When Kiwi UFC champion Israel Adesanya was climbing the ladder to global stardom, his rise may have appeared effortless.
But behind the super confident, sleek, ripped physique, was a mind that first needed help. It needed strengthening.
Enter David Niethe.
New Zealand's leading mental performance coach has been a pillar of Kiwi success over the past 25 years, working with the likes of Lydia Ko, Adesanya, Alex Pledger, the Black Ferns and top All Blacks.
The obstacle is always the same - overcoming the mind, a barrier that can account for as much as 80 per cent of performance.
And the advice always comes from the same place. Meet the man behind the minds of New Zealand's top athletes.
Before Lydia Ko's feet could even reach the floor when sitting on the couch in Niethe's studio, he looked her straight in the eye with an element of seriousness and asked one question.
"Do you give me permission to be blunt and honest?"
It's the same question Niethe asks every athlete who seeks his help.
And blunt and honest he is, whether he's working with an All Black, Silver Fern, world-title-winning MMA fighter or Olympic gold medallist.
"I don't care who you are," Niethe says. "I'm very hard, I'm certainly not here to blow smoke up your arse. I'm here to challenge you."
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It's a harsh approach at times and one which has seen him gain a reputation for not pulling any punches.
But Niethe says it's an approach which has blossomed success and is welcomed by New Zealand's elite athletes.
"I can get away with being very stern with people and people appreciate that because generally with a lot of top athletes, they are surrounded by a whole lot of yes people," said Neithe.
"But I don't care who you are, I will challenge you to grow and that's what they appreciate. I'm that trusted and honest advisor."
Having helped Ko become the youngest ever golfer to rank No.1 in the world, Adesanya to the top of UFC and the Northern Stars to make the ANZ Premiership grand final after being the competition's wooden spooners last season, it's clear Niethe has a gift of navigating the minds of athletes and teaching them the skills they need to be champions.
However, it's his past which often takes people by surprise, as Niethe explains he was far from the academic.
"I was pretty much asked to leave school," he says, "I've got no certifications from school, I failed everything and I really struggled with learning."
Diagnosed as dyslexic in his late teens, Niethe turned to work as a web offset printer.
With low self-esteem and a fearful outlook on life, it wasn't until Niethe was gifted a book by the priest at Wesley College titled Jonathan Livingston Seagull that he started to change his perspective.
"It's a story about a seagull who didn't want to be part of the flock," Niethe explains. "He just wanted to be the fastest seagull ever. I was mesmerised by the story and it stimulated my thoughts about the mentality and pshycology of how people think.
"From then on, I started doing a whole lot of research which transitioned into neuro-linguistics and I just continued educating myself."
Niethe started applying his research to his sporting pursuits in rowing, rugby, the Highland Games and New Zealand Strongman, and it didn't take long before the results spoke for themselves.
Approached by people who sought the secret to his success after he smashed national records, Niethe decided to start offering mental performance and life-coaching services after hours.
"I started to do it in cafes and I would say to clients, 'I can't see you during the day because I've got corporate clients', when in reality I was working on a printing press," Niethe says. "So I worked at night and on weekends.
"Back then though, there was no such thing as mental performance coaches. Some people thought I was an idiot, no one believed in me."
Going on to become a master neuro-linguistic programming practitioner, a master timeline therapist and a master hypnotherapist, Niethe officially opened the doors of his home office full-time in the early 90s.
Now boasting a seven-week waiting list, the rest is history.
"I was just an average Kiwi guy with no education and a dream," he says. "But if you want to walk on water, first you've got to step out of the boat and I risked it all to follow this dream and here I am."
Niethe will be the first person to point out he's not a therapist and his job isn't about helping people overcome mental issues.
Rather it's about teaching individuals about how to break down self-limiting mental barriers and gain what he calls "the mental edge".
But that doesn't mean he hasn't seen athletes at the lowest points of their careers.
Niethe's first encounter with Adesanya was before the now UFC star had even stepped foot in the octagon.
Adesanya had suffered two back-to-back kickboxing defeats and was contemplating the future of his career.
"His confidence wasn't very high," Niethe says. "But Israel is a very sharp dude, very intelligent and he was like a sponge."
