Do you want to know what it takes to win? Grueling physical conditioning. Sparring to exhaustion. Mental preparation. Whittling yourself down to a chiseled physique for weigh-ins. Formulating and executing a flawless game plan. Nipple twisting. It’s all good.
We asked some of the top names in mixed martial arts—from Randy Couture to Dana White—what they think it takes to win. Their answers are a mixed bag of exactly what the mixed martial artist has come to represent: the physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally ready competitor who lays it all on the line inside the cage.
“You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to win as long as it’s fair and legal. I believe that some people are born with an insane will to win and some are not. Once someone has called me out or created a competition with me, then it becomes the only thing I think about. I become 1,000 times more focused, and I literally don’t stop until I win. I know I have to outwork, outmaneuver, out think, and basically do everything better then them and make sure I beat them every day of the week until I win! I love being challenged. I believe it’s what gets me out of bed every day. Life gets very boring without it! I need it.” —Dana White, UFC president
“To win a fight, it takes a sincere dedication to prepare for that fight as completely and fully as possible. There should be no doubt in your heart that you did everything possible to be prepared. I always use taking a test in high school as an analogy. For most kids in high school, they get a little apprehensive before tests because they know they should have and could have studied for it a little better, a little more. Now say you study the test material for literally three hours a night for a solid month and in your heart of hearts you know you could not have studied any better or longer, then that little bit of doubt goes away going into the test. I use this analogy because most people know exactly how it feels to not have studied enough for a test in high school and exactly how it feels to be utterly unconcerned for a test because you are 100% prepared. The real kicker to getting and being prepared is the fact that everyone is different. What it takes for me, personally, to be 100% spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared could be 180 degrees different for what it takes another fighter to feel the same. It’s a process that all fighters have to work through to learn what is the best for them.
I use the test taking analogy because sometimes you can be completely prepared for the test and there’s no trepidation, but you flunk the test because it’s just too hard. It’s the same way in fighting. Sometimes no matter how prepared you are for the fight, the other guy is better on that night. The only thing you can do is keep your head up and begin preparations for the next one and hopefully be able to refine your preparations.” —Ben Henderson, WEC Lightweight Champion
“What it takes to win is actually a cocktail of many ingredients—heart, determination, athletic ability, skill, technique, and many more, but there is one thing I think is often overlooked and that is the willingness to lose. Now you must be thinking, ‘What the fuck—how does that work?’ It’s not until you are able to lay it all on the line and take a risk that you become a champion. You almost have to careless than your opponent sometimes, because if you’re in the middle of an exchange and you say, ‘Fuck it, I’m not gonna stop throwing until somebody drops,’ and your opponent doesn’t feel the same way, he covers up and catches your wrath, and he may get stopped. In short, if you are not willing to pay the ultimate price for victory (losing) then you won’t be a champion. You got to roll the dice! You may either look like a chump or a champion!”—Rashad Evans, former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
“Of course there is no substitute for the physical work in a fighter’s preparation to compete. There is a fine line between too much and too little. Peaking physically is a process. When you get it right, you feel it at your core and when you get it wrong, it’s not usually much fun. The biggest thing I feel in myself and other athletes I’ve been around is dealing with the psychological adversity of competition. We all deal with an innate fear of failure. Learning to cope with that and find that perspective that allows you to go out there in front of thousands and do what you trained to do is the key to winning. If there’s a flaw in your training, that will be pointed out to you, but being in a frame of mind to utilize your athletic gifts and execute your training plan is critical. For me, this is simple. My perspective is that if the worst thing that happens to me in my life is that I lose a fight, then I’m doing pretty damned good in the grand scheme of the universe. I love what I do, and the people that truly love me for me don’t care whether I win or lose as long as I’m content! This mental backdrop frees me up to smile and go out and do what I love to do—win!” —Randy Couture, five-time UFC Champion and UFC Hall of Famer
“A lot goes into winning. Going into a fight, the preparation is not just physical—it’s mental, it’s spiritual. It goes way beyond just the physical aspect. I was on one side of a winning streak for a longtime, and I never experienced the losing part. Now having been on both sides, I know you can’t just focus on the win all the time. You have to want to focus on doing the best of your ability and if you do that, you’re going to come out the victor. When you train for a fight, you have to have your personal relationships in order, your business in order, and your mental game has to be right so you can focus solely on training. If you don’t have that in check and you go out there trying to get ready for a fight and you’ve got to worry about your gym or your family or what’s going on with your daughter and your kids, it makes it real hard. A lot goes into a fight. It’s the same thing emotionally. If you’re dating a girl and she’s breaking up with you a week before the fight or your mom gets sick or your dad just died, that will all mentally and emotionally drain you. A lot of guys who come in to train, they want to fight and they don’t have their things in check and it’s a big burden. What happens is—after you’re done fighting, what else is left? When you’re done fighting, people forget you, you fade off real easily—and all you have left is your family and your friends and those are the people you have to keep with you along the ride, and it’s not always a smooth ride. It’s bumpy sometimes and they’re the ones who are going to be there to help you through that.” —Miguel Torres, former WEC Bantamweight Champion
“The basic tools to win can be boiled down to two essential things:preparation and fluidity. The key is being prepared, but being fluid enough to change to an alternate plan or strategy if the fight isn’t going your way.” —Greg Jackson, world -renown trainer
“What does it take to win? Dedication!” —Shane Carwin, UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion