Coming back from a loss is a tall order that presents a serious mental challenge for a lot of fighters. I know this because I just went through it. What I’ve realized throughout the last year or so, is how important it is to make my career my number one priority, and to not allow someone else’s expectations of me dictate my life.
The past year has been a tough one for me because I was going through a period of depression and anxiety. I kept reliving my last fight with Paige, and even though I knew that wasn’t me, that’s not how I fight, I was still so scared it might happen again. The anxiety was almost overwhelming leading up to my fight with Kailan.
One of my biggest issues was I felt so much obligation to so many people, that I always felt guilty saying “No” to anyone. I knew that if I was going to be the fighter that I’ve always been, the one that I knew I could be, I needed to stop giving a shit about what people would say or think of me, or catering to the media, the fans and all the people that were pulling me in so many different directions.
I was spread so thin with all the media and promotional obligations during and immediately following the TUF season, that I really didn’t know which end was up. I was doing media left and right, to the point that I started getting that oversaturated vibe. The UFC had my dance card filled to capacity constantly, and it got to the point that it was almost excessive, but I kept doing it to please them. I realized a hard truth after I lost my fight, though. It didn’t matter to them if I’d lost, nor did it make much of a difference how much time I’d put into promotional work and media for them.
There’s a saying, “You’re only as good as your last fight.” That’s a good way to honestly look at your fighting career. No matter what organization it is, you’re a commodity, and the best thing you can do is put yourself first.
I refocused and started spending time with the people in my life that I cared about. I stopped training to achieve a certain aesthetic appeal. Instead, I trained to get better and to learn. I took a bunch of steps back so I could breathe. I declined interview requests, and didn’t let all that external pressure into my camp, I didn’t let it have any real estate in my mind.
It was scary coming back after a loss like that, so I made sure to take extra measures to get myself in balance. I flew in special training partners. I started working with a doctor, I was getting acupuncture twice a day during fight week and everything was targeted towards performance.
I changed my whole approach to dieting. It used to be that if I had a fight booked, I would start dieting down and cutting weight from the moment the fight was booked. I felt like that was what I needed to do, especially since I was so focused on making sure my body looked good, so I could reel sponsors and promo opportunities in. Before the UFC, I had to hustle and market myself to get those paying endorsements and better fights. The biggest part of that was image appeal.
This time around, I approached things differently. I didn’t care what I looked like. I kept eating and made sure that I was healthy and feeling strong. It was the first time in ages that I’ve actually felt good in my training sessions.
I felt confident coming back, stronger than I’ve ever felt. The difference was that I found a way to relax, and a lot of that had to do with taking so much of the external pressure factors off myself. I still had an anxious feeling, but it wasn’t taking over like it had in the past. It was more of that normal fear that most fighters feel when they get ready to throw down.
Initially, I was scared out of my mind that I’d have another adrenaline dump like I had in the fight with Paige, which is the worst feeling. I literally couldn’t move. I felt like if I lost again, I would just die. I kept thinking that I couldn’t handle another loss like that.
Then I had an epiphany. I realized that if I lose the fight, then I would just retire. And that was it. I calmed down and let it sink in that the world wouldn’t end if I lost.
Once that peace of mind had been achieved, I was able to listen to my coaches in my corner so much better. I wasn’t stubborn, and I did well. It used to be if I wasn’t torturing myself, or if I wasn’t miserable, I wasn’t trying hard enough. If I’m eating to the point that I feel full, then I’ve eaten too much. If I’m training and I don’t come home dead tired and exhausted, then I’m not training hard enough. I’ve always been very hard on myself, and I don’t think that’s ever going to go away, but I’ve managed to minimize a lot of stress.
When Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz talked about the toll that excessive media and promo work takes on you during a fight camp, they weren’t kidding. Conor’s decision to stay back from the media and focus on himself and his training was probably the smartest thing he could have done for himself against a killer like Nate Diaz.
I think this is a good stopping point for my first Champions blog, so I’ll wrap this post up with my prediction for their fight. I think Nate Diaz will win again, but I’m not sure how. Obviously, Conor will have a different game plan going in, but I could actually see Nate knocking him out. That’s the thing with MMA, anything can happen. I think Nate will win. I know that’s would I would like to see, for sure.