In the UFC, going out in front of a rabid crowd to potentially have your face punched in is just a fact of life. As seemingly routine as it may be for fighters, the anxiety of combat remains ever-present.
After months of grueling training and strict (in most cases) dieting, fighters must survive the exhausting weight-cutting process. Just as they’re nearing being done rehydrating, it’s time to get in the octagon and fight with every last ounce of their being for a victory.
It’s all very stressful stuff for even the most hardened of UFC gladiators to endure. Needless to say, nerves can often take the wheel, with fighters finding themselves on the wrong end of severe anxiety attacks. From jittery nerves to outright vomiting, pre-fight stress can manifest in a variety of unpleasant ways.
Here are three seasoned UFC fighters who have openly admitted to struggling with this problem.
#3. Former UFC welterweight title challenger Darren Till
Leading up to his UFC 244 split-decision victory over Kelvin Gastelum, Darren Till was, by his own admission, “terrified”. Coming off back-to-back losses against then-UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and Jorge Masvidal, Till was in dire need of a win. Feeling the pressure, ‘The Gorilla’ seriously considered faking an injury just to sidestep having to face Gastelum.
Till’s confidence had been badly rocked by his 17-fight winning streak coming to an end at the hands of Woodley. For Till, the Masvidal KO was just the cherry on top of the professional anxiety that was starting to weigh him down.
Despite the all-consuming fears of another loss, Till managed to fight through the stress to get another win on his record. The Muay Thai master has since spoken about the pre-match jitters that, in one way or another, affect almost every fighter out there.
Coming off a loss to Robert Whittaker last year, Till is finally returning to the octagon in August to face Derek Brunson. With three losses on his record now, don’t be surprised if Till starts to panic in the lead-up once again.
#2. Former UFC lightweight title challenger Donald Cerrone
MMA’s resident cowboy doesn’t seem like the anxious type. When Cerrone’s not duking it out in the octagon, he’s known for his love of extreme sports such as bull-riding and motorcross (due to which he lost a sizeable portion of his intestines in 2012).
One might assume Cerrone is essentially fearless all things considered, but the man himself has confirmed this is far from the case. Severe bouts of vomiting right before a fight have been an unfortunate fact of life for Cerrone for years. He’s also described how his anxiety attacks anchor him physically during the waiting time before his fights.
Struggling to warm up or think straight, the closing moments before he enters the octagon have frequently proven to be psychologically debilitating. Fortunately for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, the moment the bell rings he goes into a state of tunnel-visioned focus. Given his struggles with nausea when nervous, that might just be a good thing for his opponent too…
#1. Former UFC welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre
In the lead-up to his debut fight against Ivan Menjivar in January 2002, Georges St-Pierre failed to catch any real sleep for three days. Terrified of how the fight might go, the anxious GSP stumbled into insomnia and arrived for his bout in a stressed state of mental exhaustion.
Given the severity of his anxiety attacks leading up to his debut, his round-one TKO victory becomes all the more impressive. While ‘Rush’ went from strength to strength for most of his career, he never managed to shake off his pre-contest jitters. Impressively, GSP nearly always managed to appear unphased and unafraid publicly in the lead-ups to his fights.
Many who have trained with the former welterweight kingpin have confirmed his nerves leading up to a fight border on jeopardizing. Following his UFC 217 middleweight title victory over Michael Bisping, GSP admitted that the stress of fighting often bordered on being insurmountable for him. So much so, in fact, that it essentially ruined any enjoyment he could get out of fighting.
To ease his nerves, GSP would go on a long drive before a fight to distance himself from the chaos for a short spell. Studying the people he’d see passing him by, GSP would take solace in knowing everyone has their own things to do and obstacles to overcome day-to-day. Taking this step back from himself and his fighting was what he needed to make the long walk to the octagon later in the evening.