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StandThemUp Instructional: So You Wanna Be A Fighter: Part 1

By Matt Leyshock - Posted on 12 March 2012

                           So You Wanna Be A Fighter?

I have been debating on writing something like this for a long time and felt inspired so today is the day.  As things turns out, I am in a pretty unique position and feel like I have a bird’s eye view of the landscape of mixed martial arts in this general area.   Because I am not a manager I have no problem giving out some free advice to anyone who needs help getting started or has already started but is not sure where to go next. 

This is a two part series of advice and tips that should work as a general guide for everyone from the budding amateur to the seasoned professional. 

Check it out after the jump:

Day 1:  Travel: So you've decided you want to start training MMA in hopes of taking a fight some day. Awesome! But where do you begin? In the early stages of your amateur career, you should travel around to as many different gyms as possible and get in as much work with as many different people as you can.   By moving around, you will be able to take it what is making other people successful and adversely, find out what may not be working so well. Sparring is very important in this sport and they more options you have the better. 

Tip: Keep your mind open and learn as much as possible, rule nothing out, but if things seem weird or like you are quickly becoming a walking punching bag for a few bored coaches, move on.

Months 9-12: Take as many fights as possible: As an amateur you need to get the experience and the feel for fighting someone in a cage in front of a few hundred people. Experience builds confidence and confidence is the key driving factor behind success.  Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zones when choosing opponents, this is why you should be fighting, to be the best. Let me clarify one thing; I am not saying that if you have 2 or 3 fights you should accept a fight with the number one guy in your area, that doesn’t help you or them and point blank, they shouldn’t accept it either.

What I am getting at is that your amateur career is meant to build experience and hone your skills before the stakes are set.  If you protect your amateur record until you decide to make the transition to professional fighting you are setting yourself up for failure. 

Think about it; if you are 6-0 as an amateur but your combined opponent record is below .500, it means that more than likely you weren’t facing the type of opponent’s your record led on.  When you make the transition to professional fighting, promoters will use your amateur experience as a measuring tool for gaging how good you are.  6-0 says to the promoter “I am pretty F*cking good, put me in there with anyone”.  If you cut corners in the fighting world, you will eventually pay for it in spades.

Year 2: Know when it’s time to leave: There is a time in every amateur’s career when they start to seriously consider a professional career. When should you do it? A lot of fighters make that decision based on their coaches and trainers, which is good. They SHOULD have your best interest in mind, but if by chance you are in charge of your own decisions, here is a good rule of thumb.  Take a look at your weight class and future opponents. Single out the top 3. Have you fought any or all of these guys/girls? If your answer is no, that should be your goal for the upcoming year; Fight the best opponents available first. If you answered yes, "I fought Johnny KillLately twice and Annie Axemurder 3 times", You are more than likely ready to make the move and start getting paid. 

TIP: Your career (like everyone else's) has a shelf life, don't spend your "prime" fighting for free, get the experience and then get the check.  Wear and tear is only natural in a high impact sport like this, your body and time is valuable, don't waste it.

Years 3-4: You are the asset: Now you have decided to make the jump into professional fighting, you have had a solid amateur career and thrown hands with some of the best guys you could find. What’s next? You have a few options for finding fights, if you have spent most of your time with one organization, they would be an obvious first choice. They know your abilities and should pair you up with a evenly matched opponent.  Remember, you are the asset and ultimately it’s up to you how your career advances.

TIP: Don’t let your pride get in the way here; you do not have to take the toughest fight available for your professional debut.  You have to think like a business now and taking the toughest fight you can find for $300.00 is not smart business.

Year 3-4: Self Promotion:  As an amateur this helps with ticket sales and name recognition, as a professional this helps leverage your “show” money.  From a stand point of a promoter, a professional bout is an expensive risk and more often than not, a loss.

If they are paying you $500.00 to show and $250.00 to win, while offering your opponent the same split, they are paying out $1250.00 for your fight alone (I just made those numbers up). Let’s just say that the average ticket price is 20.00$ that means you have to sell at least 60 tickets to pay for your bout before the promoter makes a dime.

What does this have to do with self-promotion? You don’t have to be Chael Sonnen for people to pay attention and if you only fight for youself etc etc. that’s great and I respect that. But you are not bringing much to the table in terms of ticket sales for the promotion. The more ticket sales you generate, the more money you make and the more leverage you have for the negotiations with the promoters who are paying you.  

My advice, decide how much you want to promote yourself and make a conscious effort to do so. Set up a Facebook account and a Twitter handle, do as many interviews with local sites as possible (Cough Cough) and you’ll notice the results. Unless your Ong Bak or Frank Dux, people aren’t going to find you and this game is full of great fighters who are willing to put themselves out there a little bit to get noticed.

