A deep dive into sex and combat sports

We talked to two professional fighters and researched the issue for your inquiring mind.

Let’s talk about sex, baby.

We all have heard the rumors that fighters don’t have sex before fights. Or, like a certain outspoken boxer, how they do have sex before a fight … and a lot of it. Whichever is the case, we took a deep dive into the mental, physical or just downright animalistic reason why fighters choose to abstain (or not) from sex before a fight.

“For me, when I first got into the whole ‘no sex before fights,’ it came from a movie for me. It was Rocky,”  Jake Smith, a Bellator fighter with a 7-3 record told FanSided. “Mickey’s yelling at Rocky, ‘Hey Rocky! You can’t be having sex. No girls.’ So that’s where I first got wind of it, and that was before I got into training. Once I got into training, I started doing research on old boxers, learning from the game. That was one of the things that’d come up: don’t have sex before fights. But, while you’re a young man, you’re impressionable, and there were other fighters in MMA that would dispute that.”

Smith isn’t wrong. The idea that combat sports athletes should abstain from sexual activity is a long-debated topic. One of the greatest boxers of all time, Muhammed Ali didn’t have sex six weeks before a fight, according to National Geographic.

But why abstain?

There are a few theories of why athletes should abstain from sexual activity ahead of a big fight. One of those is fear of the release of testosterone, another the mental aspect of being frustrated or starved and another is the physical exertion that a body goes through during the act.

For Smith, it’s mostly about having used all his energy in training camp and having nothing left for his partner at the end of the day.

“I think for me that’s more a mental thing — that notion of when you do have sex, your legs do get weakened, you get tired,” Smith said. “I’ve experimented with it, after weighing-in, rehydrating, hanging out with my girlfriend. It has happened before fights and I feel like it did have a negative effect on me. I don’t know if that was just a mental thing — the placebo effect — or if it’s a legitimatize thing. Some people just feel tired.”

Former UFC bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey, famously said she has as much sex as possible before fights. And most recently boxer, Tyson Fury, said he’s been “masturbating seven times a day” and has admitted that he prefers to have lots of oral sex ahead of his fights in order to strengthen his jaw. His shocking win over Deontay Wilder in February turned a few eyes towards his routine.

And research shows there could be an incentive to keeping up your normal sex routine.

“After three months without sex, which is not so uncommon for some athletes, testosterone dramatically drops to levels close to children’s levels,” said Emmanuele A. Jannini, a professor of endocrinology, the study of bodily secretions in the book This Is Your Brain on Sports.

“I was always kind of in the middle,” Smith said. “Who’s right? Who’s wrong? I was even looking at scientific research on it. It was a serious thing for me because I started fighting when I was like 19. I was a young man. I had my armor, going to battle, but I wanted to be good at this fighting thing. So when I first started fighting, I was very anti-sex during training camps. I wouldn’t do anything, I wouldn’t even have a girlfriend. I was training, and you’re going to be over there till things are done.”

Smith’s view isn’t uncommon. Many athletes lead separate lives while in training camp. The UFC’s first-ever dual champion and arguably one of the world’s most recognized MMA fighters, Conor McGregor, says he moved his longtime girlfriend, Dee Devlin, into another home during his intense fight camp earlier in his career. He’s since said he’s adapted to the family life now that they have two children together.

Former double UFC champion, Daniel Cormier, has said he abstains from sex before a fight as well.

“I truly believe, that as humans, when you are starving, and you’re hungry and you’re abstaining from sex, it builds something inside of you that makes you want to go and pursue …”

Jacob Rosales, a Dana White Contender Series veteran with a 12-5 record believes abstaining from sex is a mental aspect that teaches him something about himself.

“I think the main reason why I don’t f–k is self-control,” Rosales told FanSided. “It’s the sacrifice of not being able to do. It’s having self-control, like not drinking, not going out, it’s a part of that. And the f–ing thing that people love the most, it’s the fact that I can just not do it.”

The sex or no sex talk isn’t something that really happens often in the gym, at least where Smith is concerned.

“It’s not really that big of a thing, at least in my gym,” Smith said “We don’t go around talking ‘You guys going to be f—ing this week?’ ‘No, not this week.’ There are coaches who believe it, just depends on how old-school they are. One of our boxing coaches, he’s an old-school boxing coach, he believes stay away from women, the old school way. And then our head coach, Fabiano [Scherner], he’s more relaxed. He doesn’t really care. To him, he’s a big Brazilian man and he feels [sex is] needed. He encourages it.”

Many athletes continue to have sex because like most of us can relate to, they want to. They have even thought of creative ways to engage in sexual activity and still stick to their guidelines.

For Smith, it’s less about the release and more about not overtiring his over-worked body.

“There are positions you can do,” he laughed. “When I’m in camp and — women have needs, as you know — I’m tired. I’m like ‘Hey, this is the deal, it’s you on top, I’m not doing anything.’ You got to do what you got to do. I’m tired, fatigued, whatever, So there are loopholes there. And then there are also other routes to go about sexual stuff. As time went on as I was younger, being a young man, I’d find loopholes ‘Is this really having sex? Not really, so maybe it’s not a bad thing and I can do it’ until I came to where I am now, I’m just going to stop x days out.”

Rosales does admit that it’s hard to keep up the no-sex promise, so he’ll cater to his partner when it comes down to it.

“I get horny, and then I’m like, f–k yeah, I’m gonna do whatever I can,” he said. “I’m just a giver, okay? I’m just a giver.”

The bottom line is, there’s no hard and fast (pun intended) answer to the age-old question. What works for Fury might not work for another athlete and what works for Smith might not even work for him every time.