By Alwyn Cosgrove and Rob Pilger

I guess I can begin by saying how wrong I was and how I took our Q&A staff for granted. I know EliteFTS has the best training team on the planet. Yes, this is a very cocky statement, but do me one favor here. Go find another site that has some of the best lifters in the world keeping training logs and answering questions, one with some of the best sport performance coaches in the world with athletic numbers to support it and some of the best trainers in the world with client results that are unmatched. While you’re at it, try to find some of the best strength coaches in the world with decades of experience. And finally, make sure they’ve all excelled at what they do both personally and professionally. You’ll find NOTHING close.

Okay, enough of my grandstanding. I’m extremely proud of what the Q&A has become and can say it has far exceeded my original goal—bringing the best of my three worlds together (powerlifting, personal training, and strength coaching). So, how did I take this for granted? In business, it’s my job to seek out the strengths and weaknesses of my staff and do what I can to bring up the weaknesses but more importantly grow the strengths into something amazing. (Unlike training, in business you can hire new people to fix weaknesses, thus creating more room to focus on the strengths.)

On the Q&A, we had eight team members who were involved in “fight sports” (a generic name to cover all fight disciplines) with three who have competed internationally and/or professionally. It took Rob Pilger to make me see this, and I thank him greatly for it. If you like the “fight corner” on the Q&A, thank Rob. He helped me pull all of this together. I do need to point out that most of the other guys have been telling me this for years, but once I saw how passionate Rob was about the fight game, there was NO WAY I could NOT do this. The fight corner of the Q&A has become the fastest growing sector of our website in a very short period of time.

Rob emailed me this dialog that transpired between him and Alwyn Cosgrove. As soon as I read it, I knew we had to post it. To have two former fighters who now excel at training and coaching discuss the mental aspects of fighting is a must-read for everyone in or outside of the ring.

—Dave Tate

Rob Pilger (RP): This is a sport that will show you your true colors. It will show you what you are truly made of in a very revealing way. Only a special breed of men and women can enter the squared Circle of Combat and show true mastery of their skills and emotions. True mastery of their being...

This is often the most overlooked aspect and benefit of the training. It teaches you to take control of your fears and doubts…to come face to face with your fears and doubts and beat them…to conquer truly master yourself.

Alwyn Cosgrove (AC): The winner and the loser feel exactly the same in a fight. It’s what they do that makes them different.

There’s a point in every fight when a fighter takes a step backward and takes a big breath and you see the doubt in his eye. He starts to realize that he bit off more than he could chew, and he questions what he’s doing here and how he can get out. And then it’s all over. I’ve got you. You’re done.

There’s a certain “je ne sais quoi” that accompanies training as a competitive fighter that’s largely understood by most as something dark. And it is dark—raw brutality and grit. Nothing fancy. Just one person against another. No superfluous movements or philosophies or equipment. Life at its most Darwinian—either you have the killer instinct, or you’re dead. And only a certain kind of person has it. They’re honestly a mean, cut-throat warrior, a fighter who instinctively knows when overwhelming force or cruelty or simply rolling with the punches will move him ahead. I don’t think you can teach that.

I can remember my sports psychology professor coming into class and announcing that we were having an exam that day. And that it would count for 50 percent of the final class grade. This was completely unannounced. I was pissed and let my feelings known.

Then he stopped me. He pointed out the girl who sat in front of me. She was a long distance runner, and she’d sat quietly and thought about what the professor said. The rugby players to my left talked to each other about it, and me—the fighter—was ready to pull his head off! Each person responded exactly how the sport they practiced would determine.

Do you choose your sport—or does your sport choose you?

Sparing and training

Alwyn Cosgrove (AC): A fight is just the execution of your preparation. It’s about hitting and not being hit. It’s not about violence. It’s about application of science. Like a dance. So when I’m sparring, I’m just working on the application of my tools. No emotion.

RP: Training and sparring is the mission to be complete for a fight. Complete mentally, spiritually, and physically. Total focus on what must be done and how to do it. If there are any weaknesses, we expel them. Great sparring does this...

