Do psychopaths fight professionally?

Out of the estimated 1% of the American population with Antisocial Personality Disorder (the most extreme of whom could be psychopathic individuals), how many of them have made a career (or are currently making one) in culturally accepted forms of fighting and aggression, such as boxing or MMA? Here it is important not to confuse serial killers with psychopaths (it’s estimated that in the US there are about 8 serial killers operating at one time), and 1% of the American population is 313,000, and so it’s quite a different question to ask if serial killers become boxers (they probably don’t).

In much of the literature on aggression there tends to be two types of aggressive male; those who are reactively aggressive, and those who are instrumentally aggressive. Numerous boxers, including Michael Bentt, have said recently (commenting upon the recent Haye/Chisora/Klitschko debacle) that boxers are naturally aggressive, and if this is the case then those two categories of aggressiveness are probably also present among fighters.

There are both psychological and physiological differences between reactive and instrumental aggression. Reactive aggression frequently involves losing your cool in the face of a perceived harmful stimulus, whereas instrumental aggression involves carefully planning how to use aggressive behavior to achieve a goal. Reactive aggression is associated with a rapid rise in heart rate and a diminishing capacity for logical thought, whereas those with a tendency for instrumental aggression are able to keep a low heart rate when faced with the kinds of shocking/harmful stimuli that would cause the rest of us to lose control.

Psychopaths are renowned for instrumental aggression and ALL fighters have to utilize instrumental aggression in order to win (they have to plan/scheme/adapt in their fighting style to best their opponent and receive all of the benefits and rewards that come with winning). Of course a crucial difference here is that psychopaths also have no remorse or guilt, and I can imagine the kinds of discipline and rule following that accompanies fighting would only serve to frustrate a psychopath, hindering their quest for extreme stimulation and power. So would psychopaths fight or not?

On the one hand, it is not hard to imagine why a psychopathic individual would turn to professional fighting. Firstly, they get to hurt people, and this could be accompanied by extreme exhilaration (the basic reward circuitry in psychopaths is often underdeveloped and poorly functioning. It could be argued that because of this psychopaths often turn to alcohol and other drugs, as well as violence to feel exhilaration). Secondly, provided they were good at it, they could obtain a high social status (powerful people who could be manipulated and controlled), wealth, and access to gorgeous women (who could be manipulated and controlled).

On the other hand, they could lose and end up with none of that. Psychopaths, particularly unsuccessful psychopaths (those deemed to have lower neurological integrity in the frontal lobe and tend to end up in prison more than their successful counterparts), are notoriously bad at making risky decisions; this could support the notion of unsuccessful psychopaths becoming fighters. It would be much easier for a psychopath to rely on their charm to manipulate in an innocuous environment to gain control and fulfill their egoistic goals than to subject their bodies to tremendous punishment in a ring with a lot less certainty of success. Psychopaths who do or would fight, would in all likelihood be unsuccessful psychopaths, and could be identified by a number of factors: One, have they been involved in domestic abuse? Two, have they shown any remorse concerning said domestic abuse? Three, do they also assault people they are not familiar with/have no relationship with? Four, is their ego ridiculously high, even for a fighter?

Ring any bells?

18 thoughts on “Do psychopaths fight professionally?

  1. hellca

    A couple of candidates for psychopathy in combat sports; Mike Tyson and Rousimar Palhares (UFC fighter). I don’t think Palhares is an actual psychopath, but it has been suggested by many people on message boards due to his willingness to seriously injure peoples legs (he is a leglock specialist), even going so far to ignore their opponents submission.

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  2. mostafa

    i would disagree with Tyson being an antisocial..mots of his aggressive harmful behavior outside the ring is due to reactive aggression..he is unable to control his own anger… fortunately ,he was blessed with a great coach who taught him how to control his tempo and plan ahead..but after he died,he deteriorated both inside and outside the ring.bernard hopkins is a more of a candidate for the diagnosis,he shows amazing control over his fear,manipulates the ring rules all the time.has constantly hurt people around him in a skilled manner,not in a temperamental manner..he is a great boxer because he has the biology of a psychopath…same with O:J simpsons

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    1. Jack P Post author

      Totally agree with you about Tyson, and I don’t know enough about Bernard Hopkins, so thank you for providing me with that lead!

