The Psychology of the Rematch

Written by Melissa Ray. Posted in MMT Featured, Technique and Training

iStockphoto-Sebastian-Kaulitski

Published on September 25, 2012 with 6 Comments

By Melissa Ray of www.muaythaionthebrain.com

Everyone loves a good rematch. Nowhere more so than in Thailand, where Muay Thai promoters will pitch the same fighters against each other again and again—juggling the weights to even the bouts and maintain the gamblers’ interest. The press conference for the upcoming Wanmitchai promotion at Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium on 4th October revealed a number of exciting rematches, including Saenchai PK Saenchai Muay Thai vs. Singdam Kiatmoo 9, Nong O Gaiyanghaadao vs. Petchboonchu FA Group, Petchpanomrung Wor Sangprapai vs. Pokaew Fonjangchonburi, and Thong Puideenaidee vs. Tingtong Chor Kowyuhaisuzu. Having been involved in rematches of my own, the line-up prompted me to consider the psychological aspects of a rematch and the possible effects they can have on a boxer’s performance.

photo by Rob Cox

In any fight, a boxer’s “mental toughness” can mean the difference between winning and losing. Training for a fight has been described as 90% physical and 10% mental, with this balance shifting to 90% mental and 10% physical upon entering the ring. At peak fitness and even weights, you will not see great differences in the physical conditions of the top Muay Thai fighters—it tends to be state of mind and the will to succeed that separates the winner from the loser.

However, the prospect of a rematch can leave any athlete prone to psychological weaknesses, even at an elite level. Sports psychologists have described that these foibles might cause the athlete to focus unduly on factors outside of their control (such as the emotional pain of defeat, the crowd’s reaction, or media attention), leading to feelings of anxiety. They emphasized that to avoid being affected by nerves the athlete should disregard the previous competition, focus on the present, and try not to consider the outcome.

Mind coach and Muay Thai/K1 commentator Vinny Shoreman agreed a boxer preparing for a rematch should avoid dwelling on the past, and instead recommended a technique called “future pacing”. He said: “Imagine yourself 15 minutes after you have won—what you see, hear, feel, smell etc. This fools the mind into thinking the task has been completed and takes out the nerves.” He likened the process to, “thinking about how nice your hotel is on holiday, without the packing and travelling to get there.”

I have experience of being both the winner and loser of a rematch and my emotions were quite different preceding these bouts. In my winning rematch, I had been judged the loser of the first meeting, and in my losing rematch, I had won the previous encounter—a reversal of outcome on both occasions. Before the winning rematch, I could not have felt more motivated. On fight day I was relaxed and confident, and felt under no pressure. I was determined to avenge my previous loss—and I did—eventually winning by TKO.

Before the losing rematch, however, anxiety affected me. I felt psychologically more stressed than I had for the previous competition. I did not fear my opponent—I had beaten her once before. My fear was of not fighting to my best ability and—like a self-fulfilling prophecy—it was perhaps this fear that caused me to underperform on fight day. In the ring I was sluggish and self-conscious. I did not get hurt—just never stepped up to the required pace—and the fight was judged unanimously in my opponent’s favour.

With their triple-figure fight records, it is hard to imagine the top Thai fighters suffering a similar crisis of confidence. However, any fighter can have their off day, which keeps the sport unpredictable. Rematches usually tend to make the most exciting fights because of the emotional involvement and potential for grudge matches. Although the common conception is that the victor of the previous fight will have the psychological advantage over their opponent (especially if they won convincingly on points or by KO), there is nothing like a loss to give a fighter that extra motivation and—more often than not—it tends to be the loser of the previous bout who goes on to win the consecutive fight.

On 4th October, it remains to be seen if Saenchai, Petchboonchu, Petchpanomrung and Tingtong can overcome their previous losses to Singdam, Nong O, Pokaew and Thong, respectively. As the action unfolds, it will be interesting to see which boxers’ minds are stronger on fight day. My predictions for the night are wins for Saenchai, Petchboonchu, Pokaew and Thong. What do you think?

About Melissa Ray

I am a Muay Thai fanatic with a CV that includes 4 world titles and a PhD in Neuroscience. I was first introduced to Muay Thai in my early twenties—around the same time as the undertaking of my doctorate. By no means athletic in my youth, I was motivated to try out my first session after resolving to lose weight—from then onwards I was hooked. After a few years training in the UK, my passion for Muay Thai took me to Thailand in 2006, where I trained at gyms in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, including—for the past 4.5 years—Eminent Air Boxing Gym. I ended up spending 6 years in the land of smiles (unfinished business!) and had some amazing experiences both in and out of the ring. Currently in my home country, I remain an avid follower of all things Muay Thai-related. Please read my posts for musings on events and experiences in the world of Muay Thai.

Browse Archived Articles by Melissa Ray

6 Comments

There are currently 6 Comments on The Psychology of the Rematch. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. Melissa great article!

    A couple years back Sagetdao was fighting Liam… I was taking snaps, and you could see Sagetdao was looking very intimidated, first time fighting abroad, first time abroad etc. I thought I was imagining things… then Sanchai walked up to him and told him to just relax, not to stress “Mai tong kriat”…

    I couldn’t believe it, completely confirmed what I was thinking… how could someone of his caliber still become intimidated?…

    Anyway, great read!

    Guys be sure to bookmark her blog, http://www.muaythaionthebrain.com

  2. Melissa interesting article.

    This is a genuine question not just sniping, but in the article you reference and quote Vinny Shorman who many in the UK MT fraternity know well. As someone who holds a PHD in neuroscience how much credence do you actually give to NLP practitioners and NLP in general?

    Il be honest, to my mind, at best and being polite, it is total nonsense, at worst its possibly dangerous.Im prepared to proved wrong but I am genuinly interested in what you think about it from your academic perspective?

    • Thank you for your comments Matt. While I agree there is little scientific evidence to support NLP (except perhaps this one study on claustrophobia patients http://bjr.birjournals.org/content/83/986/113.full.pdf), that doesn’t mean I don’t think it can have positive effects on people who are receptive to it – like a placebo effect. Personally, I have never tried any form of NLP or mind coaching. NLP does have a reputation as a pseudo-science but I wouldn’t discount it until I had first-hand experience of it.

      • Also, Vinny has a number of famous clients (e.g., Liam Harrison, Julie Kitchen) who swear by his techniques (which include hypnotherapy) and use his services before every big fight. Whenever I lost fights it was rarely through lack of fitness/training. As described in my article, it was usually a pyschological/mental issue that caused me to underperform. Perhaps some mind coaching/hypnotherapy could have helped me, who knows?

  3. LOL Vinny Shoreman is a mind coach?

    Interesting read and well-written, thank you!

  4. I’m currently living and fighting in Thailand and am becoming more versed (or accustomed) to the rematch. My own experience has been that a loss on the first go-round gives me the “nothing to lose” freedom that pairs well with your mention of psychological distractions like what the crowd is thinking, etc.

    What I find quite intriguing about the Mental Training tactic of picturing one’s self 10 minutes after the victory is that the winner should potentially be able to remember what that felt like and this previous success *should* be to her benefit. However, when it comes to mental training and focus it seems entirely possible that *imagining* the details of that post-victory experience is much more vivid than the lazy memory of it. Winning is a buffer to post-fight awareness; losing offers that horrible play-by-play of everything you did wrong for days, which is precisely how one can learn so much from a loss – assuming one can also get over it.

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