What do the top MMA fighters and poker players have in common

At first glance they seem like two very different disciplines. In MMA it’s a question of physical strength and skill that’s needed to outwit an opponent but poker is a game that is all played in the mind. With the latter there is also the other unpredictable element that you have no control over the cards that you or your opponents are dealt.

But look a little deeper into the psychology of the two and certain similarities begin to emerge. In fact they are the sorts of qualities that any sportsperson playing at the highest level has to develop if they want to stay at the top of their game.


The first of these is a complete sense of discipline. In both MMA and poker it’s a definite truth is that the more you dedicate yourself to practice the better you will be. A great example is the fighter Georges St Pierre. The Canadian three times Welterweight winner of the UFC is said to try all kinds of possible training to improve his performance from lifting weights to gymnastics. Similarly, the secret behind the success of a top poker player like Antonio Esfandiari, with career winnings estimated to be over $21 million, is practice, practice, practice, plus a little bit of strategy, of course.


The next vital trait to be mastered is the skill of patience. In both MMA and poker it’s always a question of biding your time and knowing when to act. Go too early and it’ll come to nothing but if you leave it too late then all could be lost. Of course it’s not just a matter of being patient over a fight or game, sometimes the timescales can be far longer. For example when Leandro “Brodinho” Issa lost in his first UFC he didn’t give up, he bided his time until an appearance in the UFC Octagon came up – and won in spectacular fashion. In poker it took last year’s winner of the WSOP Main Event, Qui Nguyen no less than 13 years as a professional before he walked off with the biggest prize in the game.


Certainly a strong ego is important for any sportsperson to have. After all, it’s this that provides the self-confidence to see them through situations where others might call it quits. But it’s just as important to know when it’s best to keep that ego in check if you want to stay in control of a situation. That’s why some of the most successful fighters and players have a genuine streak of humility in their character and this can take many forms. A great example is Elias Theodorou who uses social media to communicate with fans and keep his feet firmly on the ground while in the poker world David Peters may have won over $5 million but still believes that bragging and boasting’s simply not in his nature.

So there certainly is some cross-over between the two and certainly some skills are transferable. Whether this means any MMA fighters will take to the poker table after retirement remains to be seen – but it’s far more likely than any of today’s poker stars ever taking to the ring.

This article first appeared at

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