During the early days of mixed martial arts, strikers often found themselves being dominated by grapplers. Royce Gracie made it look too easy during the first two UFC tournaments, making quick work of karate guys, kickboxers, and boxers.
Matt Hughes, a strong wrestler, also had his reign inside the cage during the early days of MMA even though he was pretty much a one-dimensional fighter.
A lot has changed since then. While well-rounded grapplers continue to enjoy lots of success inside the cage, strikers have also established themselves as forces to be reckoned with. Such strikers as Jose Aldo, Chuck Liddell, and Anderson Silva have been very successful inside the cage.
Of course, it would be very dishonest to act as if these guys are strictly strikers. In fact, every one of them is comfortable wherever a fight takes place. Their well-rounded skills are what makes them special fighters who have dominated their respective divisions. If you plan to compete and be successful in MMA coming from a striking base, you need to have the same attitude concerning your training.
Here are 3 things strikers need to learn when transitioning to MMA:
1) Takedown Defense To Dictate Where The Fight Takes Place
You’re not going to be able to showcase your striking skills when you spend most of your time on your back during fights. It is virtually impossible for a fighter who cannot stop takedowns to be successful inside the cage.
It’s called mixed martial arts for a reason. Why would anyone stand and trade with a good striker with no takedown defense? Even the basic lay-and-pray strategy would be effective against such a person.
If you are serious about having a career as an MMA fighter, you need to be able to keep the fight where you shine. Wrestling is the best combat style for learning how to defend takedowns. Simply knowing what a wrestler is trying to do to you makes it easier to stuff their attempts to get you on the ground. Wrestling will also teach you how to avoid getting pinned on the ground and how to come out on top during scrambles. The combination of these things will help you avoid takedowns, but if you are taken down, you will know how to get back on your feet.
Being able to wrestle will also open up your strikes. Jose Aldo is well known for using techniques that looked like they belonged in the movies during his reign, and he was able to do that because he was confident he would be able to stop any attempts to take him down. When he was taken down, he typically bounced right back up.
The opposite occurs when you are not confident about your takedown defense. You will find yourself constantly worrying about stuffing takedowns, which makes you reluctant to throw strikes as you normally would.
2) Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu To Add Additional Threats To Your Game
If there is one grappling art that is absolutely essential for success inside the cage, it is definitely Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This gentle art teaches you how to use leverage to dominate opponents. You learn how to reverse a bad position, stop takedowns, execute takedowns, transition from position to position on the ground and, most importantly, how to submit opponents and defend against submissions.
A submission is BJJ’s version of the knockout. It allows you to end a fight within seconds. One of the most impressive uses of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by a striking-based fighter occurred during Anderson Silva’s UFC 117 fight against Chael Sonnen.
Sonnen got off to an extremely strong start during the contest, seemingly taking the Brazilian down at will. Sonnen kept pressure on Silva for four and a half rounds and was minutes away from bringing Silva’s legendary reign to an end. Unfortunately for Sonnen, however, Silva is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under the tutelage of the Nogueira brothers, while Sonnen never really cared much for BJJ. For Sonnen, training BJJ was a questionable endeavor.
“Even if I thought I could get a submission, I’m not laying underneath a grown man with my legs spread on worldwide TV,” Sonnen said about BJJ practitioners leading up to his fight against Silva. “Some guys subscribe to that theory, but I am a Republican, and we don’t do that.”
Given his attitude toward BJJ, it wasn’t that surprising that he ended up getting caught in a triangle choke minutes away from making UFC history. Silva was able to keep his undefeated record in the Ultimate Fighting Championship intact thanks to the last-minute submission.
The moral of the story? Learn BJJ. It will help with your takedown defense, and if you ever run into an exceptional wrestler who can take you down at will, it gives you a chance to still win the fight.
3) The Nuances Of MMA
Modern MMA has evolved into a unique combat style, and you need to train specifically for it. For starters, you need to learn many techniques that are not used in other martial arts, such as wall walking or working in the clinch against the cage.
You also need to get used to striking with the smaller 4-ounce gloves used in MMA. While you might not think this is important, it makes a significant difference. Alistair Overeem is a great example of a great striker who transitioned to MMA but struggled with the smaller gloves.
Overeem was used to the much larger gloves used in Dutch-style kickboxing. Put both hands next to your face and you’re well protected. MMA gloves offer no such protection, and your opponent can still connect even when your hands are up protecting your chin. Overeem suffered a series of devastating knockouts before he eventually made the technical adjustments and started blocking effectively with the smaller gloves.