The MMA Formula: Striking + Takedowns + Groundwork


Mixed martial art (MMA) competition has come a long way from the early UFCs, where Karateka faced off against streetfighters, and Jiujitsu practitioners battled Kung Fu stylists. In those early days competitors typically had uni-dimensional games, based on striking or takedowns or groundfighting. Competitors who were skilled in more than one area of fighting were far and few between.

Nowadays MMA competitors do far more cross-training, and it is no longer unusual to have separate boxing, wrestling and Jiu-jitsu coaches. Do you need to be an expert at every phase of combat to be successful in MMA? Not at all! You DO, however, need to be familiar with each phase of combat, and have a few phases, or sub-categories, in which you are a specialist.

For the sake of argument we can divide MMA combat into 3 phases: 1) Striking, 2) Standing Grappling and 3) Groundfighting. Each of these phases is composed of a large number of sub-categories. For the sake of discussion, I will divide each major phase into some simple and sometimes arbitrary categories.

Standing StrikingStanding Striking1 – Punching
2 – Kicking
3 – Knees
4 – Elbows
5 – Headbutts
Standing GrapplingStanding Grappling 1 – The Clinch (e.g. inside trip, whizzer, lateral drops, knee strikes, etc.)
2 – The Shoot (e.g. single leg, double leg, high crotch)
GroundworkGroundwork1 – Position fighting (guard passing, pin maintenance, etc.)
2 – Submission attacks and defenses
3 – Striking attacks and defenses

To be successful at NHB you need to be a generalist and a specialist. You need to be familiar with all the phases of combat and major techniques (generalist) and be very good at one or more areas (specialist). This combination of skills and specializations then determines your game plan.

Sakuraba is an example of a fighter with outstanding submission and striking skills on the ground. On his feet he has great kicks and great takedowns. This combination of skills gives him options at every range, in every range of combat, and makes him one of the most exciting fighters of his era.

Some fighters are most skilled in the clinch – this doesn’t mean that they don’t have other skills, but only that this is where they feel most at home. The clinch can helps them negate the punches and kicks of an opponent and keep the fight standing or on the ground. Randy Couture defeated Vitor Belfort with this strategy. Although Randy Couture is undoubtedly familiar with all categories of techniques he has displayed superior boxing, clinching, top control and ground striking skills. For him, this has proven to be a winning combination.

Other fighters have superior striking skills, and back up their gameplan by developing their takedown defenses and a survival-oriented bottom game. Maurice Smith defeated several skilled grapplers with this strategy (Mark Coleman and Marcus ‘Conan’ Silviera). Chuck Liddell is another excellent striker with great takedown defense.

Rodrigo Minotauro Nogueira is a good boxer and a very skilled groundfighter. This is an interesting combination: Minotauro is dangerous on his feet, but should an opponent successfully tackle him and take him to the ground then they face a relentless onslaught of armbar, triangle and omo plata attacks.

A striker without any takedown defenses and ground survival skills is very vulnerable. A grappler without any takedown skills or striking skills is likewise vulnerable. Someone hoping to be successful in the NHB arena should definately seek to develop a variety of skills, at the very least becoming somewhat familiar with the basic attacks and strategies in each phase of combat.

In the following techniques we pit two hypothetical fighters against each other. The fighter in white is skilled in kickboxing with a strong takedown defense. The fighter in the black trunks is skilled at the clinch, the shoot and ground submissions. In addition to being a battle of skills, this is also a battle of strategies. White wants to keep it standing. Black wants to close and take it to the ground. The winner is the fighter who keeps the fight in the phases of combat he is comfortable with.

Techniques illustrating striking vs grappling strategies:

1, Baiting shoot takedown vs. punching

2, Sprawl and knees vs. shoot

3, Clinch and inside trip vs. punching

4, Leg catch and takedown vs. Thai kick

5, Counter to leg catch

Assisting Stephan Kesting in this article is Pshemek Drabczynski from
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