The walk to the Octagon or the ring has evolved into a mix of entertainment, martial arts traditions, and sports superstitions. The walkout music and pre-fight posturing add to the spectacle of a good fight card. The old-school martial arts bows pay respect to the fight, the venue, and the training that made the fighter what he or she is at that moment. And the weird little habits, like face-slapping or nipple-pinching, give mixed martial artists that same strange psychological boost that hockey players get when they grow beards during the playoffs or baseball player Matt Garza gets when he eats Popeye’s Chicken before a game.
The way in which each individual fighter combines these elements into a trademark pre-match tradition can be a fascinating look into their competitive psychology, their personality, and maybe even their affiliation with secret societies.
Here are ten of our favorite examples.
The Stare, Stomp, and Chest Pound - Ronda Rousey
As someone who maintains a certain amount of love for pro-wrestling style spectacle, I tend to enjoy the showmanship and Roddy Piper and Four Horsemen shout-outs that Rousey tosses into the lead-up to her fights. But I also like it when she casts all of that aside and simply stares straight ahead as she walks to the Octagon, stomps inside, and smacks her chest as if to signify that playtime is over.
Slapping - Clay Guida feat. Jason Guida
Fellow fighter Jason Guida helps his younger and smaller brother get psyched for a match by slapping him in the face. Repeatedly. And GIF-ably. This is no light tap that’s just for show, either. Clay Guida claims that he sees stars after every single slap.
The Scariest Stretch in the History of the World - Wanderlei Silva
It’s just a wrist-roll. A dynamic stretch for the forearms that’s part of any good striking warm-up. Anyone who has ever taken a martial arts class has done it. But when legendary PRIDE and UFC fighter Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva interlaces his fingers, fixes his menacing glare on his opponent, and starts rotating his wrists, it becomes a chilling battle cry that’s liable to make you shit your Sprawls.
Howl - Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
Perhaps it’s not fair to call Rampage’s trademark move – in which he tosses his head back and emits a surprisingly wolf-like cry – a pre-fight ritual. It’s more of an all-purpose signature move that can be performed as a pre-fight warning, a post-fight celebration, or a thing to do while you’re in a stairwell on your way to a fight.
Jesus Christ Pose - Anderson Silva
After touching – or not touching – gloves with his opponent, Anderson “The Spider” Silva walks backward to the cage, extends his arms as wide open as a Creed song, and confidently leans back into the chain link. Depending on your frame of reference, this either looks like Brazil’s Christ The Redeemer statue or the Nestea Plunge.
The Super Intense Finger Point of Death and/or Damnation - Junior Dos Santos
Following the announcement of his name, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior Dos Santos settles his expression into an impenetrable stone face and throws his pointer finger toward the ground. The intensity of the gesture is haunting, and the simplicity of it has left room for all sorts of fascinating interpretations. The general consensus seems to be that it’s some sort of “You’re going down!” indication. One semi-serious forum poster has suggested that it’s a shout-out to Satan. Given that the Nogueira brothers have executed similar points before their fights, I’m inclined to believe that it’s a magical gesture that transforms amiable, community-oriented Brazilians into emotionless fighting machines.
YES! YES! YES! - Diego Sanchez
Traditionally, the cultural exchange between MMA and pro-wrestling goes like this: Pro-wrestling cribs the occasional MMA move to give their current product a bit more verisimilitude and relevance in the current fight-obsessed market and MMA fighters like “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey –and her Four Horsewomen– borrow bits of pro-wrestling-style showmanship to add to the entertainment factor of their sport. But WWE underdog turned superstar Daniel Bryan (whose real name is Brian Danielson because rasslin’ is not always that great at coming up with noms de guerre) owes a major component of his current star power to Lightweight, Welterweight, and Middleweight UFC fighter Diego Sanchez. Inspired by Sanchez’s intense and intimidating entrance, in which the fighter marches to the Octagon and growls a series of determined “YES”-es through his mouthguard while he pumps his fist, Bryan started chanting a slightly perkier “YES!” as he walked to the squared circle. The “YES!” caught on like wildfire, quickly becoming the most successful monosyllabic wrestling chant since Steve Austin’s early-aughts “WHAT?” and arguably the biggest cross-over catchphrase in MMA history.
Announcer Heckling - Dan Hardy with a special guest appearance by Bruce Buffer
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then consider this video my essay on the unique relationship between Welterweight Dan Hardy and UFC announcer Bruce Buffer that has become such an important part of the fighter’s pre-game performance.
The Old Armpit Juice In The Face Routine - Dan Severn
I’m not sure why old school MMA fighter Dan “The Beast” Severn used to remove his shirt, wipe his pits with it and then wipe his face with it IN THAT ORDER. Maybe, when he gets nervous, he sticks his shirt under his arms and then he smells his shirt like that.
The Diamond Cutter - Benson Henderson
There are a number of theories floating around as to why Lightweight Benson Henderson touches his thumbs and pointer fingers together to form a triangle before his fights (and all the time). Here are three of the most popular and one that I made up myself:
1. It is an obscure reference to his Christian background.
2. It’s a shout out to his gym, The Lab, which features a triangle in its logo.
3. He is a member of The Illuminati, along with Jay Z, Beyonce, and that creepy blue horse statue from the Denver airport that fell on its sculptor and killed him.
4. He’s is a really, really big Diamond Dallas Page fan.
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