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The Mental Edge

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The Mental Edge

In the lead-up to perhaps the biggest weekend of fights in MMA history, Psychology Professor and martial artist David Klonsky, PhD, takes a look at some key match-ups and tells us: who has the mental edge?

Key Matchup #1 – Rafael dos Anjos vs. Eddie Alvarez (Thurday July 7)

Rafel dos Anjos looks to defend his the lightweight title against challenger Eddie Alvarez.

RDA is on an absolute tear, defeating the best of the best in the lightweight division, including Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Nate Diaz, and Benson Henderson. He has not only beaten these monsters but made it look easy. Alvarez has also beaten some impressive names, including Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez, although in close decisions.

Mentally, I give Alvarez the edge. RDA has been champion for over a year now which can make even a hungry fighter a little less hungry than when they were striving to become champion and defending for the first time. Also, RDA is by almost any metric a better fighter than Alvarez, and this will also make it harder for RDA to approach this fight with the highest level of urgency. In contrast, Alvarez has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Plus, he is also a fighter who enjoys risk (as detailed in this epic breakdown by Robin Black). Finally, Alvarez’s championship experience in another large promotion (Bellator) will help him feel focused rather than nervous when the fight begins. All this said, RDA is so much better than Alvarez that I think he overcomes any mental disadvantage.

– Mental Edge: Eddie Alvarez

– Forecast: RDA by Submission (after battering Alvarez with strikes on the feet and ground)

 

Key Matchup #2 — Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs. Cláudia Gadelha (Friday July 8)

Strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk is used to intimidating opponents and gaining the mental advantage. In the lead-up to her fight against former champion “Cookie Monster” Carla Esparza, JJ was so effective with her mental intimidation that Esparza appeared to have accepted her loss before even stepping into the cage.

However, the broadcast of The Ultimate Fighter 23 has changed things in two ways. First, it has given JJ and Gadelha an unusually large number of interactions leading up to their fight. Second, it has provided an unusually large amount of psychologically relevant footage to enjoy and evaluate. A few things seem clear to me. Gadelha is not in the least bit intimidated or rattled by JJ. In contrast, she seems thoughtful, focused, at peace, and ready. It is JJ who seems consistently bothered by her fighters’ lack of success and by her inability to rattle Gadelha. In addition, Gadelha has already fought JJ and lost a very competitive (and controversial) decision. Thus, Gadelha has no reason to feel overwhelmed by the moment, and every reason to feel that she knows exactly how to approach her re-match with JJ. This is exactly how Gadelha appears to feel in TUF 23 footage.

To be sure, JJ is a fierce competitor and will not back down. But I think Gadelha has shown she has the better understanding of and approach to this particular fight.

– Mental Edge: Claudia Gadelha

– Forecast: Gadelha by Decision

  

Key Matchup #3 – Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes (Saturday July 9)

After her stunning and well-deserved come-from-behind victory against Holly Holm, Miesha Tate is the new bantamweight champion and defends her title against Amanda Nunes.

I give Tate the mental edge for a few reasons. First, she has extensive experience in high-stakes, championship fights, both in Strikeforce and the UFC. In contrast, this is Nunes’ first championship fight; nerves will not be her friend. Second, Tate has had 8 fights against the best opposition the women’s Bantamweight division has to offer (Ronda Rousey twice, Holm, Jessica Eye, Sara McMann, Marloes Coenen, Cat Zingano, Sarah Kaufman), whereas Nunes has had 3 such fights (Zingano, McMann, and Alexis Davis).  Tate has seen it all, Nunes has not.

Third, Tate has continued to evolve her skill-set, and now brings increased punching power and an enhanced submission game compared to her younger self. Such evolution should not be taken for granted; in fact, many women fighters who three years ago looked poised to make UFC title runs (Sarah Kaufman, Sara McMann, Jessica Eye) have stalled in their progress. Miesha’s continued evolution not only provides her with more skills, but more confidence.

Fourth, Nunes tends to start fast and fade. She looked predictably unimpressive in the third round of her most recent fight. It is arguable whether her performance was deserving of a title shot, and Nunes has not yet shown that she can can perform at an elite level beyond round 1.  She could give Tate trouble in Round 1, but if Tate survives (and she has shown the ability to weather punching storms, e.g., Holm), Tate will be able to break Nunes down. Tate is smart and knows this.

– Mental Edge: Miesha Tate

– Forecast: Tate by Submission in the championship rounds

  

Key Matchup #4 – Mark Hunt vs. Brock Lesnar (Saturday July 9)

 In a very (very) fan-friendly fight, former WWE and UFC star Brock Lesnar returns from a 4+ year lay-off to fight KO specialist Mark Hunt. For three reasons Hunt has the clear mental edge. The first is ring-rust. Ring-rust is real (unless you are Dominick Cruz). Lesnar has been away since 2011, Mark Hunt has been active against high-level competition. Mark Hunt’s timing, rhythm, and focus will be sharp; Lesnar will be re-figuring out his timing, rhythm, and focus while avoiding Hunt’s one-punch KO power. A tall order.

The second is experience and knowledge. Hunt has been around forever. He does not simply understand angles, timing, and distance, they are second nature to him. In contrast, Lesnar has very little MMA experience and likes to come straight forward. Hunt knows what to expect and how to counter.

The third reason for Hunt’s mental advantage is desire, or lack thereof on Brock’s part. It is not at all clear that Brock’s heart is in MMA. He gives uncertain answers to questions about whether he plans to continue fighting after Saturday. He has prepared for only a relatively short amount of time for the current fight. And when he approached Dana White about his return it was specifically to return for UFC 200. In other words, Lesnar’s return was motivated in large part by the spectacle and pay-day, rather than a pure and genuine re-commitment to high-level martial arts competition. This is a recipe for disaster when facing a martial artist like Hunt.

– Mental Edge: Mark Hunt

– Forecast: Hunt by TKO in Round 1

 

Key Matchup #5 – Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier (Saturday July 9)

Arguably the best ever, Jon Jones hopes to get back the belt he never truly lost against current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.

Normally, in a rematch, I think the mental edge goes to the winner of the first meeting if the outcome was lopsided, but to the loser of the first meeting if the fight was competitive. After a competitive fight, the loser can feel that he had positive moments to build on and that adjustments can be made to address and overcome the not-so-good moments.  In contrast, the way forward is more challenging for the winner: on the one hand, he won, so it can feel wrong or counterproductive to change, but on the other hand, not changing means not evolving, and in turn, allows the opponent to know exactly what to expect and prepare for.

The first meeting between Jones and Cormier was close enough to be called competitive. Even though he lost the decision, Cormier had his moments, including an emphatic takedown of Jones later in the fight. In addition, Cormier felt his nerves impeded his performance, and this may very well be true. It was Cormier’s first UFC title fight, and Jones’ 9th. It would be natural for nerves to affect Cormier more than Jones. So, when the re-match was announced, my instinct was that Cormier had the mental advantage. This time he would know what to expect mentally and physically and be ready for it. But…

… in the interviews leading up to the fight Jones appears to be the one who is poised, level-headed, mentally prepared, and focused. In contrast, Cormier looks rattled, angry, and overly desperate to win (“I’m willing to die to beat you”). Jones, despite his history of immature behavior, seems to have the mental advantage. He also happens to be the better fighter. I think we are headed for a repeat of the first meeting.

– Mental Edge: Jon Jones

– Forecast: Jon Jones by unanimous decision

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Fight Announcements

Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou Official for UFC 220

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UFC 220 in Boston, Massachusetts has its main event. Stipe Miocic (17-2) will put his belt on the line for the third time against rising heavyweight star, Francis Ngannou (11-1)

Rumors surrounded the match-up for UFC 220 after Ngannou’s first round knockout over Alistair Overeem, at UFC 218. The Cameroonian heavyweight called for the fight himself. In his octagon interview proceeding his most recent victory, Ngannou stated:

“I’m feeling good… I’m on my way to a title shot”.

The heavy handed Ngannou has finished all of his opponents in all of his six UFC bouts. A streak which includes a kimura submission over Anthony Hamilton and a TKO victory against former UFC heavyweight champion, Andrei Arlovski. Overall, he holds a ten fight win streak. His only defeat came by way of unanimous decision to Zoumana Cisse, in his second professional MMA fight.

