Robert Greene’s 22nd law of power is a somewhat counter-intuitive directive that requires we use surrender as a means of advancing our interests. A real-life example of how this law might be employed was delivered at UFC 264, when Conor McGregor was hauled out of the stadium on stretching, cursing his opponent, and ridiculously claiming he was winning the fight before his back leg snapped like a bundle of twigs.
In the lead-up to UFC 264, Conor McGregor reverted to a former incarnation, a brash, trash-talking loudmouth who threatened to murder his opponents. The strategy was employed in an attempt to rattle Dustin Poirier ahead of their trilogy fight. McGregor ramped up the rhetoric, even for his lofty standards. He spoke of corpses, coffins, decapitation, and ironically, stretchers.
The key to the fight’s outcome emerged when Poirier and McGregor shared the stage in a press conference just days before the bout. Responding to how the McGregor tactics affected him, Poirier shrugged, smiled, and replied that it had no impact on him whatsoever, and that the fight was merely business. Rather than engaging McGregor on the Irishman’s turf, Poirier quietly surrendered the trash-talking contest. He saved his powder for the octagon knowing he had done the work and had the weapons to take McGregor apart.
The mistake of McGregor’s early opponents, including a younger and dumber Poirier, was to engage in the pre-fight head games. They were all dragged into unfamiliar territory, lost the mind game wars, felt stupid when unable to mount a sufficient verbal response, and performed poorly as a result. When the cage door closed they abandoned their planned strategy, rushed in recklessly, and got knocked out. McGregor had constructed a powerful mystique that saw him cut a swathe through the UFC ranks.
It all came undone when McGregor fought genuine, OG, Stockton Jiu-Jitsu gangster Nate Diaz. He laughed at the McGregor routine and choked him out in brutal fashion. The war games were also lost on hardened Dagestani warrior Khabib Nurmagomedov, who also forced McGregor to tap before his face turned blue. And the mental assault had no impact on an older and wiser Poirier, who learned his lessons from the early defeat and has now bested McGregor twice.
When facing an opponent it is wise to establish where he has an advantage and then avoid that territory, refuse to engage, and even surrender that part of the war as per the 22nd Law of Power. Not every battle needs to be fought. McGregor marched into the ring cook-a-hoop having won the pre-fight games, and left bloodied and possibly finished. Poirier chose his battles wisely. He did the work, stuck to plan, he took McGregor apart, he won the fight and now gets a big money shot at the title.
For hardcore fight fans, most of UFC 264 was a disappointment. The much-hyped former NFL player Greg Hardy got bent over backwards like a broken ladder at his first exchange with Aussie larrikin, Spice Girls fan, and beer-shoe-drinker Tai Tuisvasa. Sean O’Malley relentlessly hammered a hapless unknown, green-haired boy in a woeful piece of match-making until the ref mercifully stopped the carnage lest the boy be killed. Wonderboy Thompson failed again to unleash his offensive weapons and lost a dreary points decision to Gilbert Burns, and Irene Aldana got her career back on track with a first-round TKO of Yana Kunitskaya.
So what does UFC 264 teach us? Learn when to yield. Not all skirmishes need to be fought. Be like water. Use the surrender tactic to your strategic advantage, just like Dustin Poirier did to the now convalescing Conor McGregor.
Jackson Byrne – Combat Sports Editor.