What Can Poker Players Learn From MMA Fighter Justin Gaethje

Poker is a sport. It’s not physically demanding like MMA, but it requires the same level of mental composure. I would argue it actually requires more mental composure because MMA fights only last a maximum of 25 minutes, while poker tournaments can last multiple days. It’s like comparing apples to oranges in a way, because you can’t compare the Tour De France, to a 100 meter sprint. But in order to thrive at the highest level, elite mental toughness is required. Because I think the mental game in all sports, including poker, is very similar, I will be analyzing Joe Rogan’s interview with Justin Gaethje & Trevor Wittman.

I listened to the video last night and took notes on which parts to cover in this article. This Joe Rogan interview is a


For those of you who don’t know Justin Gaethje, as of May 29, 2020, is current interim UFC Lightweight Champion and Trevor Wittman is his coach.

If you want to follow the timestamps, check out the JRE MMA #96 with Justin Gaethje & Trevor Wittman. Keep in mind these time stamps are the YouTube version which doesn’t include the introduction with the sponsored ads, which usually runs 7 or 8 minutes.

Anyway, lets get started…

It’s so different I’ll tell you it takes it back to my boxing days, I only had 3 or 4 athletes at the most and …. it was 1 on 1 for everything, for the psyche, I mean that’s such an important part …. 1 on 1 is key…

00:02:27 – Trevor

He’s basically saying that 1 on 1 coaching is key, and I couldn’t agree more. I wouldn’t be where I am at today without my 1 on 1 coaches. One is a yogic master that I’ve been studying under for 5 years. You just don’t get enough custom tailored training in a group setting. Everyone is different and a one sized fits all training program not ideal. Since I’m not a professional poker player, I try to avoid giving opinions on hands that you play. My expertise is understanding the mind, and making it work in the optimal way for my clients. Let’s move on…

Confidence is everything

00:19:23 – Justin

Here Justin says that confidence is everything. I agree, that if you lack confidence, you are going to find excuses not to achieve your poker dreams. Lacking confidence will stop you from putting in the hours studying the game, it’ll prevent you from buying into the tournaments, that you think you should. Obviously luck is part of this in poker, which is why bankroll management must be done properly.

It’s also important to be mindful of overconfidence. Overconfidence can lead to sloppy poker playing, and shitty results.


Not sure if anyone has said that quote before, but if not I’ll take credit for it, haha ?.

That leads to the next section where Justin talks about overconfidence and his only 2 losses. He says…

I became complacent…I was having too much fun….I forgot that I was fighting the best of the best….

00:26:20 – Justin

This is overconfidence to a T. So I’ll repeat it again. Be confident, but keep your ego in check. It’s a similar thing to when people say “shoot for the stars” with your goals. I’m very skeptical of these kinds of goals, because it can lead to overconfidence. Overconfidence can be disastrous. Have clear goals, but set them incrementally. If you have a net worth of 10K, avoid setting a goal to become a billionaire by next year. While that could happen in a rare circumstance, it’s a suboptimal strategy for achieving long term goals for most people. Set incremental goals every month, and avoid overconfidence or setting your goals at unattainable levels. But at the same time,


Alright… so the next part I have noted is where Justin talks about crowd influence.

Not having the crowd there, I think it helped me so much…whether there’s a crowd or no crowd in the future… it’s going to benefit me so much…because I was able to understand that the crowd does influence my emotions…my only rule is never allow someone or something to affect or control [my] emotions… and i wasn’t aware that the crowd was having that effect on my emotions…in the fact that i would have engaged more…I would have taken more chances…and I didn’t do that because I was able to be in control of my emotions…for the whole time, for every second.

00:26:38 – Justin

This same concept applies in poker if you are playing in a televised event, or a live stream table. Are you playing different in this setting than you would normally off camera? Are you taking more chances than you should? Be aware of this, and see if you can play exactly the same, the whole time, every second, regardless of what setting you are playing in, on a live stream or not. This may be one way your emotions are affecting your game play, that you’re not aware of.


So let’s get into the next point by Trevor about having purpose and good defense.

After the first loss, there wasn’t much change….after the 2nd loss he said, I need to change something…What’s your purpose…you were the most exciting fighter…and what do you want to be…and he’s like I want to be the champion…I was like, then you have to be intelligent…to be the best in the world, you have to be the best defensive fighter…you have to understand defense…defense starts with position…you have to win every position…

00:28:30 – Trevor

So lets analyze this. What Trevor means by purpose, is you have to have a main goal. At first Justin’s goal was to be the most exciting fighter, but after losing twice, he decided he wanted to be the world champion. This change may have happened due to his ego trying to avenge the 2 losses, and him overcoming the past or it could be that he genuinely wanted to become the champion. I make this point because if you are doing something solely based on ego or past events this can lead to an unfulfilling life. In any case,


What’s your goal in poker? Is it to become a WSOP bracelet winner? To be the best cash game player? To make the most money? Be clear on what you want from the beginning. Your goals may change, but at least you have a clear roadmap.

Soon after Joe Rogan asked Justin what changed in his head that lead him to want to go from the most exciting fighter to wanting to be a champion, and Justin said he couldn’t explain it. And Joe asked him a 2nd time, and his answer was that he always wanted to be champion.

