Mentality of Combat — Episode 2
Hey friends, below is the full transcript to my talk with my friend David Mullins, from Mentality of Combat Episode 2. Hope you enjoy!
Robin: Hey, friends. Welcome to Playdead Studios. This is my friend David Mullins. I’m Robin Black. This is…I think it’s the Mentality of Combat now. Is that good?
David: Sounds good, yeah.
Robin: The Mentality of Combat. This will be Episode 3, even though it’s been called other things before, but I think that’s what this is called. And I get together with David, he’s davidmullinssportpsychology.com and DavidMullinsMMA on Twitter. I’m robinblackmma on Twitter and we talk about fighting. But a lot about the psychology and the mentality and the mindset and training and adaptation and all of these groovy things. I wanna to tell you, before we start…I think this is probably already up on our channel. I do this little interview series called Artists of Life and I got together with a guy named Dr. Joel Lopata and people can see it. Watch this first. But thanks for watching. And he has spent all of his adult research life studying the science of creativity.
Robin: Yeah, yeah, super cool. So he was watching Ask Robin Black, you know, and I was talking about creativity and I was talking about how you can train creativity as a muscle, improve your ability to be creative, improve your aptitude for creativity and so forth and he said that his research has found that to be absolutely true.
David: Is he checking it from like a brain chemistry kind of point of view?
Robin: Yeah, and other things because…it was very interesting to talk to him because academia is very regimented and structured, and so, you know, people want to get published, and so they make it very clean. And yet, he’s a creative, which is why he’s studying this. What he studied was musicians and the brain chemistry of musicians in periods of hyper-creativity and encourage creativity and then regimented playing and …
David: The use of certain narcotics.
Robin: Yeah, yeah, probably.
David: Because that’s a real thing.
David: So that merits study.
Robin: Yeah, of course, it does, for sure. But it was fascinating…and we can…you know, among his conclusions is that creativity starts to have a genetic place and develops environmentally as you grow up and as you stimulate your brain and stimulate creativity. And you can, through training and work, become more creative, access it easier, maybe be creative longer. All of those things are trainable.
David: Yeah. And it’s true. I mean, there’s examples in fights in real time of fighters being creative on the spot. But like you have a game plan going in or you’d have been working on combinations or different things, you know, different sequences. But then in the moment, something happens and it’s that thing, that’s that fine line between whether it’s your training or whether it’s genuine just creativity and spontaneity in the moment. There’s a very thin crossover line between the two. It’s not possible, I don’t think, to be creative in the moment unless you have done all the training and the fundamentals and everything. But then when you do and your mind is completely present, you can be spontaneously creative.
Robin: Well, you could be creative under pressure if you’ve worked on that ability but what you’d be creatively able to do is dependent on what you’ve trained and what you’re physically capable of doing. If you’re in the middle of a fight and you’re able to be creative but your idea of creativity is juggling or rhyming or hip-hop, that’s not gonna be all that valuable. But it was fascinating stuff. He was a very, very interesting guy. He also talked about improvisation and he studied improvisation and how and when that takes place. So he is a fight fan, but as somebody who studies creativity at a PhD level and the psychology of it and the brain chemistry of it and all of that stuff, he 100% was drawn to reach out to me because he sees fighting as like jazz, as an extension of…physical extension of that kind of thing.
David: Yeah, that’s exactly…that’s what it is at its best, I think, is that expression of someone’s skills in a pressure situation. And it’s the beauty of two guys going in there head to head. One of them is gonna be successful, one of them’s not. While one is trying to be creative, the other one is as well. There’s that give and take. It’s a beautiful thing. What’s what I see it as at its finest and my job, as I see it, is I have a smaller part to play in that. And like I’ve said before, I see sports psychology as an important part but a very small part of an overall…what a fighter should be working on. But there is a little part to play in allowing them on the night to be creative and innovative. So much of that is just being present.
I had a young fighter last week talking about his last fight and how he got it, how he realized how present he was. He was talking about walking back, at the end of a round, to his corner and knowing that he was there and being aware of it and getting, you know, like being in control of his breath and really hearing the instructions and almost tasting the water. You know I mean? He was really there, compared to other fights where it was just chaos and it’s all happening to him and he’s not really there, he’s not really in control of it, it’s just stuff that’s happening and it’s all too crazy and he can’t really recall what happened and it’s all over the place.
If you’re in that, where it’s just happening to you, how can you be at your best, how can you be creative? But if you’re able to get to the point where it is…you’re properly present in the moment, then you can start to see that expression. Experience is a big part of that too though. You know, it’s tough to ask someone on their debut, their first amateur fight, to be truly present in the moment. As much work as I can do, you still have to gain experience and that experience becomes, you know, part of the reason why you’ll be able to be more present in the future.
Robin: We’ve talked a lot about being present and it’s something that I’ve tried to explore with fight analysis when trying to look at Demetrious Johnson/Wilson Reis fight coming up and about the ability to be present in the moment and how key that is for some of these guys. The present and the past and the future, if you think about it that way, you can see sometimes somebody passes your guard and you get down on yourself or you react poorly to it, you’re kind of living in the past. You know what I mean? That’s the past. That isn’t necessarily relevant to the moment. Or if you’re overly worried about something that might happen, you’re actually in the future. I only bring that up as a way for people to kind of contextualize it. Being present in the moment is a state and so forth but you can even think of it in terms of living in the past moments ago. What happened in the fight [inaudible 00:07:09].
