Spar a lot then rest a lot
The most important thing you can do before your fight is spar a lot. You can look amazing on the pads but if you never spar it’ll show in the ring. Mix it up with Muay Thai sparring, boxing sparring and clinch sparring to get used to all three but try to do Muay Thai Sparring most often, as that’s what you’ll be fighting. Also remember that fighting cardio is different from running cardio. I’ve met guys that can run 10km easily but get exhausted in the ring after two rounds because they are too tense and not relaxed. Sparring a lot teaches you how to get a rhythm down so you can explode when needed and conserve energy at other times.
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If you’re going to be fighting MMA make sure you work a lot on your wrestling, take-down defense and getting off your back. You can’t learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 3 weeks before your fight but you can learn how to avoid getting put on your back, and how to stand if you do you. Do a lot of sprawls if you’re going to be fighting MMA; literally do 100 sprawls after every practice, especially when you are tired and don’t want to do it because that’s when you’re going to get taken down. Even better have a friend shoot in on you while you sprawl to make it more realistic. When you spar, make sure you time it for 3 or 5 minutes – the same as your fight – and don’t stop half way to adjust your gear or talk. Treat the pace like a real fight and learn how to get out of bad positions or out of the corner in Muay Thai.
48-72 hours before your fight stop training and do nothing. Rest and relax. Stay out of the sun, don’t run – you’ll need the energy for your fight. You can shadow box and think about technique and strategy, and try to watch a lot of beginner fights on YouTube. Watching high level pros isn’t going to help you much (aside from motivation) but watching others people’s first fights and seeing their mistakes may help you not make the exact same ones. This is a huge advantage you can get that no one ever does. Everyone wants to imitate Anderson Silva, Jon Bones Jones, Masato or Buakaw, but, as a beginner, you are much better off watching videos of random guy’s first fights – especially if they lose. Analyze the fights and ask yourself what you would have done differently in each situation and, more importantly, how he could have finished the fight.
Be prepared to get hit and cover up. It’s funny! A lot of guys don’t realize they’re in a fight until the first hard shot they take. Then they realize that it isn’t just fun and games – the guy in the ring is trying to kill you. Make sure you check his kicks; you’ll be surprised how many guys don’t check kicks until it’s too late. The first few low kicks to your thigh may not hurt too much but, trust me, eventually it’ll make your leg numb and want to collapse – check the fucking kicks! Keep your hands up and watch out for head kicks. During your first fight you’ll realize what you signed up for. This is the make-it-or-break-it moment for most guys. This is when you either man up or you start making excuses. If you choose the latter don’t think for a second that people won’t know you bitched out; they may listen to your excuse and (apparently) accept it but deep down, they know you bitched out. Whatever! You’ll know you bitched out – and it will haunt you for the rest of your life.
Punch straight and avoid the clinch and elbows. Thais love to clinch and exchange knees. Don’t play their game; you’ll lose or, at least, get seriously hurt. Instead of throwing hooks and other big, loopy punches that allow your opponent to step in and clinch, only throw straight jabs and straight rights. Keep your distance, even if you get the guy on the ropes of in the corner, and don’t rush in too close or he’ll clinch you. Instead, keep at arms’ length so you can jab and throw straight rights without him being able to grab you. Sometimes you’ll need to move back while punching. Watch out for elbows. It’s something that you won’t be used to since you never get elbowed during sparring. I used to really love throwing hooks to the body until I received my 4th short elbow to the face. If you’re getting elbowed you need to keep your hands up and go back to straight punches instead of hooks. Set up your kicks with punches. Don’t throw super projected kicks – they are a waste of energy.
Instead, make your kicks count. If you watch any Muay Thai fight the first 5 kicks or so are fast and powerful. Then they start slowing down. Set up your kicks with punches or even fakes. If you’re going to kick commit to it and put some speed and power behind it. Your best bet to beat a Thai guy in his sport is to throw a lot of punches to neutralize his kicks, and mix it up with kicks of your own. Personally, I don’t throw kicks for points; every kick I throw is intended to do damage. Be aggressive. At lower levels, especially with beginners, the guy that is most aggressive usually wins the fight. So move forward, throw lots of straight punches and follow up with hard kicks. Look for the opportunity to finish the fight. When your opponent is tired he’s going to want a way out; give it to him by being extra aggressive and going for the kill as soon as you see the opportunity. If what you’re doing isn’t working – change it. In my last fight, I threw tons of hard body kicks and punches that seemed to do nothing, so I started throwing knees which finally ended the fight. Remember, you have 8 limbs (and so, 8 different tools) to knock your opponent out with, and everyone has a weakness – exploit it. Finish the fight – Never leave it to the judges. If you don’t finish the fight and get a bad decision it’s your fault. Especially in Muay Thai rules, the person that does the most damage or looks like they should have won, often doesn’t.
Things like most punches and low kicks don’t score points. Knees in the clinch (even if they don’t do any damage) score lots of points. You have 5 rounds to KO or TKO your opponent. If you are aggressive and seize chances to overwhelm him, you can finish the fight; if you don’t, and it goes to decision, it’s no one’s fault but your own. Leave it all in the ring! As long as you came into the fight with decent cardio realize that he’s just as tired as you are. The worst thing you can do for the audience (and for yourself when you look back on the fight) is to stall and wait for the decision. You will regret it and everyone will know you were a bitch for doing so. Leave it all in the ring and go for the finish – each and every time. Your first fight is 80% mental. Especially with beginners, the guy that has the most heart – the one that truly wants to kill his opponent and leave it all in the ring – usually wins. At higher levels, having heart and a good mentality can only take you so far if you’re being out classed with technique, but in the lower levels of fighting it goes a very long way. Ask yourself how badly you really want it and if you are fit to be a fighter. Not everyone is and excuses don’t make anyone feel better. For me I wasn’t mentally (or physically) prepared for my first fight. My cardio was lacking from not running and I didn’t have the killer instinct. Luckily, my opponent accepted a rematch and I ended up beating him the second time around. After losing my first fight to decision I stepped up my training by running every day after class. Technique-wise, I made myself only jab and throw straight punches to avoid the clinch, and I went for the knock out, which I got in the second round.
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