So my question to Justin would be if your goal was always to be champion why was your goal to be the most exciting fighter at the beginning? In any case, lets move on….

Be there first

00:33:57 – Justin

This is simple. Be the aggressive. Play to win and avoid playing too defensively. In poker, bet aggressively. Be the agressor.

Fight in spots

00:34:43 – Trevor

This one is pretty simple also. Pick your battles. When you’re playing poker, know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. If you hold ’em too much, you might go bust because you’re trying to win every battle.

Controlling position, waiting for mistakes…the best fighters in the world can match a good match…but the first one to make a mistake is the one that loses…momentum is so important in sports…momentum is everything…once it starts to build it’s so hard to recover and turn it around in high competition it’s a mental thing…but when you can control things…and you can find one mistake, and you can build on that mistake….you’re like a wave, you slowly get a little bigger…and now you start to capitalize…and that pattern is starting to create and then once someone to make mistake after mistake…that’s when you crumble on him…

00:35:19 – Trevor

In this section, Trevor talks about waiting for your opponent to make mistakes. So the same thing applies in poker. It may be a waiting game. Wait until your opponent makes a big mistake, and then capitalize. This somewhat contradicts the ‘be first’ idea, so you have to use common sense here, and switch it up based on your opponent. If in doubt, aggression wins, but keep in mind the best in the world also have an incredible defense (being able to fold.)

If you stay in control of yourself that’s the key to everything in this world. If you listen to anything else on the outside and you start to adapt to other things you’re never going to live the way you want to live and to be a fighter you have to be in control of yourself all the time. I always say the best fighter are the best actors, the ones that can trick themselves…fake it till you make it…till you get to the championship…and you have to live that way…you have to obsess…and even if you break, accept it and on to the next…

00:37:00 – Trevor

What he’s saying here is to listen to yourself. If you have an issue with your success or goals, look inward not outward. Always stay on track and set your own goals. You need to control yourself at all times. He’s also saying, if you screw up, accept it and move on. Avoid complaining about shitty runs or bad beats.

He talks about the best fighters being the best actors, because they can act..AS IF. This is where affirmations come into play quite a bit. If you listen to my poker affirmations, they can help you reprogram your subconscious mind to act as if. Act as if, you’re the best player at the table. Act as if you are best best cash game player. It must first happen in the mind before it can become a reality. This is the law of manifesting, and the law of attraction.

Guys lose balls [not using cups]

00:38:48 – Joe Rogan

So remember, Always wear a cup when you’re at the poker table, you might lose a ball. Haha. Just kidding…. ?

Ok, lets move along…Next they talk about how fighters keep coming back to fight because it’s so hard for them to let it go.

It’s also their identity, when they aren’t fighting, they don’t know who they are

00:49:04 – Joe Rogan


Your identity is a part of your ego. If you’re a poker player and only play poker because it’s your identity or you need the adrenaline rush, you should look into clearing out those mental weeds, which I teach in my course. If you play poker for money or enjoyment than that’s good, but if you’re playing only because of your ego, then you should take a deeper look. That applies to anything in life. Only do what you want to do, and avoid doing things base on ego decisions.

You have to set goals…you have to be true to them…like to not take a last minute fight…once you start to break those rules, you’re really not grabbing the wheel…that’s when you start to go off track…

00:50:05 – Trevor

Again, come up with a poker game plan in the beginning and stick to it. Once you start changing course, you start to lose control. Pick a strategy in advance and keep it. It’s ok to change goals occasionally, but avoid last minute goal changing or worse making decisions based on emotions or gut feelings.

That feeling after being in that octagon and winning is the highest of high…I’ve never experienced anything like it…but as soon as I leave I really…focus on bringing myself down…and not being too high for too long…because with the highs come the lows.

00:51:31 – Dustin

If you win a poker tournament or win big in a cash game, avoid letting it get to your head.


Avoid over celebrating your poker victories. That’ll help you during any potential downswing. This should help you avoid going on tilt because you’re more emotionally detached from the outcomes.

Rage is hard to settle down…when someone hits rage…like when someone says something about your mama…i always say, they don’t know your mama…

00:54:20 – Trevor

Again avoid letting your emotions affect you or going on tilt. That’s when you lose composure and start making mistakes. Keep your head in the game.

It’s keeping someone off balance…

01:04:07 – Trevor

Change up your game play. Always switch gears to keep your opponent guessing.

I’m constantly changing rhythms, and if you’re constantly changing rhythms then they can’t find a pattern….I’m never on one beat…Once you can control the rhythm, you can make them dance to your tune…

01:06:09 – Dustin

This adds to Trevor’s last point, which is you want to constantly mixing up your game play to keep your opponents guessing. Become more bluffy, become less bluffy, etc. Anything to throw your opponent off.

I’m as present as I can possibly be while still being able to rely on my reactions and my intuition.

02:36:49 – Dustin

This is the last point Trevor makes. He says his reactions and intuition comes from his training. His ability to react and not hesitate is what is bringing him success in the octagon. Same is true with poker. Put in the time studying the game, while also getting your mental game dialed in, and you’ll become as successful as you want to me.

Keep hustling,

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