‘The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting’. Sun Tzu.
Do I like Conor McGregor? Yeah, he’s extremely entertaining and he’s got cojones. Do I think he’s the best fighter in the UFC? No, I believe every fighter is as good as they feel on the night. Do I think he deserves the attention and money he gets? For sure. His hard work and promotional style have paid off. As they say,
“The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the most grease”.
One thing that stands out about McGregor to me is his ability to get into the heads of his opponents. This is known as psychological warfare. I’m not sure whether he knows exactly what he’s doing, but it’s clear he intends to cause some kind of emotional response from his opponents for his own benefit.
I have always found psychological warfare very interesting, most of the world’s greatest fighters have used it to their benefit. It has recently become quite popular and the subject of discussion in many MMA circles.
Psychological warfare (PSYWAR) has been around for centuries. It is one of the oldest weapons in the arsenal of men. Alexander the great of Macedonia was perhaps one of the first famously known people that used PSYWAR against his enemies.
Here is one example of a PSYWAR tactic Alexander used;
Alexander conquered most of the world during his reign. Each area he conquered, he left a portion of soldiers behind to stay and occupy the cities.
Alexander soon came to realise that he had spread his army too thin and was in danger of losing to a larger army. Alexander was forced to flee and regroup with the armies he left behind. He knew that the opposing army would pursue him, catch up with him and then turn him into mincemeat.
So what did Alexander do?
Alexander ordered his armourers to make several oversized breastplates and helmets that would fit ‘giants’, men 8ft tall. He then scarpered during the night with his small army, leaving behind the giant armour.
The opposing army eventually found the armour that Alexander left behind. This left the opposing army as scared as a hog at a barbecue, because they thought they would have to fight an army of giants. Coupled with the rumours spread around the villages about Alexander’s army, the opposing army decided not to chase him. Pretty clever huh?
What is PSYWAR?
PSYWAR is intended to demoralise and break the enemies will to fight. Its aim is to evoke a planned psychological reaction in an opponent. Various techniques are used and are aimed at influencing the opponents;
- value systems
- belief systems
PSYWAR is intended to cause terror, which encourages the opponent to mentally retreat and can end a fight before it begins. Alternatively, it can sway the opponent’s viewpoint towards your own position, this can also lead them to abandon the fight.
It is used in political campaigns, war, business and even in some everyday household between families! There are varying degrees to PSYWAR ranging from mild to extreme. You could say ‘reverse psychology’ is a PSYWAR tactic.
Muhammad Ali, Anderson Silva, Prince Naseem, Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather Jr are just a few of the fighters who have used PSYWAR in their careers.
4 common tactics of PSYWAR are;
- Learned helplessness
- Invisible control
- Reputation attack
Probably the most famous case of PSYWAR in today’s combat sports is MMA star Conor McGregor.
McGregor’s PSYWAR tactics have enabled him to beat his opponents before they even entered the cage. He’s very interesting to watch during his pre-fight press conferences and promotional build ups to a fight. McGregor uses some well known PSYWAR tactics. Obviously, it’s not just the PSYWAR tactics that enable him to win fights. He also has good combat skill’s, but the PSYWAR tactics pre-fight certainly do help!
1) Learned helplessness;
McGregor’s opponents are made to feel that it is useless to resist his verbal attacks because everything they say makes things worse. McGregor is a slick, fast witted talker. He quickly turns opponents into laughing stocks in front of the media, leaving their faces red like tomatoes.
He cracks brash, no holds barred jokes about his opponents in front of the world and demoralises them. They end up limiting their words, even when the harassment has died down, simply because they have internalized the ineffectiveness of past similar actions. This is called learned helplessness.
You can watch McGregor in action in the video below destroying Chad Mendez verbally and making him the laughing stock of the television studio. (I have to admit, I like Mendez but, this was hilarious).
Mendez was a lot quieter during later communications with Mcgregor after this was aired. Many of McGregor’s opponents don’t engage him in any type of trash talk because in their eyes McGregor’s quick witted humour always wins.
McGregor Vs Mendez result- McGregor – T.K.O RD 2.
Discrediting is a major goal of most psychological warfare campaigns including McGregor’s. The way discrediting is used is through third parties rendering a judgment against McGregor’s opponents.
Prior to the judgment, McGregor will often discredit his opponent in the eyes of onlookers through a combination of harassment, by his large base of loyal fans and PSYWAR; with the goal of changing his opponent’s perceptions of the people and the world around him.
McGregor tries to get the opponents own peers and fans to start doubting their abilities. This, in turn, leads to the opponent putting doubts in their own mind. In the video below we can see McGregor talking about ex-opponent Dustin Poirier, he states that Poirier’s chin is deteriorating, implying that he will be easily knocked out.
This made all the MMA fans take on board McGregor’s comment and this thought would have even entered Poirier’s mind.
- You can hear McGregor talking about Poirier’s chin at 1 minute 15 seconds into the video below.
McGregor Vs Poirier result- Mcgregor T.K.O RD 1.
3) Invisible Control;
A lot of McGregor’s opponents believe that the company they work for (UFC) are on McGregor’s side. Many times opponents have stated how the UFC give him what he wants and he gets away with things he shouldn’t. They believe he is backed by the UFC and the UFC will do anything for McGregor.
