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On Jones & Destiny: An Interview With Sports Psychologist Brian Cain

Jon Jones force feeding his destiny to Brandon Vera.

It’s crazy that so many people are looking past champion Mauricio Rua, fully anointing Jon Jones the future of the light heavyweight division before they even step in the cage. Crazy, but kind of understandable. Jones is incredibly athletic, innovative, and unpredictable, and it looks like he has all of the physical tools to take out anyone in his path. The bookmakers know it, and it’s become painfully obvious over the last couple of weeks that “Bones” does as well.

Jones has displayed no shortage of confidence in recent interviews, stating that he’s already won the fight and that he’s currently signing autographs as “Champ 2011”, leading some to question whether he’s lost touch with reality. Hearing Jones—who’s greatest accomplishment in the sport to date was his recent victory over Ryan Bader—already discussing his legacy and the impact he wants to make on the world is enough to make you question if he is really focused on the task at hand or if he’s taking his opponent too lightly and setting himself up for failure. Believing in yourself is a must to succeed in this sport, but can Jones’s over-abundance of self-confidence actually work against him in this fight? Hell if I know. That’s why I got in touch with Brian Cain, the famed sports psychologist who has worked with MMA standouts like Georges St. Pierre, Rashad Evans, and Rich Franklin. My feeble attempts at arm-chair psychology and Cain’s insightful answers await you after the jump.

A fighter has to have a high level of self-confidence in this sport, but is it possible to have too much self-confidence as long as you properly train and prepare for your fight?  Does Jones’s outlook go too far, or is his unwavering belief in himself something that you wish you could instill in every fighter you work with?

“Confidence comes from many things.  Preparation, self-talk, experience, mental imagery and others, but mainly confidence is a choice.  I think having “too much confidence” is only a problem when a fighter starts to cut corners in training because they think they can get away with it because they are so confident in their abilities.  I think that Jones’ outlook is outstanding.  He talks a lot about the fight being with himself and not with Rua.  This perspective that it is all about me and my preparation and that if I “Fight My Fight” the result will take care of itself is the mindset that I work with fighters on achieving.  Greg Jackson understands the mental aspect of fighting as well as anyone and some of the guys he trains with I have worked with (GSP & Rashad) I am sure are lending their experience about their mental game and preparation for championship bouts.”

This is undoubtedly a huge moment for him, but by convincing himself that this is his destiny is he putting too much pressure on himself? Would it be better if simply told himself that this was another fight like any other?

“It sounds to me like he is doing exactly that.  He is not saying this is the biggest fight of his life (which it is… only because it is his next one) he is saying that he has already won the belt and just needs to go out there and fight his fight vs. himself, work the process and let the results take care of themselves.  This is EXACTLY the right approach for this situation.  A lot of fighters in this situation have said the 14 deadly words (this is it, it’s now or never, do or die, there is no tomorrow) and thus make the situation BIGGER than it really is.  When Jones and Rua step in the cage it is just the two of them and contrary to what everyone thinks, the best fighter will not win… it will be the guy who fights the best.  They are both fully capable of knocking the other guy out, submitting the other guy etc.  It all comes down to who will relax and fight their fight first.  It looks like Jones has the fight mindset for this fight… A lot can change for a fighter though the day of the fight.  I have seen fighters get DOMINATED by their own thoughts before a fight, step in the cage and fight not to lose vs. fight to win and that is a recipe for disaster.  If you have been in the locker room with fighters before a fight you can see how they lose the fight before they even walk out of the locker room.  It is a shame that more fighters aren’t open to working on their mental game.  All that time in training and sacrifice can go out the window minutes before the fight if they are not mentally prepared.  GSP and Rich Franklin have both said, “training for a fight is 90% physical and 10% mental then come fight day there is a flip, the fight is 90% mental and 10% physical because all of the work is done.”  More fighters need to invest their time into the mental game if they want to get the most out of their career.”

There is an old saying, “Prepare for the worst and the best will happen”.  I’d imagine this is true not just for physical preparation but mental preparation as well.  If Jones truly believes he’s already won this fight and that it is his destiny, it seems like he wouldn’t be mentally preparing for what he’ll do should things not go his way in the cage.  We have yet to see him challenged or face adversity in a fight. Would only expecting things to go his way make him less able to adapt mentally in the fight if he finds himself in a bad position?

