Inside the Mind of Professional MMA Fighter and Tattoo Artist: Mark Matthews

So, when I was approached to write this article, one of the expressed directives  was for me to touch on a subject that I feel I can shed some light on; an area of fighting in which I can be looked at as an expert…This stumped me, because being the self-minimizer that I am, it’s hard for me to think of myself as an expert at anything in a sport where greatness is judged by the amount of gold worn around a champion’s waist. In the midst of this thought, I realized that I may just be onto something! Maybe one of the things that has pushed me this far is the fact that I continue to minimize nearly everything I’ve done or do in the fight world.

Mark Matthews Self Portrait

When I’m training, even though I know I’m about to be in for a tough session, I tell myself, “It’s only 90 minutes.”  If I’m about to get shark-tanked, I may tell myself something like, “It’s only 5 rounds.” If I’m exhausted on the 2nd workout of a 3 workout day, I tell myself, “Only one more workout…” Before each fight if I catch myself getting anxious, I may tell myself something like, “It’s only some heavy sparring with no pads in front of a lot of people.” If I’m on the mat and have to grapple with a black belt or someone like Jake Shields next, I’ll tell myself “It’s only 5/7/10 minutes.” Long story short, I do what I can to convince myself that whatever is coming up, isn’t all that bad after all. I beat it before it begins, and this comfort allows me to think better under what would normally be an intimidating or stressful situation that could hinder my ability to think effectively; whether I’m exhausted physically, or just in a bad place in the fight/sparring.

On the flip side I also minimize myself when others praise or compliment me in the gym. I don’t do it verbally (well, sometimes I do) but I tell myself something to not allow me to believe my own hype (which I did once, maybe even twice and it didn’t work out so well). If a training partner I spar with compliments me on a punch that I was landing effectively, I immediately replay my boxing coach’s criticism in my head of the same punch when I throw it in his presence. If I sub a guy while grappling, I may tell myself that it was because I was bigger/stronger than he and that I’d better tighten that technique up to be able to pull it off on a guy my size or bigger come fight time. I always find any way I can to not toot my own horn.

Mark Matthews in Action.

Reason being, I feel that once you believe like you’re good at a technique or in a certain area, your training in that area may lose some, if even a little bit, of intensity. This is where I see guys stumble all the time. Once you start to feel good about yourself in a certain area, you allow ego to creep in a bit there; and ego is any fighter’s own worst enemy. We all have a guy in the gym, who when you point out something to him that he can tighten up, based on what you saw or experienced when training with him, their response is to give you some half-assed excuse that makes no sense as to why they do it the way they do…… I NEVER want to be that guy. Even if I don’t see or agree with what you’re saying or trying to show me, I still mull it over, consider it and thank you. I just feel that it’s what is deserved if a guy is trying to help you. I mean, how many guys are giving you advice in your gym because they want you to get your ass kicked? Anyways, enough about etiquette, let’s get back to mentality talk.

In retrospect, I guess one of my greatest strengths is my mental state towards training and fighting; and probably one of the only areas I deserve to give advice or suggestions.

Although I minimize so much, I never minimize the IMPORTANCE of things necessary to properly prepare for a fight. You’ll never hear me say, ”It’s okay if I miss practice/training, or, ”It’s only one session” nor will I make any excuse that begins with, “It’s only….”  I over emphasize the important stuff and minimize all the, ”Wow, maybe they’re right and I really am THAT good” stuff.  I fell for that once, maybe even twice, and yeah, it didn’t work out so well. There is NOTHING worse than losing to a guy that by all means, you should have easily beat, and WOULD have easily been beat, had you trained properly for that fight. The MMA gods have cruel hands when it comes to teaching lessons….. The sooner you wise up, the better off you’ll be.

Mark Matthews in between rounds during an MMA bout.