The opponents become aware of the ‘invisible control’ McGregor has over the UFC which can destroy their careers at a moment’s notice. Their new awareness will guide their actions and cause them to fall into line and make them more susceptible to the PSYCHWAR.
- Watch the video at 1 minute 45 seconds and you can hear McGregor talk about the UFC and the influence he has over the promotion. He states he is “neck and neck and eye to eye”, with the UFC.
Previous opponent Jose Aldo told PVT after his fight with McGregor;
“I think they gave him too much power (UFC), let him grow a lot, and he’s playing now, calling the shots more than the others”.
This played on Aldo’s mind and left him feeling abandoned by the promotion. A lot of fighters feel this way and many have gone on record saying that McGregor is calling the shots in the company now and has a lot of power.
McGregor Vs Aldo result – Mcgregor K.O RD 1
4) Reputation Attack;
McGregor constantly goes for all of his opponent’s reputations like a pit-bull. This is one of his most common tactics. Once an opponent’s credibility is gone, McGregor can get away with anything inside and outside the cage.
There are several ways to get at one’s reputation. The most obvious way to apply a reputation attack is through the mind. If McGregor can trick an opponent into acting recklessly during the fight, then you might as well stick a fork in them because they’re done!
He gets the opponents in a state of anger by his words. This usually works, no matter how calm the opponents normally are. McGregor tries to evoke an emotional response. He emotionally tires his opponents before the fight. Dennis Siver is just one example of McGregor attacking the reputation of an opponent.
In the video below you can hear McGregor talking about Dennis Siver. He says,
“My thoughts on Dennis Siver are he’s a midget German steroid head”.
He went on to say at another interview,
“He’s muscular but he’s really small. He’s a weird looking, deformed looking guy. He was caught cheating at one stage in his career. He was on the steroids and he got banned for it so I think when you take some stuff like that your body becomes weird”.
People that did not know about Siver’s steroid abuse most defiantly would have known after McGregor stated this to the media. This would lead most people to join McGregor’s side.
McGregor Vs Siver result- Mcgregor T.K.O RD 2.
Turning the tables on McGregor- Nate Diaz;
The constant harassment and deception McGregor applies during his campaign is an all-out assault on his opponents mind. Psychological warfare is the perfect weapon. McGregor’s manipulation during the PYCHWAR results in bad decisions being made by his opponents during the fight stage.
We see the effects of this in most of McGregor’s fights. However, PYCHWAR cannot work on someone who knows of these tactics, protects their mind and fires back.
Nate Diaz publically called out McGregor’s mind games and he was most certainly wise to them. Nate hit McGregor with his own PSYWAR tactics and turned the tables on McGregor. We can see this in the pre-fight interviews. The video’s below are particularly interesting.
- At 1 minute 38 seconds into the video below, Diaz states,
“Look at the line up’s, he has fought little nobodies. Look at my last 20 fights, you better step it up for this one”.
This is ‘discrediting’ McGregor and its clear McGregor does not like what he hears by his uncomfortable body language and fidgeting, in effect Diaz’s comments are blatantly getting inside McGregor’s head (although he does try to bluff). Diaz also said at another interview ‘He’s fought all midgets’. Discrediting McGregor once again.
McGregor is famous for predicting his fights out loud to the media…
- At 5 minutes 50seconds of the same above video, Diaz shows his awareness of McGregor’s PSYWAR tactics and states,
“You don’t even believe it (his predictions), those mother f***ers that you beat, they believed it. You don’t even believe that shit, you hope”.
Diaz said that previous opponents have believed the predictions McGregor claimed internally. Diaz understands the fact that McGregor beat his opponents before they even fought. This made it very difficult for McGregor to try and implement these tactics on Diaz.
- Watch from 1 minute 15 seconds of the video below. Diaz casually says,
“They’re all on steroids”.
This was extremely funny the way that Diaz just casually made this brash claim out of the blue. Diaz used the ‘reputation attack’ tactic and the response was very interesting. Nate was trying to get an emotional response from McGregor and he did just that.
Look at how McGregor reacts to the comment. His temper rises and voice tone changes, it’s clear the tables are turning and PSYWAR is now being used on McGregor. Even when Mcgregor is getting angry, Diaz is smiling and calmly states again, “you’re on steroids”. (This had me laughing like a hyena, you gotta love the Diaz antics).
- Watch this video at 1 minute 55 seconds in, The PSYWAR game was sealed for Diaz.
Diaz feinted at Mcgregor in the square up to try and make him flinch and show fear. McGregor immediately flinched and he jumped back quickly. You can even hear the commentator laughing at this point and the crowd cheering. This embarrassment would have surely angered Mcgregor and got into his head.
All the pre-fight antics of Diaz definitely worked. During the fight McGregor threw all of his punches with full power trying to knock Diaz out. This led to Mcgregor gassing himself out by the second round.
McGregor Vs Diaz result- Diaz Submission RD 2.
PSYWAR is an excellent tactic when it comes to combat. Many fighters and sportsmen use PSYWAR in their campaigns. There are various methods in PSYWAR, the above tactics just scratch the surface. It is always good to understand PSYWAR and the methods so you don’t fall victim to them.
Have you noticed any other PSYWAR tactics used in sports? Let me know in the comments section below it will be interesting to hear! If you enjoyed the post don’t forget to share it using the social media buttons below or to the left 🙂
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