Wrestling is arguably the most important skill for finding success in mixed martial arts (MMA). Having a strong wrestling base provides enormous advantages that allow fighters to control where the fight takes place – whether on the feet or on the ground. This article explores the various ways that integrating wrestling fundamentals into an MMA skillset opens up new offensive and defensive opportunities.
Takedowns Disrupt Opponent Rhythm and Create Striking Openings
An effective takedown can completely disrupt an opponent’s rhythm and timing on the feet. Suddenly being driven to the mat interrupts footwork, balance, and any striking combo they may have started. This allows wrestlers to create openings for their own strikes after completing a takedown.
Fighters who seamlessly chain together takedowns and striking put constant pressure on opponents. The threat of being taken down makes opponents hesitant to throw kicks or longer striking combinations. At the same time, striking prevents opponents from overcommitting to defending takedowns. The blending of the two skills compounds their effectiveness.
For example, wrestlers who add takedowns to their arsenal in this way force opponents to constantly worry about being taken down. This creates many more openings and opportunities to land significant strikes on the feet that would not exist otherwise.
Vary Wrestling Entries and Finishes to Keep Opponents Guessing
The most dangerous MMA wrestlers have a deep arsenal of takedown entries and finishes. They don’t rely on just one or two techniques that they use over and over. This variety keeps opponents guessing and makes their takedowns much harder to anticipate and stop.
For instance, wrestlers can demonstrate creative, multi-look takedowns against high level opponents. In one exchange, a single leg finish may successfully take the opponent down. But in the next exchange, switching up the finish and slamming them down hard can keep opponents guessing.
Always doing the most expected, high percentage technique might work initially. But opponents will start to recognize and defend those techniques if a fighter is too predictable. Having a deep arsenal of finishes and constantly switching up looks makes an MMA wrestler’s takedowns much more difficult to stop.
This is especially important against high level opponents who have good takedown defense. Variety in setups and finishes forces them to guess and prevents them from camping on one defense.
Work the Body to Diminish Opponents’ Cardio
Body shots are still an underutilized technique in MMA currently. Fans love seeing technical head strikes or knockouts, but head hunting alone is often not the most strategic approach for winning fights. Solid, thudding strikes to the body and ribs don’t provide the same highlight reel moments, but they do serious damage over the duration of a fight.
Body work is an investment in future dividends that pays off as opponents fatigue. By sapping an opponent’s cardio, body shots make it harder for them to defend in later rounds. Their hands also start to drop more frequently, opening up the head for strikes. For fighters with solid chins that are hard to finish, targeting the body is an important component of any long fight strategy.
For example, wrestlers who excel at controlling opponents along the fence can unleash a barrage of nasty punches to the ribs. Once they’ve hurt their opponent to the body, mixing in some strikes upstairs can further punish a fading opponent. The body work serves to lower their defenses for strikes to the head.
Repeatedly targeting the body wears down opponents’ cardio and will to fight as the match goes on. Body work should be a priority for fighters looking to implement an effective long-term strategy.
Master the Clinch to Shut Down Opponents and Create Offense
The clinch game is one of the most crucial skill sets that often determines success or failure in MMA matches. Fighters who truly excel at clinch work can shut down the offense of more skilled strikers and grapplers while also creating their own offensive openings.
Being the superior clinch fighter allows a competitor to neutralize their opponent’s greatest strengths. It also enables them to control the positioning and cadence of a match to set up their own offense – whether that be strikes, takedowns, or submissions.
For example, fighters can use the clinch to land damaging knee strikes to the body by controlling their opponent’s posture. Lifting elbows and exposing the ribs with an underhook grip allows knee strikes to find their target. Controlling opponents in this way both deals damage and takes away their offensive ability.
The underutilized nature of the clinch makes it a hugely valuable skill in MMA. Fighters who put in the time to master clinch work will find it a low-risk way to shut down and damage high-level opponents. Integrating the clinch game into training should be a priority for all fighters.
Blend Wrestling and Striking Together into Seamless Offense
The highest level MMA competitors seamlessly blend wrestling and striking together into one cohesive offensive flow. They use each skill to set up the other, keeping opponents constantly off-balance and reacting.
Striking serves to create openings for takedown shots. An opponent who is worried about blocking punches leaves potential gaps for their legs or hips to be attacked. Similarly, changing levels for takedowns makes opponents drop their hands and expose their heads to strikes. Each skill compounds the effectiveness of the other.
For example, fighters can use their striking to bait opponents into defensive reactions that expose weaknesses. Feinting takedown shots makes opponents drop their hands, allowing punches to the exposed head. The constant threat of leverage between the two disciplines keeps opponents guessing.
Blending wrestling and striking together in quick combination is a hallmark of elite mixed martial artists. The two skills work synergistically to put opponents in compromising positions.
Analyze Opponents to Target Weaknesses
Fighters tend to rely heavily on techniques and attacks that are difficult for them to defend against. For example, if a fighter throws a ton of leg kicks, chances are they struggle to check leg kicks thrown back at them.
Observant fighters take note of these tendencies in opponents and target the weaknesses. If someone is vulnerable to body shots, make body work a priority. If they struggle with leg kicks, chop them down.
Finding weaknesses in opponents and targeting them with techniques they don’t defend well can lead to quick success. Analyzing how opponents react to different looks and strikes provides valuable clues on how to capitalize on weaknesses.
Integrate Wrestling into MMA
At Apex MMA in Brookvale, we integrate many of the wrestling concepts discussed into our training programs. Chaining takedowns into striking, doing damage in the clinch, and attacking the body are all part of our holistic approach to teaching mixed martial arts. If you want to take your skills to the next level, enroll for a free 7-day trial in one of our beginner classes today!