If you plan on entering a Muay Thai competition it is important to understand that fights are a back and forth affair. You will hit your opponent and they will hit you. If you go through a fight unscathed, consider yourself lucky. Good fights are always close battles that usually come down to the final round to decide the winner.
Unfortunately, this means that there will be many times when your fortitude and mental toughness will be tested. While you might imagine yourself steam rolling your opponent with a flying elbow or knee that would be featured in an Ong Bak movie, that usually never happens.
When you fight you have to prepare for anything that can happen. You can win in a quick knockout and you can just as easily lose in a quick knockout. Even though you may feel invincible when you first start training Muay Thai, experience will quickly teach you that you are mortal just like the rest of us.
The key to thriving in the ring is to prepare yourself mentally and physically for anything that can happen. Preparing yourself in training for worst case scenarios can help you if you don’t have a lot of ring experience already.
While you should never expect something bad to happen in the ring, you should always prepare for those scenarios in training so you are able to remain calm and recover in the fight.
Realizing your Worst Fears
Muay Thai fights are all about odds. Every fight you enter there is the risk of cutting cut, injured or knocked out. The bigger and stronger you are, the greater the risks involved. The more skill and experience you have relative to your opponent, the less likely the chances of you getting hurt.
This means if you fight enough times in the ring, you will eventually run into a situation when something doesn’t go according to plan. It is not a matter of ‘if’ something will happen, it is simply of question of ‘when’ something happens and how you deal with it. Unless you are picking and choosing your opponents your entire career (some famous boxers do this), you will experience plenty of adversity when you fight.
While you have probably been rocked plenty of times in sparring before, the biggest difference between getting hurt in sparring and a real fight is in the ring your opponent won’t allow you to recover after you are hurt. When you get rocked in a fight your opponent won’t feel bad for you, they will try to knock you out.
Given the fact that you will get caught eventually with a big shot, you have to prepare for that situation in training.
Imagine you are having the perfect fight and everything is going your way. You are in control of the fight and should be able to win the fight on points when suddenly BAM. It happened.
That worst case scenario that you didn’t want to think about just happened. You went to throw a right punch, but you didn’t see your opponent throwing his left hook at the same to counter you.
Your brain flashes and you see stars momentarily. Your balance is suddenly thrown off and you have a hard time finding your footing.
You may even suffer a flash knockdown and see a ref giving you the 8 count as you wonder, “what the hell just happened.”
The next thing you know you are fighting for life as your opponent comes rushing forward trying to finish what he started. In the matter of moments you have lost control of a fight that was easily in your hands. Now is the time to start fighting for your life.
Surviving the Onslaught
The next 10 seconds after you get hit with a hard shot that wobbles you is a very dangerous period of time. Your brain will shut off momentarily and your body will switch into survival mode. Whatever you have ingrained in you in training will start showing now.
If you are able to recover your wits for the next 10 seconds, there is a good chance you will be able to finish the round and give yourself a chance to win the fight. The key here is to recover and then mount a counter attack later on. Don’t worry about trying to be a hero and going down swinging, that can happen when you have no other options left.
I could tell you a million strategies to do when someone is hunting for the knockout, but the reality is when you are dazed you won’t remember any of those strategies. The only thing that will be on your mind is survival.
When you get rocked your bodies natural survival instincts will kick in. This is when your ‘fight or flight’ response activates and your training will come into play.
As your opponent is coming at you with flurries of punches, elbows and knees, it will feel like you are drowning under water. It is the same feeling you get when you have been under water for too long and start rushing to the surface as your oxygen is running out. Panic will want to kick in as you confront the reality of the situation.
In these brief moments you are fighting for your life. You will either manage to reach the surface of the water and recover or you will drown under your opponent’s onslaught.
The key is focusing on 10 seconds at a time. If you can survive the next 10 seconds, you can worry about the next 10 seconds. You won’t be worried about the score card, the key here is surviving and trying to keep your head above water for the next 10 seconds.
Maintain Your Composure and Respond
Once you have survived the initial onslaught and recovered your senses, now it is time for you to respond. At this point your opponent has likely used up a lot of his energy trying to go for the knockout that you wouldn’t allow. His offense will start slowing down after the initial 15-30 second flurry that he just threw at you.
