Trash Talking and Triangle Chokes: How Communication Is the Real MVP in MMA

Sascha H. Funk
4 min readSep 1, 2023

Mixed martial arts is largely seen as a spectacle of physical prowess, with jacked dudes wailing on each other in a cage battle for dominance and sweet pay-per-view cash. But behind the blood, sweat, and Prime bottles lies an unexpected key to victory in MMA: communication.

Turns out all the trash talking, coaching, hype-building, and ref interactions are just as essential as grappling skills and well-timed spinning back kicks in this world. So let’s hammer fist dive into how communication theory shapes every fight, from pre-match banter to post-match interviews. Welcome to Communication 101: The MMA Edition.

The Art of the Callout: Applying Communication Accommodation Theory

The classic MMA callout demonstrates Communication Accommodation Theory in action. Fighters like Conor McGregor adapt their verbal style and nonverbals to appeal to audiences, whether it’s embracing an aggressive persona or landing a hilarious insult. This builds hype and gets fans amped up to watch them fight.

ACCT explores how we shift communication styles to manage social distance and situational power. MMA fighters tap into this strategically based on context. It’s all about influencing the audience through flexible communication techniques.

UFC 217 Cormier vs Jones 2 Press Conference via MMA Fighting

“You Got Time Today?” Coaching Through Confirmation

Effective coaching relies on confirmation theory — the act of responding positively to others to promote open communication.

Trainers like Trevor Wittman excel at this. Through active listening, positive feedback and confidence boosting, they put fighters at ease to absorb constructive advice.

Confirming communication also builds trust between coaches and athletes. This leads to more receptive communication and stronger overall relationships.

Confirmation allows coaches to critique and correct while still supporting fighters.

Going the Social Media Distance: The Hyperpersonal Model

MMA stars like Conor McGregor have mastered the hyperpersonal model for marketing themselves. This framework explores computer-mediated communication that exceeds face-to-face interaction.

Through carefully curated social media presences and strategic press conferences, fighters craft larger-than-life personas fans feel deeply connected to.

Selective self-presentation lets them amplify their best traits. Meanwhile, asynchronicity gives additional time to polish communication and optimize messaging.

The result is hyperpersonal relationships between fighters and followers. This breeds loyalty and drives hype.

Refs and Fighters: A Delicate Communication Tango

The relationship between refs and competitors demonstrates fragile theory — the idea that certain conditions make trust liable to damage.

A ref must establish authority while also building mutual respect with fighters. But scrutinized decisions can strain this trust, requiring reflexive communication repair efforts.

It’s a delicate dance. Through effective verbal and nonverbal signaling, refs maintain both command presence and rapport with fighters.

Herb Dean exemplifies how MMA refs balance directing competitors while earning their cooperation.

Calling the Shots: A Promoter’s Power of Persuasion

Promoters like Dana White exemplify communication persuasion tactics. Persuasion theory examines how beliefs and actions are deliberately influenced through suggestion.

From hype-building promotion to fighter negotiations, promoters like White leverage rhetorical devices and psychological leverage to drive outcomes that benefit the UFC.

Through strategic press conferences, social media hype creation, and sheer force of personality, effective promoters shape opinion and build momentum.

Grassroots Growth: MMA and Diffusion of Innovations

MMA provides a textbook case of diffusion of innovation theory in action. This examines how new technology and ideas spread in a population over time.

Once a subculture phenomenon, MMA has successfully reached mainstream status through targeted communication at key points in its growth.

Effective messaging has converted casual fans into passionate followers who continue spreading the word. This viral diffusion of innovation has fueled MMA’s popularity worldwide.

Going Out on Top: Impression Management and Retirement

The art of retiring with grace requires strategic impression management. This involves shaping public perception by projecting a specific self-image.

Legends like Randy Couture mastered retiring on top by framing their exit as a celebration of achievements while promising opportunities to give back.

Impression management preserves reputation and goodwill after exiting the public eye. It transforms the way fans remember a fighter’s journey.

In the Cage and Beyond: Communication’s Key Role

Hopefully this crash course demonstrates how communication underpins every MMA spectacle, from pre-fight hype-building to post-fight analysis.

This interplay of physical prowess and strategic messaging makes MMA compelling as both sport and theater. Fighters mix martial arts with applied communication techniques to achieve success.

Trash talk, coaching, media relations — they make the MMA world go round.

So whether you’re a hardcore fan or new to the sport, keep an eye out for all the communication theory at play next time you tune into a fight. Look past the blood and bruises, and recognize the science behind the spectacle.

Appreciate the verbal jousting in the pre-match callouts, the trust built between corner and fighter, and the diffusion of innovation as MMA continues to reach new fans globally.

At its core, MMA is the perfect fusion of athletic excellence and communication mastery. And that’s what truly makes it must-see entertainment.

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Sascha H. Funk

Head of Media Studies | BKK | New Media & ED #Volleyball, #MuayThai. https://saschafunk.com — hosting @FunkItPod | it’s not rain, it’s liquid sunshine