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When an athlete like former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker speaks openly about his mental battles, it makes people sit up and take notice. And, as a former fighter herself, UFC backstage reporter Laura Sanko said she could appreciate where “The Reaper” was coming from when he recently spoke about being “burnt out.”

Chatting during a recent MMA Junkie Q&A session, Sanko gave her response to Whittaker’s recent comments and offered words of support and understanding for the Australian’s situation.

“I certainly would never want to compare my limited experience to someone like Robert Whittaker, but I do understand on some level,” she explained. “This is a sport that is the most taxing sport in every way possible: physically, emotionally, psychologically. It’s an individual sport, so everything that you do, every win, every loss, rides entirely on your shoulders. Showing up every single day, giving 100 percent in every rep, in every class, in everything that you do, is mentally exhausting.

“It can really put a strain on your relationships, too. I’m certainly not saying that’s something that Robert Whittaker was experiencing, but I know other fighters. It’s tough to be married to a fighter. You have to be selfish, and if you’re fighting three or four times a year and your camps is eight weeks long, that’s you being selfish for the entire year – with your time, with your energy, with what your family eats for dinner, whether they get to go out to a restaurant or not.”

Sanko explained that the sheer intensity of MMA competition, and the level of focus needed to prepare for it, can sometimes make it hard for athletes to fully switch off between fights and give not just their bodies the rest they need, but their minds, as well.

“The mental tax of knowing what lies ahead of you eight weeks from now, getting locked in a cage with an individual who is looking to take your head off – it’s a pressure that’s really hard to explain and I think there are some people whose personalities make that easier on them,” she explained. “For example, I don’t think you’re ever going to hear Jorge Masvidal talking about being burned out – I just don’t think he will, because I think that fighting comes very naturally to him and he’s not afraid to take off and chill out and go have some fun when he wants to. That’s the way he approaches the fight game, and he likes fighting that much.

“I think people who are maybe more along Robert Whittaker’s type of personality, where they’re a very focused individual, putting in the work – not saying that Jorge’s not focused – but putting in the work and really feeling that pressure that every fight, every camp, every interview brings, that can really take a toll on somebody, so I appreciate the fact that he was willing to say it out loud.”

The fact that Whittaker did reveal his situation is something Sanko says should be applauded, and she cited other fighters who had openly spoken about their own mental battles as examples of how fighters can not only help themselves by speaking out, but also help others who may be dealing with similar challenges of their own.

“I like this trend of fighters – whether it’s Darren Till or Anthony Smith – I like the fact that fighters are being open about whether they face fears, whether they face moments and bouts of depression, or whatever the case may be,” she said. “That’s real life. These people are dealing with these things day-in and day-out and I think it helps fans to understand what they’re dealing with, as well.

“So I wish Robert well, and I can’t wait to see him get back in there, but I get it. Take some time for you. Take some time for your family.”



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