When people see or hear the term ‘mental warfare’, especially in combat sports, they’re generally going to assume that trash talking is being referenced. But in reality, there is a very different form of mental warfare that every athlete faces day in and day out that is discussed far less than the former.
Fighting is a physical activity. As is the case with every sport…unless you would like to get into a debate over eSports, but that’s an entirely different topic for an entirely different day.
When competing or performing in said athletic activities, the human body’s physical abilities are required to make it so that the person looking to achieve their goal can go out and do so.
However, this is a two-sided venture because to make the body perform, the mind must tell it to work. But what if the mind tells itself that its being isn’t good enough or questions itself? Then a whole new challenge is presented to overcome. The competitor is then no longer only competing against the obstacles in front of them, but themselves as well.
Having to go through making the escape from a literal war and battling through ostracization from the division’s very best on the largest platform of one’s career will definitely help build a diamond out of the pressure that comes with it. But as is the case for UFC strawweight veteran Randa ‘Quiet Storm’ Markos, self-doubt has always crept around the corners of her mind.
Canada’s Markos has always been one to believe in herself and her abilities, as would be expected of practically any professional fighter. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be fighting.
Although she participates in an uncommon occupation like fighting, it doesn’t at all mean that she isn’t still human and able to stay grounded and humble while working in such a taxing position. Therefore, presented with the typical stress and anxiety that one may face in their ‘normal’ life, instead, for the fighters, the stakes are a whole lot higher which just amplifies the battle within.
Over time, it has gotten her to the point where Markos has found herself meeting with a sports psychologist to help her battle these battles with herself and come to new realizations and clarity. A process that she is happy to have begun and wishes she could have started sooner in her career.
“That was one thing we talked about with my sports psychologist,” Markos told BJPenn.com. “Like, I am humble but in the inside, whenever somebody gives me a compliment I’m always like, ‘Oh, thank you,’ I’m humble on the outside but on the inside, I’m like, ‘No. You’re not. They’re just saying that, they’re just trying to be nice to you,’ and it’s constantly eating at myself and breaking myself down because I’m so afraid to take a compliment in any way, and that definitely helps that she’s telling me that you gotta be humble on the outside but extremely cocky on the inside. And I was like, ‘Really? That’s okay?’ and she’s like, ‘Yeah, of course. That’s how you should be,'”
Even when it comes to the tackling of the issue, it can kind of create another as the adjustment process then has to be made.
All things considered, for fighters, in particular, this is something that doesn’t come as easy as it would for say a basketball player or any athlete that plays a team sport. The reason being that in team sports, they have offseasons which give players big refreshment periods which is perfect for easing the mind and taking care of the little self-battles they may have encountered during the season.
Fighters, on the other hand, have no offseason and it’s just go-go-go, making them likely have to literally fight while fighting through the mental battle.
Of course, a fighter does not have to fight. They can willingly take a break to work on this themselves…but then it gets right back into adding on more stress as they won’t be making any sort of living, assuming they’re doing it full-time. Truly making this form of mental warfare a vicious cycle.
“You don’t want to be cocky on the outside and then break yourself down on the inside. You have to be really, really confident on the inside. It was just really weird to tell myself, ‘Yeah, you’re good. You’re gonna beat the sh*t out of this person,’
It was really really hard transforming myself to stop beating myself up and start giving myself credit.”
The 33-year old Randa Markos began her MMA career in September 2009. Three years later, she went pro and it took her five fights until she found herself in the UFC as one of the UFC’s first 20 strawweight fighters in the promotion’s history.
When reflecting through on her career in reference to what caused the mental struggles, she believes that it’s just something that every fighter likely has to deal with as they go on through their career and they continue to improve and reach new heights. Which makes sense, the higher up the ladder you get, the harder the fall will be.
“I feel like when I first started [MMA], everything was like everything I did was a surprise to me,” Markos recounted. “There’s no pressure but once you get further on in your career, and then everyone is expecting things from you, whereas before no one expected anything from me. There was no pressure there. So I feel like it just develops over time and then if you don’t handle it, it just gets worse and worse and worse.”
Expectations lead to pressure which leads to stress which leads to self-doubt and questioning oneself. When the spotlight is fixated upon one person in an unglamorous sport like MMA can be, it makes the stress all the more surprising and hard to deal with.
There are several examples of fighters who have lost one, just one specific fight and their career completely spiraled downward after that. Coming to terms with certain things is paramount when you’re competing to see whose physical limitations can supersede the others. Depending on how far the mind will push them, of course.
This is why positives are so important and finding them where ever they may lie. Something Markos is finding herself able to do after her most recent bout which resulted in a draw.
Since joining the UFC in 2014, Randa Markos has racked up four wins. This happens to be the same number of wins that Wanderlei Silva has in the promotion, just to put things into a little bit of perspective. Winning in the UFC isn’t just some walk in the park.
However, for Markos, her UFC career has been one of the stranger ones as she has never won or lost two fights in a row. Since her debut, she has alternated wins and losses with each of her first nine fights.
That is until lucky number 10 as previously mentioned…
When making her first trip down to Brazil for UFC Sao Paulo in September, Markos took on the promotional newcomer, Marina Rodriguez as the two would fight to a majority draw.
Instead of beating herself up about not getting the presumably much-needed win, Markos felt refreshed and is finding ways to turn this into a new beginning of sorts.
“Another thing I worked on with the sports psychologist was seeing everything in a positive way, and that was actually a big thing for me because if I would have won that fight, I would have been like, ‘Okay, now I gotta lose the next one,’ It’s just a constant battle in my head and for me to come out with a draw…I was not expecting that at all and like, through my entire camp it was, ‘You either win or you lose,’
Then coming out with a draw was like, ‘what?’ I was devastated but at the same time, I was like, ‘You know what, this is great. This is great, I don’t need to worry about this stupid win-loss that’s stuck in my head. It’s out now, I got a fresh start and time to move forward,'”
In the end, the mind can only handle so much before it begins to crack. As is the case with anything involving the piling on of pressure over time.
As the old saying goes, pressure builds diamonds. And if Randa Markos has anything left to say about it as she continues on with her journey, that pressure will make a diamond out of her yet.
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 11/22/2018