Daniel Morley: A fighter's mind
Photo Credit: Instagram @butterflyboxing
Click here for Daniel Morley's debut column
In his second column for Boxing Monthly online, Epsom's Daniel Morley examines the psychological battles fought within boxing based on his own experiences as a fighter, as well as information he has picked up from some of the world's very best pugilists...
In one of the 13 chapters of his famous book ‘The Art of War’, Ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu declared: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."
This fifth-century text has been researched and studied for the last millennium and a half, influencing many military tactics during some of history’s most notorious wars. However, it isn't only a quote that has been researched by military personnel, but people from all aspects of life. Whether it be promising entrepreneurs strengthening the mind for the ruthless world of business or myself, a prospect prize-fighter, searching for new ways to improve my psychological sturdiness.
When preparing for an opponent it is important to familiarise yourself with the strengths, weaknesses and style they will present you with in the ring. Every fighter will develop patterns of mistakes throughout their fights - these could be technical faults, starting fights slowly, gassing out as the rounds drag on or incapability against particular styles. Studying your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses allows you to formulate a game plan to victory. Heavyweight great Wladimir Klitschko would typically spend hours re-watching fights of his upcoming opponents throughout his pre-fight training sessions.
But knowing your opponent is only half the battle.
Elite opposition will invariably adapt to the challenges presented to them. I recently delved into Vasyl Lomachenko’s training regime and was astonished by certain drills he focused on intensely. It’s apparent that physically there isn’t much the man can’t do and watching him box is a breathtaking experience.
Lomachenko employs a psychological coach, who prepares mental drills that require his concentration for long periods of time, to perfect the high intensity style that he brings to the ring so frequently.
However, the drill of his that surprised me most was the simplest of all.
Lomachenko holds his breath underwater for as long as possible. At first glance this drill will have you questioning its legitimacy: how could this prepare him for a fight? Well, the answer is simple. Under the water Lomachenko is alone with his thoughts. As time drags on his body begins to crave oxygen and his mind warns him of danger. The longer he stays under the more intense the doubts of hazard become.
After a while, his body begins to shut down, and his mind races with fear, doubts and discomfort. These are all emotions experienced in the ring. Conquering these demons within the build-up will forge a stronger mentality when inevitably tested in a fight. Eventually, when he can take no more, Lomachenko rises out of the water.
This drill forces his body and mind to endure severe discomfort. Relaxing under such intense pressure and gaining the deep knowledge that you have the strength to subdue your doubts is a very effective psychological weapon to gain.
Lomachenko’s record is 4 minutes 30 seconds under water, a testament to his aura of mental invincibility.
Lomachenko has become the dominant force he is today through years of intense sacrifice and perseverance.
I have prepared for many of my own fights meticulously. Completing every exercise, dieting and sacrificing the enjoyments of life. However, I am honest enough to admit there are also fights for which I’ve slacked in preparation. Through all these experiences, I can confirm that fear, discomfort and anxiety torment you on every single occasion.
Boxing is the ultimate test of one’s courage and the unknown fate that awaits in the ring is a very dark and terrifying thought.
It’s a strange feeling on fight night. The hardest battle is fought against your mind in the changing room before-hand. A straight face masks an explosion of doubts as anxiety tussles with confidence in your ability. Your heart pounds heavily, and your breathing can uncontrollably become erratic.
The warm-up you breezed through for weeks can now drain your energy, your arms and legs often droop and your timing is off. You mind’s convincing you to quit, but a sharp shake of the head removes this doubt temporarily.
By the time you’re in the ring your body feels empty, until adrenaline kicks in. The first few rounds fly by until the adrenaline wears off. It’s here that you reach the pinnacle of exhaustion - when no amount of water will dampen your mouth and your arms feel like anchors as your wobbly legs give way. Punches shudder your entire body and rattle your brain.
This is where the self-knowledge of every single sacrifice comes into play.
The only thing that can pull you through is grasping previous experiences in which you overcame these challenges. This provides you with the calmness and confidence to remain focused and sharp, until you reach your second wind.
There’s no cheating it, you have either earned that confidence or you haven’t.
Paulie Malignaggi recently discussed the number of young prospects who have crumbled when eventually faced with their first tough test. He labelled these fighters ‘Instagram Boxers’ - boxers who only train to their fullest in front of the cameras and exude a false idea of their lives and training regimes over social media.
When eventually tested against a live opponent, they wilt, succumbing to the pressure of an aggressive opponent.
You can convince the world with false, unheralded confidence but when up against a real challenge, you can’t convince yourself.
However, the sacrifices required within boxing shouldn’t be mistaken for living a miserable life. You must indulge your cravings and enjoy life, or you will eventually break down emotionally and binge on whatever you’ve been craving. The most sensible approach is to structure treats and remain disciplined - comforts are enjoyed most in moderation, when sacrificed for a greater cause.
The old saying, ‘every dog has its day’, couldn’t be truer within the world of boxing and within everyday life itself too.
Boxing has a funny way of relating to the highs, lows and struggles of life. There are challenges that require us to step through our comfort zones and confront the fear that manifests within our mind. It’s easy to ignore our fears, but these will ultimately lead us to a deep unhappiness. Learn to control them and push through that discomfort when faced with it.
The only way to grow as a person it to confront darkness and come through the other side. When opposed with an ultimate challenge, seek deep within yourself, formulate a suitable method of tactics to overcome the challenge and conjure together the experiences gained through your comfort zone.
Persist through the rugged journey that will follow and, no matter what the outcome, the self-knowledge of giving everything you have will enable you to achieve a sense of fulfilment and almost always results in positive steps toward your goals.
To truly unlock your potential, you must push yourself further than ever before.
You can find out more about Daniel Morley by visiting his website www.danielmorley.com and he is on Instagram @danmorleyboxer