I worked 6 months as a MMA journalist on a platform that is no longer active (Boss MMA) and I am still a huge fan of the sport.
During the time I worked on MMA, I had an opportunity to dig deep into the mindsets of the fighters, and understand what made the UFC champions so successful.
Below are the 6 timeless success strategies I learned. These strategies apply to everything in life.
The UFC fighters, who made it, grinded day in and day out to get where they wanted to get.
The champions were grinding when they felt like it, and they were grinding when they didn't feel like it. They were grinding when they were hurt, and they continued to grind after they had their first wave of success.
The grind is the thing that hones the skills, builds the body and sharpens the mind.
The grind is behind the confidence and the immense self-belief of the champions, because after you have worked so hard and given everything you have, there is no doubt you deserve to win.
For many years the current champions, such as Robbie Lawler (the UFC Welterweight Champion), grinded day after day for nothing, but a small promise that one day he could have everything.
No one expected Robbie Lawler to become a champion.
Lawler was dropped off from the UFC in 2004, after losing two fights in a row. Lawler spent the next 9 years climbing back to the UFC, and in 2013 he eventually made his successful return.
Moreover, between 2009 and 2012, Robbie Lawler lost 5 out of his 8 fights. He lost more fights than he actually won, and at that time, he wasn't even fighting in the UFC, which has the highest level of competition.
Did he let the losses get to him? No. Lawler continued to grind because he loved what he did.
In the late 2014, Robbie Lawler won the UFC Welterweight Championship in a battle against Johny Hendricks.
Later, in the summer of 2015, Robbie Lawler defended his belt successfully in a fight that is considered to be one of the best fights that has ever happened.
Before the current UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman really made it, Weidman was living the darkest hours of his life.
Weidman was barely making any money with his MMA career (only $15k per year), he was in debt, and he had mouths to feed - everyone, including himself, was starting to lose patience.
Everyone was busting his ass and expecting him to get a real job. It really looked like Weidman's dream was nothing but a dream.
"There were times when I was 100% done" - Chris Weidman.
Then, the opportunity presented itself: Alessio Sakara's opponent Rafael Natal dropped out of the fight due to an injury, and Chris Weidman was chosen to save the day on a short 2.5 weeks' notice.
It was the biggest fight of Weidman's career and he had only 2.5 weeks to prepare. Moreover, Weidman was suffering a severe rib injury, and as a result, he could barely train for the fight.
What did Chris Weidman do? When almost any other fighter would have backed down, Weidman decided to fight regardless of the short notice and the injury he was experiencing.
The injury wasn't a small injury either, Weidman fractured his ribs so badly that he could barely train for the fight. He spent most of his time doing nothing but cardio.
The risk paid off: Weidman had a dominating victory against Alessio Sakara, and he finally got into the UFC.
Later, Chris Weidman had two additional successful victories in the UFC, but it still wasn't easy.
Then, another opportunity presented itself: Weidman got a new short notice opportunity to fight Demian Maia - a respected fighter who was in the TOP 10 of the division.
Weidman took the fight on 10 days' notice, and horrifyingly, he had to lose a ridiculous amount of weight: 32 pounds in just 10 days.
It was the biggest opportunity and fight of his career, and Weidman took it.
In the official weigh-in, Chris Weidman weighed the required 185 pounds, but to get to that point in just 10 days was far from easy. The weight cut was so bad, according to Chris Weidman, he was close to dying.
Weidman would pass out in a sauna, wake up, and then continue losing weight. At some point his trainers had to keep him up because he no longer could stay up without fainting.
Weidman's wife was crying and asking him to stop. Did Weidman stop? No, because he couldn't allow himself to fail.
Weidman risked his life to take the advantage of the biggest opportunity of his life, and the risk paid off:
- Weidman defeated Demian Maia via a unanimous decision, and a promising star was born.
Soon after, Weidman was fighting Anderson Silva for the title, and Chris Weidman shocked the world.
In MMA, there are strikers, wrestlers, grapplers, and everything between these three.
There are fighters whose body structures and builds are made for wrestling, whereas some lanky guys excel at using their reach and footwork to their advantage.
The strengths of the fighters give them their ability to win, but minimizing weaknesses prevents them from losing.
The best fighters tend to be the ones who find the thing they are best at, and then start leveraging their strengths.
The current Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier is a short and sturdy wrestler. His Olympic caliber wrestling is the best in the game.
Cormier could only focus on his wrestling, but he has also found the style of striking, that suits him the best: Cormier is a power puncher who utilizes lots of overhand rights and close vicinity dirty boxing.
Cormier's entire game plan is designed to play the entire fight to his favor: the opponent has to continuously worry about the takedowns while watching out for overhand rights and other bombs Cormier has the capability to throw.
Likewise, Cormier's last opponent, Alexander Gustafsson was a tall lanky striker, whose entire style is to utilize his height and reach to his advantage.
Gustafsson has learned how to leverage his strengths, but he has also strengthened and minimized his weaknesses: during the past years, Gustafsson has grown to an amazing wrestler.