David: Positional. Yeah, I mean, something I’ve often mentioned to fighters is, say, that moment when they get taken down, like nobody ever wants to be taken down, and if you did, you would just jump guard. So you get taken down and it’s that “oh shit” moment. “Shit, I just got taken down.” And usually that comes off…let’s say they’re in the clinch against the fence and the guy’s got a single and the other guy’s trying to fight it off and he gets the takedown. It’s that “oh shit” moment and feeling sorry for yourself and the thing you were trying to avoid happening just happened.
You don’t have time for that in the moment. Now, you’re on the ground, you know, whatever it is, half guard or whatever position you’re in, that’s where you are right now. That’s where you need to be. You’re there physically, you have to be there mentally because — and this is the thing that’s true — the best chance you have to get back to your feet, which is presumably where you wanna be is that moment before he’s established his base and before he’s got everything, like before he’s passed or before he’s got a cross face or whatever it is he wants to get. That’s the chance, you’ve missed it if you’re in the past. You’ve missed if you’re feeling sorry for yourself if you’re having that “oh shit” moment.
Robin: You know, I never thought of this but you see how the average or the typical moments change. So what would be a typical moment five years ago when you got taken down was settling to half guard. Now, the default for most fighters is don’t surrender it. Stay in the battle, do not sit into half guard, do not sit in to guard. It’s not binary, “I either have been taken down or I haven’t.” I’m in some various state of being up or down and always stay in that.
And I never thought of it as sort of that there’s an emotional component to it. It felt sort of a fight philosophy, that don’t surrender the takedown, that’s philosophical. But you can’t take action in that moment if you aren’t fully present, if you aren’t emotionally fine with the reality of where you are now. That doesn’t mean you surrender it. It doesn’t mean it’s no big deal and I’ll just get taken now whenever. You’re still gonna fight for it but you have to be fully present in that moment to even be capable of continuing that balance.
David: Exactly. And there’s a step a little bit before that where you’re in that clinch battle against the sensei. If you’re trying to not get taken down, you’re projecting into a future that you don’t want to happen. You’re still not here right now. You’re in a future that you want to avoid which is…it sounds like it’s the same thing, it’s not though. Mentally, you’re not here. You’re not doing what it is you need to be doing right now in this position. And it gets down to that kind of level where I’ve had guys had performances where they were truly in the moment, you know, and there’s a massive difference in what you can do in that versus trying not to do something or trying to avoid something or feeling sorry for yourself or feeling tired. Fatigue is a big factor in being able to be present as well.
Robin: Yeah, focus even.
David: Yeah, like literally if you’re fatigued, you’re not at 100% capability. But also you’re thinking about how tired you are.
Robin: Yeah. I was just gonna say the worst of all scenarios is thinking about that because then it carries more weight.
David: Before you can get to the point where you can truly be present in the moment…and it’s virtually impossible to be like that for a full five minutes in the round. You have to have little moments where, you know, you know you need to be more on than others. But you have to be aware enough of yourself to know when you’re not there and when you’ve lost focus or…you have to be training it, you have to be working on that. And it’s not just something you can just, “Okay, I’ll be focused during the fight.” If you’re not focused in training, how are you just gonna just turn it on? Because it matters in the flight. It’s one of those skills you keep working…
Robin: It’s harder then.
David: Yeah, in a way because you resort to your training. And so it’s a skill that people, that fighters don’t work on enough, don’t know how to work on enough, don’t understand the importance of it, maybe don’t know the difference between when they really are in the moment versus when they’re not.
Robin: That’s a big part of it. That’s a great point. Do you even know what that feels like or what it feels like to not be there or…yeah.
David: Most will have experienced it in moments. You know, even if it’s just a sequence or if it’s a position, you’ll have felt that classic thing of being in the flow state or being in the zone or being like in the moment where you are. They’ll have had it but they won’t know why it was there. They’ll have felt it and like, “Oh, how do I get that back? I hope that’s there again. I hope I feel that way sometime again in the future.” And if you see there’s something that comes along and floats in the atmosphere and hope it lands on you, then you’ve got no chance because then you’re not in control of it. You’re leaving it up to chance, whether or not it’s gonna happen to you. If you understand what it is, then you can start to work on making it happen.
And that’s maybe the main thing I’m working with when I’m thinking about it. Everything I’m working on with guys, even the prep of a fight in terms of the pressure and how they’re viewing the pressure, what the pressure means to them. You know, the way stuff has happened in the build-up with how they perceive their opponent or what this fight might lead to next but all that stuff. And fighting home or away and all the different things that are there. All that is basically getting to the point where they can be free from that stuff to be present in the moment. Everything I’m doing is trying to get to that point where they’re present in the moment. That’s my part in their overall training and everything. If they’re in the moment, that’s my side of it.
Robin: You did your job.
