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Boxing and MMA | Psychological Warfare: The Stare Down

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One of the last opportunities for a fighter to gain that all-important psychological advantage is the stare down. 

Many believe a fight starts at the sound of the bell, but that's far from true. The real battle begins the moment the fighters meet face to face.

In what's known as the "stare down," both fighters lock eyes in an attempt to mentally size-up their foe and break the another down. A stare down can take place during the weigh-in, press conference and, of course, in the ring during the pre-fight instructions.

Many believe heavyweight great Sonny Liston, who fought primarily in the 1950s and 60s, was the first high-profile fighter to use the stare down to gain a psychological advantage.

Liston, who possessed crippling punching power, was a former leg-breaker for the mob and had spent time in jail so his pre-fight scowl only added to his already invincible and intimidating mystique.

George Foreman, who idolized Liston as a youth, was another pioneer of the modern-day stare down. If his vaunted punching power and heartless persona weren't enough, his intimidating stare alone could strike fear into any heavyweight.


Pictured: Sonny Liston stares ominously at Floyd Patterson. Liston and Patterson fought twice with Sonny winning via a first round knockout both times.


Ever since the days of Liston and Foreman, the stare down has been an intriguing, if not significant, part of the sport that can get the media and fight fans pumped.

So what exactly makes a great star edown?

Below, is a lesson from one of the greats who also possessed a spine-tingling stare that induced fear into many of his victims.

A Lesson on Intimidation From Mike Tyson


Mike Tyson used his stare down to intimidate and 'see through' his opponent. He claimed he could break an opponent's "spirit" if they harboured a hint of weakness.

The idea of a professional fighter claiming he can gain such an enormous psychological advantage by just looking into another fighter's eyes can be mind- boggling.

So, with the advice from the former champ, the history, and the impact of the stare down, what are some of the best stare downs in the history of combat sports?

Cro Cop vs Silva
Mixed martial artists Mirco Cro Cop and Wanderlei Silva engaged in perhaps the greatest stare down in the history of combat sports.

Silva bounces up and down on his feet with a terrifying stare, pumped with adrenaline and seemingly ready for a war. Facing him, Mirko Cro Cop appears calm but does not take his eyes off his opponent never once blinking.

Cro Cop vs Silva: Greatest Stare Down In MMA History?

Mike Tyson vs Peter McNeeley
After Mike was released from prison in 1995, he needed a tune-up fight to get him back in action having been out of the fight game for nearly 4 years. This epic stare down is one of the most memorable in boxing history as Tyson's eyes ominously followed McNeeley's movement during the referee's instructions moments before their battle.

Pictured: Mike Tyson, right, and Peter McNeeley during the Tyson vs McNeeley pre-fight instructions. Tyson would knock down McNeeley twice within the first 90 seconds, prompting his foe's corner to 'throw in the towel.'


Roy Jones Jr vs Richard Hall

In one of the classic stare downs in the history of the sport, a clearly out-sized Roy Jones Jr (5'11) took on (6'3) Jamaican native Richard Hall. The stare down, which took place in an overcrowded ring, was electric and almost resulted in a riot.

Other fighters who always seemed to 'bring it' in the stare down department include:

  • Tommy Hearns: His classic stare with Wildredo Benitez still sends chills down fans spines
  • Bernard Hopkins: Nothing was arguably scarier then the "Executioner" wearing a ski-mask
  • Wilfred Benitez: His classic with Sugar Ray Leonard is considered one of the goats!

Perhaps the best stare down in the history of the sport belongs to MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko.

Psychologist Dr. Joe Bell once said, "The best when it comes to the stare down is Fedor Emelianenko. Watch him. He does not make eye contact and his entire expression is extremely relaxed. you would think he is about to perform a ballet or something."


Pictured: Former MMA Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko


Dr Bell added, "But here is the crucial thing. When the referee tells them to head back to their corners, Fedor suddenly darts a short look directly at his opponent - or through his opponent, I should say. This kind of look is associated with antisocial behavioral disorders and psychopaths. They don't look at you, they look through you. It's emotionless, it goes deeper than skin level."

In today's game, who has the best stare down?

Perhaps the Klitschko brothers are arguably the best at this moment. Although they are arguably not nearly as intimidating as Sonny Liston, a young George Foreman and Mike Tyson, they both carry a heartless stare that's seemingly difficult to penetrate. 

Pictured: WBC Heavyweight Champion Vitali Klitschko, left, peers into the eyes of Chris Arreola. Klitschko defeated his foe via a late TKO.


In your opinion, who owns the best stare down in combat sports today? Also, what is your all-time favorite stare down?



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