I do this by sparring with styles that before have given me fits. I’m relaxed knowing that I’m doing what needs to be done. My trainers have the best plan for victory. I’m taking the shape of the fighter who will be relaxed and truly dominant the night of the fight.

The final week

What is your mindset as a fight approaches the last week of prep? How is your “self talk?” What do you visualize?

AC: I used to visualize two things—total domination and total failure. With total domination, I just execute my punches and the opponent cooperates very well.

With total failure, I visualize that everything goes wrong. So if it does, I know exactly what I’d do next. I rehearsed every possible outcome and was just ready to execute it.

RP: I’m relaxed knowing that I did my work. I’m truly prepared in all areas. My self talk is that I’m calm and in control. I’m the boss, and I will break the other fighter down. He has never seen anyone as prepared as me.

I visualize myself as being very relaxed but vicious, making the other fighter pay for his mistakes. Getting him off of his plan and reacting to mine. I’m showing him no emotion. I keep him guessing all the while knowing that I’m in control and I’m having fun executing our fight plan.

My mistakes will be minimal as my sparring has prepped me. If I make one, I come right back to take control. I give him no chance to take control. I’m the boss in a relaxed way. I will break him by showing him that I’ll come right back to dominate from anything he does. I’m in charge.

A stronger mind

How can you strengthen your mindset/confidence?

AC: For most people, it’s getting in great shape and having total, TOTAL trust in your team. My idea was to become like a puppet, ready to do anything that my coach asked. I just executed my team’s instructions.

RP: Positive affirmations and visualization. Many fighters take the negative approach, thinking they’re not good enough and not confident and they think about losing. What they forget is that you get what you think about.

Positive thoughts and visualization backed by the hard work brings you the outcome you want.

My top level sparring and training has made me super confident. I’m trained in such a way that I can’t think of defeat. I’m willing to do anything to win. This is not arrogance but truly confidence backed by the hard work that I’ve displayed in sparring and in the gym.

A backbone of great sparring (sparring many styles) and past fights has taught me that I’ve paid my dues and I have arrived. I learned and know how to master my emotions and make the other fighters work against themselves. I know through my background that I’ve done this once and will do it again better.

Physical strength?

Is physical strength overrated compared to mental strength?

AC: Absolutely. Who would you rather fight—Dave Tate who can squat hundreds of pounds or a 130 lb man who is convinced that you raped his daughter or attacked his wife?

RP: You can often take a man’s heart from him in the ring. Mental strength is everything. I wear and I tell my fighters to wear a poker face in the ring. Show nothing! If you’re hurt, look strong. If you’re tired, look energized. You will break the stronger fighter through your mental strength. His telling weakness becomes your strength.

Before the fight

What is the environment like in the locker room before you fight? (Who do you like around?)

AC: I always had a quiet locker room. I was never into the shouting and hype. Very cerebral. Just me and my coach usually.

RP: Calm and relaxed. Comfortable knowing that I know the ring well. I enjoy being in it. Even laughing. I never liked the solemn locker room. Hell, I enjoy fighting. Why look glum? This is what I like to do so I will show it. Go in stiff. Leave stiff.

I like people though who don’t hype me up. I don’t like that “rah rah” garbage. I want people around me who have been in the ring before. I don’t like somebody who has never fought before saying, “The fight will be easy,” or “The other guy isn’t anything.” I want guys around me who have battled before. They need not say anything. There bodily confidence is everything to me.

The warm up

What are you thinking while you’re warming up?

AC: Nothing. Total blank. Just executing the game plan I suppose. Going over and over it in my head. I know if I execute it perfectly, I’ll win.

RP: My confidence is surging through me. I again know I did my work. I left no stone unturned.  I’m ready to go. I’m loose, calm, and ready to have fun executing my plan. I’m not to lax, just ready to go. I learned a long time ago that I perform better when I’m loose but viscous. And knowing that I love this and that I have fun in the ring.

Being tight and angry and too serious did nothing for me but make me hate the experience. It caused me to make mistakes in the ring.

