Dare to dazzle anew, rising repeatedly like the sun, shining in different fields, so that your absence in one area awakens desire and your novel appearance in another, applause. – Baltasar Gracian
Having fought in two semi-pro boxing bouts, I have some first hand experience of what it is like to compete in combat sports.
Using my own experience and the knowledge I have gained from following combat sports for years, I am going to explore the fight phenomena of showboating and trash-talk.
Live boxing and MMA is a show as much as a sport. Therefore, the athletes want to show-off and make it entertaining, otherwise it may as well be a sparring session in the training room.
There is no greater drama than a big prizefight, so people that choose to compete are often creative, performer types; drawn in and spurred on by the glamour. The “big drama show” as Gennady Golovkin would call it.
Performance has always been an aspect of war. The samurai wore dazzling uniforms, a peacock-like strategy to strike fear into their enemies.
Showboating isn’t just a way to make the fight more entertaining, it is an exhibition of how comfortable you are in a fight.
If you have the presence of mind to show-off an entertain, add an element of glamour to the proceedings mid-fight, you must be very confident in your ability to beat your opponent.
Roy Jones Jr. always showboated because he knew he was far too elusive and quick to be hit.
18th century monk Baltasar Gracian is often quoted when it comes to pugilism and success. “In your affairs, create suspense, admiration at the novelty means respect for your success.”
This describes the thrill of watching Tyson Fury put his hands behind his back whilst standing in front of Deontay Wilder, one of boxing’s most dangerous punchers.
Showboating and trash talk is also used as strategy. Conor McGregor uses his pre-fight antics as gamesmanship, he is psyching out his opponent before the octagon door even closes.
McGregor’s antics were escalated in the build-up to UFC 205 when he captured the lightweight world title from Eddie Alvarez. It was a massive event for everyone involved, Alvarez was defending his 155 pound title for the first time with the biggest audience of his career.
For McGregor, it was a shot at becoming a two weight world champion. It was the first UFC card ever to emanate from Madison Square Garden, the combat sports hallowed ground.
Despite the epic proportions, McGregor fooled around in the final days before the fight with a care-free childish glee. The psychology behind this is to show Alvarez no signs of tension prior to the biggest fight of his career to date.
Every fighter experiences nerves. You would have to be a psychopath not to, so Alvarez had to be thinking: “How is he this relaxed?”
Having the mental energy to fool around and entertain so close headliner of the biggest UFC event to-date means he is supremely confident that he will win. “What does he know that I don’t?” thinks Alvarez.
When Sonny Liston fought Ali for the first time, he was convinced that Ali was a madman. Muhammad Ali hounded the champion, showing up to confront him publicly at every opportunity, despite the fact that most people saw Ali as a complete underdog. The air of unpredictability made a hole in Liston’s armour.
That mental warfare can be very effective. If there is any weakness in the enemy’s mental fortress, it will find it. Hence McGregor’s searching gaze during the face-off’s. Or, like Ali with Liston, if there isn’t one, he creates one.
Combat sports as an industry is partly responsible for this. Being able to talk and entertain a crowd makes you more popular. The more popular you are, the more likely you are to get the big fights.
It won’t necessarily make you a success, if you talk yourself into a world title fight, you need the skills to back that up. It just means you can get to the world title fight in less steps.
Muhammad Ali was, in my opinion, the best talker of all time and he was involved in the first ever “money fight” – Ali vs Frazier: The Fight of the Century, circa 1971.