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  3. Master C Whitney

    MMA / UFC fighters all have mental illness. Some develop it when they begin MMA fighting and others already have conditions and develop psychopathy with the continued fighting. This is not anything new.. There is not one bad egg in the batch of fighters. They are all bad eggs. The goal is to stroke the psychopathic ego and show the world how big and bad they are. Laughing at the laws, doing drugs and being very public about it because they can get away with it due to all the blood money they make from fighting. It’s a sick and desgusting sport that teaches all who watch that the government is really corrupt and just as demented as the fighters. The things that bothers me even more is the degenerate fighters have the temerity to use the words “Martial arts” when promoting things. It’s a titles for the sick ego-minds, but truth is it’s a fallacy. remember: “A fallacy does not cease to be a fallacy because it become popular”. – The answer to the question is anyone who does cage fighting has very serious mental issues. When you see the crimes committed by the fighters also, it’s way beyond human thought. eating a persons heart, eating the face off, shooting pregnant women. Terroristic threats.. they have no conscience. I’m 100% for banning this gladiator blood sport. At a minimal the words “Martial arts” should be regulated so they have to say “martial sports” instead of “arts” – deceptive marketing propaganda that tarnished true Martial arts.

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  4. sune

    the long comment you just put out says more about yourself then about MMA, you judge every one in that area of contact sport,, and this sghould be very apparent to you, but it dosent seem like you notice it as you rant on.

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  5. G

    Master C Whitney is obviously extremely insecure and envious of the stardom that comes with being a professional mixed martial artist. If he thinks all MMA fighters are bad eggs, then surely he believes everyone on Earth is a bad egg. What a moron.

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  6. nitross

    We must to keep in mind that the psychopaths are moved in a permanent balance of desire fullfillment, that is, they calculate all the time “does this serves to my twisted goal of control and sadism, and at what cost?”. They are highly narcissistic, and they HATE to be humilliated. It loops them into depressing phases. Fighting is a really hard work, hard spirit and high competitiousness things, all of them anti psychopathic traits. They go for the easy, covered, unfair abuse. Not a thing fighters do. Some of them might be, of course, but its not a green field for psychopaths. Great article.

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    1. Jack Pemment Post author

      I think you’re right. The percentage of psychopaths in professional fighting is perhaps lower than you would think, even considering those who like to hurt other people. Thank you for your comment!

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      1. nitross

        I would like to add (even though you may know much better than I) one thing that usually people fail to grasp. A psychopath/sociopath/narcissistic (which is pretty much the same mental illness, faulty brain, but people still tend to dissociate) is a calculating machine. They are bucket with a hole, so they need to fill themselves all the time. So they think “what is the best way to fill me using the less effort possible?” (reptile heritage). Considering these people are coward by definition (never being sincere), they will do petty things if that satisfy them. People consider psychopaths to be capable of the worst massacres and crimes. That’s not true. If a psychopath is happy cutting the legs of cats, he will stick to it. If a psychopath finds joy in firing people, he will stick to it. And so forth. Do you agree with this? That’s why I think that there are few psychopathic fighters. But I also want to make you a question. They stimate the number of psychopaths to be 4-5 % of total population. Is that true? If so, it is scary, isn’t it?

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      2. Jack Pemment Post author

        I think you’re right that psychopaths will take the easy route to achieve maximum stimulation/exhilaration. One thing that has been noticed, is that some psychopaths will escalate in the nature of the crimes. If they think there is an even bigger reward to be had by modifying the nature of their crimes, it is possible that they will move from animals to humans, or they will finally try to make their sadistic fantasies a reality.
        From what I’ve read, 4-5% is high. 1% of the population has antisocial personality disorder (APD), and a minority of that 1% are psychopathic. So there are about 3,800,000 Americans with APD, and a small percentage of those would meet the criteria for psychopathy. Still, for being the minority of the minority, psychopaths can have a devastating/crippling effect on the rest of us!