Everyone in life has their strength and weaknesses. The key to excel in life is to focus on what you are good at, but not avoid the things you aren't so good at.
When some fighters enter the octagon, they "lose it". They are gone and what is left is a beast that wants to crush his enemy.
When Daniel Cormier was asked what made Jon Jones such a tough opponent, one of the things he mentioned was that Jon Jones throws kicks and punches like he really means it.
Jon Jones has stated himself that when he enters the octagon, he becomes someone else:
“When I fight I almost feel like I’m not myself. When a referee says ‘fight’ it’s almost like he’s saying the word ‘free’." - Jon "Bones" Jones.
The complete immersion is what allows Jon Jones to do everything he can with all that he has.
One of the reasons extremely skilled fighters, like Michael Bisping, never really "made it", was because they never fought with everything they had.
Behind their every move they had hesitation, because they didn't fully believe in their moves, and they were afraid of retaliation. Fear prevents the fighters from using their killer instinct and fighting without any limiting boundaries.
After you have given everything you have: keep going and don't stop.
One of the best fights that ever happened was the title fight between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald.
Robbie Lawler was almost finished a couple of times during the fight, and when the 5th round started, Lawler was the one who was clearly losing the fight.
Not for a second did Robbie Lawler slow down. He kept going and in the 5th round, he knocked out Rory MacDonald. Lawler had his first successful title defense.
Likewise, Daniel Cormier was almost finished in his amazing fight against Alexander Gustafsson, but Cormier never stopped or gave up even the slightest.
Cormier had hardly anything left in the tank, but he just kept going, and going, and going. The relentless pace paid off when Cormier won the fight via a split decision.
The thing is, you can have all the talent and success in the game, but unless you are mentally strong and capable in total immersion, you are walking behind your potential.
In March 2015, the massive underdog Rafael dos Anjos, fought for the title against the reigning champion, Anthony Pettis.
No one expected Rafael dos Anjos to win, but not only did he win, he dominated the fight from start to finish, making the current champion look like he didn't even belong inside the octagon with him.
What's interesting, Rafael dos Anjos was extremely confident long before they touched the gloves inside the octagon. The entire week Rafael dos Anjos was sure he was going to win.
When reporters asked what made him so sure about his victory, dos Anjos answered:
"God told me I would win." - Rafael dos Anjos.
Rafael dos Anjos had such massive confidence in himself, that he brought his entire family, including his kids to watch the fight.
Rafael dos Anjos wanted all of his loved ones to experience the day when he became the champion of the sport.
Rafael dos Anjos believed he was destined to become the champion, and moreover, he was destined to become the champion on that exact night.
Rafael dos Anjos had such an immense self-belief that it made Anthony Pettis doubt his own resolve.
After the fight, Pettis stated that during the fight, it felt like nothing was really hurting his opponent Rafael dos Anjos, and everything felt frustrating.
Likewise, many of the reigning and former champions believe in destiny in one form or another. Jon Jones, one of the best pound per pound MMA fighters who ever lived, believes in destiny.
The belief that someone is supposed to become something, and something is supposed to happen, destroys the self-doubt and allows the fighter to completely immerse himself in what he does.
“I have this sickening conviction I was meant to be successful, and I absolutely go after life that way.” - Jon "Bones" Jones.
For most champions, the path of becoming a champion wasn't easy. Many were close to giving up.
Chris Weidman was extremely close to giving up and straying away from the path he believed he was destined to walk.
The current interim UFC Featherweight champion Conor McGregor fought years outside the UFC and was close to giving up. He was collecting welfare checks before his UFC career, because earning a living in MMA was barely possible in Europe.
Finally, the UFC called him, and what happened? Conor McGregor went all in with everything he had. He became a loudmouth who took risks like no one else did.
Soon, he had his own main event faster than anyone in the sport has had before.
"Some people's journeys are meant to go other ways but this is my destiny now. I will give this everything now." - Conor McGregor
Later, he continued to shine, and he continued to work hard as hell. Conor McGregor soon became one of the greatest the sport has ever seen. No one has done what Conor McGregor has done in the timespan that he has done it.
Right now, Conor McGregor is negotiating the biggest 100 million contract in the UFC, something no one has ever done - and he has only fought two short years in the UFC.
McGregor has the self-belief and resolve that allows him to grind, work hard, and take risks like no one else.
When the opportunity presented itself, McGregor went all in taking massive risks, and he succeeded.
McGregor didn't have a plan B. Neither did Chris Weidman. Both were completely devoted in becoming the best fighters the sport has ever seen.
The one thing that separates the ones who make it from the ones who never achieve their full potential, is how devoted they are in becoming who they want to become.
The fighters who really are hungry for it, sleep in the gyms and the basements of their parents in order to do MMA full time.
Chris Weidman was living in the basement of his parents' home, with a wife and a newborn baby, before Weidman earned enough money to live on their own.
The ones who don't really believe they can make it have plan B and plan C in case their MMA career doesn't take off. And likely, it won't take off, because they aren't fully devoted to becoming the best.
In order for the rising UFC fighters to make it, they have to grind, take risks and go all in.