FREEMAN: The Art of the Staredown

Ray Freeman MMATorch contributor

Oct 5, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor are separated by Dana White during weigh-ins for UFC 229 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

There is a ton of information gathered when two fighters staredown.  Most fighters understand that they are professionals here to do a job and collect a paycheck. However, almost every card has a matchup or two sprinkled in the mix that features two men with true tension.

It can be scary to witness if you have personal ties to either fighter. You become physically uncomfortable with how things could develop. This is what people mean when they say, ‘‘you can cut the tension with a knife.”

McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov

We can look back to the UFC 229 for the most notorious (pun intended) staredown in which Conor McGregor faced off with Khabib Nurmagomedov a day before they fought. This faceoff showcased Khabib trying to keep his cool while McGregor attempted to rile him up. Conor’s words weren’t getting much of a reaction from his opponent.

At that time, Conor threw a front kick that was inches from tagging Khabib.  On the outside looking in, this was the most telling action of the entire storyline. Conor had officially lost his temper in a desperate attempt to enter his opponents mind.

Nguyen vs. Wallace

Back in 2013, Ben Nguyen was matched up with Julian Wallace in Nitro MMA. Wallace, the champion, greeted Nguyen with a closed fist pressed against his face. Baby-faced Ben mirrored his opponents’ actions which led to a miniature pummeling battle for position against the two.

Julian then dropped his fist and aggressively pressed his forehead against Ben’s causing Nguyen to take 2-3 steps back before promotion security steps in. It was clear that Julian was over-concerned with the intimidation factor while Ben was able to keep a level head.


There are some guys that can win a fight at the staredowns. One of the better fighters to implement this is Zabit Magomedsharipov. At Just over 6ft tall, in a division for 145-pound people that have an average height of 5’7”, he naturally towers over most of his opponents. Then there is the glare. The eyes that stare straight into your soul. Looking down on his opponent, knowing he’s fully capable of ruining your evening.

There is certainly an art to the staredown. Hannah Cifers who has a record of 9-3, is the opposite of intimidating come time to face-off. Her fist is clinched, but she shows no emotion or intention in her face. Her eyebrows raise with a question of uncertainty and confusion. This style gives no signal of imminent danger. This can lead to a lost opportunity to put a single lining of doubt in your adversary’s mind.

Collecting Data

I will often pick a winner the week of the fight as an initial breakdown. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten into the habit of not picking a winner prior to the staredown. So much data is gathered when the 2 fighters share the same oxygen. And the more data you have, the more educated of a decision you can make when picking you winners.

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