How Can MMA Fighters Take Hits Like They Do

Two MMA fighters competing in the cage.

We often look at mixed martial arts competitions and quietly ask ourselves, how are these athletes so tough? When you compare the average person on the street to a professional fighter, there’s simply no comparison. So how do MMA fighters take hits like that in a fight?

Preparing for sometimes months in advance, MMA fighters go through a strict regime of training, sparring, conditioning of their bodies. With a diet specifically tailored to them as they prepare themselves to take the punishment and hits during their fight.

Some of the most brutal wars in any combat sport have been fought inside a cage. Whether that be the UFC octagon or with any of the countless other promotions

And when you look at some of the damage these fighters take round after round. I don’t know about you, but as someone who has trained and competed in other combat sports. I still do ask myself, just how tough are these guys?

Between fighters being repeatedly punched in the face with small 4 oz gloves. Kicked in the leg until it turns a beetroot purple and they are unable to walk straight.

Having elbows smashed into their faces while they lay prone on the ground. Or their arms, knees and feet twisted and turned out of any recognisable shape.

To those who are not fans, it looks pretty barbaric, as my own Dad will attest. By all accounts, a huge sports fan, but not MMA, not at all. And it may have something to do with the first fight he ever saw being BJ Penn vs Joe Stevenson.

Just his luck that it would be one of the bloodiest fights in UFC history. And a really really bad first fight to watch. So ever since he has shown little to no interest.

With the question yet to be answered on how do these MMA fighters take all that damage? Well, let’s take run-through of just what they have to do to prepare themselves for the test ahead.

Pre-Fight Training

So if you have ever been on the ground in an MMA gym, then you will know what goes on inside. But even without first-hand knowledge, you can see from pre-fight shows like UFC’s Embedded. Just how much work these fighters put into their preparation.

As training is meant to get them ready for all possible eventualities. So that when they enter the fight, they’re fully prepared both mentally and physically for the task ahead.

That extensive preparation gives many fighters peace of mind. When they know they have done everything possible to prepare themselves. Building the confidence required to step on to the canvas and fight their fight.

Sparring

You may have heard several MMA fighters saying that the training camp is often more difficult than the fight itself. And much of this comes down to the regular sparring they have to go through, as they sharpen their skillset.

And with this regular sparring comes the ability to deal with all manner of punches and kicks. Their bodies become accustomed to taking punishment day in and day out. So during the fight itself, it doesn’t come as a shock to the system.

Have you heard the legendary stories of old school gyms like the Lion’s Den? Where they would quite literally beat their fighters senseless. Sometimes giving them broken noses as well as a range of other injuries.

And while over time this way of doing things has somewhat dissipated. It doesn’t mean that some gyms are not still putting their fighters through hell in their preparations.

Grappling

Very often in MMA, a fight will end on the ground. And it can be one of the worst positions to be in as the person on top rains down strikes. While the fighter on the bottom is slowly having the last remnants of their energy sapped away.

But again, this is a position a fighter will have been in many times in the gym. And already having been through that, it prepares them mentally and physically so that they don’t simply wilt as soon as they get mounted.

Also having your limbs bent and twisted on the mats prepares you for how much pain you can take before tapping out in a real fight. So when you see someone’s arm overextended and looking like it may snap.

The likelihood is the fighter themselves knows how far their body can go. And it’s all in that preparation, drilling and sparring then have done in the days and week before.

Shark Tank

Something which is not spoken about much outside of the gym is the shark tank. And I am not talking about the rich investor’s tv programme here. But rather when a fighter who has a fight coming up is thrown to the wolves at their own club.

Through a series of rounds, they have to face a fresh opponent, usually every minute. So you can imagine after a long and draining session. Then having to face a group of guys one after another.

All putting as much pressure on you as they can on you to simulate a real fight. It’s a scary and energy-sapping process which helps them prepare both physically and mentally. And the closest thing they will experience to the actual match itself.

And when you combine all of these elements in the pre-fight training. You can get a good idea of how these fighters are able to take those big hits during the fight and still keep pressing forward.

MMA Conditioning

In almost every aspect of their training, fighters push themselves to the limit of what they can do. And it’s the exact same thing with conditioning their bodies.

As they prepare to go to battle, they get themselves ready by going through strict conditioning regimes. And these workouts go hand in hand with the training itself. Helping to give them improved aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

Which is a key aspect of finding success during their fight. Being able to carry out the techniques they relentlessly drilled in the gym. As it’s this conditioning which gives them the confidence in their own preparations to enter the contest ready to take victory!

A Fighters Diet

While I won’t get into what fighters eat before their fights. You should be aware that it is some of the healthiest, low calorie, yet nutritious food you can find. And for those at the top who can afford it, they will usually have someone who’s job it is to specifically prepare their food for them.

With the idea being that not only are they are losing weight. But they are also getting all the necessary nutrients for their bodies to work to their full potential.

Ensuring that they are operating like a well-oiled beautifully engineered machine that has been and prepared to go to war. So it’s not the type of condition in which a normal everyday person will likely ever find themselves.

With everything under the sun from training, sparring to conditioning the body. Then giving it the best foods available to get the very best performance. All of these play their role in preparing the fighter to take those hits.

Avoiding Punishment

Some fighters are just better than others at not getting hit. So when you see some crazy exchange where several punches landed. You have to ask yourself, how many of those were clean shots? How many got through and did some damage?

Because there are certain fighters who are supremely good at simply rolling with the punches. Taking minimal damage and hitting back on the counter. So your eyes can sometimes deceive you into believing someone is taking more damage than they actually are.

But on the other hand, you do have those who are more tough than skilled. They just have that God-given granite chin and are known for being able to take a punch.

From Chris Leben to Mark Hunt, regardless of the weight division. Some fighters are able to take an untold amount of damage and still keep pushing forward. And it’s not something you can really manufacture, as you either have it or you don’t.

Mind Over Matter

If you listen to legends of the MMA world like Bas Rutten and Fedor Emelianenko, to them fighting is 100% mental. So if you are not on your game mentally, you are out of the fight.

“It’s everything, people used to say “Fighting is 50% mental and 50% physical, but I always have said, “fighting is 100% mental.”

Bas Rutten interview

And another aspect of this is using your mind to overcome discomfort and pain. Being able to acknowledge it, but then put it to the side and deal with the here and now.

Not allowing your opponent to see that you may have been hurt by a strike. But playing it off and maintaining your stoicism throughout.

Bas also spoke about never making a “pain face” when you stretch or in anything else you do. As you need to have a relaxed mind so that when you are in the fight you won’t wince and will maintain your poker face.

Some Final Thoughts

There is so much that goes into the sport of mixed martial arts. As fighters prepare to go into battle against another person inside a cage. They train themselves physically and mentally for sheer hell.

Raising the levels of how much the human body can take, pushing their pain thresholds to see just how much they can endure. And when you add in the natural adrenaline on top of all of that.

You end up with some individuals who feel almost nothing. And who won’t get stopped unless they get knocked out cold.

It’s a combination of pride, the desire to fight and a thorough training camp that helps push themselves to their limits. And knowing they have done everything in their power to prepare them for the bout. The rest comes down to how well they perform on fight night.