“If he was ONLY expecting things to do his way he would be in trouble.  Like Matt Hughes showed us all in his legendary bout with Frank Trigg at UFC 53 when he was hit in the nuts by a knee and Mario Yamasaki did not stop the fight… and Hughes came back to submit Trigg that round, you MUST, absolutely MUST prepare for the unexpected.  Preparing for the unexpected is what you do every day.  We call it Essential Suffering.  In training when you get hit in the nuts, or poked in the eye, we keep going… why? Because if the ref misses it and you get to keep fighting, you better have prepared for this to happen in training.  People wake up in the morning and brush their teeth like it is no big deal… why?  Because they do it every day.  I am sure that Jones has suffered everyday with the guys he trains with and under Jackson so that come fight day he will be ready for anything.  I think that when he says I have already won this fight, he is saying, I am so confident in my camp and in my preparation that the fight will take care of itself – there is no stepping up, there are no BIG FIGHTS – this is just another fight, just another training session that when I hurt my partner, I will go in for the finish vs. stop to let him recover.  I have never met either Jones of Rua, but will not be surprised if Jones is the next UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.  From what I read and hear him say, he has the six inches between his ears that control the six feet below them working in the right direction.”

May I be honest with you, Potato Nation, if only for a moment? I went into this interview believing that Jones had crossed the thin line between positive-reinforcement and straight-up hype-buying. But just as my first day of jiu-jitsu class taught me, I have a lot to learn about this fighting game. A big thanks to Brian Cain for sharing his expertise and insight. To learn more about the mentality of MMA, pick up a copy of his new book Toilets, Bricks, Fish Hooks and PRIDE: The Peak Performance Toolbox EXPOSED at www.briancain.com. And for those fighters looking to make the jump to the next level, make sure to pick up Cain’s MMA Mental Toughness Training Program as well.

- Chris Colemon

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tribal- March 19, 2011 at 7:31 pm
Another guy with a book on horse-shit psychobabble to sell on the internet... yawn.
BaghdadBob- March 19, 2011 at 6:43 pm
Everything this BS in BS says boils down to "more fighters should be stupid enough to spend their mard-earned but measley earnings on me, pumping them full of more off-the-shelf bullshit." Nice one, "Doctor."
k-onda- March 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm
Have you never heard of Mike Tyson? Remember his mentality? All the best in every sport are like this.
cecils_pupils- March 19, 2011 at 3:51 pm
Super Hero Alert: Jon Jones stops a robbery on fight day.
While meditating in a park this morning, he hears a woman scream that she had been robbed. Jones chases down the robber, subdues him, and holds him there until police arrive.
IMO Jones is destined to win tonight.
danomite- March 19, 2011 at 3:39 pm
Judging by the way he wiggled his way around that second question I'd be willing to bet Brian Cain is working with Jon Jones already.
Rottenpunch- March 19, 2011 at 3:26 pm
This is al well and good saying that he is mentally prepared but in all reality, when shogun smashes jonas brother in the face, a good mindset will not keep you conscious....
RearNakedSpoon- March 19, 2011 at 2:08 pm
"He is not saying this is the biggest fight of his life", I think he did in that hype video about him.
Hehe, Cupcheck Kongo jokes never get old.
edhedicus- March 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm
I hope Jon Jones watched some old pride fights, so he knows what a badass Shogun really is. His few UFC fights haven't been all that great, but if the Shogun of old shows up, "Bones" will be 'Lights out"....
MyFightWiffaCheeto- March 19, 2011 at 1:48 pm
Fuck Jon Jones.
canaduh- March 19, 2011 at 1:47 pm
So what i gathered is that Pat Berry should get kneed in the groin everyday in training to get ready for Kongo?
FlashinLeather- March 19, 2011 at 1:21 pm
I really hope Jones get put so sleep so all of these ball huggers can stfu...

thats all carry on...
ghostboner- March 19, 2011 at 12:42 pm
Oh he crossed the line alright. He said he is Alistair Overeem only better on the ground. The line was crossed.
the chef- March 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm
This reminds me of the time GSP got his ass dropped by a lightweight, and then tapped to strikes in the first round
TrouserSnout- March 19, 2011 at 12:35 pm
There is no spoon.
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