David: Well, they did their job with that stuff. That’s…
Robin: Yeah, all right. You assisted them in doing their job.
David: Because confidence and all those kinds of things get overrated a little bit, I think, you know? It’s more about your ability to be, in the moment, able to execute whatever it is you’re doing.
Robin: Which we can get better at accessing, better at maintaining, better at being able to do it longer. There’s a lot of things that can be done. But now we’re seeing…and I know McGregor will get a lot of credit for this and he deserves it but there’s Muhammad Ali, there’s hundreds of examples in the past.
People are taking action and having offensive weaponry that knocks you out of that, right? They’re playing, whether that’s, some people call it a mind game. Some of those things are just body, physical expressions with their body. Some of it is words but people are actually trying to take you out of that now. It is you fighting yourself or it’s something that you’re dealing with yourself. You have to be capable of getting in there and being free to do so. Now, you’re also, as the level of this goes up, you’re having to deal with somebody who’s offensively trying to take you out of it.
David: Yeah, and that is a real thing, but I mean, for the most part it’s something you can prepare for. It’s just another thing that’s coming at you. It can come in lots of different ways. I remember…I think it was Larry Bird, the Celtics player, who used to talk a lot of trash on the court. And he did a thing where — I think it’s him, someone correct me if it’s not — but where he would complement the guys on the other team. Like, they put up a jump shot, “I really like the way you followed through there. It’s really, really good extension,” whatever it was.
So then, it might have been true that that was really good technique but now they’re thinking about it while they’re doing it and they’re trying to have really good technique, they’re trying to really follow through and they’re not really doing it anymore. They’re thinking about how perfect they were and that can get you out of your game. It’s obvious when Nate slaps you in the face and points at you or [inaudible 00:15:09] talking shit to you or…
Robin: Yeah, and gives you the finger like this close.
David: Yeah, that’s more obvious, or when Roy Jones is doing his thing or all greats are doing that stuff. But there’s lots of different ways that people can do it. You can’t — and we’ve talked about this before — you can’t anticipate everything that’s gonna be thrown at you but you can have the same fundamental principles that apply to whatever it is that’s coming at you. And your example is always that Riddick Bowe/Holyfield fight where the parachute guy comes…
Robin: Oh, yeah, I mean, there’s no way you could prepare for that. Now you could. You’re like, well I saw that one time.
David: Yeah, but if something is coming at you, it’s on you, it’s your response. It’s on you to stay in the moment and be aware of it. Like if you’re fighting someone who’s doing that stuff and they’re known to do it, the Diaz brother, Conor, whoever it is, you know what they’re doing so then you can plan in advance for it. But if you’re fighting on a card, a lower-level card where you don’t really know the guys, you can still anticipate someone talking shit at you and how you’re gonna…you can have planned mentally yourself how you’re gonna deal with that stuff.
Robin: Tim Kennedy and Yoel Romero, bunch of ice or spilling water or a stool or all of those things, Tim Kennedy didn’t have to react poorly to that. That’s still…he had to do that, yeah.
David: No. He took himself out of it. Yeah, we did that before where he, like, Romero was practically finished and at the corner bottle all the time and when he was just sitting on his stool when he should have been in…the fight should have been back on. But so Yoel is doing all that stuff and it’s cheating, you know, that’s what it is.
Robin: And as fans, you can get outraged but as the fighter, you can’t.
David: But Tim took himself out of the moment. He got on the case of the ref. He started getting the crowd involved. He started remonstrating and he took himself out of the moment. And Yoel didn’t do it to him, he did it to himself.
Robin: That’s right. And then Holly getting hit after the bell. If we were her training partners or you worked with her or whatever, on some level we have…or this happened to us, on some level, we have to take responsibility for that, right?
David: I don’t know. I mean, yeah, I suppose. There is that.
Robin: Protect yourself at all costs. I mean, the bell goes…like, we need…especially the second time.
David: Yeah. I mean, there’s a reason the ref steps in at the bell.
Robin: And then, okay, but a shitty ref is one of these variables that can happen.
David: That’s what I mean. Yeah. So it can happen.
Robin: You know? Like we are prepared to have a good ref and a good audience and ice that doesn’t spill and no parachutes in our…we’ve prepared for all those things but all of those things are possible and we need to be ready for them when they happen. And I’m the biggest Holly Holm [inaudible 00:17:51] going and I’m not trying to suggest or blame her. I’m just using it as an example. It’s like, yes…
David: Chad Mendes/Jose Aldo too, like the first fight, or the second fight they had, that happened as well.
Robin: Yeah. I’d be mad for sure if I was the team and her whenever that jerk punched me after the bell. But you have to be prepared for it because otherwise, whether you win or you lose or something happens, afterward you’re going to be the victim. And if you took action to prevent yourself from being a victim…because if you’re just gonna be a victim, it’s not your fault, there’s nothing you could have changed, you never have anything you can get out of that. Out of that one, you could get out of it and say, “Well, I protected myself at all times. I have to be prepared for the likelihood that my opponent breaks rules.” They will break the rules, they may not be penalized for it. They will get away with that. “Oh well, I got screwed, I’m the victim.” The victim mentality, you have to find some blame on yourself so that you can change it.
