Chael Sonnen on Confidence and Doubt

In the video below, Chael Sonnen can be seen speaking to Uriah Hall about doubt and confidence. The discussion that transpires may remind some of the wisdom that Cus D’Amato often voiced. Even the legendary Mike Tyson was not immune to fear and lack of confidence (see here for an example).

Chael Sonnen shares similar insight as he discusses the significance of acknowledgement. You cannot deal with fear or doubt if you pretend that it doesn’t exist. The only way to successfully deal with these mental roadblocks is by acknowledging their presence.

The presence of fear or doubt does not mean that you lack courage. It does not mean that you are weak. It simply shows that you are human. You feel what everyone has felt at some point. Even a brutal knockout puncher like Mike Tyson once doubted himself. Fortunately, he was surrounded by trainers who understood pre-fight anxiety. They recognized its existence and were able to guide their young fighter above and beyond it. Chael Sonnen has shared similar wisdom with Uriah Hall. Such wisdom can be absolutely critical to the development of a fighter.

Countless youngsters have walked away from the sport because of doubt. Its presence has made many fighters believe that something was wrong with them. For example, pay attention to the 40 second mark within the video above. It is at that point Uriah discusses the opinion of onlookers verse the opinion of himself. Friends, training partners, and competitors only see the external side of a fighter. They may recognize his speed, power, and tenacity. They will often compliment a fighter on these attributes.

Fighters welcome such praise, but when they are alone at night, they may have entirely different opinions about themselves. They don’t see what others see. A fighter’s vision of himself is often blurred or distorted. While onlookers focus on the positive, the fighter harps on the negative. Many young fighters have no idea how much talent they possess. Doubt can be a difficult obstacle to overcome when pursuing one’s true potential.

As a result, it is important for fighters to work with an experienced trainer. The trainer must recognize fear and doubt so he can guide his fighter through these early struggles. He must also realize that fear and doubt are not conquered in one day. The life of a fighter is often similar to a roller coaster ride. There are ups and downs along the journey. Many fighters will doubt themselves all the way until the first bell sounds. They may even question why they are involved in the sport. Yet as soon as they begin fighting, the mental roadblocks are sent to hibernate. As soon as the fight is over, they want to fight again. In a matter of minutes, the fighter has gone from the bottom of the roller coaster to the top.

Unfortunately, reaching the top of the roller coaster doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually come down. The same feelings of doubt or fear may reappear before your next fight, and then the next fight after that, and so on. The goal however is that with each fight, the athlete becomes more accustomed to dealing with these mental barriers. He recognizes their existence and knows that there is light at the end of the tunnel. He’s overcome these obstacles before. The more experience you gain, the more you are able to handle the mental side of fighting.

Experience is essential. There is no substitute for it. The only way for a fighter to develop it is by fighting. Training at the gym is not enough. Competitive experience is worth its weight in gold. Each fight is another chance for the fighter to mentally mature. Self-doubt gradually diminishes, but if it does rear its ugly head, the fighter is experienced enough to deal with it. He’s been there before. He’s overcome that long and lonely walk to the ring. He knows what is waiting on the other side.

Fear no longer paralyzes him, it instead propels him.


“I tell them the first time they’re going to fight, the night before they probably won’t sleep. I can’t offer them any consolation other than the fact that the other guy went through the same thing, and when they get down to the fight and enter the dressing-room, especially if they’re in an amateur fight, the room is full of possible opponents, because they don’t know who they’re going to fight, and everybody looks calm, confident and smiling and all the new boy is aware of is that terrible thump in his chest, and he’s intimidated by their attitude and their confidence. What he doesn’t realize is that they look at him and they see the same thing in him as he sees in them, because by an exercise of discipline he also puts on a superficial appearance of confidence.” – Cus D’Amato


  1. This video and article really hit home for me. I’ve been involved in martial arts for over 13 years, and have competed in a number of different venues. From open martial arts tournaments and point fighting in my adolescence, to submission grappling and amateur MMA recently. Self-doubt and a lack of confidence have been my strongest adversaries here lately. As a matter of fact, I lost my amateur MMA debut mostly because of it. Granted, my opponent beat me fair and square, and he was a formidable opponent for sure, but my brain defeated me way before he landed any punch. It’s something I’m embarrassed about, and something that I’ve been struggling with since the fight ended almost two years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it, even if just for a few minutes.

    I’ve begun the process of rebuilding myself. I’m working out with a new level of focus, intensity, and dedication, and I’m addressing my weaknesses in the sport, as well as in my mind. Thank you for sharing this video, and also for the write-up that followed. Just another piece of the puzzle for me.

  2. I’ve read former heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano would actually go to sleep while in the dressing room before a fight. Damn, you have to wonder if the guy was human. Wonder how much time he would give himself to warm-up after he was awakened.

    1. @Eric – Plenty of guys nod off in the dressing room. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are devoid of nervous energy (not to say that Marciano was or wasn’t). Many commissions require that you get in the back room several hours before the fights actually begin. I’ve been with guys who had to report in at 6PM who didn’t fight until 11PM. That’s a long time to be pacing around. It’s common to kick up the feet and relax for a bit. Obviously, as you gain more experience though, it’s easier to deal with the nervous energy.

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