Some may think, what about having that aggressive mental edge in the ring? The edge is being relaxed. Not using unnecessary precious energy. That is the edge. Calm but vicious.

Into the ring

What are your thoughts as you enter the ring?

AC: There are no judges. These guys aren’t qualified to “judge” me. They are just witnesses to the perfect display I’m about to demonstrate for them.

RP: I’m relaxed and I’m enjoying being in the ring. I show the guy right away that there is NO fear in my eyes, only confidence and strength. I’m not to be F***** with tonight. My body language shows it. My background has taught me what it takes to be dominant in the ring. I have seen everything he has before. There is nothing he can show me. I have done everything in training to shine tonight.

I'm the boss...

Jacked or relaxed

Is it better to be all jacked up or relaxed and calm before a fight?

AC: Different fighters prefer different things. I was always trying to be calm as possible. I could get overanxious so I tried to be as relaxed and focused as I could. I think when emotion goes up, intelligence goes down. And then you’re toast.

RP: Experience obviously is the best teacher. It has taught me not be tight and angry and not to use too much energy before the fight. Being calm but vicious allows you to be precise and deadly while not making mistakes.

I want the other guy to be angry. I want him to be swinging for the fences. My calmness will wear him down and allow me to chop him up. His emotions are taking over. I’m in control of mine.

Emotions in the ring

Is it good to hide emotion in the ring?

AC: I think if I see that I “got to you” you’re done. All the staring down and hype never got to me at all. We have to fight anyway. All the bullshit you want, all the trash talking or staring that you want, a few seconds from now, it’s just you and me. And then we’ll know.

RP: A poker face is everything. I learned one time the hard way about it in a fight. I could have beaten this guy sooner. I hit this guy with a great shot. I didn’t really follow up because then he pivoted out of the way. He didn’t seem hurt. After the fight in the ring, he told me, “You know you really had me hurt with that shot. I mean hurt.”

He didn’t show it. I didn’t think it. The poker face.

You can be dominating the whole fight. Have a guy beat down. Once you start to show fatigue though, you awaken him. You give him hope, which is dangerous. That hope revives him, and he goes for broke, which, again, is dangerous.

Wear the poker face. Show nothing. Be calm and strong when weak. Break him. Don’t revive him.

How to win the mental game?

What is your mentality in the ring? How do you mentally beat a fighter down?

AC: I projected the idea that he was just a waste of my time. It was a formality that I would beat him. No jumping up and down, no excitement. I expected to win. I win. I have my hand raised. I go home. My whole mindset was that we both know I’m going to win. It’s just delaying the inevitable.

RP: By taking command and being relaxed. Everything he does, I come back and then some. I give him no momentum. I take it away and build mine. He gets frustrated, and I stay calm but vicious.

Even if he’s determined, that’s fine. I’m calm and can go all night. I still stay in control and show he can do nothing to me. My poker face gives him nothing.


How do you handle not being intimidated?

AC: I KNEW that he felt just as nervous as I did. We all feel the same. And when we’re both tired and both hurt—all I need to do is hang in a second longer than him—and it’s mine. We all feel the same. But what we do, how we handle that, that’s what separates us.

I can remember standing at the side of the ring. Scared. My coach asked me how I felt. I said I’m scared. (NEVER lie to your coach.)

He asked me, “How scared? On a scale of 1–10?”

I said, “Ten!!”

He said, “Wow. How scared would you be to fight a pack of rabid pit bulls?”

I laughed and said, “Ok, that would be a ten!”

He said, “So what is this guy?”

I said, “Maybe a six?”

He said, “What if the fight was only 30 seconds long?”

I said, “Ha! A two!”

He said, “Ok, just fight him for 30 seconds and then we'll go from there!”

I went out and stopped him in 15 seconds!

RP: Experience and having a backbone teaches you how to handle it. You learn that it’s shit. Nothing but weakness on his part. He’s fishing for something in you but not catching anything.

My calmness and confidence are my strengths and worry him inside. I’m actually winning before we fight because he’s doubting himself more by trying to intimidate me more.

I’ve learned that the fighters who try to intimidate me are usually weak and mentally fragile.