Fear & Self-Loathing On The Day Of Combat
After the build-up – the trash talk, promotion, aggression, preparation, and training – fight day has arrived. What goes through your mind on fight day? What makes you tick? Do you have fears, doubt and/or expectations?
There are some types who prefer solitude on fight day. There are some types who want to party or be social on fight day. Does the social type use the entertainment to distract them from the nerves? You sit there in your hotel trying to chill out, nibbling on left overs from last night’s post weigh-in dinner. I’ve always had an issue where I would get so nervous that I couldn’t even eat food even though I was supposed to after cutting weight.
Visions of the approaching fight are always running through my head. The worst part of fight day is the waiting. Waiting until the time you wake up to the time to drive down to the venue. I would always glance at the clock, knowing it’s not even close to time. The nerves from waiting would eat me alive.
Sometimes I would get stir crazy and feel the need to get up and shadowbox in my hotel room. Maybe put on my new fight gear I had packed and see how I look in the mirror—anything to pass the time. Why does it seem like all the nerves want to come crashing down on you in one day? You didn’t feel a bit of this during fight camp, you knew what was coming. At a certain point in your career you have to stop and ask yourself, “When will the nerves go away?”
It’s okay to be scared.
If you aren’t, then something is wrong. What are your fears of fight day? Is it losing? If so, what’s so scary about losing? Losing is a part of the game; losing is what helps you learn and become a better fighter. So why does it seem so scary?
Maybe it’s a personal fear of losing to an opponent you believe you are above. Perhaps you don’t want to be mentioned in the gossip about losing fighters on the circuit. My biggest fear was not putting on an excellent show for the fans – that’s what always mattered to me most.
On Facebook, I’d see my timeline blowing up with support from my family and friends, wishing me good luck. There would always be those few guys saying, “Kick his ass! Destroy him!” I always felt like those type of encouragements were just silly, but support is support no matter how it comes out.
Most people think about their opponent and study any footage they have to make game plans and strategy. I would watch videos of my favorite Muay Thai fighters and derive courage and determination through their performances, maybe even try to mimic them. “As you think, so shall you become.” Everyone has their different rituals for fight day.
The time has come.
I’m on my way to the venue in the car with my cornerman. I have my earphones in, listening to whatever gets me in the zone, because it’s show time. Personally, I like to crank some Michael Jackson or some Backstreet Boys to get that beast mode switch flipped on. (Don’t judge me.)
Now I’m sitting in the rules meeting to listen to instructions I already know, and have heard over and over again. It’s times like these I wonder to myself if my opponent is feeling the same anxiety I am. One thing I always tell myself is that if I am feeling really nervous, I would believe that my opponent has it a lot worse than I do – mainly because he is fighting me.
After the rules meeting, it’s time to go back to the locker room. I can hear hip hop and the ruckus of people filling the seats in the arena. I want to take a peek outside, beyond the curtain. I can see the lights have changed and people are everywhere.
Things get a little bit real.
Some fighters like to stay in the locker room until it’s time to fight. Not me. I like to watch the show. I come out, find an empty seat and enjoy some of the fights that are before mine. It gives me a good idea of what the crowd is like and the atmosphere.
I loved being one of the first fights. When you’re the first fight, you get in, get work done and get out. Then you have the entire show to enjoy with your family and friends in the stands. Those days have long passed. I haven’t been one of the opening bouts on a fight card since 2010.
After all the fights and intermissions, now it’s my turn to show what I’ve got. Backstage, I’ve started to warm up. My coach has lathered Thai oil all over me. It burns and warms the skin all at once, waking up the flesh.
After a few rounds on the pads, I become something else. The nerves don’t seem to be there anymore. This is what I am and where I belong. One of the event handlers enters my locker room and gives me the signal to get ready. It’s time to walk to the ring.
I’ve got my mongkol and garland on. The crowd cheers over the ring announcer’s voice, and out I go. The chilled air from the event floor collides with my heated body; I think I can see steam, or maybe it’s smoke. People are cheering and clapping, it’s exhilarating. I enter the ring and see my opponent on the other side. He looks strong, ready – just like me. At this moment I suddenly realize, “this is amazing.” Why was I nervous? What was I worried about?
I slam my fists together. I crack my neck and stare at my opponent. I’m pumped; I’m hungry; I’m ready. I am a fighter and it is FIGHT DAY.
- DJ Miller is a naky muay from Nashville, TN. He began his Muay Thai training in 2008 and accumulated more than 30 amateur fights before turning pro. "Martial arts is in my blood," says Miller. "My father is a third degree black belt in Taekwondo.., I love the experiences that Muay Thai has given me and I love sharing my thoughts what's going on in the Muay Thai world with everyone."