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How to Become 'The Ultimate Fighter': The Characteristics of Fighting Champions

By Cliff Montgomery,
When you say someone is the best pound-for-pound fighter, you're saying he is the most skilled at doing everything. He is the best in every situation. He is the best body puncher, the best head puncher; he has the best offense, the best defense. He is the best all-round fighter, and no one else really comes close.

A true fighting champion trains hard for a fight; he eats pasta, puts in ten miles of road work a day, spars a thousand rounds, gets a daily dose of yelling (motivation) from his trainer, and traditionally abstains from sex. Ten weeks before every match, this is a fighter's life.

In training camp a nervous anticipation builds, nearly beyond the point of endurance. But the champion has been down this road before. At the time of weigh-ins, sure of his firm preparation, he will watch his opponent step onto the scale. In judging the opponent's muscular tone and form, the grace of his movement, and the manner in which he carries himself, the champion will compare himself to the other person, and if necessary make mental adjustments.

Does the opponent seem worried, even a bit frightened? Then the champion will remember this, and put all the mental and physical pressure he can on his opponent early on, in the hope this strain will easily break a fighter already half-defeated.

Later they will stand toe-to-toe , and will each give his very best effort. Lasting past most others' expectations, the trainer prays his fighter will reach deep, muster all the heart and courage he has, and let loose in those last, few grueling minutes so he can still be called 'the champion'.

The champion finds what he needs inside himself at such moments; the ordinary fighter does not. It's as simple as that.

So the champion will rise to the occasion to the best of his ability when the need calls. At the press conference afterwards, behind the stitches and sunglasses, a smile crosses the fightersr's face. He realizes that win or lose, he can go home and face his family, his friends--himself--without shame.

George Foreman was at one time the most feared heavyweight in the sport of boxing. He was the former gold medalist who treated Joe Frazier and Ken Norton like punching bags. After losing his title and suffering a debilitating personal depression following his famed loss in Zaire to Muhammad Ali, he was able to come back over a decade later to regain his crown.

And champions earn more than just the laurels (and money) of their chosen sport. They leave home and experience a wide range of things, and often meet fascinating and influential people. Such affairs inevitably prepare them for all sorts of professional opportunities. On occasion some MMA athletes earn college degrees for challenging professions, for instance. Quite simply, a champion is better prepared for life after sport.

One of the best champions--and one of the least-recognized--is Larry Holmes. In the 1980's Holmes remained the dominant heavyweight until the rise of the young Mike Tyson. Holmes set the record for most consecutive defenses of the crown by knock-out victories--eight--and his jab was rightly considered the most fearsome the heavyweight division had ever seen. But there's no reason to cry for Holmes too much; since then he has amassed a real estate fortune estimated at over 100 million dollars.

Another aspect prevalent among the very best fighters is that of adrenaline at key moments. In the coarsest terms, a fighter feels an exhilarating adrenaline rush in driving another man into submission. Also, there is the adrenaline from fear that works on the champ. When going to work, he accepts bruises and the possibility of suffering considerably worse injuries. The champion will eventually thrive under such circumstances; the average fighter may crumble.

Whether the fighting sport is boxing, wrestling, or the martial arts of South America or the Orient, or the mixed martial arts of UFC and PRIDE, champions will train as hard as they can train, work as hard as they can work, and never take a fight lightly. A champ will study his opponent every way he can, and reflect on his adversary until he knows his opponent as well as he knows himself.

In practice after practice, he will work his defenses to perfection so that he will be virtually invincible during the contest, and hone his particular strength--be it speed, technique, power, or any combination of these--so that he may later strike his enemy at the very moment the opponent is weak.

The champion does not second-guess what move he is to make; he knows what moves to make, and which to avoid. A true champion is halfway to winning his next contest before the contest even begins.

This does not come in a breath, nor will it ever come easily. The price of true greatness never does.

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