When Psychological Warfare Becomes an Art

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No one in the near quarter-century history of modern mixed martial arts has ever had quite a year like the one Irish superstar Conor McGregor experienced in 2016. McGregor did what no fighter in the history of the UFC (Ultimate Fighter Championship) could ever pull off - he held two weight class titles at the same time. Its not even that he appears to be a better Mixed Martial artist than others, his unique ability to use psychological warfare makes him rise above the rest.

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Psychological warfare (PSYWAR) has been around for centuries and is one of the oldest weapons in the arsenal of human beings. Alexander the great of Macedonia, for example, used this technique. He conquered most of the world during his reign. Each area he conquered, he left a portion of soldiers behind to stay and occupy the cities. Alexander soon came to realise that he had spread his army too thin and was in danger of losing to a larger army. Alexander was forced to flee and regroup with the armies he left behind. He knew that the opposing army would pursue him, catch up with him, and then turn him into mincemeat. So what did Alexander do? He ordered his armourers to make several over-sized breastplates and helmets that would fit ‘giants’, men 8 feet tall. He then scarpered during the night with his small army, leaving behind the giant armour. The opposing army eventually found the armour that Alexander left behind. This left the opposing army as scared as a hog at a barbeque because they thought they would have to fight an army of giants. Coupled with the rumours spread around the villages about Alexander’s army, the opposing army decided not to chase him. Pretty clever, huh?
So, what is Psychological warfare? It is intended to demoralise and break the enemie's will to fight. Various techniques are used and are aimed at influencing the opponents value systems, belief systems, emotions, motives, reasoning, and behavior. It is intended to cause terror, which encourages the opponent to mentally retreat. It is used in political campaigns, war, business, sport, and even in some everyday households between families. There are varying degrees to PSYWAR ranging from mild to extreme. You can say that ‘reverse psychology’ is one of the PSYWAR tactics.


Now lets bring back the focus on Conor McGregor.

4 tactics Conor McGregor uses:

1) Learned Helplessness

McGregor’s opponents are made to feel that It’s useless to resist his verbal attacks because everything they say makes things worse. He frequently turns his opponents into objects of laughter in front of the media, putting them into an awkward and embarrassing situation. In time, opponents get used to past effects of their words and start limiting their expressions because of the fear of being humiliated again.

2) Discrediting

Discrediting is a major goal of most psychological warfare campaigns. The way it’s used is through third parties rendering a judgement against opponents. Prior to the judgement, McGregor will often discredit his opponent in the eyes of onlookers through a combination of harassment by his large base of loyal fans and some more PSYWAR with the goal of changing his opponent’s perception of the people and the world around them. This leads to the opponent putting doubts in their own mind.

3) Invisible Control

Since Conor McGregor is the most valuable UFC fighter due to his major earnings, many of his opponents believe that the company is on his side and that he is a “favorite” employee. This results in suspicion among other employees which can lead to a moral loss.

4) Reputation Attack

Conor has a habit of verbally insulting and tiring his opponents, causing them to feel furious and over-react while they’re in the octagon. When the opponents lose control over their emotions, Conor aims to make them unable to stay focused during the fight. Talk about genius, right?!

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. -Sun Tzu