MONTREAL - When John (The Bull) Makdessi transitioned to mixed martial arts, he couldnít even let the thought of losing a fight enter his mind.
The taekwondo and kickboxing specialist used this approach to great success in his first nine bouts, which culminated in a spectacular spinning backfist knockout against Kyle Watson at UFC 129 in Toronto last year.
And then it happened ó not once, but twice.
The Laval, Que., native was submitted by veteran Dennis Hallman at UFC 140 in December, before dropping a unanimous decision to Anthony Njokuani at UFC 145 four months later.
Reeling from consecutive losses, Makdessi enlisted the help of a sport psychology consultant. He soon realized mental conditioning is just as important as physical.
ďMy goal, as a fighter, is to be the best,Ē Makdessi told QMI Agency. ďI try to learn as much as I can, develop a style that works for me and just go out there and believe in myself. Iíve been working with mental-conditioning coach Brian Cain and itís helped me a lot. Heís helped me a lot mentally. I didnít really understand how psychology (works). I never respected it. But then I realized how important training your mind is.
ďInstead of pressure, make it into pleasure. Focus on the process, just try to live in the moment and not to over-think things. Donít let the stress get to you.Ē
A rejuvenated Makdessi meets London, Ont., lightweight Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout on the undercard of UFC 154 in Montreal Saturday. Though he admitted his defeats still frustrate him, he knows they have helped sharpen his game.
ďIt made me very mature,Ē Makdessi said. ďSports in general teach you a lot. Of course, having two losses in a row is always in my head. It bothers me, but at the end of the day, I canít really focus on it. I can only focus on the present. I believe it made me a better fighter, a better person as an individual. I learned a lot from those fights and Iíve made sure I donít make the same mistakes. Iíve trained very smart for this fight. Iím well-prepared.Ē
A hard-hitter, known for racking up fight of the night bonuses, Stout has made a career of delivering entertaining slugfests. The UFC lightweight-division mainstay said heís excited to throw down with a fellow striker, but admitted Makdessi is tricky to train for.
ďFor me to go up against another striker, another guy who is wanting to stand and bang, is always fun for me,Ē Stout said. ďEveryone whoís seen me fight before knows I like to get into a slugfest. I like to turn it into a striking match. Iím sure Johnís planning on doing that.
ďThe other thing that makes it interesting is: Heís not your typical striker. He comes from a taekwondo background. Thereís a lot of interesting kicks people arenít used to seeing ó myself included, to be honest. I come from a high-level striking gym, but itís more of a kickboxing, Muay Thai-based striking, as opposed to this taekwondo style he brings to the table.Ē
Stoutís last outing saw him win the rubber-match against rival Spencer Fisher in June. In the bout, Stout showed off a new edge to his wrestling game, mixing up strikes and takedowns to win a unanimous decision.
Though he expects much of the bout to be a striking affair, Stout knows his wrestling advantage could be a difference maker. Even if he isnít actively pursuing takedowns, the mere threat of a double-leg could create opportunities to land strikes.
ďItís primarily going to be a striking match, but definitely watching that Hallman match ó thatís his weakest point, his wrestling,Ē Stout said.
ďIíll definitely look to threaten with some takedowns and look to keep him uncomfortable throughout the whole fight. I donít want him to get settled into a striking match. I want him to be guessing the whole time.Ē
Though Stout feels he has the recipe to beat Makdessi, he knows consecutive losses have only made the former kickboxer more determined to take his head off.
ďItís definitely got me more worried about John,Ē Stout said. ďWhen your backís to the wall like that, sometimes thatís when you bring out your best performances. Thatís what Iím expecting. I always prepare for my opponent to be the best possible opponent. Thatís what I prepare for. I expect him to come out there, throwing everything at me. Iíll be ready for anything.Ē