So, the next time you have a great training day, allow yourself to feel good, but not good enough to slack. Because at the end of the day, you have to assume that the other guy trained harder than you did, better than you did, smarter than you did. This will push you to take harder, better, and smarter to new levels. The next time you sub a guy on the mat, remind yourself that you can’t do that to Jake Shields or Nick Diaz. The next time you have a good stand up round in sparring, remind yourself that Floyd Mayweather or Nonito Donaire would have lit you up that round. I guess what I’m trying to say in this paragraph is set your standard bar up there with the best of the best. This will make you push through level after level of improvement because you will always look at yourself in a more minimal manner than others see you, which also means, you won’t fall for your own hype. If you set your standard bar by those who are at the top of the fight game, it’s only a matter of time and effort before you are up there with them yourself.

Shit, if you ask me, I definitely belong up there with those upper level guys; I just have a whole lot of work to put in before I get there. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much minimization there, but it is realistic. As much as it can be for me, it can be for you as well.  Because when you convince yourself that you are truly headed to the top, it makes it a lot easier to mentally commit to the long process it takes to get there. It makes it easier to run that extra mile, to fight on through the break between rounds in sparring instead of rest, to get through that last round of grappling, even if it’s your 10th straight 10 minute round, to eat a clean diet that keeps your body fueled and recovering faster.

The only time I’m not minimizing myself is when I’m walking out to that cage on fight day and I KNOW I did everything possible and necessary to win this fight. This is where I am so convinced that I am relaxed on my walk, feeling the energy of the crowd and for once, hyping MYSELF up.  I had a good weight cut because I dieted right, my timing is on point because of all the rounds I put in in the gym, I’m not going to gas because I did so much conditioning, my skillset is the best it’s ever been because of all the drills I did, and tools I picked up in the process. I am walking into battle with the energy and faith of everybody, from my coaches to my training partners, to my friends and family who invested in me. This is the ONLY moment that I allow myself to believe that I am great. Every time I walked into battle with that mindset on the way to the cage, I came out of it with a W….. and immediately go back to deferring credit, and minimizing myself by letting everyone know that this was a result of the teamwork put into me; the rounds the guys gave me at the gym, the coaching I got, and the help and support I got at home from my wife and kids while I was getting ready for this fight. Because after all, I realize that if it weren’t for the combination of those things being what they were for this fight, who knows what would have happened.

Fights are won in our minds before the cage/ring. But just like your body, you have to allow your mind to peak on fight day. This is something you can’t do if you’re high on yourself every day leading up to the fight. So, keep everything in perspective and keep pushing. Because when fight day comes, and you’ve set your standards with those who are great, you’re going to realize that although you may not be great just yet, today you truly are better than your opponent. It’s just a matter of walking into the cage and proving it, one step to greatness at a time. You had better minimize that step though, because there are many more to be made…..

-Mark Matthews

Mark Matthews

Professional MMA fighter and tattoo artist Mark Matthews is an accomplished and seasoned master of both crafts. Within the MMA world, Mark is a jiu jitsu and boxing specialist who has won his last three consecutive fights. He is ranked #1 fighter in the 185 pound division by West Coast Fighting Championships, has previously fought at 170 & 205, and will be fighting for the 185 pound championship title in the West Coast Fighting Championships. See Mark’s championship fight on January 18, 2013 at 7pm at Jackson Sports Academy in Sacramento, California.

Mark tattooing a client

As a tattoo artist, Mark has been tattooing for 20 years total, 14 years professionally, and has won numerous art awards at various tattoo conventions. Mark’s exceptional talents allowed him to be elected to be part of a very small group of the best tattoo artists in the country; as a contestant on the SpikeTV hit show ‘Ink Master’, which premieres October 9th, 2012. Mark also recently opened his premier own tattoo studio, Forever Forward Social Club.

Some of Mark’s work:

Check out:

Mark’s Official Site-

Mark’s Official Twitter-

Mark’s Ink Master bio & video trailer- Ink Master Mark Matthews

Be sure to check out Mark’s new tattoo studio:

Mark Matthews

Forever Forward Social Club
1618 S El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA 94402

-Papa Swole

(This is an original post and exclusive interview that is copyright to, credited to the aforementioned author. Its reproduction is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved to the original authors of any quoted or embedded material)

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1 Response

  1. Doug says:

    Great article and great insight Mark! Pleasure to read

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