In a previous post, I noted that I actually am an “Old Prof,” and reviewed research that suggested that martial arts actually helped children and others grow in their abilities to think and behave well. In this post, I want to share some of the other findings of a research article I read in the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest on boxing.

This research article was from March 29, 2018, titled “The Psychology of Fighting: 9 Fascinating Findings Involving Boxing and other Combat Sports,” whose author Christian Jarrett is a noted expert on brain research. The findings also suggest that, if you bet on fighting, there are some hints to picking a winner. Here are some:

Findings #1: Bet on the Fighter Who Doesn’t Smile

When two fighters stand face-to-face for that traditional pre-fight stare down, bet on the fighter who DOESN’T smile. Research shows that fighters who smile more intensely during pre-match face-offs are more likely to lose the fight. Why? Science tells us that smiles are involuntary signals of submission and lack of aggression, just as teeth baring is in the animal kingdom.

Findings #2: Bet on the Fighter with the Widest Face

Research found that UFC fighters with wide faces relative to their length are tougher. Research also tells us that, as humans, we already seem to pick up on this “fact” instinctively, because we judge fighters with wider faces as scarier. People correlate face-width with testosterone levels, and we believe men with higher testosterone levels have wider faces, greater strength, and more aggression.

Findings #3: When Betting On a Fight, Go With Your Gut

Research found that most people could actually predict, better than just by chance, the winners of mixed martial arts fights simply by looking at the faces of any two fighters. People seem to automatically link facial clues to masculinity, strength, and aggressiveness. So, if you bet on fights, trusting what you see is a good way to pick a winner. This might not work with horse racing, but it seems to work with fighting.

Finding #4: Bet on the Southpaws

Left-handers are advantaged simply because they are used to competing against right-handers, but right-handers are not used to competing against left-handers. Research shows that left-handed fighters have a better win-lose ratio than right-handers.

Finding #5: Don’t Necessarily Bet on the Beard

Don’t be fooled by a scary-looking beard. Using what we know about linking research on facial clues with fighting success, it would seem that boxers should grow a thick beard to be more intimidating and masculine. But research on 395 UFC fighters found that bearded fighters were just as likely to be knocked out and lose fights. In fact, researchers saw that beards as “dishonest signals” of power.

Finding #6: Betting on Someone Who Has to “Make the Weight” Could Be Good or Bad

Because boxing and other combat sports have weight divisions, competitors often work hard to lose weight prior to pre-match weigh-ins, then rehydrate and refuel before the fight. Research found that drastically cutting weight prior to weigh-ins can be harmful to fighters – it leads to higher anger and irritation, fatigue, tension, and reduced energy.

But surprisingly, dropping weight has positive psychological effects. Elite competitors in wrestling, judo, and taekwondo noted that “making the weight” made them feel more like athletes who were in power and had control. That gave them a mental advantage on their opponents. One noted feeling like Rocky Balboa running up the stairs and felt like these preparations made him believe that, if he could dump the weigh, he had a good chance of winning.

Finding #6: Pre-Match Mind Games – Well, Who Knows?

Little research has been done linking pre-match mind games to wins or losses. “The Greatest” fighter [Mohammed Ali] was the best at mind games. Although researchers have not studied mind games much; the little research we have on boxing suggests that most boxers use mind games during pre-match weigh-ins (for example, acts like tensing their muscles to look meaner), during pre-fight warm-ups (for example, switching stances to confuse opponents), or during ring entrances (for example, making extended eye contact or wearing robes with badges to show prior victories).

In Summary

If you are a betting person, there are some research findings that might help you improve your ability to bet on fights. Good luck.

Anyone who wants to read this full research article on combat sports, see this link: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/03/29/the-psychology-of-fighting-digested-9-fascinating-findings-involving-boxing-and-other-combat-sports/

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