Fighters of past and present have recently spoken about Conor McGregor’s keys to victory against Dustin Poirier at UFC 264. The main theme, so far, has been about “The Notorious” going back to his roots.
For Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, it’s going back to moving like a “Karate guy.” And most recently, Chael Sonnen pointed out the importance of trash-talking, which was last seen from McGregor in the build-up of his UFC 229 title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018.
If there’s one man who understands the significance of talking a big game, it’s Uncle Chael. As he explained in a recent video he uploaded on his YouTube channel, the person on the receiving end experiences a “chemical release” in the brain that makes them feel more fatigued even before the fight begins.
But as he also pointed out, it is more about building self-belief for the person talking smack.
What’s really happening when a fighter’s talking trash is he’s building himself up. That’s the part that isn’t seen. You think he’s out there trying to sell tickets or talk his way into opportunities or get into your opponent’s head. You’re not wrong, that’s a piece of it.
But what’s really happening when you’re saying ‘I am the greatest, I am the best. No one can beat me, I am the greatest of all-time…’ And it goes in that order. You’ll slowly pick it up. You’ll start with, ‘I deserve main events. I can fight for a world championship. I can even beat this guy.’ You’ll keep going.
And the reason that it goes in that order is because you, as the author of that statement, don’t believe it. You’re uncomfortable saying it. You don’t even feel right.
Chael went on to relate a similar experience when he first began taking on his brash persona as a fighter, and how it eventually fostered a change in his attitude.
I remember where I was and what I was driving the first time I told a guy, who was a reporter, ‘I’m the greatest to have ever done it.’ And I remember after it left my mouth, I paused, waiting for him to either laugh or dispute it. And I remember when he didn’t. I remember thinking, ‘Why didn’t he dispute that? I’m not the greatest of all-time.’
And, so, I kept saying it. And slowly, I believed it. It became a real thing. I started training differently. It wasn’t just a mental approach. I started training differently.
With McGregor, Sonnen thinks that the Irishman’s subdued demeanor ahead of UFC 257 may have urged him to ease off, which likely translated into the fight itself.
When Conor started the PR tour (for UFC 257), and he quit doing those things, he quit being brash, it wasn’t just a letdown for us fans that enjoy that commodity that Conor brings to the table, that enjoy the entertainment. He also stopped putting that pressure on himself.
And I’m not sure from a psychological standpoint that Conor understands that was the difference in the second Poirier fight. It was the approach.
He got into the ring as though he was above Poirier. And I’m sure he felt that way. He’d already dusted Poirier. It wasn’t a close contest. At no part in that first fight was Conor ever in trouble. And it was a pretty short night.
But it was also a meaningful difference whether Conor’s aware of it or not. Saying some of those things isn’t just good for ticket sales. Saying those things isn’t good just to get your opponent to second-guess it. Saying those things is what gets you ready to go out and act on it.
There’s a certain edge that certain fighters have. There’s a certain anger and a certain hostility that they bring into the ring. It’s the very reason that they coined the phrase, ‘A rich man can’t fight.’ Because he generally isn’t angry, he’s generally having a pretty good day. He generally doesn’t have that edge.
Speaking of UFC 257, Sonnen also saw how McGregor was already “looking for the door” in the first three minutes of the fight. As he explains:
There was a day when Conor McGregor — whether it was true or not — never would admit that a calf kick hurt. I will never say those words to you. You kicked me in a soft muscle in the back of my leg and therefore I lost an ass-whooping contest? Whether it was true or not, you’d never get me to cop to it. And there was a time when you’d never get Conor to cop to it.
Conor found himself in a fight that was harder than Conor thought it was going to be, against a guy whose ass Conor already whooped. Those are the things that started to play the mental game. That’s where Conor thought, ‘Land this big punch, let’s make it all look good, and let’s go home. I’ve got to get out of here.’ He went into panic mode.
It’s one of these things where if you admit that ahead of time, that panic mode and that fear, that adversity that you deal with loses its power.
UFC 264 is ten days away. It takes place at the T-Mobile Arena, the first full capacity event in the said venue since UFC 248 last March.