If you have an even casual passing interest in MMA you will have noticed that the sport tends to be dominated with athletes that come from a grappling background. Wrestlers in particular perform exceptionally well in MMA with many becoming UFC champions. In this article we will explore why grappling is better suited to MMA than striking.
Why Is Grappling Better Than Striking?
Grappling is better than striking because it allows MMA athletes to choose where the fight takes place, and prevents their opponent from being able to strike them while they still can score a KO with ground & pound. Using grappling is a safer strategy than striking where a small mistake can result in a KO.
MMA is not about blind aggression and scaring your opponent into submission. MMA is about executing the most effective strategy to defeat your opponent.
Grappling is simply a more optimal strategy than striking when an athlete is trying to win an MMA fight.
Grappling Allows MMA Fighters To Decide Where The Fight Takes Place
Grappling gives MMA fighters a positional advantage by allowing them to choose whether the fight stays standing or goes to the ground.
In a MMA fight a high level wrestler can opt to take down a much weaker grappler anytime they choose. This gives them a big advantage in a fight.
For example let’s say an MMA fighter who was a former NCAA Division 1 champion is fighting a high level kickboxer who does not have a high level ground game or grappling. The wrestler can quickly shoot a double leg and force the striker to the ground.
By taking the striker to the ground not only has the wrestler diffused their major weapon, the striker is now in an area of MMA where they are not comfortable or skilled. From here the wrestler can rain down elbows and punches and look for submissions which the inferior grappler is going to struggle to defend against.
Khabib was a master at this strategy. The Russian fighter would nearly be in the cage against superior strikes. It never bothered the Sambo champion who would simply relentlessly attack single legs and trips until he took his opponent down and pinned them. From there he would trap them in half guard and unleash a hellish assault of elbows and punches.
If by some minor miracle one of his opponents manages to avoid a takedown or stand up from the bottom position he would simply repeat the process until he once again had his opponent pinned and eating punches.
This grappling heavy strategy is what allowed Khabib to retire undefeated and as one of the best MMA fighters that the world has ever seen.
It is hard imagining how a MMA fighter would successfully counter this dominant strategy. The only possible scenario is if Khabib fought a significantly better grappler who was able to prevent his takedowns and keep the fight standing or somehow pin the Russian and give him some of his own medicine.
Grappling Prevents MMA Fighters From Being Knocked Out
A fighter who has been taken down is pinned on the mat just can not get the required leverage needed to knock out the fighter on top. From the button position the human body is just not powerful enough to generate knockout power.
There are a few exceptions. For example an upkick can knock out the top fighter but this is only if there is separation between the two fighters and one fighter is standing. Elbows from the button can hurt the top fighter but this is very rare and again requires separation.
Not only does taking your opponent down in MMA and pinning them prevent you from being knocked out but it also allows you to still hurt your opponent and score the KO.
Ground and pound is one of the most effective strategies in MMA. Ground and pound refers to any striking that the top fighter delivers while being on the ground. Punching and elbowing are the most common form of ground pound.
Ground and pound is responsible for many fights ending in knockouts and is so lethal because the bottom fighter is often trapped under the bodyweight of the top fight, making escape impossible and because they are on their back they can’t mount any counter offense to deter the top fighter from simply punching them unconscious.
Using Grappling In An MMA Fight Is Safer Than Striking
You see it all the time in the UFC and other MMA organisations where a talented fighter is standing toe to toe with another fighter who they are clearly better than but in the midst of trading strikes they get clipped with a punch, kick or elbow and before they know it they are knocked out and the fight is over.
While grappling does not prevent this situation 100% (I bet Ben Askren wishes it did) and you do occasionally see fighters knocked out as they shoot particularly for double legs it is much less common than when two fighters are trading strikes.
Where grappling really makes an MMA fight safer is once a grappler has got the fight to the ground and now has his opponent pinned. The fighter on the bottom is not able to strike effectively. They can not create enough force to hurt the fighter in the top position. While the fighter in the top position is capable of creating enough power to stun and knock out the pinned fighter.
The fighter on top on the ground does need to worry about submissions but to negate this many MMA fighters will trap the bottom fighter is half guard where it is difficult to mount any offensive Jiu Jitsu and be happy to punch and elbow away until the round is over or until the fight is stopped.
Grappling is superior to striking in MMA. You only have to look at the amount of champions who use grappling, particularly wrestling as their base style. The greatest MMA fighters of all time GSP and Khabib both used a heavy grappling style to take their opponents down, pin them and then punch/elbow them.