Whether you are an amateur or professional MMA fighter there is no getting around the dedication you must have to prepare your mind and body to face off against an opponent in the ring or cage. It is no secret that mixed martial arts is one of the most demanding and challenging sports out there, and leading up to a competition takes a great deal of preparation, especially if you want to win.

Fighters are constantly testing their bodies, pushing it to excel even when the body wants to call it quits. How those fighters push through, especially if they are hurt or greatly behind in points, is a testament to their fighting spirit; in other words it demonstrates what they are made of when times are tough.

This type of attitude is why it has been said that fighting is 90% mental and 10% physical.

Mental Preparation

Mental preparation is the key to being a successful MMA fighter, and it is the reason why many fighters employ sports psychologists to help them prepare for a competition. It helps get them into the mental aspect of the game and many times it is what gives them the winning edge.

They (MMA fighters) have strength and conditioning sessions, sparring sessions, technique training and also sport psych work. If the mental aspect isn’t where it should be then a fighter just won’t be able to perform. Confidence, toughness, motivation, anxiety control, tactical awareness, focus and concentration are all needed,” stated sports psychologist David Mullins, who works with fighters and professional athletes.

Some MMA fighters who understand this and use a sports psychologist as part of their training regimen include Donald Cerrone, Rich Franklin, Jon Jones and George St. Pierre, among others.

So as soon as you have inked the deal to take a fight this is when you should start to mentally prepare for the match. It doesn’t matter if you have four months or four days, the first thing you should do is visualize a win. Then, you need to take the steps necessary to make sure that visualization becomes a reality.

To do this you should constantly evaluate your training sessions. Take notes of what works and what doesn’t; what needs improving, what needs to be altered, what can be done away with, and what is something new you should try. Meet with your coaches and trainers to hash out ideas and prepare a game plan for your training sessions. Your team must work in conjunction with one another and understand what that plan is, so everyone is on the same page.

Study other fighters in videos who are in your weight division and those who are on your level as a fighter. Even study fighters who are better than you are; those you hope to be in the ring with at some point in your career. Study the guy who beat you in your last fight. What did he do that caused you to lose that fight? What will you do differently when you get that rematch?

When studying your opponent, check for his strengths and weaknesses and not just the physical components. Study his emotional state and vulnerabilities, which can be seen when he gives interviews. Is he quick tempered, prone to being a loud mouth, or some one who constantly trash-talks? Someone who has this mental make-up makes it easier to push their buttons and throw them off their game.

Famed Chinese General Sun Tzu once said, “If your opponent is angry, annoy him.”

You can annoy your opponent with this disposition by not giving in to his rants or calmly speak in a rational tone while he’s shouting, talking crap or acting like he’s a mad man. This is a good way to psych out your opponent. This was clearly demonstrated on The Ultimate Fighter season 12 when Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck were coaches. No matter what Koscheck did to irritate St. Pierre, no matter how much he trash talked or played jokes on him, St. Pierre remained calm throughout the whole show. St. Pierre saved his talking for when he got in the ring by using his talent, skills and mental preparation to win the fight.

It is a mental game. Don’t allow your opponent or anyone in their MMA training camp to sync you out. Let them talk all the crap they want. Don’t give into their games and don’t let them get under your skin, because if you do most likely that will throw you off your mental readiness. Stay focused and prove who the better fighter is by winning the match.

Yoga and MMA

Another form of mental preparation is taking time to wind down and just relax. Some fighters such as Jim Miller, Dante Rivera, Vitor Belfort and Diego Sanchez, among others, do yoga along with training to not only help improve their flexibility, core, breathing, balance, circulation and develop stronger tendons and joints, but to work on relaxing their mind, body and spirit. Yoga is especially great for helping fighters remain calm and not become overly emotional during matches.

In his “Yoga for Fighters” fitness video, Phil Migliarese, Jiu-Jitsu black belt and master yoga instructor said, “To be a champion, you need to be fast, you need to have flexibility, you need to have strength…all these attributes.

Along with yoga some fighters listen to music, some take long walks to clear their head, some watch their favorite movie or read a good book. Find what works for you. When fight day comes, visualize the ref raising your hand in victory.

Read more: For The MMA Beginner Guide: Gym, Training, and MMA Gear