TIP: You don't have to call anyone out to get noticed, but it helps. Calling an opponent out is a great way to spark some controversy but remember, this is a business move and usually not personal, if you insult your opponent you are only setting yourself up for failure.

Year 4+:  Keep your options open:  This applies to everything in life, the more options you have the better chance you have of making the right decision. Avoid anything that legally binds you to someone else if you can help it.  That means, don’t sign any contracts with anyone unless the letter head says Zuffa on the top. Unless the organization is rewarding you for signing with them exclusively, there is not much benefit. Remember, you’re the asset. Fights and opponents fall through all the time, most promotions are dying for consistent professionals, and this is where you come in.  There are hundreds of promotions out there that would be glad to pay you decent money to come and fight there, being legally bound up only creates problems and it doesn’t solve any. 

TIP: Request one-fight contracts, that way you are able to re-negotiate for each bout, this also benefits the promoter because they can adjust your pay based on your ticket sales, promotion of the bout etc.

In the next series, we will discuss career options, how to get noticed and when to pull the trigger to get to the bigger shows.

Some good advice in there. I think right at the begining the pace is a little fast though. If you have previous experience, especially if you're already a good wrestler, then that works. If you know nothing, you better put in a good year of training before doing an mma fight.

The way I have people do it, making exceptions for phenoms , is to train a full year. during that year, do grappling tournaments, amateur boxing, kickboxing for contact experience. As much as you want. These are great experience builders. Feel ready on the mat before worrying about your mma debut. Testing yourself is great, but you got to build skills to test first and it takes time. Worst thing I see in amateur mma is people competing constantly who are completely unprepared. This will differ due to how much gym time a person is getting.

I would travel at first to pick a gym. Pick the best one and stick with it for a while. Sparring different guys is good, and you should get around to work with different people, but early on, a guy just starting out has no idea what is best for him technique wise and when consistent practice of the basics is vital. If you picked a good instructor who cares about your progress, you'll benefit more from that than running all over the place for different look in sparring. Skill takes time and to start off you need consistency with the same game plans over and over. Get lots of reps in. If you're trying to learn a little from everyone at this early stage, your progress will come to a stand still.

What most amateur mma guys, even some good ones are missing is putting in technique reps. Especially in bjj. If you spar grappling, but only rep your techniques here and there or not at all, you're getting work in, but you're not getting the best work in. You'll get less out of your time. If you rep every practice 20 min, then spar, you'll see better results. And early on, you may rep or spar and being doing things completely wrong and build bad muscle memory, but you won't know that without a steady hand from a regular coach to point it out.

"Pain is merely weakness leaving the body."

I can see why you feel that way owning a gym and all :)

I would agree with those point mostly. I think the difference between waiting 9-12 months and a full year all depends on the student.   All too often I notice fighters or students who land at a gym, pay alot and learn a little. traveling would obviously aid in limiting this experience. 

Obviously learning is the most important part of this stage of the journey and maybe I should have stressed that, but in this sport, learning is sort of inevitable.

Thanks Free style

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. It contains wonderful and helpful posts. I have read most of them and got a lot from them press release distribution service

I have to say that the news here was the most complete that I found anywhere. I am definitely bookmarking this to come back and read later french to english translation service

Np, Matt. I would disagree with learning being inevitable though. I've seen some horrible examples out there. I've met guys who were training for 5 years without knowing guard sweeps. So they never postured right and left themselves wide open. I see a lot of amateurs out there , even successful ones who who don't know things I consider basic knowledge.

Learning is the hardest skill of all. If you learn "how to learn" properly, you be ahead of the game. A lot of people never learn this skill.

BTW, I've only recently started considering my gym a business. Up til recently , I charged only $30, now only $40 a month, split that on mma guys with the boxing coach, and invested everything I made on equipment for the gym and funding my guys to go to bjj tournaments(even first month white belts) , seminars, None of my stances are from being a business owner. I've seen a lot of guys train poorly, because they didn't know better.

I actually do encourage my guys to cross train as much as possible. I just meant to get across that basics are more important when you first start

"Pain is merely weakness leaving the body."

I know, I was just busting your balls. Youve got some very valid points and have added quite a bit of information to this post, whether it be for or against my point. 

One of the biggest mistakes I have noticed is when younger fighters start to feel some confidence and stray from the class room mindset. To be perfectly honest I could spend an entire page covering that decision by itself.


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Definately didn't take anything as an insult. no worries, lol. I enjoy technical discussion and get carried away. Didn't notice how long either of my posts were until I posted them. Then looked back and thought... Damn might have gone overboard.

"Pain is merely weakness leaving the body."

They are both very informative and add to the post IMO.  Plus its so quiet around here now that anonymous is dead gone it nice to have alittle contribution every now and then.  thanks

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