The key is to respond and make him remember that this is a fight…and that you are still in it. Now is the time to make your opponent realize that you aren’t going down without a fight. This doesn’t mean drop your guard and swing for the fences, however, it does mean picking your shots and looking for openings.
If you try and swing for the fences when you get hurt, you are increasing the chances of getting knocked out. Sure, every once in a while you will see a fighter make a crazy comeback when he gets rocked, but that is a rare sight to see.
I’ve already written an article that covers Why You should never Swing for the Fences
On the other hand, if you only shell up and let your opponent attack you it will give them confidence and increase the chance of you getting knocked out or hurt.
It is important for you to keep a strong defense, while responding with attacks of your own. By responding with hard strikes, you will let your opponent know that you have recovered and you are ready to go to war. This will go a long way in taking away some of their confidence that they can finish you off in the fight.
Make It To the End of the Round
Whether you got rocked in the early or later part of the round, once you have recovered and responded you need to make it to the end of the round. If you can make it to the next round, you can give yourself a chance to win the fight in another round (unless this happens in round 5).
You would be surprised how many fighters get rocked in the early rounds and come out to win the fight later on. Unless you are badly hurt in the fight (sometimes the damage can be too much to overcome), you can recover a huge amount of your stamina. Getting beat up badly in a round will probably even motivate you to come out hard the next round and leave everything in the ring.
On the flip side, your opponent may start feeling fatigued after trying and FAILING to finish you off. Often when a fighter fails to knockout his opponent, it can often completely gas him out and take away his steam. When you put all of your effort into trying to put someone down, it can drain all of your energy in the round and it can also dishearten you in the later rounds.
Making a Statement
Whether you got an 8 count or not, you definitely lost that last round badly. If you are lucky you lost it 10/9 round, but most likely you lost the round 10/8 on the judges score card. This means you need to gain back those points that you lost.
In your next round you need to come out strong and make a statement. By coming on hard, you will send a message to your opponent that you will not sit back and let them dictate the outcome of the fight. Showing your opponent that you are game for a fight, will take away some of their momentum that they built.
There is nothing more disheartening than thinking you are going to finish the fight, and seeing that person look unfazed by what happened in the last round.
If you can make your opponent respect you, they will start fighting with more caution and the fight can swing back in your favor. Anything that you can do to take away from your opponent’s confidence will help you gain back control and restore your own confidence in your fighting ability.
Once you regain your opponents respect, the fight is anyone’s game.
Finish the Fight Strong
Regardless of what happened in the early rounds of the fight, it is important for you to finish the fight strong. Whether you win or lose the fight, you will learn a lot from surviving an onslaught from your opponent and not giving up. These are the fights that determine what YOU are made out of.
Fighters who refuse to quit when the odds are stacked against them are the type of guys who make it to the top. If you manage to pull of a comeback and win the fight, congrats. Most of the time you will probably end up losing the fight on points, and that’s perfectly fine. You should be proud of your self for staying in there and refusing to give up.
No matter what the outcome of the fight, a good trainer will be happy with the results (unless your trainer is a gambling addict and lost). The experience you gain from hard fights like these are priceless and will make you stronger in the long run.
When you go into a fight, you should never be focusing on negative outcomes. Focus on fighting your game and you will give yourself the best shot to win the fight. That being said, you should also be aware that not every fight will go your way. Just because you should win a fight, doesn’t mean you always will.
Preparing yourself mentally for worst case scenarios will help you remain calm if they ever do happen.
It is important to point out that there will be situations when you are unable to recover from a knockdown. No matter how hard you want to come back and continue fighting, sometimes the brain takes too much damage for you to recover from. If this happens make sure you come back stronger in your next fight. Don’t worry about the results of one or two fights, sometimes things happen in the ring that are out of your control.
Focus on things you can control in and outside of the ring. A positive attitude moving forward will help you a lot more than being depressed after a loss. At the end of the day Muay Thai is about growing and developing your skills. If you grow in a fight, then the results will come over time.
Keeping calm under pressure is a hard skill to build, but it can be developed through preparation in training. The more experience you get, the better you will be at dealing with adversity when you fight. The key is to get that experience and become comfortable facing any situation that presents itself.
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