Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA for short. A sport which most certainly is not for the faint of heart, but one which has caught my attention over the past six months or so. Why?
Well I did practise Judo for a long time when I was a lot younger and even achieved a very high level, but after turning 15 it sort of slipped away as I began a new phase of my life. Looking back it is something I now definitely regret. All of the hard work, training and discipline which pushed me to improve was replaced with nights out on the jolly and having a good time, which have their own consequences after a while.
But my former love of Judo isn't why I have come back to martial arts with such renewed enthusiasm. It is, as with many things, a personality which has captured my attention and through this personality I have been reintroduced to the defining principles of the sport.
Now I am under no illusions as to why many people find the sport of MMA unsavoury and unappealing, however there are a number of myths I would like to quickly address before continuing.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is unregulated and uncontrolled.
Mixed Martial Arts is one of the most regulated and controlled sports in the world. With imposed time limits, set numbers of rounds, mandatory judges, five weight classes and over 31 other rules governing how the bouts are fought, organisations strive for the highest safety standards.
MMA is dangerous and its fighters are put at a serious risk of injury.
MMA fighters are given more care and precaution than athletes in any other sports organisation in the world. In fact it is safer than boxing, and no organisation fighter has ever suffered a serious injury or death.
Mixed martial artists are nothing more than street fighters.
Mixed martial artists are some of the best athletes in the world. Before taking up MMA many of the athletes were college All‐Americans and Olympic champions.
MMA is a fringe sport that appeals only to young men.
In the past five years, MMA has seen a meteoric rise in interest from nearly every age and demographic, adding to its cache as a mainstream sport. Female competition has been growing since the mid-1990's and stars such as Ronda Rousey, Gina Carano and Miesha Tate are role models to millions of women around the world.
So hopefully you can now start to see what I see.
Athletes train day in, day out with a level of dedication, discipline and heart which puts most of us to shame. And it’s not just physical. Many mixed martial artists employ sports psychologists and mind coaches to ensure that they are emotionally intelligent enough to make the right decisions at the right time, both inside the gym and outside.
Mixed Martial Arts is first and foremost about learning. Learning new disciplines, new techniques, new styles. It is about perfecting those skills and combining them with incredible fitness and conditioning. It is about strategy and tactics, and making decisions under pressure in order to achieve.
Apologies for the awful pun, but some of this should definitely be ringing some bells to those who work in a business environment.
But what does this all have to do with communication? Well let me circle back to my original point. I came back to MMA via a someone, not a something, and that person was Ireland's Conor McGregor.
Aged 26, he is one of the fastest rising stars in the sport and has captured the attention of millions of people, both inside and outside of MMA. After he was brought to the attention the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White in 2013, he was quickly signed up and has blazed a trail through his division in next to no time at all.
But in reality it wasn't his skills that caught Dana White's attention, rather the way he communicates. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are just a couple of some of his typical quotes:
“Looking back, I should have just pulled my knee from my leg and hit him with it.”
“I don't just knock them out. I pick the round.”
“I trained non-stop since my injury. I came in, I knocked him out. I had one night to party with my family and I was back in the gym the next morning.”
Now "trash-talk" is certainly nothing new. It is prevalent in all sports and walks of life. But the thing that makes McGregor stand out is that there is absolutely no disconnect between his professional and personal persona. His confidence and self-belief is through the roof and he speaks with incredible conviction. This may come across as brashness to some, but to many others this is what they want to see in an athlete. Ability and conviction in abundance. Muhammad Ali had exactly that and although Conor is a long way from ever reaching those heights, the similarities are there to see.
“There are many fascinating things about Conor McGregor. Number one, the way that he speaks, it’s not trash talking. He 100 percent believes in himself and that he’ll be the world champion. If you sit in a room with him for 15 minutes, he’ll make you believe it, too.”
Dana White, UFC President.
There is also the way he chooses to dress. Nearly all MMA fighters appear at press conferences dressed in sponsored shorts, t-shirts and hats. McGregor turns up immaculately turned out in a three-piece suit he has had custom-made that morning. To him, it is very simple. If you want to be a champion, you have to look and sound like a champion.
Today he is one of the most recognisable figures in Irish sport with a huge international following. Just check out his Twitter account with over 300,000 followers, which now include high profile names such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
To many however, the most impressive thing about Conor McGregor is that he has backed up all of the talk with results. He has demolished all opponents put in front of him and all those who believed it was all just talk have been forced to recognise that he is genuinely a contender to be a world champion.
To those of you have lasted to the end of this ramble, let me try and sum up the important points.
1. Knowing how to do one thing well is great, but why stop there? Imagine what you can achieve with a whole arsenal of well-honed techniques and skills.
2. There is no substitute for hard work. New skills do not just magically appear out of the blue. It won't happen overnight, but put in the hours and the payback will be worth it.
3. Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Set yourself goals, celebrate when you achieve them, but if you want to keep moving up, like an athlete you'll have to be back in the gym the very next day.
4. Be confident in your own abilities. If you don't believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
5. Talk is cheap. If you say you are going to do something, make sure you deliver.