In many fights, the focus is on the fighter, their skill set, heart, physical ability and preparation. Often, the onus for a win or a loss falls on the fighter. They are the one being watched, the one directly involved in the fight and faced with the consequences of competing in and being a part of the sporting event. However, the fighters aren’t always the reason behind a poor performance. In more cases than not, the work of the people who are directing, conditioning, training, developing and ultimately benefitting from the success of the fighter are as much to blame, if not more so. These people are the fighter’s camp and corner. Let’s touch on what camps and corners are, and a few of the things they should do and what happens when they are able/unable to do these things.
A camp is the home of a fighter as it pertains to their training, whether it is technical, strategical, physical, mental or conceptual. At this location, the fighter is surrounded by a group of coaches, fellow fighters and others who are all in some way involved in combat sports. The camp is where the fighter does the majority of their preparation, whether it is sparring, game plans, film study, situational drills, pad work or grappling instruction. Often times, it is the place where the fighter develops their strategy, refines their approach and improves or diversifies their technique. A lot of how the fighter is perceived is largely impacted by his camp. Fighters who camp jump often lack an identity or true process, whereas fighters who are immersed in a camp are usually possessing of certain traits or talents that echo the camp’s points of emphasis. Examples would be the aggression and physicality of King’s MMA, or Team Alpha Male’s wrestling, scrambling and transitional submissions.
A corner is the group of people who travel with the fighter to the event, helping the fighter finish making weight and go through the final days of preparations, conditioning, strategizing and reviewing on the week of the fight. Essentially, they continue the process that was started and maintained in camp. The corner puts the finishing touches on keeping the fighter sharp, stress free and mentally keyed in throughout fight week. The corner will be in charge of instruction, direction and adjustment in between rounds during the fight.
These groups of people are the ones who come up with the “best” approach to fighting an opponent, making weight, mental preparation and physical conditioning, as well as teaching, refining and being aware of the techniques needed to gain victory versus the scheduled opponent or the short-notice replacement.
As much as blame falls on the fighter — and rightfully so, since it is their life, career and reputation on the line — they aren’t the only people accountable or responsible for the results in the cage. If we assume the fighter isn’t a complete can, and that they are dedicated, intelligent, skilled and tough, then what is being taught and how a problem is being approached and solved all fall under the umbrella of responsibilities handled by the camp and corner. If a fighter doesn’t have a progressive, studious, hardworking, experienced and knowledgeable camp, then they could be on the wrong side of the fight’s outcome before they even set foot in the cage. It won’t be because of a lack of talent, dedication, toughness, professionalism or skill on the part of the fighter, but because the people they placed their trust in haven’t done the research, don’t know what they are doing, or are just lazy and unmotivated. It sounds harsh, and it is. More importantly, though, it’s 100 percent correct.
So, what will a good camp/corner do and not do?
- A good camp constantly challenges a fighter by working on a litany of things in between fights. The camp slowly develops technical skill, strategic awareness and feel. A fighter’s mind is like a library. To be a fully functioning library, it needs to have different sections, categories and types of books to reference for any number of situations, circumstances, approaches, philosophies and techniques. If a fighter is only learning in fight camp or only addressing things in fight camp, because they aren’t given the right work or instruction, then the camp has failed their fighter.
- A good camp has good sparring. If the guys in a camp are sparring with amateurs, they are being done a disservice. To foster a hungry mind and spirit, you have to provide motivation. The best motivation for a fighter is being outclassed, dominated or outright beaten up. If a fighter is walking through everyone in the gym, eventually they will become complacent. Worse yet, they will fall so in love with the idea of winning all the time that they will avoid any and all circumstances where they might lose. This means they aren’t learning, and if they aren’t learning, then they aren’t doing anything worthwhile.
- A good camp has multiple perspectives. Yes, coaches are supposed to be beacons of knowledge. They demand trust, too. However, no idea is above reproach or questioning. If everyone agrees all the time, then it leads to complacency and to people who are too scared to disagree. None of this is good, because it’s guaranteed that the opposition and their coach don’t see you the way you and your coaches see you. If a fighter hasn’t entertained a different plan or perspective, then most likely a fighter is not covering all the bases and isn’t going to be prepared. No organization grows without conflict or disagreement. No one can see and prepare for everything. We all have blind spots, limitations and biases. There has to be a discussion. There have to be different perspectives that get addressed and lead to a final decision or direction.
- A good camp has answers. No fighter should ever come back to his corner and encounter a coach who doesn’t have an answer that can address both technical/strategic items, as well as motivational/emotional ones. It’s their job to know how to get you going. It’s their job to know what you need to do or not do technically or strategically. If they don’t have answers, then they aren’t doing their job.
- A good camp does not lean exclusively on their fighter’s physical tools. Not only is it lazy and unprofessional, but it is harmful to their progression and their safety and health. The physical tools are supposed to be used on top of a solid technical and strategic foundation. They aren’t supposed to be the foundation upon which skills are built on. It never works — or, more correctly, it works until it doesn’t.
- A good camp does not spout nonsense when their fighter is losing. They don’t say things like “Don’t let him take you down,” “Get back up,” or “Stop letting him hit you.” These aren’t legitimate pieces of advice. They don’t tell the fighter how to stop those things. Instead, they just tell the fighter to stop those things, which the fighter clearly doesn’t know how to do.
- A good camp does not just assume. They do their due diligence and come prepared. Regardless of any opponent change, they should be educated on as many fighters as possible. If the camp doesn’t know something, it better have someone it trusts to give it the intel. Anything else increases a fighter’s chances of taking a loss or, worse, getting hurt. We all know you can lose a fight or you can lose a fight. If guys on Twitter have footage on a fighter and a camp doesn’t, then they’re doing it wrong.