"90% of the fight game is half mental"-Tim Sylvia
Sylvia was mocked when he said that, but like many a Yogi Berra style malapropism, there is some truth in Sylvia's mathematically challenged statement. MMA is ultimately a mental game.
And as we've quite possibly seen from Tim Sylvia's career post-Fedor, it's possible for a fighter to be broken in the cage or ring and emerge as a shadow of himself. Doubt me? Watch the video below from Riddum.com where Loiseau's coach Firas Zahabi and teammate Patrick Cote discuss the vicious case of cage anxiety Loiseau developed after losing to Rich Franklin at UFC 58.
The haters will object that this is merely Loiseau's team making excuses for a long series of poor performances. But let's apply Occam's Razor. Before he faced Franklin for the UFC middleweight title at UFC 58 in 2006 he was 14-4 (4-1 UFC) and coming off a five fight win streak. Since then he's 5-5 (0-3 UFC).
But those of us with more worldly experience and understanding of human nature know that sometimes things happen to a person that they never recover from. A five round drubbing that leaves both eyes swollen so they look like the Fantastic Four's Thing, is just the sort of traumatic event that can have enormous repercussions.
The reality is that competing in any athletic endeavor at a high level requires enormous mental fortitude. The hundreds of hours of training between fights require a motivated athlete who is able to get up day after day and fully commit himself to an incredibly tedious and difficult training, conditioning, and nutritional regimen.
And then when the training is done, the athlete must perform at his best in the cage or ring. Any one who's ever had a job or hobby that required top performance in public knows that its not easy. It requires great powers of concentration and focus to dismiss all the distractions and perform at top ability when crunch time comes.
The annals of MMA are filled with stories of fighters who are the best athletes in their training camps but can't match that performance level in the cage. Joe Riggs is infamous in this regard. And that's just in an easy or one-sided match -- when fighting at the championship levels it requires grit like we saw from Carlos Condit at UFC 115 when he came back to finish Rory MacDonald in the third round after dropping the first two to the young phenom. That takes enormous mental fortitude.
And what does this have to do with Fedor? Find out in the full entry.
Well, part of his aura as the greatest MMA fighter of all time is the way he utterly terrifies opponents. As Brett Rogers said before his fight with Fedor last fall, per MMA Fighting:
"I look into his eyes and I see nothing," he said. "I don't see if he's serious. I don't see if he's trying to be funny. I can't sense anything from him. A lot of people say, 'Don't pay attention to his demeanor because it will psyche you out.' It's true. I feel that."
And as we've seen from the post-Fedor performances of Brett Rogers, Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia, fighters tend to fall off the table after they've fought him.
It's got to be an incredibly intense psychological experience to be chosen to face the best heavyweight in the world, fall short in brutal fashion and then have to pick up the pieces. One day you think that you just might have a chance to knock him off his pedestal, the next day you know you didn't and you never will. Not only that, but if you're like Sylvia, Arlovski and Rogers you found yourself coming to after being choked or knocked out and if you watched the fight later, realized just how badly you were drubbed.
This is why I come down so hard on people who try to denigrate a fighter's wins based on the subsequent performance of their opponents. All we have to go by is how well regarded they were at the time of the fight. So much can change in a fighter's life -- injuries, accidents, mental troubles, loss of motivation, business problems, drug problems, etc etc etc -- that it's just not valid to draw conclusions based on future performance.
This is especially true with a devastating fighter like Fedor. Fedor Emelianenko doesn't just beat fighters, he breaks them.
Fabricio Werdum has picked himself up off the mat after being KTFO'd by Junior Dos Santos and given the boot by the UFC. His gritty performance against Antonio Silva showed he's still got the heart of a warrior. We'll see what he's made of this Saturday. And after that we'll really see what he's made of.