If victorious, Ngannou would become the first African-born champion in UFC history.

Not to be diminished, Stipe Miocic rides his a streak of his own into the beantown match-up. Five consecutive wins, five knockouts and the past four of which, ended in the first round. A victory in Boston for the champ would make him the longest reigning heavyweight champion in UFC history. Currently, Miocic is one of three heavyweights, in the promotions entirety, whom has successfully defended the belt twice.

UFC 220 will be held at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts on January 20th, 2018. The pay-per-view (PPV) card will also feature light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, as he faces challenger Volkan “No Time” Oezdemir.

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Events

Ladies Fight Night 7: “Double Trouble” Preview

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Polish women’s federation Ladies Fight Night is going to celebrate their second birthday this year on the 15th to 17th of December. Two days, two events with a lot of great bouts.

LFN in Poland is being titled the new Invicta FC. The Polish owners created this federation to give European women a chance to fight on a big platform.

Hosting their first ever event in December 2015, LFN will hold two great cards next week, that will feature women who have fought under many prestigious promotions, such as the UFC, Invicta, Bellator, Glory, and Kunlun.

Two days of fantastic fights, intensified by a double dose of sports impressions. The name is not accidental, LFN 7 / LFN 8 combines two events, during which the best Polish fighters will be shown, as well as the best fighters from Europe (including France, Sweden, Italy, the Czech Republic and Romania)

The stakes are high, and we are electrified by the clashes between warriors such as Żaneta Cieśla vs Silvia La Notte and Patricia Axling vs. Cindy Silvestri. Mainly due to their vastness of their experience in the cage.

In the fight of the evening, the talented Romanian Cristina Stanciu will face Magdaléna Šormovádo. Stanciu fought twice in the UFC, but she was unfortunately cut from the promotion after suffering consecutive losses to Cortney Casey and Maryna Moroz.

Judyta Rymarzak vs Marta Waliczek is an amazing fight between two experienced kickboxers. Both making their pro MMA debuts on the night, we will witness a one-of-a-kind duel between two kickboxing perfectionists, as they look to transcend their skills into the MMA world.

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Invicta

Mackenzie Dern victorious in Invicta debut 

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Late Friday night, Mackenzie Dern (5-0, 1-0 Invicta FC) won her co-main event booking, defeating Kaline Medieros (8-6, 2-2 Invicta FC), at Invicta FC 26: Maia vs. Niedzwiedz, via submission (armbar) with only fifteen seconds remaining in the fight.

Much of the fight was controlled by Dern. The heralded prospect displayed her power, visibly damaging her opponent with multiple overhand rights. Striking is an under-developed aspect of her attack, only when compared to the twenty-four-year-olds black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Above all, she showed a progression of her striking skills. Dern looked to be bigger and physically stronger than her veteran opponent. She utilized forward pressure and found the proper timing for her overhand right throughout.

The veteran Medeiros showed her toughness throughout the fight. She defended and scrambled out of some bad positions during the grappling exchanges. Ultimately, she tapped when caught in a deeply planted armbar.  While Medeiros did earn a few hard trip takedowns, it factored minimally in the result as she refused to follow Dern to the mat. The Boston native suffered her second straight loss, Friday night. Her first was to, former Invicta strawweight champion, Angela Hill.

Dern made her professional debut in July of 2016 with Legacy Fighting Alliance (previously: Legacy Fighting Championship). In her debut, she defeated Kenia Rosas by unanimous decision. The Phoenix-born fighter won her next three bouts. Before her MMA career began, Dern won the ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Club) championship at 60 kg. She was the first American born female to become champion at the weight. Her grappling resume boasts many more incredible accomplishments. Justifiably, a growing spotlight now hangs over her, her skills, and potential in the sport of MMA.

Elsewhere on the Invicta 26 card, Jennifer Maia defeated Agnieszka Niedzweidz by unanimous decision. Maia retained her Invicta flyweight belt, defending it for the second time. Invicta FC 26: Maia vs. Niedzweidz, took place at the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Missouri.

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