David: Yeah, for sure. That is true and that protect yourself at all times thing. I mean, offensively you can switch off at the bell but defensively, you can you can keep yourself switched on until you’re on your way back to your corner. And that makes sense to do. And those examples are the perfect examples. Chad Mendes, Holly Holm examples, there’s plenty others over the years. Those were heavy shots, fight-changing shots in both of those cases.
Robin: Yeah, brutal. Chad fell down I think. He was dropped.
David: Yeah, yeah, he got dropped. But yeah, so that’s again…it’s hard to just turn that on in a fight. You have to, like, every sparring round, the round will end and it’s about how do you train yourself to react to react to that situation. Are you still switched on defensively, aware, at the end of the spar? Because the more you work on this, then it just becomes your default, because that’s what it is, that’s what it was for them. The bell went and they just completely switched off.
Robin: Defaulted to touching gloves with their training partners mindset. I just wanna run a fight by you for fun and see what you think about it psychologically and what pops up as the psychological interest for you. Robbie Lawler and Donald Cerrone.
David: Oh, I can’t wait for that fight.
Robin: Obviously, the fight fight, the physical part of the fight, the match-up, the people, the human element, it’s all fascinating and we’ll talk about it in many different ways. I mean Ramdeen well and everybody well. But when you think about sort of the psychological match-up of this one, what kind of things hit you?
David: So, it depends when it is a little bit. I think they’re talking about July, right? So, I like and Dana White didn’t like it and lots of people didn’t like it, but I loved when Lawler decided to take a little bit time away. He was scheduled to have…it was that fight, was it?
David: It was the Cowboy fight. I think it was.
Robin: Or it was offered to him or something. I don’t know if it was booked on a day but that was the fight that was happening.
David: But he decided to take…he decided he wanted a bit more time because the Woodley defeat was like devastating, you know, he’s lost his belt. But it’s also, you know, he got knocked out cold, so there’s head trauma there. He needs to recover from that and he’d just been in the Carlos Condit fight and the Rory MacDonald fight.
Robin: Yeah. Head trauma, head trauma, head trauma.
David: These are legendary fights, all time. They always will be. So, I loved the fact that he took that time away. The same thing when Jose was offered to step in against Conor when Dos Santos pulled out and he didn’t. I loved that because he needed more time away. It’d only been a few months since he was brutally knocked out. That should be applauded. And it’s not, though. Like from promoters or hardcore fans and stuff. So I love Lawler’s awareness and whatever the reason. And I don’t know Robbie, I don’t know what his thinking was there. But if it is that thing where he needs to recover physically but also emotionally, you know, he’s been the champ and now he’s not the champ anymore, so you have to recover from that kind of thing. Everyone has their own way of dealing with this. But I’d like to think he’s got himself right where he’s properly up for this. He’s ready to go and put in a performance that matches what he’s capable of doing, compared to just getting back on the horse straight away after a loss which…sometimes you’re carrying too much emotion of the last fight into this next one.
Robin: Yeah. You see these guys, that doubling down vibe that some guys get when they lose. They just don’t go and take the time and don’t go to reset everything. Like Lawler just rolled back into the U.F.C., and other then Hendricks, which he lost at decision — it might even have been a split decision but it was a decision and a clean one — he had never been better. He was getting better every fight, as we talked about. After he beat Hendricks, he even leveled up in his goals and what he wanted to achieve and how he was performing. That keeps going and going. You don’t need to go, “Oh, I got knocked out, let’s build that again.” You can go, “Well, we’re gonna start where we’re gonna start.” Assess where we’re at, see where we’re at physically, take some time off. He’s made a fair bit of money. Sit down and get motivated to fight for the reason, your new reason. You’ve been the champ now and you’ve made lots of money, what’s your new reason? I’m excited to see it.
David: Like I said, I want guys doing that little bit of taking some time and making sure that they’re right like physically and emotionally. As long as you’re doing the work to get over it emotionally and mentally, get yourself on point. Like Rhonda is the other example of someone who just disappears and then comes back over a year later. And like it’s easy to say that the work wasn’t done because she got finished in the first round. We don’t know what was done in the meantime. But that time away is only useful if you’re doing something with it. Otherwise, it’s just time away. And maybe you’re…you know, it’s not enough in itself. You need to be actively figuring out where you’re at with it. You need to sit in the pain of the defeat a little bit sometimes, you know?
Robin: God, that can be painful.
David: Yeah, but it’s worth doing in the long term to feel that in that short little time straight afterwards. Let yourself sit and feel it. Let it be real.
Robin: That sounds horrible. Because I know it is horrible.
David: Instead of just booking a fight because then I’ve seen that happen where guys are going into the next fight and they’re trying to win two fights now. They’re trying to win the last one and this next one and they never got over the last one. And there’s an overreaction to the last emotionally. But also in terms of training. I’ve seen people where…like I don’t know what you think about this, where guys, after defeat, and they might pinpoint the reason why they lost as being…you know, they work against a fence, or you know, their movement or whatever. So then they all over-compensate and just do that stuff like too much. So getting ready for their next fight, they’re actually trying to win their last fight. They’re doing the things to avoid what cost them the last fight. And this is the completely new challenge now. This next one is completely new. You’ve got to be preparing for this one.
