MMA Cornermen: Unsung Heros Part 1

What fighter worth his salt would ever go into a fight without padding his proverbial hand as much as possible in his favor?

Having a rock solid wing man is one of the most overlooked and under rated pieces of prep work that a fighter can have in place for his/her up coming fight.

If you’ve ever taken the time to listen to the corners during a fight, you’d be surprised at the variance in ability and quality. It’s amazing how often the advice you hear being shouted from the corner is something along the lines of “F*** him up bro!” Really?

An important part of any successful competition is communication between Coach/Instructor and Student/Competitor.

This article will focus on a couple of methods we use to communicate to our students when they are in the middle of their matches. They can however, be applied to effectivly communicating during any traumatic or stressful event.

A good coach is like a second pair of eyes for their student. But what the coach sees is useless if he/she is unable to communicate that information to his/her student.

Below are a list of tips that we have found helpful in communicating to our students when they are in the middle of a match.

Less is more… Keep It simple

If there is a constant barrage of chatter comming from the sidelines, it tends to blend in with the myriad of other noises already being muted by the tunnel vision/hearing experienced by the student. Be patient, hold your tongue and only bark out an occasional observation. AND when you do give some instruction, keep it simple. Suggestions such as this, “slip the jab, then uppercut, overhand, left hook right kick and shoot.” Simply are too much for a student under duress to handle. Something like the following would be more helpful “SLip and counter”.

Use the student’s name.

During one of his fights, Trevor “Little Bang” Osborn related that when everyone was shouting, he didn’t know who was saying what to whom. He didn’t know if it was the opposing team or our team speaking to the other competitor or to him and pretty soon he simply tuned it all out… that is until he heard us shout his name. Then he was able to take focus and listen.

Proper use of use of this method would sound something like this:

“Trevor, be first.”
“Trevor, circle! Keep your back off the cage.”
“Trevor, Go Now!”

Make eye contact.

When your student is fatigued and or rocked they tend to do a little slot machine number with their eyes. Their head will roll lazily around and their eyes will roll up under their lids etc.

If this happens between rounds, control their head with your hands and force them to look into your eyes.

If they are in a contol position mid-round, tell them to look at you. This will again, help to re-focus them, not just on your instruction, but also onto the task at hand.

Trigger Words

Trigger Words are words or phrases whose meaning you and your students have agreed upon. They are words that have been used during training sessions leading up to the event so that the student is used to hearing them and reacting to them.

For instance, we use the Trigger Words “Go Now”. We all know that this means, it means that there is 30 seconds left in the round. We have trained the student to go all out upon hearing that phrase (Pavlov eat your heart out). “Establish Base” means, chill out. Don’t blow your wad just yet. Re-establish your position and calmly look for openings and opportunities.

These phrases should be reinforced and used repeatedly in the gym during training sessions.

Don’t use more than one or two Trigger Words in your gym. The more Trigger Words you have, the less impact and significance they carry.

Communicate Visually with Hand Signals and Expressions

There are many times that a student’s battle stress will completely debilitate their ability to hear your voice. There are also times that the venue is so loud that your voice simply cannot be heard above the rest of the noise. In these instances it is helpful to commuicate visually as well as verbally. For instance, we will point to our eyes, then look up and point to the ceiling if we want our students to arch their backs more, lift their head and put more body into straightening out the armlock, guillotine, etc.

We’ll point to the ceiling and loop our finger around in a circle if we want the student to relax and burn some time off the clock.

And remember… every communication should be prefixed with your student’s name.

I hope these tips are helpful to you and your crew and we wish you all the best of luck. Train hard… we’ll see you out on the mat!

6 replies
  1. naturalbornfighter1
    naturalbornfighter1 says:

    Great post Dr.Sick, Some great advice there. One of my pet hates is corners shouting out useless advice. Also when a fighter returns to his corner and the cornermen are talking over each other. How is the fighter supposed to take in the info if it’s coming from various sources at one time?

    I liked the trigger words, great strategy!

  2. Chanhyung Bae
    Chanhyung Bae says:

    Nice article. I wish I could have coaches like you. With coaches like you, it would be much easier to deal with any type of fighters and situations in the ring. I’ll keep these in mind and try these when I am in the corner someday. Thanks!

  3. robin jeff davis
    robin jeff davis says:

    Good information. It got me thinking about a fighters “support services” and thought this might be of interest. it’s observations from a mma referee.

  4. Tanner Dickey
    Tanner Dickey says:

    My old wrestling coach nailed all of those techniques. They really work, and it shows compared to other coaches. We had key words, like “short time!” (twenty seconds left, go hard), “settle!” (relax and get a good base), and “kick his ass!” (kick his ass) 🙂 haha

    Between rounds there was only ten or fifteen seconds, so it was just a quick sentence or two. Those sentences, however, were very simple and straightforward. I would hear other coaches practically trying to tell a story inbetween rounds. A simple “Pull his head and shoot.” or “Circle away from his clinch.” is all I needed.

    My coach was also very animated. We could visually see exactly what he was yelling with just a glance. During rounds, sometimes coach would get so into it that he would grab one of my teamates watching the match use him as a dummy to show the movement he wanted us to make. It was kind of comical, but usually what he was showing brought the match to a quick close, with my hand being raised soon after. Coach was king of the quick kills, in wrestling at least.

    Great stuff! Makes me proud to be part of Damage Control after hearing Mushin’s reputation of being respectful, calm, and classy, yet tough and ready. I’m definatley going to take a road trip to Utah this year!


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