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07-23-2015, 10:52 PM
Fighting fear in the cage

Written by Administrator

Even for professional fighters, the thought of a fistfight can be terrifying.

Mickie Marshall* just got smashed in the head with a football, and I threw it. For a fourth-grade student enjoying his daily recess, this shouldn’t be a problem — a simple apology should do — but Dickie was a 10-year-old badass. That year, he won both the school’s softball throw and 50-yard dash, meaning he had a strong arm and some quick feet to complement it.

Even worse, he saw the situation unfold. He watched me pick up that Vortex football and chuck it from my spot on the basketball court back toward the soccer field, its high-pitched squeal foreshadowing the next sound to escape from my mouth.

As the ball clanged off the side of his head, we locked eyes. I knew this was it. Fight or flight. It’s go time.

I ran.

Fear is a funny thing, and everybody handles its presence differently. In a sport like mixed martial arts, fear takes many forms. There’s the fear of getting punched in the face, the fear of losing in front of your friends and family, and the fear of simply not performing as well as you can inside the cage.

But there are also deeper, more personal fears tailored for each fighter’s personality and unique life experience. When the cage door locks and the referee issues his instructions, you can’t run from Dickie Marshall. You have to stand up and fight.

For UFC newcomer Johnny ‘Hollywood’ Case (13–4), being afraid before a fight means that everything is on schedule, that everything is going according to plan.

UFC debutant Johnny Case on fear:

“That fear is there every fight. For me, I’ve learned to channel that. It’s not necessarily a fear, it’s anticipation. I tell myself that when I feel the nerves coming...I focus and I tell myself that’s what’s supposed to happen.

“That’s my motor getting ready to start up. That’s how I know I’m prepared. If I’m not nervous, I’m not scared, and I’m not walking around a little uneasy, then there’s something wrong, and I’m not focused. I’m not prepared to go out there and get in a fight.

“I’m not afraid to get injured. I’ve been injured. I’ve broken bones, I’ve been knocked unconscious. That doesn’t really bother me. It’s not knowing what’s going to happen in the next 15 minutes, not knowing if I can go out there and perform my best. That’s the thing that really is scary, if I go out there and have a shitty fight because I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to do.

“Fourth-grade me was happy to learn that even professional fighters feel a twinge of doubt and uncertainty before a fight.”

The next step, according to Case, is learning to channel that fear into something else. You have to turn that fear into motivation and use it to lock in your senses to the current moment, a skill learned through years of practice and preparation.

While Case discussed his nervousness before a fight on the surface level, undefeated UFC lightweight Myles ‘Fury’ Jury, dives deeper into his own psyche to cope with his fears. He transforms.

He becomes Fury and leaves Myles behind.

Myles Jury (https://twitter.com/furyjury) on his pre-fight transformation:

“Yeah, definitely (I feel fear). If I was sitting here and said to you, ‘Yeah, I’m not scared to get knocked out or I’m not scared to get choked out in front of my family, I’m not scared to get my butt kicked for 15 minutes,’ that’s, me personally, yeah, I am scared. I know when I go in there, that’s not me in there, that’s ‘Fury’, that’s business, but, as a person leading up to the fight, yeah, I feel fear, and I feel those worst-case scenarios.

“It (the transformation) comes along the day of the event, and the closer the fight gets, the more I let go...When I’m in the cage, it’s all business. That’s when Fury comes out. That’s where I’m the most cocky and confident guy ever in my mind...I can beat this guy anywhere. I deserve this win. That’s what I feel when I get out there.

“Leading up to that, it’s really just, I go through my whole mind, and I just kind of let go of stuff. I sit back in the dressing room...and I’m letting go of stuff. My mind’s going, ‘Man, I wonder what my girlfriend’s doing.’ Right then and there — I do this all the time — I go, ‘I don’t have a girlfriend right now.’ Little stuff like that. I’ll go, ‘Hey, I wonder what my family’s doing right now.’ I don’t have a family right now. I don’t have nothin’ right now. All I have is my team with me, my soldiers that are going to go out and do battle with me.”

When out-of-cage variables seep into fighters’ psyches, things become more complicated yet.

Fighting brings with it a unique set of risks and potential troubles, and undefeated Pittsburgh-based featherweight Mark Cherico felt the pressures of stepping into the cage as a first-time father firsthand in November of 2012 before his second pro fight.

He had just posted a 9–0 record as an amateur — all via knockout or submission (http://www.insidemma.com.au/photos/kimura-single-leg-shot-counter-with-nate-diaz) — and his pro debut was equally efficient, as he submitted Donte Adams in just 56 seconds.

After his first child, Aubree Rose, was born, however, Cherico strolled into his sophomoric performance as a father. He was fighting for more than himself for the first time, and the fear of disappointing and upending his family infiltrated his brain and left behind a numbing buzz he hadn’t felt to that point in his fighting career.

Mark Cherico (7–0) talks about fighting as a first-time father:

“My second pro fight, I’ve never been that nervous in my life. It was my first fight after I just had my daughter, and I remember thinking, ‘What if something happens and I can’t be a father anymore?’ That scared the shit out of me. I haven’t had that thought since then, so hopefully it doesn’t ever creep back into my mind.”

The compounding pressures of being a mixed martial artist are many, and they come in various forms. Even those who think they have everything under control can sometimes succumb to the bright lights and the big stage of a high-profile scrap inside the UFC Octagon.

Michigan-based UFC lightweight Kevin Lee, for example, felt the weight of his UFC debut, and his performance was altered in ways he never anticipated.

Previously undefeated as a professional fighter, Lee strolled into his UFC 169 bout with former The Ultimate Fighter finalist Al Iaquinta with confidence. He had never been defeated. He finally arrived on the big stage. His time was now.
And the fear of fighting for the UFC paralysed him.

“I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t nervous during the walkout, I wasn’t nervous during the warm-up. It was one of the best weight cuts that I’ve had. I felt great going into it up until I actually got in there and looked around.

“It was kind of like a deer-in-the-headlights moment, you know? I froze up a little bit, I kind of stiffened up. I felt really stiff during the fight. Everything before the fight was great until I got under the big lights…I realise that now. I didn’t realise that then.

“I thought it (the idea of Octagon jitters) was a bunch of bullshit. I really did. I thought, ‘Whatever. I’ll be fine. I’ll make do with it.’ But they’re very, very real.” Lee lost to Iaquina that night via unanimous decision.

The remedy? More experience. Fighters need to heave that football a few more times, they need to become more comfortable with the menacing glare that follows and learn how to react to it in stride.

07-23-2015, 11:00 PM
Even for trained beasts, the fear of a fistfight can hamper abilities and hinder thought processes.

There exists a mental learning curve in the fight game just as much as there is a physical one, and successfully coping with the stresses of combat separates the world’s best from those who melt when the lights get too hot.

The fighters who perform the best and the fighters who achieve greatness, living up to their potential and breaking personal barriers, are the ones who evaluate their impending battles with a scientist’s precision and analysis. The Cases, Juries, Chericos, and Lees of the world calculate the likelihood of danger and accept it, adapting and firing back with their own skills and talents.

The fear is still there, but they know how to handle it. It’s become a friend of sorts, that old bar mate who always convinces you to do something dicey but who always produces a few laughs and a lasting memory in the process. At first, his presence makes you uneasy, but soon, you’re anticipating his pull with a sense of excitement.

Those not cut out for the fighting game, on the other hand, take a look at a charging Dickie Marshall and run. For some, the fear is simply too crippling.

*The name in this story has been changed. I’ve blocked Dickie Marshall’s real name from my memory and have no intentions of trying to Facebook stalk him.