Robin: In the long run, leveling up something is great whenever you can but not at the expense of something else and that’s a really good point. I was talking to Brian Gibson when I was in Albuquerque and we were talking about, you know, a lot of different things, very smart coach, very smart guy. And he was talking about, there’s been a big trend and you see it and I talk about it and it was a logical swing, pendulum swing around creativity and movement and artistry. Because fighters were very much a certain kind of athlete and they fought a particular way. You mentioned Chad Mendes or you think of George St-Pierre, you picture that athlete. All of a sudden, there’s this flow to the game and there’s this fluidity in movement and artistry and so forth. And you know, when you think of Greg Jackson’s, some dummies just buy what they heard said once five years ago, but you think of John Jones, Cub Swanson, Groovy Lando, you can keep going.
David: John Dodson.
Robin: John Dodson, Carlos Condit, flow, creative, artistic, martial artists. It’s really been what they’ve been doing and he talked a little bit about how maybe…there’s no doubt if everybody’s an over-developed athlete fighting a certain way, it’s all boxing, and a particular type of kickboxing, and power wrestling, to be the fluid fighter is going to beat that. That’s going to be one of the ways to beat that. But that’ll get beat too. And so maybe there’s been a little bit too much…everybody’s a little too horny to be all movey and a little bit to be all fluid. And it was a really intelligent perspective, that sometimes you have to go back and go, hey, you know, “We gotta work our asses off and we gotta be in crazy shape. We gotta still be an athlete. We’re not just some artists, hipster artists in a cage, you know what I mean?” That was a really cool perspective.
David: Yeah. That’s true. I mean, that idea of being creative and free-flowing, artistic, and everything in there, that’s true for those fighters you mentioned. But that was built on a foundation of fundamentals and hard work and a certain ethic, the way they go about things. That’s why that was able to be effective then on top. But if you get…if the next wave of guys coming through or the guys who used to do it forget what it was built on and they just go in with the flowy expressive, “I’m just gonna go in and…”
Robin: Paint a picture.
David: Yeah. It’s not built on that same thing, that’s where it’s gonna fall down.
Robin: A hundred percent. The things that got you here are not the things that’s gonna get you… Whatever you are now is gonna require the new work. It was very interesting, though, that push and pull of what’s working against what’s not working and what’s the next thing against the old thing. This is…it’s all…it’s ever-changing, you know? Learn the principles, abide the principles, then dissolve the principles, you know? And you have to keep doing that. And it’s one of the things that’s so exciting. Whenever we spot something new that’s happening…you were still talking about it, two years later, it’s kinda over. Like, the smart people are working on the next slight adjustments that are meant to beat this. You have to figure out how to beat Stephen Thompson or Connor McGregor or any of these fighters that play this particular way. So people in the labs are figuring out how to beat them. And then that’ll be a thing that everyone will think is the thing and then you’ll figure out how to beat that. Cody Garbrandt looks amazing. I don’t think he’ll look the same in seven years. He’ll be a different fighter because he’s young and he’s going to evolve many times.
David: Yeah, it’s just that stylistic kind of change and it’s obvious in MMA the way you can kind of…this style was on top and then this style. Like if you think back to Barao and Aldo and that Nova Uniao style, where they had figured out how to beat that wrestler guy. But then people figured out how to beat their style.
Robin: So then they changed because then Frankie made the…and Mark, who are incredible talents and they could even make this error, they made the mistake of thinking that Aldo was the Aldo that they’d been studying. And Aldo was like…and his people because [inaudible 00:29:39] is also brilliant. He’s like, “Okay, we had our run fighting this way and they’re going to fight as if we fight that way, so we’re going to penalize them for that.” And Jose moved backwards for almost that entire fight and I think he won at least four of those rounds. It was brilliant.
David: It was brilliant. So, it’s that thing of always looking to improve and evolve your game and all that kind of stuff. But you have to have those core like fundamentals and principles that you’re bringing all the time. That work ethic, that willing to dig in kind of thing when it’s not easy. I have a fighter who’s got…well, I’ve got a few fighters coming up with big fights but they’re talking about certain days where, you know, this is gonna be a tough day in terms of what schedule is looking like for training. And they know it’s gonna be tough going into it. And having to dig deep and they know that, after the session is done, they still have to go into this one and it’s tough but they have to…no matter how long you’ve been doing it, it’s still gonna have that, “Ooh, Thursday, oh man look at that.”
Robin: But three sessions sparring with Diego Sanchez…
David: But you gotta to put that in, you gotta bring it no matter how good you are or how good…how high you are ranked or whatever, you still gotta put in that same work, and then on top of it all, the other stuff is built.
