Now we can actually look at what it means to be a mixed martial artist!
What will you see in an MMA fight? It is quite different from a boxing or wrestling match – in one single MMA match, you could see punches, kicks, takedowns, throws, submission attempts, and more! It is truly exciting and just about as unpredictable as you could ask for (when it comes to professional sports.)
After reading this page, you will understand what the competitors are doing in the fights, plus you’ll understand most of what the commentators are saying.
Fighting Styles You Will See
Since this is mixed martial arts, there are many styles (aka disciplines) you will see used. The two main styles are striking and grappling, which each further divided.
Striking involves mainly punching and kicking, but knees and elbows are used, too. Many fans will find this to be the most exciting type of fight.
Within each discipline, every fighter will have their own style. For example, some fighters utilize crisp, technical boxing, while others are brawlers who like to throw bombs, hoping to connect with that one big punch.
Grappling is mostly technical ground fighting where one is trying to pin, hold, or submit their opponent. However, any time fighters are locked up (even when standing,) that’s technically grappling. Take the clinch, for example. Also, keep in mind that even pure grappling competitions start the fighters standing.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is probably the #1 grappling art used in MMA. BJJ action can be a little slow sometimes, but it can also make for very exciting fights, especially when fighters are able to execute beautiful submissions!
I suggest you become familiar with the terms: full guard, half guard, mount, and side control. BJJ will make more sense then, as those are very common positions, and the announcers will use these terms often.
Wrestling can be exciting with takedowns and slams, but it can also make for a very boring fight when used in a “lay n pray” style. That is where one fighter lays on his opponent, doing virtually nothing, and ‘prays’ that he will win the fight decision. Unfortunately for the fans, this strategy works very well, because the fighter is awarded points for the takedown and being on top, seemingly in control of the fight.
(A close relative of “lay n pray” is “wall n stall,” which is where you hold your opponent against the cage and do nothing else.)
Why “MMA” is a Discipline Just Like Wrestling or Karate
Most fighters used to come into MMA fluent in only one discipline. The match ups (like back at UFC 1) looked like a “style vs style”‘exhibition – one fighter might want to throw punches, while the other wanted to take him down and submit him.
Today, most fighters are trained in at least two disciplines, such as boxing and wrestling. But we’re starting to see that even that won’t cut it anymore. There is a new breed of fighters who are well-versed in all the disciplines, and really, all new fighters have to be if they want to be relevant in the future as the sport expands.
But that’s still not the full picture. Yeah, you have to know all disciplines. But you also have to be able to effectively mix the disciplines together at will.
Let’s take wrestling for example. There’s a difference between wrestling and “MMA wrestling.” It’s one thing to be an NCAA Division I National Champion, and it’s another to effectively use wrestling in an MMA match. For example, you’ll see a good MMA wrestler setting up takedowns with strikes and be able to take people down without taking a knee to the face on their way in. They must also be able to hold people down without getting caught in a submission.
Fighting to Finish vs Fighting for Points vs Fighting to Not Lose
You can tell when a fighter comes out to finish the fight. They go for it. Problem is, going for the win also puts them in dangerous positions where they *could* lose. So instead, some fighters will fight not to lose. They won’t take any chances. Especially if they win two rounds and just need to coast through the third round to win the decision. They’ll play it safe. Even if they have their opponent hurt and could finish, they stay out of harm’s way.
That ties into fighting for points. Fighters do what it takes to get points on the judges scorecard and win the round 10-9. They try to do that for each round, with their whole plan being to win on points when the fight goes to a decision.
Other fighters don’t care about points because they plan to finish the fight on their own, so no matter what the judges scored it, they’ll win.
It is hard to blame fighters for this, because MMA is a sport, and the goal is to win, and they’ll win in any way they can. But as a fan, these strategies can be boring and annoying.
Game Plans and Strategy
Game plans are used in every sport; MMA is no different. A game plan is basically what the fighter plans to do in the fight.
The game plan will take into account the fighter’s strengths and weaknesses as well as his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. A fighter and his coaches will look at all the available data (watching tape on the other fighter, etc.) and determine what the fighter should do to win.
Game plans are more important now than ever before. You have to figure out how to beat your opponent, when both of you are highly skilled and capable of winning. You want to neutralize their strengths and exploit their weaknesses. But also surprise them and do what they don’t expect.
A perfect example is Georges St Pierre (GSP.) He probably has the best gameplans in the sport, and he is a new fighter each time he steps in the cage.
Just look at his first fight vs Josh Koscheck. See, GSP wasn’t a wrestler, but Kos had wrestled about his whole life. The popular opinion was that GSP would try to avoid Kos’ wrestling. Come fight time, that proved totally wrong! The fight starts and GSP comes out and takes Kos down!
“Styles Make Fights”
This is a common phrase people use when discussing how exciting (or boring) fights are. It’s kind of a self-explanatory phrase, but basically, it means: how a fight plays out depends on how the fighters want to fight.
Let’s look at some examples:
If you put two brawlers against each other, chances are there will be a brawl in the cage. One recent example includes Chris Leben vs Wanderlei Silva, two of the greatest brawlers ever. Other brawlers to check out include Tank Abbott, Don Frye, Kimbo Slice, and Cyborg Santos.
Now, put two Jiu Jitsu guys against each other. There are usually two outcomes here. You’ll either see a) a highly technical grappling clinic or b) a bunch of rudimentary stand up – since going to the ground with a high-level grappler is risky, both fighters might want to stay standing.
You could also put a high-level striker against a great BJJ black belt. In that case, you’re likely to get something that looks like Anderson Silva v Thales Leites or Alistair Overeem v Fabricio Werdum, which is to say, a terribly boring fight where neither fighter looks to engage the other.
As a fan, fighter personalities really make a difference. You have humble and respectful guys, shit talkers, bad guys, pricks, etc. This makes for a variety of hype leading up to the fight.
For funny guys, look up Chael Sonnen, Stephan Bonnar, Forrest Griffin, Josh Barnett, and Jason Mayhem Miller.
For bad guys many dislike (or love to hate,) check out Josh Koscheck and Michael Bisping.
Other fun guys to check out include Nick Diaz (always speaks his mind,) Quinton Rampage Jackson (you never know what he will say or do,) and Rashad Evans (does some good impressions.)
These pre-fight antics don’t always have anything to do with the fight itself. Generally once the fighters are in the cage, it’s just a fight. Unless it’s Nick Diaz – he will talk shit the whole time during the fight and gladly throw his hands in the air, beckoning his opponent to hit him.
Now that you know more about fighting styles, you can continue on with the guide:
MMA Fan Guide Navigation:
- Part 1: An Introduction
- Part 2: The Fight Setup
- Part 3: Fighting Styles and Disciplines
- Part 4: Rules of the Game
- Part 5: Judging and Scoring Systems
- Part 6: Weight Classes and Cutting Weight
- Part 7: How Fighters Train
- Part 8: Final Thoughts