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New mentality has UFC flyweight Lauren Murphy excited about her future

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Lauren Murphy used a new mental approach in a TKO victory over Mara Romero Borella in August and hopes it leads her to success against Andrea "KGB" Lee on Saturday at UFC 247 in Houston. (Josh Hedges/Getty Images)

Lauren Murphy’s first two UFC fights came against Sara McMann and Liz Carmouche, opponents who had already competed for its women’s bantamweight title. Her fourth match was against Katyln Chookagian, who on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 247 in Houston will challenge champion Valentina Shevchenko for the women’s flyweight title.

She later fought Sijara Eubanks, who was scheduled to fight for the women’s flyweight belt but didn’t because of a health issue.

Murphy hasn’t had it easy in her UFC career.

She lost all four of those bouts, and while some may look at it as a negative, Murphy’s view is the opposite.

“I’ve changed my mindset in the last couple of years,” said Murphy, the UFC’s seventh-ranked flyweight who will face No. 8 Andrea Lee on Saturday at UFC 247 in Houston. “I thought for a while that those losses meant that I wasn’t a good fighter. Literally, though, all my losses were close — split decisions, controversial decisions — to literal title contenders. For me, that’s a good thing. When I fought Sara McMann, I’d only been training for four or five years. The same was true of Liz. I just hadn’t been fighting that long and I was such a baby in the sport.”

She made a change after a loss to Eubanks, the one fight she says she clearly lost. She used to have a negative mindset and would get down on herself easily.

Though her record since joining the UFC with an 8-0 record on the regional circuit is a less-than-impressive 3-4, she has begun to view them in a different light.

“The things that people perceive as failures to me haven’t really been failures,” she said. “They’ve just been steppingstones on the way up to where I am now.”

She’s with different coaches now and feels that has made a considerable difference — she couldn't rave enough about the work Alex Cisne and Bob Perez have done with her — but the biggest change is the way she processes things.

Results matter in the UFC, just like they do in the NBA and the NFL and any other professional sport. That brings a certain amount of pressure on the athletes to perform. Murphy, though, has learned not to sweat the things out of her control, and as odd as it sounds, winning a fight can be out of her control.

UFC flyweight Lauren Murphy poses with coaches Alex Cisne (L), husband Jeff Murphy and Bob Perez (R). (Photo by Mike Roach/Getty Images)

Any number of things could happen: She could fight her best fight and her opponent is simply better. She could fight a terrific fight and the judges could make a bad decision. There are a lot of ways it could go.

That’s why her focus isn’t so much on winning as it is on performing.

“I think the thing that separates good athletes from great athletes in any sport is putting pressure aside and going out and doing your job,” she said. “My job on Saturday isn’t about winning. It’s to go out there and to perform the best that I can, to do my very best. I’m in total control of that. The things I can control are the effort I make, performing to my best, things like that. We’ve all seen fights where we thought one person won and the judges saw it a different way. Well, you have to realize that you can’t control the judges.

“There were fights I thought I won and I didn’t. After you’ve done this for a while, you begin to understand. My job on Saturday is to fight to the best of my ability and if I can do that, I can walk away with my head held high.”

She got to this point by reuniting with Cisne and Perez, who had coached her when she was in Invicta. They changed the environment in which she worked and she feels she’s able to improve more rapidly as a result.

The reason is sort of backward. She’s not afraid of making mistakes because her coaches don’t berate her for them. It’s a more positive environment that fits with her personality.

“The way that they train me is a really positive, supportive, caring way,” she said. “It’s a really good environment. I can’t say enough about them and I don’t know how other to express it other than to say I’m loving the process again. That’s made all the difference.

“I’m freer to let myself go. I’m free to fail in the gym now and it’s not this environment where, ‘Oh you suck because you failed.’ It’s more like, ‘OK, we’re going to improve here and get better.’ It’s really freeing to be able to, I guess, shoot for the stars and land on the moon. I had fallen into this trap or habit or mental state where I was trying to be perfect all the time. If I wasn’t, I felt people were really going to be disappointed in me, and if I wasn’t perfect, it meant I didn’t belong here.”

She laughed at that thought. She’s had her dark days and her moments of doubts, but despite the 3-4 UFC record, she knows she belongs. Of that, she has no doubt.

“I have a lot of freedom to try things and I think the more freedom I have, the better I do,” she said. “I feel like I’m a completely different person and fighter now and I’m so excited to fight on such a big stage with this kind of mentality. If only a couple things had gone differently, not a lot, just a little differently, in a couple of those fights I lost, my record would be a lot different.

“And now, I’m in a happy environment where I feel like I’m learning and improving and able to be my best. There were times I felt humiliated after losing some of those fights, but I look back now and I realize there aren’t many people who come into the UFC and fight as many title contenders and challengers as I did. It’s all gotten me to this point and I’m excited to show how much I love this job and give the people just an awesome fight.”

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