Scientifically, the reactions in the two women's bodies were the same. An arm bar can shred ligaments and snap bones. The body has nerve endings called nociceptors that detect this damage and send a signal to the brain, where it is registered as pain. “Pain is biologically wired to be a defense mechanism for survival and against injury,“ said Dr. Eddie O’Connor, a sports psychologist who works with elite athletes to train them how to understand and tolerate pain at the Performance Excellence Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Mixed martial arts is unique in sports in having a major percentage of its outcomes decided by participants who make the choice to either endure pain and risk injury or protect themselves by tapping out. The science of how pain works within the body is widely understood. What is less clear is what happens inside the mind in the decision to fight through the pain or submit to it.
In her match, Carmouche tapped out within seconds of Rousey locking in the arm bar. Tate, on the other hand, refused to submit until Rousey had bent her arm 90 degrees in the wrong direction, tearing every ligament in her elbow.
“It always comes down to at end: How much is worth it? The athlete has to be in touch with that,” says O’Connor. “When the pain shows up, your mind automatically says, ‘Stop, rest, go away,’ because you instinctively want avoid it. The mentally tough athlete has to make the choice to say, ‘I am willing to feel this pain in service of the win.’”
Sometimes that dedication results in a win. The most famous example may be Matt Hughes fighting through the rear-naked choke of Frank Trigg only to pick Trigg up, slam him to the ground, and eventually get the submission win himself. All fighters stuck in a submission move make a value judgment. The psychological factors that lead someone to accept the injury risk are unique to the individual.
Read the rest over at FIGHTLAND.