A whole new generation of mixed martial artists are on the verge of making their professional or amateur debuts, and though stepping into the cage or ring for the first time can be exciting, it is also a very surreal moment where emotions tend to run high.
Undefeated ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee went through that ordeal in May 2015, when she squared off against Aya Saber to kick off the main card of ONE: WARRIOR’S QUEST. In front of a sold-out Singapore Indoor Stadium and with people watching across the globe, the “Unstoppable” heroine had a successful professional debut as she submitted her Egyptian opponent in the first round via armbar.
For Lee, this was a career highlight. In a matter of months, she went from competing on the amateur circuit to fighting professionally with the biggest show in Asia. Ken Lee, her father and the head coach of United MMA, helped her prepare for the marquee event.
“There were definitely butterflies. They are there every single fight. They never go away,” Lee admits. “But there was not too much pressure actually. It was a completely new feeling, and I was just full of excitement. I was having a grand time.
“My dad just kept telling me over and over, ‘Angela, it is going to be the exact same thing. As soon as you are in the cage, it is just like any other fight.’”
Now, with many MMA hopefuls set to make their own debuts, the “Unstoppable” one shares five tips to help newbies prepare for their first fight.
#1 Visualize The Fight
Seeing is believing, and being able to envision a fight is one of the most essential tools to sharpen both the body and the mind. Not only does it reinforce positive-thinking and confidence, but it will mentally prepare fighters to overcome tough situations and assist in fine-tuning their strategy and imposing their will.
“I think visualization is really important for every single fighter. Everyone should do it,” Lee says. “For me, I like to prepare myself for an upcoming fight just by thinking of the game plan.
“What I do is I outline all the possible ways I can finish the fight, and I envision pretty much any and every situation I could end up in, good or bad. So I do a lot of thinking.”
#2 Know The Rules
Every single MMA organization has a particular set of rules. For instance, some do not permit the use of elbows. Rules vary from promotion to promotion, so it is best to learn about the policies beforehand.
“You have to look at the rules [of the organization you are competing in] because each organization is different,” Lee explains. “For ONE Championship, we have a different rule set and weigh-in rules, so that is something you should take into consideration.”
“Do some research and find out about what those fighters have to go through. Of course you are going to be briefed during fight week, but it is good to get a little heads up and do any research you can.”
#3 Keep The Mental Game Tight
Most mixed martial artists claim the fight game is 90 per cent mental. The champ agrees that having the correct state of mind is crucial for success. Another crucial factor for success is acknowledging one’s emotions and being able to keep them under control.
“Coming in with the right mindset is so important, especially for your debut,” Lee states. “For me, I wanted to make a statement when I made my professional debut, and that is what I did. The most important factors are mental and emotional, because the mind controls your body and how you feel will determine how well you perform in the fight.
“I can simplify it to this one phrase my dad told me. He said, ‘You only have one chance to make a first impression,’ and that really stuck with me. I was like, ‘He is really right. This is the first time people are going to see me. All these viewers are going to be watching me, so I have to give them my all.”
#4 Maintain Your Concentration
Between fighters warming up with teammates, other combatants getting post-fight medical examinations, and promotional officials scrambling to make the show go off without a hitch, the backstage atmosphere can be quite chaotic. That is why it is always important to ease the mind and maintain concentration.
“In the locker room, usually there is a lot going on. There is the hustle and bustle of the fighters with all their coaches and trainers, and sometimes it gets crazy,” the champ admits. “What I like to do is put my headphones on, listen to some music, and zone out for little bit to kind of detach yourself.
“Then I like to go back and reassess the situation. Like, ‘This is what is going on, you are here fighting, remember the game plan,’ and go over all of that in your head.”
#5 Enjoy Yourself And Get That Victory!
With so many thoughts and emotions running through the heads of young fighters, they can almost forget about the honor and privilege awaiting them. Competing inside the cage for the first time on any level should be a joyous occasion, so bask in the glory.
“In the locker room, you go over all that stuff in your head and try to calm your nerves down, but as soon as you walk down the runway to the cage, honestly, the best thing you can do is just be in that moment and enjoy what you are doing,” Lee says. “It is a really cool experience. Not everyone gets to do what we do, so just have fun.”
However, she reiterates, “Have fun, but win!”