Robin: Yeah. It really is crazy, even…see, we’re talking about the fundamentals, the fundamentals of work and the fundamentals of grind and of learning and of development and all that. But even the fundamental tools. If we start going too far one way with what we’re learning and we don’t have a good jab lowkick, the guy who’s gonna beat us is gonna beat us with a good jab lowkick. It’s all ongoing, which is why it’s so interesting, it’s why it’s such a fascinating field, and art form, and a sport. Because there’s no answer, there’s only an answer right now and the answer to this will be a different… Your answer will become the new riddle for somebody and they’ll find an answer and it’ll will be different. But that leads us back to a sort of creativity, you have to be creative with your thinking too.
David: Yeah. It’s one of those things, I mean, you see like maybe Demian Maia is a good example of someone who tried to be something he wasn’t for a while which, you know, it made sense. He had to work on his stand-up game, but then maybe at the detriment of what he really was and what he could be. So, being creative sometimes involves taking a step back from what you feel like you should be improving and actually doubling down on what it is you’re really good at and finding a path to how to do that and pull that off. He’s improved, he’s better, his takedowns are…he never had that single length that he has now. You know, he never had that takedown ability that he has now. So he’s massively evolved but he’s still kinda…being creative to him is different than it would be…like you wouldn’t think of him as being creative but he very much is in the way he’s evolved his game.
Robin: It’s interesting, when you look at it, people’s reaction to seeing a Demian Maia five years ago or seven years ago would have been, “Well, he needs to work on his striking.” But every moment that Demian Maia is standing out in space trying to throw a right hand at you is a moment that Demian Maia is not on your back trying to choke you. You can only do one thing at a time. And so, do we take a guy that is so good at something and then say that the answer to their issue is to improve the other or the answer isn’t really to become a great boxer, the answer is to get better at making distance fighting disappear? That’s the true answer.
Now we want…if we cannot always achieve that, we’ll still need to improve the fact that we’re gonna fight in open space. But we’re better off to just take it away. And if we get good enough at it and we can do it almost 100% of the time, we’re wasting our time working on trying to land counter right hands. We just shouldn’t be there. And it’s that single-mindedness. It’s direction. It’s a single-minded direction where you’re kind of shoehorning everything to the logic, you know? And Stephen Thompson says the opposite. “Of course I have to learn to wrestle and of course I have to learn to get back up and stuff but none of those things will matter if you don’t get ahold me,” you know?
David: Yeah. And that, to me, is an awareness of your game and it’s not going down the road of doing what you think everyone thinks you should be doing or what you’re supposed to do or having that little bit of…it involves having a good coaching team around you and everyone kind of on the same page and then figuring out what the best way of going about things are. But yeah, I mean, for any of that stuff to work, it comes back to that thing where you have to have the fundamentals in place first and then you can start to add things on and start to, like, your personality starts to come through in your game.
Robin: And so when we say fundamentals in the conversation, people will think of, you know, a jab and a low-kick and the way you step and all these things. But there are psychological fundamentals and preparation fundamentals, right?
David: Yeah, as well. I mean those technical fundamentals but I also mean the mental fundamentals.
Robin: Mental fundamentals.
David: But yeah, and I’ll always keep coming back to those, no matter who it is I’m working with and where they’re at and how far they’ve come. We have to keep reinforcing those things. I’ve seen it from a distance with certain guys, where they’ve just got off track and you can see them getting off track. If you can see it happen on Instagram, then you know it’s bad. If you can see it from that far away or someone just completely lost track of what it is that got them to the point where they’re at, they’ve lost that drive, that work ethic, that concentration. Willing to put in the hours and all that kind of thing. It’s lost somewhere, it gets lost. It’s a tough thing where guys are getting…
You know, when you’re on the way up, you want to get into the UFC and you wanna get all the attention, you wanna get the money and all that kind of stuff. But when it starts to come through, even at a lower…I’m talking, like, this can happen at amateur level, where you start to get interview requests and you start to get a little following now and people…like, your tickets are being sold really quickly and people are looking for more and some bunch of fans have done a T-shirt with your name on it and they’re sitting in that section over there.
Robin: And they made art of you and they put in on their face.
Robin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. “I made this highlight video of you.”
David: All that stuff, and you start…I’ve seen it happen where, even at that low level, amateur level, you start to think you’ve done something and you get away from what it was that was getting you this attention. This attention and this stuff was happening for a reason, but if you start to think you’ve arrived or you start to think you’ve done something now and you’re not aware enough of what’s going on, it’ll quickly disappear, and if the work ethic isn’t there, if you’re not able to basically separate the two things, the marketing side of things from the actual work, then you’re screwed. I’ve seen it happen, you know? But everyone has potential and anyone who walks into a gym has potential.
Robin: Everyone who does anything has potential. Everyone has potential. Potential is that thing you could become.
David: But some guys have a little bit more potential and we’ve seen them just…it’s gone, just like that and never got fulfilled. And so much of it is…it’s not the skills that…it’s the skills they never developed or it’s the work they never put it. It’s what didn’t happen instead of what happened, if that makes sense.
Robin: It does. It makes total sense. You’ve seen before somebody who gets a little further and then is really afraid to lose or take a step back. That’s a weird one. It’s recognizable, you spot it where, “Now this will require more work, but in doing so, I might get tapped out in the gym or I might actually try and fail. And what if I actually take a real fight and I can’t achieve it?” And a little success hinders more success.
