The Psychology of Combat Sports and Its Effects on the Individual

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Josh Stevens
11/27/2010
Professor Butler
PSY 260-B 12:00

The Psychology of Combat Sports and its Effects on the Individual Abstract:
A brief look into the lesser explored psychological aspect of combat sport athletes, with a particular focus on mixed martial artists. The dangers of depression which these athletes are extremely susceptible to and the learning behaviors which are necessary to become successful in the sport. _________________________________________________________________________ Inside of each and every one of us is a set of primal instincts, one of these instincts is an inner burning desire to fight and protect ourselves and the things or people that we care about. For centuries fighting has been a prominent part of human history; we have waged wars, experienced hostile attacks and are exposed to violence on an everyday basis through the media. Throughout the past few decades however society has been desensitized to fighting and now accepts it as a complex sport as well as a form of entertainment.

A recent article from the popular martial arts website Sherdog.com presented some of the many factors that are all a part of combat sports that many fans may not be aware of. Millions of fans who watch combat sports such as mixed martial arts (MMA), wrestling and boxing often times only see the glory and excitement of these sports; however all too often do we read headlines which depict unfathomable situations such as suicide attempts, violence, and crime as a result of these athletes jobs. The article entitled “The Psychology of Fighting” presents a key example of how the sport of MMA can affect a fighter mentally, even outside of the octagon. UFC star Quinton Jackson was arrested for a hit-and-run encounter that he had with police and charged with two felonies; this arrest came a little over a week after a unanimous loss to rival Forrest Griffin (Acosta, 2008). A loss, especially one as devastating as Jackson’s can have severe detrimental effects on a person’s mind, as fighters often may become unstable, and blame themselves for the loss. The physical contact may be the primary factor of MMA however the mentality of the sport is often overlooked, John Fitch was beaten and bloodied to the point of his eye being completely swollen shut, yet that did not break him down mentally, he still continued to fight for the full 25 minutes always persevering to finish the fight. Many fighters with weaker mental fortitude would have given in long before Fitch finished the fight; there is a certain degree of mental strength that is required as well as physical strength to be a combat athlete. As aforementioned in Jackson’s loss, the pain of defeat can be a bitter pill to swallow and have sever effects on a fighter. Depression can be very problematic for a fighter and emotions can vary from one extreme to the other, causing a lack of motivation to return to training or a will to continue fighting. “In this sport the highs are so high and the lows are so low. Both of them fall on you. When you’re high, there’s no one to pat on the back but you. When you’re low, there’s no one to blame but yourself,” said former World Extreme Cagefighting champion, Joe Riggs. Fighters prepare themselves mentally for months at a time and intentionally put themselves in fight for flight mode for what could be only a few seconds to a virtual eternity in the ring. The multiple ways a fight can be ended all can impact a fighter psychologically as well, whether that be admitting to defeat through submission or having lapses in memory due to a knockout, however the biggest psychological factor often comes from outside forces such as personal demons. Many fighters have troubled pasts and childhoods and these can interfere with a combatant’s performance inside the ring. Fighting is rather primitive in nature, and as a sport can be examined and explained on several layers using “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs...
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