Without a doubt, wrestling is one of the best bases you can have when transitioning to mixed martial arts, but the days of one-dimensional wrestlers like Matt Hughes dominating inside the cage are long gone.
Modern MMA fighters are well rounded, and there is no guarantee you will be able to take everyone you face down during a match. There’s nothing more pitiful than a one-dimensional wrestler who is forced to stand and trade inside the cage. It typically doesn’t end well for the wrestler.
To be competitive as a wrestler in MMA, there are certain skills you need to learn. Here are the three main things every wrestler should learn when thinking about crossing over into mixed martial arts:
1) The Fundamentals Of Striking
This skill is a no-brainer. All MMA fights start standing up, so it is very important that you feel comfortable when standing. Since there are no punches involved in wrestling, many wrestlers are often averse to getting hit in the face. This usually leads to them shooting for poorly timed takedowns or turtling up when they get hit.
One of the most important things any wrestler can do when transitioning to MMA is to start training in a striking style as soon as possible. Boxing seems to be the easiest style for wrestlers to learn, but Muay Thai is also very effective inside the cage. Other striking arts like Karate and Taekwondo can be effective during MMA fights, but boxing and Muay Thai seem to be the best, especially if you’re new to striking.
The good thing about being a good wrestler is that your opponent has to worry constantly about being taken down. This opens up the person’s guard since they have to keep their hands lower to be able to stuff takedowns effectively. Being a good wrestler also makes your opponents more hesitant to strike since they are constantly worried about takedowns. MMA fighters like Tyron Woodley and Dan Henderson are known for their devastating knockouts, but it is their world-class wrestling skills that actually puts them in the position to land devastating strikes.
The moral of the story? Good wrestling opens up strikes for you, while good striking makes it easier to shoot for takedowns.
2) Add To Your Grappling Repertoire With Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
While it is easy to think you have the grappling department covered simply because you are a good grappler, the truth is, wrestling is not enough to keep you safe from submissions. Brock Lesnar learned that lesson the hard way during his first fight against Frank Mir. Lesnar hurt Mir early during the contest and proceeded to smash him on the ground. It looked like Lesnar was about to score an early TKO victory until Mir locked up a knee bar and forced the tap.
The second fight between the two was very different as Lesnar sharpened up his submission defense and avenged his loss to Mir.
While it is easy to think wrestling is enough for mixed martial arts, the reality is that it does not prepare you fully for submissions. Wrestling focuses on attaining advantageous positions, while BJJ focuses on submissions. In other words, wrestling teaches you how to control where the fight takes place, while BJJ teaches you how to end the fight in an instant.
The good news is that if you are already a good wrestler, BJJ will come naturally to you. You just have to put in the work and learn how to defend against the countless submissions that might be used on you inside the cage.
3) Mixing Up The Different Styles
Learning individual combat styles alone isn’t the best way to prepare for mixed martial arts competitions. Simply being able to strike, wrestle and evade submissions is often not enough. At this point, MMA has evolved into a martial art of its own, so it is important to learn how to mix everything up. You do that by training for MMA specifically.
For example, BJJ teaches you how to submit others and avoid being submitted, but there is no one throwing punches at your face in BJJ class. An old Carlson Gracie quote sums it up perfectly:
“Punch a BJJ black belt in the face and he becomes a brown belt. Punch him again and he becomes a purple belt.”
What you want to do is to be prepared for punches while grappling. You want to learn how to execute takedowns while dealing with knees and elbows, and you want to learn how to strike while having to worry about takedowns.
The best way to ensure that you are ready for MMA is by training with a competent team. Hopefully, one that has some MMA veterans on its roster. This will help you prepare for the reality of being inside the cage.
When transitioning to mixed martial arts, you want to train with a team that will teach you the little tricks that are specific to MMA. For example, using the cage to get back to your feet is a move that is very specific to MMA alone. You will also see fighters using the cage to trap their opponents while unloading some ground and pound. These are things you simply won’t learn training for any other martial art besides MMA.
Your MMA team will also serve as a support system since the other members know exactly what you’re going through when preparing for a match. They will help you deal with the jitters leading up to your fights and will help you come up with intelligent game plans that increase the odds of success.