David: Yeah, yeah, it can be the fear of success. You think of the fear of failure and that’s a real thing as well where you’re going to try not to lose.
Robin: Or don’t try it all because then for sure you won’t lose.
David: Yeah, yeah. But the fear of success can be something as well where you start to realize, “Well, if I get this, then I’m gonna have all these things coming in at me. I’d rather just be the big fish in the little pond. I don’t know if I can be a big fish in a big pond.”
Robin: “But I know I can be a big fish in a little pond because I’m in one.”
David: “I’d rather be a big guy…yeah, I’m in one right now,” so it starts to be kind of hold what you have and start to…you know, to rantings in a little bit in terms of the work and…
Robin: Yeah. And all of sudden, you’re always injured. You see those guys, they’re always kind of injured and they can’t quite get in there and then they go there less and then they sit out rounds and stuff.
David: Yeah, the [inaudible 00:39:09] are tough but they’re only tough because of the way the diet had been in the build-up and all those things that start to get away, like training’s not happening. But it’s only not happening because you’re off doing other stuff. There’s such a fine line between…because once those trappings start to come, they’re nice. It comes back to what are you doing this for? You have to stay true to what it is that…that if you’re only in it because you wanted…like, I’m sure back in Ireland, a lot of people started doing MMA because they wanted to be Conor McGregor and they wanted to headline big shows and make lots of money, and that’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen.
Robin: Not for all of them.
David: It’s not gonna happen for most of them.
Robin: Ninety-nine point nine…yeah.
David: And it doesn’t matter how much they believe it, it’s just not gonna happen. The statistics tell us that, we know that.
Robin: Only one guy can be champion but 400 all will tell you they’re gonna be champion one day.
David: Yeah, yeah but they’re not. And that sounds…
David: Very harsh, especially from someone who’s supposed to be a sports psych, but that’s the reality of the situation, and if you’re in this for fame and fortune, it’s not gonna happen. Like statistically it’s not gonna happen. It might happen, but it’ll only happen if you’re in it for the…what I’ve seen it happen to guys is when they’re really in it for the right reasons and then it’s kind of come along. So they’re in it because…you know, if it was not an art, they’d still be doing it. They love to do it. It really is their passion and then they started to figure out a way to make something out of it. But if you get in it for the stuff you get out of it, it’s not gonna work. That’s my experience from what I’ve seen.
Robin: It’s what’s so weird about it. The less you’re fixated on the result, the more likely you’ll have a good result.
David: Yeah. Well, the more you’re fixated on the work and the passion itself and the performance, yeah, then it gets easier to get the results and the stuff that you…you know, the stuff that the other people want to get.
Robin: You don’t feel like you have a job, right? I mean although it’s challenging and stuff, you’re doing what you love to do.
David: I love doing it, yeah, for sure.
Robin: And it’s hard work, but you’re doing it mostly motivated because you love doing it. So that’s the difference. And there are…you see the fighters and I’ve talked to some of them and they’re like, “I don’t really like fighting. I love training and I love learning and I love all of the other things but the fight itself is something very…that I don’t really like.” That, to me…and I’ve seen and spoken to some fighters who have gone a long way despite that. But if you think about it, it makes sense because the things they love is the thing that makes them good. You know what I mean? But it’s a weird one. Have you had those conversations?
David: I have. I mean, I wanna get to the why of that, though. If someone’s not in…if the fight’s something they’re dreading, then I wanna know why that is there. Maybe they’ve made the fight bigger than it really is and they’re building it up to be something and they’re looking at it the wrong way. So maybe it’s not true at all that they don’t…they’re not looking forward to the fight. Maybe they are and they just…they’re looking at it completely wrong. If you’re focused on a fight coming up and you’re thinking about all that could go wrong and…
Robin: Which is a lot.
David: …and never mind injuries but just getting beaten, getting finished quickly in front of people that are watching. Everyone’s asking you, “How did you go in your fight?” at last [SP] and all that kind of stuff. If that’s what you’re focused on, it’s not gonna be that much fun and you’re not gonna be looking at…and maybe it is true that you can be excited about it, it’s just it depends on how you’re looking at it and what way you’re looking at that stuff. So that’s one of those parts where I have to play a role in figuring out why that might be there. Because I have had this, where guys are looking forward to Sunday instead of looking forward to Saturday night. They’re looking forward to what they can eat on Sunday and they’re excited about that and just getting this out of the way. That’s obviously not good. But I need to know why that’s there and that’s a very individual thing.
Robin: Cool. Anything else you wanna touch on before we send you home to your family?
David: There’s just so many cool fights coming up in the next while. We’ve had a break.
Robin: Yes, we have.
David: And it sucked.
Robin: I thought about asking you about Weidman and Cormier today but that’s happening in a couple of days. But in the next couple of months, what else have you spotted and as soon as saw it, you’re like, “Okay, that…” Obviously, Cowboy and Lawler is one. What else?
David: Holloway and Aldo might be the one I’m most looking forward to.
