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How To Easily Spot A Trained Fighter In A Crowd

A trained fighter and his opponent in the gym sparring.

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Trained fighters come in all shapes and sizes and train across a whole swathe of martial arts. Which will give them some different personal attributes depending on the sport in which they train. So how do you spot a trained fighter in the first place?

There are several visual ways you can tell someone is a trained fighter. From a combination of cauliflower ear and how they carry themselves to how they position themselves before or during a fight. Knowing how to throw a punch properly to having a good guard on the ground.

But while you can look for some telltale signs that this person you are looking at is indeed a fight. The same is true that not one size fits all. As how many times have you seen a professional fighter that could double for a math teacher? (True story for Rich Franklin).

Or a skinny-looking guy who looks like he forgot the memo about protein shakes and red meat? And I can tell you from personal experience that getting your butt kicked by the latter is pretty demoralising.

So while there is no ironclad way to tell before they do anything that you are indeed looking at a professional fighter.

You can at least look for some signs before things move on to the next phase. Before you find out for sure the hard way that this individual is indeed a trained fighter.

Distinctive Cauliflower Ear

Back in the very early nineties, before the sport of mixed martial arts went mainstream. The general rule of thumb was that guys with cauliflower ear were either college wrestlers, Judokas or rugby players.

However, MMA became one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. In tandem, we have seen a rise in the appearance of deformed ears on our screens.

Khabib Nurmagomedov following a win inside the octagon.
Lightweight phenom Khabib Nurmagomedov’s cauliflower ear.

As wrestlers and grapplers made the transition across to MMA. And as more and more people began training in the sport. They brought with them their trademark ears, as a clear sign they have spent countless hours honing their craft on the mats.

So today it’s very common for professionals to have this very visible trophy. Which should be enough of a warning sign to those who are paying attention. Not to mess with them without a really really good reason.

A Thick-Trained Neck

Again, this is not always true but it’s definitely a sign of someone who has been pushing and conditioning their bodies. During their training regime, fighters will naturally get a neck workout. Whether from grappling on the ground or taking strikes on the feet.

But on top of that, most will also train their necks to help take the impact of a strike. So this is why many do have really broad necks. However, it’s not always the case, so don’t base your observation on this one point alone.

As for all you know, the guy may be a gymnast, might dabble in a little rugby or even love to lift weights while looking at himself in the mirror. It happens.

A Good Physique

Generally speaking, people who have trained in a combat sport for many years will be in good shape, generally speaking. But there are of course always exceptions to this rule.

And a good example of this would be some heavyweight fighters. Who rather than pack on the muscle, instead pack on the pounds of fat. A case in point is someone like Roy Nelson, a UFC fighter who was once referred to as the Moon.

UFC welterweight king Georges St Pierre enters the octagon before his fight.
Georges St-Pierre is known for his physique.

Having some of the heaviest hands and best chin in the sport of MMA. Roy also brought with him one of the biggest bellies, which he loved to rub in his post-fight celebrations.

So whether or not someone is in shape, even with the addition of a cauliflower ear or a broad neck. You still may not be 100% right.

Self-Confidence Is Key

If there is one thing training in any combat sport will do is give you confidence in your abilities. From hobbyists to professionals, no matter what level you are at. Training and competing allow you to be real about what you can and cannot do.

It helps to strip away that false bravado that so many carry around. And instead, substitutes it for actual real self-confidence. So it is another typical sign of someone who has a certain amount of belief in what they can do.

And it translates across into other aspects of their lives as a result. As you will often hear stories about how some of the greatest MMA fighters in the world were bullied. Who then turned to combat sports to help build their confidence.

Fighters such as Georges St Pierre or Israel Adesanya, have gone from being on the end of beatings. To being guys sitting on top of the world and instead of handing out beatings to others.

Having Good Composure

In tense situations, trained fighters will usually be able to keep calm. Having been involved in fighting as a way to make a living. It also gives them the ability to not freak out under pressure.

So someone with a calm demeanour in a scenario where there could well be violence. Is a pretty good indicator that they have assessed the situation and are confident they can deal with what might happen.

Two MMA fighters sparring on the mats working submission holds.
Two MMA fighters sparring on the ground.

Again it’s only a signal, as you do have individuals who have a very false sense of security. That may be based on simply having drunk too much alcohol or just from having watched Rocky one too many times.

Either way, versus a trained fighter, their failings will soon be exposed in the most embarrassing and painful of ways possible. So as a very famous man once said, thread softly and carry a big stick.

The Adrenaline Dump

Contrast that with someone who has not trained and who has not been in a fight situation. For them, there is a fight or flight reaction as their body does not quite know what to do. With its natural instinct either being to run for the hills or stand your ground and swing for the fences.

And of course, as soon as you see someone winging their punches. Or playing patty cake with someone’s face, you know they don’t know what they are doing.

As it’s one thing to picture how you think you would react. But when face to face with danger the realisation that you could very well get hurt, turns some people into a quivering mess.

Watch Their Movement

People who have trained will know all about distance. How to create enough space between them and an aggressor to avoid being hit. Or to give themselves the ideal distance for landing their strike.

It really depends on what type of fighter you are dealing with. Whether they are a kicker or a puncher. They may even be a grappler and will look to shoot and take the person down, without a single punch being thrown.

But generally speaking, they will create the required distance. And get themselves into the correct position to execute their technique. Being one step ahead of the untrained person in front of them who will most likely fall into their honey trap.

Having The Correct Stance

One thing a trained fighter will not do is stand in front of a potential opponent with their feet side by side so that they are off-balance. What you will notice is that they will first create that distance.

Then they will plant their feet in the required position for what they wish to do next. Like a boxer will stand with their two feet apart, a bit more than shoulder-width. Knees slightly bent with the back foot at an angle to the body. And if their hands are up then it’s already too late.

Two male boxers with one in blue punching during their fight.
Two boxers going toe to toe in the ring.

On the other hand, a wrestler or grappler will most likely end up in a lower stance. With legs further apart and knees bent more, they prepare themselves to shoot for a takedown.

But again, not all trained fighters will be this obvious about what they want to do. In much the same way as a sanctioned fight, they don’t want to telegraph their next move. So the lower stance position may be something that happens at the very last moment when it’s least expected.

Proper Ground Guard

If things do go to the ground, you will quickly know who is trained and who is not. With those who are not trained, flailing their arms and most definitely not getting their body in the correct position.

If the person is on the bottom and they get the other person in their guard. Meaning they wrap their legs around their body, and then they have spent time on the mats.

If they are on the bottom but not attempting to control the other person. By keeping them in their guard and trying to control their arms. Then you can see the contrast between the two.

As if you are on the bottom and either unable to escape, control your opponent or go for a submission, it can be perhaps the worst place of all. Because if the person on top knows what they are doing, they will make your life miserable. And there will be almost nothing you will be able to do about it.

In Conclusion

So there are some obvious signs that a person is a trained fighter. From their physical attributes and telling cauliflower ear. To how they carry themselves and their overall confidence.

But try to be aware of false positives, where someone gives off an air of bravado. But behind it all, there’s pretty much nothing going on. The truth is for the most part that people who train are usually pretty quiet and relaxed individuals. And don’t like to pretend and have a false sense of security.

And it’s often these mannerisms that people should look out for. And not the loudmouth person in the corner who has most likely never been tested.

As once you have been tested and humbled, then put on rinse and repeat. You soon find any false sense of security melting away. As being regularly put in your place will do that for you.