In her mind, Mallory Martin sees herself becoming a UFC fighter

Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Mallory Martin works to sharpen not just her physical skills but her mental game as well.

Mallory Martin moved into full mount. She rained down punches and elbows. All Tiffany Masters could do at first was cover up. Masters tried to turn over and give Martin her back, but the barrage continued. Then came the visceral, blood-curdling shrieks.

"You're done!" Martin yelled at Masters while punching her in the face repeatedly. "No one can save you! It's mine!"

The fight was over seconds later. Martin defeated Masters by second-round TKO at Invicta FC 27 in January 2018. The victory snapped a two-fight losing streak for Martin, and the clip of her war cries went viral. Martin was referred to as the female version of Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has been known to taunt opponents while landing ground-and-pound from top position.

That finish was affirmation that Martin's preparation was working. She had visualized that exact sequence against Masters over and over again before the fight -- and it came true. Every punch, every elbow and every violent scream went right from Martin's thoughts to the Invicta cage.

"That whole moment is exactly what played in my head every single time I'd run or every single time I'd try to visualize and meditate," Martin told ESPN. "I just kind of replayed it, replayed it, replayed it."

Martin's three-fight win streak has earned her a spot on Dana White's Contender Series, where she'll face Micol di Segni on Tuesday in Las Vegas. An impressive performance could earn her a UFC contract.

Martin believes she fights with a ferocity for finishes that will be appealing to White, who makes the decision on who gets signed and who does not. "I like to put on a show and be entertaining," she said. "That's why I kind of look up to Michael Chandler and Justin Gaethje and these exciting fighters, because they go out there and fight. It's not about the winning or the losing. They just like going out there and putting on a show."

Martin owes a bit to Chandler. She heard him on a podcast a few years ago talking about his mental training, notably what he had learned from a book called "Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence." Martin bought the book and read it at least three times. She also has picked up several other books like it, including "The Secret," which Conor McGregor has credited for some of his success.

Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Mallory Martin faces Micol di Segni on Dana White's Contender Series.

That whole moment is exactly what played in my head every single time I'd run or every single time I'd try to visualize and meditate. I just kind of replayed it, replayed it, replayed it.
Mallory Martin

The main focus of these books is visualization, and that has become a big part of how Martin readies herself for fights, in addition to the physical work she puts in at Zingano BJJ in Broomfield, Colorado, and Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand. In "Mind Gym," she said, author Gary Mack writes about the importance of having your own personal mental highlight reel. "The Secret," by Rhonda Byrne, is about how you can manifest things in your life just by picturing them in your mind -- the law of attraction.

"If you're getting ready for whatever competition, you kind of play this highlight reel in your head of you doing good things or getting out of bad spots," Martin said. "And then you add on to it more things as part of your own visualization."

Before the fight with Masters, Martin said, she pictured in her head "too many times" being in a dominant top position and landing punches and elbows. That's exactly what she ended up doing. Daniel Gould, a sports psychology expert and professor of kinesiology at Michigan State, said there's "good evidence" backing up visualization and similar mental preparation as effective for athletic competition. Athletes can study their opponents and visualize potential sequences, Gould said, or study their own past performances and apply that information to build confidence for competition. He cited a 2012 study at Fresno State that showed weightlifters who visualized lifting a certain amount of weight could lift more on average than those who did not use that kind of mental exercise.

"It's not a miracle and it's best combined with physical techniques," Gould said. "But seeing yourself being successful in your mind, that's one source of confidence. ... Most research shows that if you look at athletes at the Olympic level or elite level, most of them are doing some kind of mental training, whether that's goal-setting or mental preparation. Or visualization. A lot more are doing mental prep now than they used to."

Martin, 25, plans on seeking out the help of a sports psychologist as her career progresses. Right now, she's content to just teach herself through books. Mental training has been a big part of the past year for Martin, who had surgery to repair a torn ACL last November.

Martin (4-2) grew up playing soccer and basketball. But after she began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and wrestling in high school as a hobby, she soon decided she wanted to be a professional fighter one day. That wasn't quite visualization then. Now, though, she envisions herself becoming one of the top fighters in the strawweight division and someone who can express her art in exciting bouts.

As for di Segni? Martin has had a few things running through her mind about her as well. "I think I'll smash her," Martin said matter-of-factly. "It's definitely gonna be a very dominating performance."

Dana White's Contender Series, Week 9

Welterweight: Leon Shahbazyan (7-1, 23, California) vs. Philip Rowe (6-2, Florida, 29)

Light heavyweight: Marcos Brigagao (11-0, Brazil, 23) vs. Jamal Pogues (6-2, California, 23)

Men's bantamweight: Desmond Torres (7-1, California, 22) vs. Steve Garcia (9-3, New Mexico, 27)

Strawweight: Mallory Martin (4-2, Colorado, 25) vs. Micol di Segni (7-2, Italy, 31)

Men's bantamweight: Ricky Steele (5-0, Idaho, 31) vs. Phil Caracappa (8-0, New Jersey, 27)

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