Robin: When I look Holloway in the eyes…and I didn’t get to chat with him last time but I chat with him socially whenever I see him, I buy it a 100%. The work is there, his belief or any of these things is not an act. It’s based on the work and it’s based on him learning. He talks about what he does with his time and how he maximizes his time and how he never just shows up and goes through the motions, and I buy it all.
David: Yeah, I know, I do too. He’s a guy who seems very focused on what it is he’s doing and constantly improving and stayed true to…even as his stock has risen over the years, he still stuck true to what it is that got him there. And you start to see more of his personality coming through and all that stuff but still he’s a fighter at heart and he’s putting in that work and he’s an example of a guy where, even though you are on the rise and people know who you are and stuff, you can still stay true to what got you there in the first place.
Robin: Yeah, and he does. And then, of course, there’s Aldo. And there are some typical questions that we’d like to know. He’s still only…barely in his mid-30s, you know? Like, he’s still not old and yet he’s done so much. You start to wonder about the meaning of the fight to him and what he still wants, you know? And now Conor may never…he may never get that fight back. And that seemed to be something important to him. Now, you’ve got some young kid who’s the new thing. There’s a lot of challenges for Aldo the champ, the champ version of Aldo too.
David: Yeah, and he has to figure out what…like that thing of what it is he’s really motivated by. If the Edgar fight was all about getting another shot at Conor, then that’s probably not gonna be there anymore, that shot at Conor unless it’s something short-notice or whatever that crops up. So he has to find out truly what it is he’s motivated by. Because it doesn’t get found out on the night.
Robin: Sure. You see people in all different…athletes but performers too and stuff, where they talk about legacy. And I always just thought of that as just some word they throw around. But the more examine how people see it and how they talk about it, you start buying more into this idea that there are…what’s important to them is how history will view them. What are you thinking about that?
David: To be honest, I’ve had this with fighters that are retiring and they’re worried about their legacy and how people are gonna view them and how history is gonna view them and whether they view their career as a failure because they didn’t achieve x, y, and z. And I’d like to think of it like this. Who cares about how other people view your career and what your legacy is, you know? It’s kind of on you. And 20 years from now, 30 years from now, we’re gonna remember very few fighters from this era.
Robin: Probably not you.
David: Yeah. And most likely not you and the people around you, but you’ll remember it, so it comes back to how you see yourself. Roy Jones might have been my favorite fighter when I was younger, and he’s still going now and you would say he’s tarnishing his legacy but I don’t think he is. At his peak, at his best he was amazing, so it’s a whole different story in terms of when fighters should really be honest about retirement is a different thing and maybe that’s part of the reason why he can’t step away or whatever. But the legacy thing I get it in some respects, and then in others, I think you’re getting away from a pure kind of reason as to why you’re doing the whole thing.
Robin: But Aldo, if you chat with him, you get a feeling that that conversation will be a part of his perspective. The last thing or one of the last things, I don’t think they understand how some of us view them, some of the real deep fans. And there are lots and not just 10 of us. There’s thousands and hundreds of thousands. Because you see Brad Pickett and he was probably and is probably so disappointed he got knocked out in that fight, but nobody else is, nobody. Like not that that should matter, what matters is what matters to him, as you said. You know, the only people that will remember Brad Pickett in 20 years are people who love Brad Prickett.
David: We have to look back on Brad Pickett fights though and there are some amazing fights.
Robin: He beat Demetrious Johnson.
David: Yeah, and he had some spectacular knockouts and some amazing fights over the years. So he has those and you wanna go out like the way Urijah went out against him and you want that and you wanna have that moment but it shouldn’t…that doesn’t define his career and it doesn’t need to. And that’s something that can happen sometimes where guys can’t step away because they wanna have that…they wanna go out, like, on that high, where everything was just right on that night. “I got that big win and I can step away and ride off into the sunset.” And then things like Urijah have and then Tito Ortiz having that kind of reinforces that others feel like they can have it too. And then guys, I’ve seen them…they lose and they’re like, “Well, I can’t go out on a loss.” So they have to go again and they have to go again.
Robin: And that’s how we end up sometimes with guys who fought three or four fights too many.
David: Yeah, and maybe they’re not even being honest about the real reasons why they’re still doing it. They’re just afraid to not be doing it anymore and what comes next. It can be scary not knowing because this has been your career and your life for a while, so that can be the underlying reason as to why you’re so still going.
Robin: Yeah. It’s so wild how people are looking at how…trying to assume that they know how people perceive them because I think everyone who watched Brad Pickett fight that night just loved him and cheered for him and wanted…and felt that…didn’t feel bad that he had that experience in another fight being courageous. This felt bad that he felt bad, you know? But any other last things? Anything you’re working on? I mean, you can’t talk about most of your work.
David: No, I can’t talk about any of it, but yeah, there’s some cool stuff coming up. Yeah. There’s some very exciting fights coming up and things like that, yeah.
Robin: Good, good, good. DavinMullinsMMA on twitter. His website is davidmullinssportpsychology.com. This is the “Mentality of Combat,” I think. robinblackmma on twitter. Leave us a message and give us some ideas on what you want us to chat about. David, this is the world he lives in every day for the last decade, so we’d love you to direct us what you want us to talk about in the future. That’s it. Black out. Mullins gone.