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StandThemUp Instructional: So You Wanna Be A Fighter Part 2

By Matt Leyshock - Posted on 23 March 2012

If you haven't read part one, you may want to go here first.  This is the second part of my two part series detailing the career path of a fighter from start to finish.  These are just my educated opinions but opinions none the less. I hope that you are able to find these useful and maybe use this a guide to managing your career.

Check it out after the jump:

Year 5+: It’s a business: At this stage you should have enough experience against a variety of the best opponents available and have amassed a pretty impressive resume, but the call just hasn’t come.  Sometimes these sort of things happen, it’s the nature of being involved in a “Get Noticed” business. If you aren’t promoting yourself effectively, fighting named opponents or have yet to make a solid connection to the top you may spend the prime of your professional career on the regional shelf. 

TIP: Don’t wait for the call, make the call.  

The two largest organizations in the country (Bellator and the UFC) have open tryouts every year and showing up is half the battle.  Obviously there is no guarantee you will get picked, but the experience and networking opportunities will be priceless. Another option is to seek separate, unattached but proven management.  A simple Google search will populate 10-15 options and a few calls without immediate commitment will help you find a baseline offer that you can work with.   Remember my advice throughout year 4, keep your contracts to a minimum.   Of course you will be asked to sign some sort of legal agreement with any serious management firm but try to keep the contract length shorter with opt out options and re-negotiations built in if possible.

On the training side of things, you are more than likely in some sort of routine and have a consistent regimen that you have tailored around your weekly schedule.  If you have developed loyalties and friends in the gym, I don’t expect you to up and leave. In fact, I would recommend against this because more often than not a major move at this stage would bring about just as many negative changes.  So instead, push your coaches to actively seek out new sparring partners outside of your weight class (A common rule of thumb is one weight up and one weight down).  New partners help break up the comfort zone created when sparring with the same people every day.   Manage your training schedule like a business.  Less is more and everything in your life will move more harmoniously if your training is laid out in a simple, effective format.  Greg Jackson believes that you should train no longer than 1 to 1 ½ hours a session with skill oriented works out in the morning and conditioning/sparring at night.  Improvement is paramount at this stage in your game; you need to get better at what you do well and improve the things you’re not great at. 

TIP: you will be potentially fighting the best in the world, you can always afford to improve but the moment you stop is the moment you start your decline.

Spend $100.00 and buy a camera and tripod.  Start filming all of your sparring sessions and review them afterwards every day.  Spend 15-20 minutes before your sessions watching these videos and refresh yourself on what you want to improve on for the day.  When you are sparring, keep things serious but you are better served if you are wearing the proper gear for the job. This means headgear, 16 oz. gloves, shin guards, and knee/elbow pads.  You need to train as close to full speed as possible but it doesn’t help anyone if you’re hurt.  When sparring with familiar partners, try and work specific techniques, this not only helps you perfect your techniques in a live fire situation but it trains your mind to think throughout the whole round instead of simply reacting.  Once you’re finished, go home, watch the tape and see what worked and what didn’t. Make the adjustments in your drilling first and then during your next sparring session work on applying your improvements.  This is how you improve upon what you are already doing and take your skills to the next level.

Year 7+: I've Been Doing This Awhile. If you find yourself here in the “veteran” category but have never quite got your shot, never fear all is not lost.  You simply have to make the decision on where you want your career to go and put it to action.  If you are happy with what you have accomplished and rightfully so, have fun with it.  Try your hand at teaching, stay active and in the gym, there’s always a need for consistent fighters who show up in shape and ready to go.  But let’s be real, a very small percentage of you reading this would find that appealing. So heres the question; How do you get the shot you have spent 7 years working for?  Its not going to be easy, but I have some suggestions.   If you’re on your own and have yet to seek managerial council, now is the time.  If that doesn’t work, you can always start traveling and fighting for it. Vegas has about one event a week, take some time away from work, get your funds together and make a camp change.  Yes, I am suggesting that you move away from your family and friends along with the gym that helped get you here.  Most major MMA camps would be willing to have you train there and more often than not, provide housing, sponsorships etc.  You need to branch out of your surroundings and move into the bigger ponds. 

TIP: Most of the major gyms are going to use you as a sparring partner for their elite fighters, that’s why they are cool with having you stay there for virtually nothing. Be open minded but if you are going to stay for an extended period of time make sure you find out what they are willing to do for you in terms of connections and fights.

The fighting world, like any other business, it all about who you know.  Keep your line of communication open and branch out as often as possible.  It may take a while but you will eventually meet the right person who can help you move on to the next level.

OK, I’ve made it now what? You’ve spent half of your life trying to achieve that Zuffa contract and here you are, contract in hand.  You will be more marketable now whether you win one fight or one hundred and now is the time to take your training to the next level.  Talk with a strength and conditioning coach, find a nutritionist, hire high end sparring partners and remember what you do here is what you will be known for.  A few key factors to remember are:

  • If you put on a show you will last much longer than playing it safe and winning a wrestling match.
  • You will get paid more for hyping your fights. If you don’t want to trash talk your opponent, don’t, but you need to figure out a way to stand out and keep people interested.
  • Keep your management and team close. You don’t know how long this opportunity will last and once that contracts gone it’s back to the regionals so keep things in perspective while dealing with those who helped you get where you are today.
  • Win. If you keep winning, they will keep promoting and paying. So avoid the after parties and head to the film room. Stay out of the bars and in the gym. Your window of opportunity here may only be a few years so now is the time to stay on your grind.

Year 10+ Retirement: You have had a successful career. In the process you have made a lot of friends, have fight stories that would make Anderson Silva blush and have experiences that have molded you into the poised efficient martial artists you are today.  Technically you can compete as long as the athletic commission allows you to, but if you are debating on when to hang it up heres a few signs that can aid you in your decision making.

Sign one: How many surgeries? If you are repeatedly tending to an injury or injuries and cannot make it through an entire camp without minor surgeries or doctor visits you may be close. Your body is your tool in fighting and if your tool is too busted up to work, it may be time to consider hanging it up.

Sign Two: Wait is that real life over there? By this point in your life you will be somewhere around 30 years old.  More often than not at this stage you have had things in your personal life that take precedent to the sport you have grown up loving.  These are great but also considered “distractions” in the fighting world. If the distractions become too much its time to pick one or the other and as far as I know you can’t legally get rid of your children.

Sign Three: It’s only been 5 in a row, I’ll turn it around.  Once you reach a certain status in this game you will be presented with the best opposition available every time out.  This is what molds you into the killer that you were but also what will eventually put you out to pasture.   It’s naïve to think that you will stay in your prime for as long as you compete.  If you are getting knocked out, pounded into submission or on the wrong end of a one sided beating more often than not, it’s time to call it quits.

Sign Four: Where is the love?  If you have been in this game for 10+ years, it’s pretty safe to say you love what you do.  But it’s not unnatural to feel less compelled to go through the daily rigors of training and commitments that come with competing in one of the world’s most dangerous sports.  You have to love this sport to be good at it and if you start to lose that, it may be time to reconsider your options.

I hope those of you who read this find these opinions useful.

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