First Blood - The Fight before the Fight

How do we channel the buildup leading up to a big clash? Well, the answer’s not that simple since there are a million different approaches, some proven and some hotly contested. In this post we take a look at two of these distinct mindsets leading up to the Floyd Mayweather VS Manny Pacquiao fight tomorrow, and try to understand how they will influence these two great athletes’ performance when the big moment arrives.

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Now, before we get started, let’s first establish that we’re not talking about just any buildup. This is a buildup to a fight that has been called on and off since 2009, a fight that is expected to earn the two fighters a minimum of $300 million in fees alone, a fight where ring-side tickets are selling for up to $250 000 and a fight where the winner will become the undisputed Welterweight Champion of the World. Like we said, this is not your average buildup.

But, how are the athletes handling it?

On the one hand we have Floyd “Money” Mayweather, who’s taking home 60% of the fight-fees, is fighting in his “hometown” of Las Vegas and is wrapping up on an online “hype” series specifically aimed at his fans. He’s controlled the fight scheduling, fee-structures, media and general planning from the word go and has done everything in his power to turn it in to a Mayweather show. His genius extends far beyond the skills he shows in the ring through to his manipulation of the hype and media attention in a way that often derails his opponent before he’s even thrown his first punch. This has been an intrinsic part of the art of boxing since before the days of the great Ali, and more than anything this might be Mayweather’s greatest strength. He’s fighting for himself, his ideals, his dreams and his aspiration.

On the other hand we have Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao – quiet, humble, almost detached from the looming fight and very different to Mayweather in most facets. His inspiration and driving force building up to the fight seems to be an acknowledgement of his Filipino people, and their honour as a nation. In stark contrast to Mayweather’s explicit focus on money and fame, Pacman’s approach reflects an acknowledgement of where he’s from and those who share roots with him.

Both of these approaches certainly piles pressure on the two fighters concerned which, combined with the general media hullabaloo, promoters’ expectations and fans’ excitement, can be experienced by the fighter in both positive and negative ways.

For Mayweather this kind of buildup is part and parcel of his routine and preparation for a fight. The hype he creates fuels his ego, boosts his confidence and floats seeds of doubt into the mind of his opponent. He balances the distraction of massive attention and publicity with a disciplined focus on his preparation and training. Pacquiao is also no stranger to this circus, but will need to have been at his best to ensure that his focus and belief is not affected.

In sport psychology we address the topic of preparation and the kind of mindset to adopt before competition with two strategies. The first emphasises the importance of a consistent routine in your approach. The familiarity of a routine builds confidence and allows you to use the same mechanisms to repeatedly get into the perfect state of mind. Secondly, the well-worn phrase of “control the controllables” rings truer than any starting-bell. This requires an ability to recognize what is beyond your control, let it go, and spend your energy and attention on the tasks you can impact on.

As both these athletes are professionals with years’ worth of experience they will use the buildup to garner publicity, inspire their fans and motivate themselves during training - and then forget about it completely when they enter the ring. They know that, as much as they are representatives of brands, people, ideals, media and the general hype, they can only channel it as far as the moment they step into the ring and face each other. From that point onwards anything other than their opponent will be a distraction. Their focus will become unrestrained, their attention undivertible and their aims unique to those 36 minutes of boxing which can only have one winner…

The point is, a buildup is a buildup – and remembering that is what is important. Taking ownership and controlling the buildup is important, but not as important as leaving it behind when you enter the field of competition, as stated so clearly by Pacquiao in a recent promotional video he released alongside Nike. Once you’re in the ring it’s you, your team and the opponent(s) that matters. Failing to remember that can be a crucial mistake and a determining factor.

Whether this will play a part in the fight on Saturday night, we can’t tell – but we’re sure to have a result soon…

Click here for a follow-up post covering the fight itself!