Canadian bantamweight (Gentleman) Josh Hill had had to battle performance anxiety as well as his opponents during his mixed martial arts career.
So the 35-year-old from Fonthill, Ont., decided to do something about it. Hill, who faces Jared (Psycho) Scoggins at Bellator 272 on Friday in Uncasville, Conn., started studying sports psychology and has started his own venture as a mental performance coach while he continues to fight.
The mental side of the game had long been an issue for him.
"I had a lot of performance anxiety. I've had a lot of fights, even the ones that I've won, where I think it hindered my performance quite a bit," he said. "It was just something I never dealt with and didn't really have any help with. It was something I always wanted to tackle."
Hill (20-4-0) started reading up on the subject when he was sidelined for six months in 2017 by a pectoral injury. That led to a certification in sports psychology via online studies with Australia's ACS Distance Education.
Now he helps others cope, via his company Cerebral Champion.
Come Friday, Hill says he will get up with a smile on his face ahead of the fight. He has learned to handle the stress of cage-fighting.
"I've shifted from anxious and worried and fearful to enjoyment and excitement and just really having fun," he said. "And also as I got older too, I think maturity and experience definitely helped quite a bit as well. This will be my 25th pro fight. I've been at it for a while now. I'm definitely a vet in the sport."
The main event Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena sees Sergio (The Phenom) Pettis defend his bantamweight title for the first time against Kyoji Horiguchi (29-3-0) in a machuo of former UFC fighters. Pettis (21-5-0) won the 135-pound title at Bellator 258, dethroning Juan (The Spaniard) Archuleta.
Canadian featherweight Jeremy (JBC) Kennedy (16-3-0) takes on Emmanuel (El Matador) Sanchez (20-6-0) in the co-main event. A native of Surrey, B.C., Kennedy is coming off a decision loss to Adam (The Kid) Borics at Bellator 256 in April.
Friday will mark Hill's first fight with fans in attendance since his Bellator debut in February 2020.
He lost last time out, at the wrong of a decision against Raufeon (Supa) Stots at Bellator 258 on May 7. Hill, who had won his four previous fights, broke the radial head of his right arm — where the forearm meets the elbow — when he blocked a kick in the first round.
He still managed to finish the bout.
"I've broken my hand a couple times in fights. You don't really feel pain. You just kind of know something's wrong with it," Hill explained.
"It didn't help things. But that wasn't the main reason I lost," added the five-foot-six Hill, who was giving up six inches in reach. "It just wasn't a great fight stylistically. I didn't feel good in there, didn't get into a good rhythm. My coach wasn't able to make it last minute … Not to take anything away from Stots. He's very good."
Hill, who is a co-owner of Vision Quest MMA & Fitness in Hamilton, spent the last half of his recent training camp in Sacramento at Team Alpha Male. He hadn't planned to spend that much time away from his wife and two kids, but opted to leave early for the U.S. in case more border restrictions were put in place.
Scoggins (10-1-0) is making his Bellator debut, riding a five-fight win streak. It's his first fight since September 2020, when he defeated Thomas (The Die Hard Kidd) Vazquez on a Cage Fury Fighting Championship card.
"I think he's good but I've fought way tougher competition than he has," said Hill. "I think I'll be his toughest competition to date."
Hill's fighting career has taken him from Lethbridge and Medicine Hat to Sochi, Russia, and Galati, Romania, since his pro debut in 2009.
Hill, who put his goal of becoming a firefighter on hold to pursue MMA, is a graduate of Season 18 of "The Ultimate Fighter' in 2013. He lost to Michael Wootten on the reality TV show. While that did not lead to a shot at the UFC, he won nine of his next 12 fights to earned a contract with Bellator where he is 2-1-0.
Hill took his nickname from his late great-uncle, who wrestled under the name of (Gentleman) Jerry Valiant and was one-half of the Valiant Brothers with (Luscious) Johnny Valiant.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press