Home Science Education How MMA Fighters Transform Fear: Othering

How MMA Fighters Transform Fear: Othering


Fighters will bolster their confidence and pride by making themselves feel superior than their opponent. This is called “othering.” Fighters would create powerful virtual selves or make their opponents inferior to themselves. All of this would help diminish the fear and harness the confidence.

This type of transformation involves more than just the fighters themselves, it requires a helping hand. More experienced gym members or fighters would be the ones to ease the less experienced fighter’s fears. They build up the fighter reminding them of their strengths.  Trainers can tell their fighters “You’ve got great hands and can take this guy down and submit him,” or more simply “you got this!”

The trainers would make their fighters believe they are sparring against someone that doesn’t even come close to their opponent, and there’s no way they will lose. All of this is created by making an “other” self that is much higher in skill than they are. It’s almost like boosting someones ego ,making them think they’re better than what they are. In this instance Framing is also used to help make an other self for a fighter.

This othering is used mostly to get rid of those pre-fight jitters. Trainers will craft each othering session to fit the fighters habits. Some fighters like Rocky are very “testosterone-laden” kind of guys. “You are going to out athleticism this guy, you are so much stronger.” Making the fighter very agressive and confident. Othering can tie in closely to a fighter’s script mentioned in our previous article, Scripting.

Trainers can implement “othering” in different ways for their fighters. Scotty was a fighter who sparred fighters that he could never beat in a real fight. It made him comfortable being on his back, in a bad postion, being beat up. His trainer told him,  “You know what, Scotty, you know what you are doing, you can finish people. You do it all the time.”

While trainers would help to transform their fighters fears, the fighters themselves have ways of transforming the fear with othering.

An African American fighter, Cecil, used his racial stereotype to help him:

“Guys from my gym call me ‘King Kong’ because of my grappling style and so I awaken that inner gorilla… I rock back and forth and I have visions of a gorilla coming out of a cage, like when King Kong comes out of the cage and he pounds his chest powerfully just as lightning strikes. I hear the thunder and see lightning strikes.”

This technique is also used by medical students, they envision themselves as healers in order for them to get over the fear of disgust.

Some fighters use video games to transform the fear. Rocky would think like he was in a dueling combat game where his little energy bar would never go down, but every time he hit his opponent theirs would. If he didn’t keep hitting him then the energy bar would go back up.

Othering isn’t just physical, mentally fighters can transform their fear by making their opponents to be fearful like girls. “If the guy needs to cry like a girl in order to fight, you are still going to beat him. If he needs his parents in the stands to support him, you are still going to beat him.” The fact that fighters are fearful themselves isn’t what they concentrate on in this situation. They imagine that their opponent is fearful, no matter what kind of front they put on. The fighter knows there is some small amount of fear in their opponent.


In some instances Nationalism is even used. Larry is a white U.S. citizen, his opponent is a Peruvian national. Larry’s trainer told him before he walked to the cage that they had a special song for him as he entered. Bruce Springsteen’s “Boring in the USA” belted out of the speakers with the crowd going wild. Larry took a look at his trainer, smiled, pounded his fists together and said, “I’m taking this ****er to school!”

Othering is just another one of the ways MMA Fighters use to transform their fear into confidence. Whether it’s through mental preparation or a stereotype, the act of othering puts the fighter’s fear under control and bolsters their confidence.