If you are a fan of mixed martial arts (MMA), you are probably already aware of how the cage can be used as a defensive and offensive tool. You can use it to defend takedowns, execute takedowns, get back to your feet, slow down the fight, or perform certain striking techniques.
There are many aspects of fighting against a cage, but the clinch is a big part of it. Being comfortable in the clinch or any other aspects of MMA where you or your opponent are pressed against the cage is a huge benefit for an MMA fighter. While there are still many MMA promotions that use boxing-style rings, the cage has emerged as the norm in modern mixed martial arts competitions.
Here are five tips for working against the cage:
1) Dominate in the clinch
You need to have solid technique and good conditioning to be able to dominate your opponents when clinched up against the cage. The fighter who has the upper hand in a clinch is typically the one who is doing a better job of controlling his opponent’s head and hips.
Drive your head under your opponent’s chin when you have him pinned against the cage. It forces the person to straighten up and that makes it easier for you to smother or take him/her down.
Establishing a solid underhook is just as important when you find yourself inside the clinch. An underhook will make it easier for you to pin your opponent against the cage and it also makes it easier for you to work takedowns.
When you have an opponent pinned down with an underhook, you can use your free hand to land strikes or go for another underhook. Double underhooks give you even greater control over your opponent and it also makes it easier for you to complete takedowns.
There are many takedowns that can be executed from clinch position against the cage like single legs, double legs, leg trips, high-crotch takedowns, and countless hip throws. There are also a variety of devastating strikes like elbows and knees that can be used in this position.
2) Think of it as a third leg
The cage is a solid structure that is designed to be able to support the body weight of both fighters. Your legs are structures that are designed to carry you around and support your weight. See the similarity between the two things?
When you take grappling classes, one of the first things you learn is how important it is to be properly planted with a strong base. It is very hard to sweep, takedown or move a person when they have a solid base.
When it comes to takedowns, the cage can be your enemy or your friend. It can trap you and prevent you from escaping the shot with your footwork, but you can also use it to give yourself some extra balance when someone tries to take you down.
For example, if your opponent goes for a double leg and is driving you backward, the cage can block your fall and keep you upright. Always be aware of your position in respect to the cage when your spar or compete and make it part of your base.
3) Use it to trap opponents
The cage can also be used to trap your opponents inside the cage. It’s one of those things the best MMA fighters in the world take advantage of regularly. You can secure takedowns easier by using the cage to trap your opponent or pin them down.
The cage is just as useful when the fight hits the ground. You can make it harder for your opponent to escape by trapping them against the cage. It limits the movements the person can make and it puts you in a great position to unload strikes. Just be careful, a skilled opponent can also use the cage to aid their escape and get back to their feet. Be mindful of what the person is doing at all times and do not allow him/her to use the cage as leverage from the bottom.
4) Gain control time
According to the rules of most prominent MMA organizations, when a person pins his/her opponent against the cage, he/she is in control of the fight. Learn to use the cage to slow things down and gain some control time.
If you are having a hard time with your opponent’s striking, pin him/her against the cage and slow down the person’s momentum. You give off the impression that you are in control of the fight and you get a chance to reset and come up with a better strategy.
Working in the clinch is one of the most tiring facets of MMA, and it is a great way to tire out an opponent that has limited experience grappling. UFC Hall-of-Famer Randy Couture used that game plan for most of his career. His years of experience as a Greco-Roman wrestler allowed him to pin opponents against the cage and drain their energy until they had nothing left in the tank.
You can add icing to your control time by taking your opponent down right before the round ends. Since you are already in a clinch, you are in a great position to execute takedowns.
5) Be creative
There are literally countless moves that can be done using the cage. A few decades ago, techniques like wall walking didn’t even exist. Find unique ways to use the cage that others are not even doing, try to figure out how the cage can be used to execute your favorite moves.
By being creative, you get to surprise your opponents with something they do not see coming. Anthony Pettis’ Showtime Kick has to be the best example of an MMA fighter getting creative with the cage during a fight. The kick landed flush because Ben Henderson had no idea what Pettis was trying to do when he bounced off the cage.
The cage is part of the sport so use it!