I love going into the locker rooms at a ONE Championship (ONE) event to observe the fighters before a competition. I have been in that room as a competitor so many times, but now I find it quite educational to observe the athletes from an outside perspective.
A proper pre-fight ritual accomplishes two objectives – to mentally prepare a fighter for battle and to physically warm up the fighter. Each fighter has a pre-fight ritual and while the intricacies of these rituals are somewhat unique to each fighter, the goal is common.
It's normal for fans to be privy to the rituals a fighter has before a competition. Let's look at Wai Kru, the dance a Muay Thai fighter performs before a match. That is possibly the most recognisable pre-fight ritual, but not all rituals are that formal nor as deeply embedded in tradition.
Let me give you a peek into what I do before a fight to mentally prepare.
My pre-fight ritual actually begins the night before the fight. The venue is ready for the show by late evening and is usually empty. That is the perfect time for me to head into my locker room and get a feel for the space. I actually have an MP3 track with pre-recorded locker room noise so what I do is to close my eyes, listen and visualise the following night.
My coaches will run me through a light stretching routine and I will do a mock warm-up for the fight. I want fight night to feel like I have already been there and my goal is to make it feel like another day at the office. I try to mimic as closely as possible the routine I will go through in the locker room that evening.
I have another MP3 track with my walk out music recorded from the arena with background stadium noise and I use it to do a mock walkout to the cage. My coaches and I walk out and perform the full pre-fight ceremony, including the part when my team strips me down to my fight shorts and I hug them (as I would on fight night) and the officials check me before I walk into the cage. Then I'll walk in and move about the cage to understand my space and get a feel for my footing.
Next I go through the entire fight introduction – "In the red corner, weighing in at..." – and then I imagine the fight begins. I see myself executing the techniques and drills we worked on in camp, ultimately leading to victory. I see myself winning the fight and we conclude with announcing me as the winner. Once this visualisation drill is complete, it is important to me to put the fight out of my head until the following night. My coach always says, "Don't fight the fight before the fight!"
On fight day, I stay in my hotel until I am ready to be brought to the venue. I usually spend some time reading to keep my mind occupied. Before I leave my hotel room, you may find this amusing, but I clean the room. I pack my clothes because I am usually leaving the following day. I pick up all the trash, make my bed and tidy up anything else needed. I guess in a way, it is like having me mentally close one chapter of my life and begin another.
When I arrive in my locker room, I typically run through shortened mental visualisation exercise much like the night before. However, I am just lying there with my eyes closed the entire time. Once again, I picture myself walking out, being examined by the officials, being introduced and the fight unfolding. My final piece of mental preparation is the prayer my team says before entering the arena.
I guess this two-day process is my mental version of the Wai Kru.