Adesanya immediately started to apply Niethe's teaching to his training and just six sessions later, after his career seemingly hit rock bottom, the 30-year-old claimed his first UFC win in UFC 221.
Now, two years on, he is set to fight for the undisputed middleweight title at UFC 243 against Robert Whittaker.
"He took all that information and applied it, even though some fighters came in and laughed," Niethe says.
"[Adesanya] had a picture of the belt and his name on a vision board and they used to give him s*** about having a vision board and how he talked about it, but look at him now, well he's done it."
It's a similar narrative with Ko.
Shortly after the 22-year-old golfer became world No. 1 in 2015, a handful of weak performances sparked a downward spiral.
She began questioning the strength of her mental fortress and suddenly Niethe's job wasn't so much about helping her get into the zone but about teaching her the key to overcoming failure.
"Sometimes athletes need someone to help reframe and support things when they go through failure and I've dealt with this for many years with Lydia," Niethe says. "When Lydia was going well, all was hunky-dory, the moment she had a few issues, the media was quick to go 'what is going on?'.
"We're vicious sometimes with our athletes, the moment they have a non-performance, they get hammered so there are huge amounts of pressure on performance."
That pressure of expectation is one of the biggest performance killers for many of New Zealand's top sportspeople, Niethe points out.
And although helping athletes out of dark places is often the most challenging part of his job, Niethe says it's the most rewarding.
"I get to see the tears, so part of what I do is how I deal with that to give them a sense of hope and faith in the fact that they can do this again," he says.
"I want to teach these guys that the competition out there is tough enough and the last thing you want to do is fight within yourself. I've seen guys with low confidence, low self-esteem with a lot of internal dialogue really beat themselves up, turn that around and suddenly they've just accelerated.
"Mentally, I push their limits and that's what gives me a buzz."
With an adaptable coaching style, Niethe is yet to meet an athlete he is unable to work with.
Trusting his intuition, Niethe says he treats everyone as a unique individual and works with their different needs, values, beliefs and goals.
But that's not necessarily the secret to his success, as Niethe explains it's about being able to walk the walk which has given him a special insight into how Kiwi athletes think.
And looking to break more Strongman records this year, he sees no end in sight to practise what he preaches – especially while punching above his weight himself.
"I know what it's like to go through pain," he says. "My sporting background has given me a sense of empathy and understanding.
"The most important thing for me as a mental performance coach is that I must be congruent with what I say.
"I have a responsibility to hold myself accountable so if I can't handle it then I certainly shouldn't be in a position to tell people how to suck eggs, so I pride myself in my own performance."
Warned over becoming too complacent or not showing enough fight, the humble Kiwi attitude is often deemed our greatest weakness in the sporting world.
From the Silver Ferns once being called "gullible" against rivals Australia to Kiwi boxer Joseph Parker being slammed as "too nice" in the ring.
But teaching an underdog how to fight with the mental edge is what Niethe does best and what has ultimately set his athletes apart.
"The way I see it, you can have the best athletes in the world but if they've got no self-belief they are only good athletes," he says.
"Having an undoubtable belief in self, now that's freedom."
Boasting Olympians, record holders and world champions on his impressive list of past and present clients, Niethe has no shortage of success stories to his name.
The thrill of seeing his athletes win big on the world stage is something he says will never get old.
But aside from the big names and glitzy titles, it's often the smaller victories that mean the most to Niethe.
"I get a real buzz from seeing people get Commonwealth gold medals and that sort of thing," he says. "But what you've also got to appreciate is that having a young boy get a 12-second personal best means as much to me as watching a UFC world title fight.
"They're all important because, for that kid, that could be the thing that starts a whole lot of processes and changes for the better."
It's every step forward, no matter how small, that Niethe says can be influential in building a champion.
And with his new "Mental Edge" tour set to hit Auckland on September 12, he is continuously reminded by how far he himself has come from a shy school drop-out to a motivational speaker living his dream while helping others achieve theirs.
"I wanted to be fearless, I was sick and tired of being scared," he says. "I'm a person now who isn't scared anymore. I've conquered things that I never dreamt I could do.
"If you can go into any situation and you believe you can conquer it and you have a conviction to create it, you have a dam good chance of doing it."