Even GSP Gets Scared

Pre-Fight Mental Preparation Tips

“I’m the kind of guy that I’m not afraid to admit that I’m afraid when I go fight,” says GSP. “Even though I’m scared and I’m afraid to fail, when I walk to the Octagon, I look like I’m, it’s impossible for me to fail and I look very confident, like I’m going to kick ass for sure. But the truth is, deep down inside, I’m scared as hell.”

Watch GSP talk about being scared before a fight.

gspGeorge is in the discussion for GOAT amongst MMA fighters and yet he’s still scared every time leading up to a fight.  But he’s done his research, GSP understands why his mind and body react the way they do:

“My mind starts changing and listens to my body. This is a theory called James-Lange theory, and for me, it works very well because I get very anxious before I fight. …That’s my trick. When I walk, I’m scared and that’s how I feel, but as I’m walking, the closer I get the more confident I get.”

James-Lange theory boils down to this: physiological arousal causes emotion. Basically, you can’t help but be scared before a fight, because the pre-fight changes in your body (increased adrenaline production, for example) FORCE your mind to feel emotions of anxiety.

That’s why adrenaline is a double edged sword. While it makes us stronger, faster, and more aware, it also impairs our critical thinking and saps our endurance. Its purpose is to give us 60 seconds of superhuman attack strength, or the speed to run and hide. A muay thai match is outside the scope of adrenaline’s original design specifications.

Strategies for dealing with fear pre-fight


Acceptance is really the first step. This is how GSP deals with his fear. He knows it will come, but he knows just as well that the fear will go away, to be replaced by flow, so he pays it no mind.

Accept that some form of pre-fight jitters are bound to occur, don’t dwell on them and move on to the next strategy.

Physical Preparation

It’s very important to avoid panic and stress when tired. Fighters often stress when they feel like the gas tanks is starting to run on empty. It’s my opinion that this because of two things:

1. Not enough physical exhaustion during training camp

The mind has to know what it’s like to feel tired, so it can be familiar with the feeling and accept it vs. panic.

2. Forgetfulness

That’s right, during the stresses of a fight, we forget that your body can do a lot more than your mind says it can. That’s not just coaching talks, it’s science! Get those killer practices in, so that you can remember what exhaustion feels like in the middle of a fight.

Positive Self Talk

Again, I bring you science backed advice. In a review of 47 studies, scientists found beneficial effects of positive self-talk on performance.

Push your mind’s focus on to constructive statements of the present such as:

1. Control the center

2. Pressure my opponent

3. Measure the distance, throw the jab

4. You get the idea

Make sure that your attention is on the necessary action of the fight, and not statistics or trophies.


Forget about all the mystical mumbo jumbo you think of when you hear the word meditation. It’s just learning to control your mind. Meditation is not easy, but it is an incredibly important skill for athletes to learn… getting in the zone is easier for athletes that regularly practice meditation. 

Let that sink in for a minute. How much better do YOU perform when you’re in the zone.

We break down the details of what you need to know in Mediation for Combat Athletes, but really just think of it as an important aspect of your cross-training, like running and conditioning work.

One useful skill that comes from meditation is belly breathing.  Belly breathing has been shown to improve  psychological or stress-related disorders . It is used in yoga as an on-demand calming exercises.

Here’s Common, Colbie Caillat and Elmo teaching you how to belly breath … haha, no seriously, this is easily the best video on belly breathing –

Developing this skill is almost guaranteed to help calm any pre-fight jitters.

Final Words

To close, I want to leave you with some quotes.

Joe Rogan on why it can be tough to switch from anxiety and fear to flow in the Octagon.

“It’s very hard to be in the moment, it’s very hard to be centered and to not be overwhelmed by the screaming cheering fans and the bright lights and the cameras in your face …”

and inspiring words from legendary coach John Wooden (I know, I know, basketball … what does he know, but the message is important):

“Promise to be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit trouble to press on you”.

geneBy Gene Kobilansky
Gene is the founder of and writes for the Flow Athletics blog.Gene was an accomplished college wrestler; now trains BJJ while dabbling in MMA and Muay Thai.

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Sean Fagan
Sean "Muay Thai Guy" Fagan owns & operates the largest online Muay Thai community and the #1 training resource for nak muay of all levels.

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