Mixed Martial Arts is the Greatest Mindfulness Teacher
On December 14, 2019, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, two of the world’s top welterweight mixed martial artists faced one another in one of the most competitive fights of the year and definitely one of the most memorable, period.
And while the fight itself exceeded most fans’ expectations in terms of performance, excitement, and athletic fortitude, there was another element of the fight that might have been less obvious but is perhaps vitally more important.
This article will draw a connection between the mental strategy that mixed martial artists engage in during a fight and its similarities with how our minds cope with stress and anxiety.
In order to better manage the pressure that anxiety can impose on our mental wellbeing, one must implement a strategy of awareness and positioning.
The championship fight that occurred on December 14th between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington illustrates this idea very well.
The significance of the UFC 245 title-fight doesn’t necessarily come from the fact that the championship belt was placed on the line, nor from the buildup and controversy surrounding the fight, but may be largely associated with the complex strategy that both men were forced to employ during the fight.
Kamaru Usman, the welterweight title holder, is an NCAA Division II wrestling champion, known for his relentless cardio and intense pressure he’s able to impose on his opponents.
Colby Covington, the number one contender, is an NCAA Division I All-American, also known for his bottomless gas tank and striking volume he’s able to maintain without ever appearing fatigued.
During the weeks prior to the fight, sports analysts, fighters, and fans alike had great difficulty in predicting the outcome of the fight due to one reason: on paper, both fighters looked identical.
Both are very high-level wrestlers with above-average cardiovascular conditioning, who are known for the intense pressure they use to wear down opponents. One could only speculate as to exactly what would take place in the octagon.
Most forecasted to see a mere wrestling match for 25 minutes, straight.
A popular concern was that their extremely similar backgrounds and fighting styles would nullify each other, resulting in a boring, uneventful fight.
But what took place that night was anything but uneventful.
As both men engaged each other at the beginning of round one, a mutual understanding between them was immediately established. Because each fighter was well aware of his opponent’s wrestling expertise, neither of them attempted to incorporate any wrestling elements into their game plan.
In fact, neither one of them ever attempted to take the other to the ground at any point during the entire fight, ever.
Rather, they both decided to box.
The most logical reason for this is that both fighters had a very fundamental understanding of the amount of energy it would require to wrestle down an opponent who is equally as skilled as himself.
While it is true that both men are known for their apparent immunity to fatigue, they certainly aren’t invincible. And attempting a take-down of another high-level wrestler will not only require precise timing and an enormous amount of energy, but it may also place himself in a vulnerable position if the attempt fails.
Simply put, it just wasn’t worth the risk.
Thus, both men were compelled to strike, an element that they both are proficient in, but that neither could call his most polished skill.
There is an element to an MMA fight that fighters refer to as “octagon control.”
It refers to the fighter’s ability to place himself in the most advantageous positions within the octagon according to the situation and according to his own and his opponent’s fighting styles.
Because both fighters fancy a style that consistently pushes forward, and because both men have unofficially agreed to stand up and strike, the most advantageous position to be in, in this case, would be the dead center of the octagon.
And only one person can occupy the center at a time.
To be backed up against the cage would be extremely disadvantageous as it would limit lateral and backward movement options, resulting in a higher chance of getting caught with a strike.
As it was, both men fought for dominance of the center, and he who managed to control the center more successfully managed to get the better of the striking exchanges.
After a long, grueling, back-and-forth battle, it ended in spectacular fashion with Kamaru Usman landing a straight right hand at the beginning of the 5th round which resulted in a TKO, winning him the fight.
There’s a myriad of factors that contributed to the victory of the champion, and both men inflicted significant damage to one another, but a key to Kamaru’s success was his ability to occupy the center of the octagon more successfully than Colby.
It allowed Kamaru to force Colby backward when he needed to and allowed for better positions to land more successful punches. This eventually wore Colby down allowing for Kamaru to execute the finish.
The strategy which both Kamaru and Colby employed in order to gain positional dominance within the octagon draws some very important parallels to our everyday, mental wellbeing.
The Internal Fight
Stressors exist in many aspects of our lives and one might even consider them to be unavoidable. But whether a person’s thought process is positively focused or negatively focused, determines whether these stressors are a motivating source or a debilitating source.
Our objective should be to prevent negative, cynical thoughts from ever occupying a dominant position within our minds. Because once they do, the weight of any stressor becomes much more difficult to manage.
Just as a formidable opponent would steadily encroach upon your boxing position, so do negative thoughts encroach upon your peace.
As subtle, negative thoughts cumulatively take up residence in our minds and occupy more space than we’d permit them to have, it gradually weakens our stance against stress, ultimately opening the door to anxiety and a host of other guests that certainly aren’t welcome.
And by the time we’ve noticed we’ve given up our position, it’s too late, as we’ve now been backed up against the fence; negativity has fully occupied our minds. Thus, the heavy blows of stress will be much more difficult to manage.
As Kamaru effectively occupied and controlled the center of the octagon, preventing Colby from gaining the dominant position, our strategy against negativity is to fully occupy our minds and be on alert at all times, preventing negative thoughts from ever establishing an effective position within our minds.
Removing all negative thinking is easier said than done, especially if it’s become a common practice, but the first step of occupying your mind is to be fully aware of all your thoughts, both negative and positive.
Take a step back and be mindful of the thoughts that manifest in your mind and avoid being blindsided by negativity.
Create a sense of active, controlled thinking rather than allowing passive, drifting thoughts to fill your headspace.
Habitual, unannounced negativity will gradually accumulate without notice. So, being hyper-vigilant and having a strategic vantage point allows you to be aware of these thoughts, thus giving you the advantage of being able to dismiss them as they come.
Always be present and focus on the now. Pay attention to every thought you think of and every feeling you experience. Your entire existence is your own and you owe none of it to any outside force.
Don’t vacate yourself through excessive worry or daydreaming.
Drive your ship, don’t rely on the autopilot. Stay in the here and now.
You’re already the champ.
Be mindful and occupy yourself.