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  7. nitross

    What I’m not so sure is if the “escalation” you mention is to apply in all of them. I don’t think so, but I can be wrong. Also, what is the difference between APD and plain psychopathy? You speak of it as it is very differenciated. Could you explain it to me? Thanks for your replies and thanks for answering the question. Im truly interested in this (thought of studying psychology…).

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    1. Jack Pemment Post author

      There is likely to be escalation from the teen years into adulthood. The development of the disorder will automatically result in an increase of antisocial behavior, but you’re right, it’s hard to say how far escalation will go – maybe in some it will stop relatively early.
      Antisocial Personality Disorder is a clinical diagnosis given to those who meet certain criteria; usually that they are intentionally aggressive and purposefully disobey rules. Psychopathy is a developmental disorder that has a lot of parallels with Antisocial Personality Disorder. Most psychopaths have also met the criteria for Antisocial Personality, but most Antisocials are not psychopaths.

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      1. nitross

        Just this thing: what produces the Antisocial Personality Disorder? Is it a chemical reaction/genetics, or is it simply behaviour and education? If it is the first one, then there is nothing to do about it, they should wear a tag with them (I think the same about psychopahts) but if it is the second, then can be reverted, so it wouldn’t be an illness. I just can’t think of being antisocial as a disorder… it seems like everything human can now be labeled as a disorder. Psychopaths are truly on a whole different level, but “APS”? More like “AP”, simply.
        What do you think of making public who is a psychopath? It seems to me the only way to free normal people from the suffering these monsters create on daily basis, since their cover is usually social. (As I say, if Psychopathy is truly a disorder/illness/condition, then it can be proved).
        Thanks, Jack.

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      2. Jack Pemment Post author

        It’s really hard to separate out genes from environmental factors. In the past we have drawn a line at our skin, and suggest that everything on the inside is genetic/biological/nature, and everything on the outside is behavior/environment/nurture. Genetic expression can be altered by all of the things that influence us in the world. When you learn anything, synapses form in the brain, and this can only result from the activation of numerous biological pathways. The brain is so dynamic that you cannot treat nature/nurture separately. Although, what you can do is see if violent people (such as some with Antisocial Personality or Psychopathy) have certain alleles (versions of genes) in common. Scientists have found that a version of the MAO gene and the SNAP gene (both are implicated in neuron activity) are implicated in violent individuals, but you can only ever talk about trends and nothing is absolute.
        Personality disorders arise, usually, from developmental errors in the brain during early years. So, by the time the person reaches adulthood, their brain has developed in such a way that it is likely to promote certain behaviors associated with that personality disorder. You can’t really fix this problem because you would have to take their brain back in time and make it develop in a different direction. But we still don’t know exactly how these developmental errors occur, only that serious stress, such as perpetual child abuse, can result in this.
        Psychopathy is not one standard thing, it exists on a spectrum, and is personality dependent. Therefore, it can become very difficult to label people psychopaths, and unless you forced suspected people to be examined, there’s no way you could publicize who is a psychopath and who is not. Also, there are not very many psychopaths in the world, it’s just the few there are can make such a huge impact.

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  8. nitross

    Thanks for your information and your time, Jack. I hope you find something interesting in your research. Best of luck.

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    1. Jack Pemment Post author

      You’re welcome, Nitross, and thank you very much! Thanks for asking some great questions.

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  9. nitross

    Hi again, Jack. In case you missed it, Rousimar Palhares has done it again. He kept holding onto the heelhook even though the referee stopped the fight, potentionally hurting his opponent. Dana White, ufc president, fired him.

    Just wanted to let you know in case it is useful for your research. Thanks. See you.

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    1. Jack Pemment Post author

      Thanks for that, Nitross. I’ll check it out when I get a minute. Currently getting ready for Marquez v. Bradley. Should be a good fight.

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