the UFC’s lightweight division. A fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks was pulled due to Lentz having ‘medical issues’ according to a UFC statement, hours before he was due to weigh-in.

Title challenger Kevin Lee then took to the scale seconds before the deadline and was over the limit by a pound. Fortunately he made weight after being given an extra hour. But these are not isolated cases, especially at 155-pounds.

There isn’t necessarily a solution to this problem but there may be a short term fix in the form of new weight classes approved by the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) in July 2017. These include 165 and 175-pound divisions.

While not specific to the lightweight division, the problems with weight commonly occur there. In March this year, Khabib Nurmagomedov was rushed to hospital during fight week when cutting down for his title contest with Tony Ferguson. Subsequently the UFC 209 main event was cancelled. Khabib has been regularly discussed as a title challenger but he’s often struggled to make weight and failed on numerous occasions.

With drastic dehydration it is still unknown what health implications may effect him and other mixed martial artists in the future.

Some top ranked fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jorge Masvidal and Rafael Dos Anjos have moved up to the welterweight division to preserve their health from these strenuous cuts, and have all been relatively successful.

Former UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone has looked spectacular since making the move up to 170-pounds.

However, many fighters are still reluctant and insist on dropping 10-20% of their bodyweight in the hours and days leading up to a bout. For example, Kevin Lee was rumoured to be 19 pounds over the day before he stepped on the scales.

At 170 pounds, welterweight is fifteen pounds more than lightweight which is a noticeable difference between relatively low weight classes. Especially when you consider that the divisions increase ten pounds from as low as 115 up to 155. There are many fighters who find themselves too big to be a lightweight, yet too small to compete at welterweight.

The incidents last Friday should hopefully be a wakeup call to the UFC, who can also set an example for other organisations such as Bellator, One FC, and Cage Warriors.

So far in 2017 the UFC has lost 14 fights in 48 hours or less before they were due to take place. That is one fight every two cards. While weight cutting is not always to blame, more often than not it plays a big role. These situations leave the UFC at a loss, fighters without opponents and a pay check, and fans disgruntled. Not to mention the health implications for the athlete involved.

The UFC must recognise these common patterns, remove the 170 pound welterweight division and create 165 and 175 pound rosters instead. Some may see an additional weight class as devaluing UFC titles even further but this would not be the case.

The UFC’s official website only lists four fighters in the women’s featherweight division.

Recently the women’s featherweight title was created without having a roster of women to fill it. However, the difference with lightweight and welterweight is that they are comfortably the two deepest, most talent stacked divisions in the organisation.

Admittedly, there is a lot of history attached to the welterweight title since Pat Miletich first won it back in 1998. The likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre have also added prestige to the belt over the years.

Even so, the sport has changed since then and it’s in a transitional phase. We are in the era of USADA, the era of banned IV drips and certain commissions tightening their regulations on how much they allow fighters to safely cut. Everyone is accountable and aware of the dangers, yet steps still need to be taken.

The athletic commissions and the UFC in particular must act by introducing super lightweight (165lbs) and super welterweight (175lbs) divisions. Perhaps from a fighter’s perspective it seems like a no-brainer that their health should be the main priority.

From a fans point of view there is plenty of talent that could be used in those two divisions. The novelty of fighters blending into these classes would also have the feeling of a superfight. The likes of Nurmagomedov, Lee, Masvidal, Cerrone and Dos Anjos would certainly fit well into a 165 pound division.

Similarly, at 175 pounds, Tyron Woodley could transition from welterweight champion to super welterweight champion. Top talents such as Robert Whittaker, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Robbie Lawler would be perfect matches for this weight.

Could we see the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley compete at 175-pounds in the future?

If this was a success then super middleweight (195lbs) and cruiserweight (225lbs) divisions could be an option in future too.

As previously mentioned this won’t necessarily fix the issues of weight cutting but it gives martial artists another option and is a positive step towards fighter’s safety. Currently there has been no mention by the UFC about introducing these new divisions.

However, with fighter safety being of upmost importance these new divisions must be given serious consideration.

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James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury

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Irish fans will have to wait a little longer to see James Gallagher fighting on home soil after Gallagher suffered a knee injury in preparation for his main event fight with Jeremiah Labiano in Dublin next month. This bad news was first reported by MMAFighting.com.

The 20-year-old from Strabane co. Tyrone who trains in the famous SBG gym with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson among others has set the featherweight division alight since joining Bellator in 2016.  James “The Strabanimal” Gallagher has gone 3-0 with all three of his wins coming by rear naked choke.

After submitting Chinzo Machida, the brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida in Madison Square Garden Gallagher has become a budding star for Bellator.

Due to the youngster’s attitude and potential, many comparisons between Gallagher and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor have been made by the fans and media which has made Gallagher one of Bellator’s most recognizable names. This notoriety has ultimately led to the young Irishman getting a chance to headline in Dublin this November but this injury has delayed his rise for the time being.

Gallagher on social media Thursday stated that he has suffered an injury to his PCL and LCL in his knee and would be out for the remainder of the year. He has assured fans we would return next year and carry on where he started with “The Jimmy show.”

His longtime rival AJ McKee, who has engaged in a Twitter war with Gallagher after his last fight, will now headline Bellator 187 in the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 10th against Gallagher’s SBG teammate Brian Moore. Moore will be making his third appearance for Bellator in this featherweight clash.

 

 

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