Grappling For Success

I know that knockouts are the most exciting part of MMA and KO artists quickly rise up the ladder of popularity. But, for my money, submissions are the real thing of beauty. One look at the top fighters in the UFC and Strikeforce and you’ll see that many of the champions and contenders are highly ranked in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.


World-class wrestlers with a few years of submission knowledge are the new breed of fighter. These guys can land the take down, stay on top, and score enough damage to win the round. In many ways, the wrestlers are negating the strengths of the grapplers. Additionally, the rules and judging have made it more difficult than ever for grapplers to showcase their skills.




There are five specific changes that can be made to one’s training regime and mindset that can help grapplers become more successful in MMA. One theme that holds true in all five of these keys is: being on top is better than being on bottom.


1. Incorporate More Wrestling


Wrestlers are training in BJJ, so BJJ practitioners need to do the same with wrestling. When it comes to MMA, being on top is always better than being on bottom. However, wrestling has more to offer than just take downs. Wrestling training can add a lot to your scrambles, transitions, and top game control. Starting your grappling training from your feet will give the participants a much better feel for the stand up to ground transitions of MMA.


2. Focus On Sweeps


If you end up on bottom, sweeps are your path back on top. In addition, sweeps are a great way to set up your submissions. A failed sweep often opens up a related submission attack. As an example, hip-bump sweep, guillotine, and kimura all work in unison. A successful sweep in MMA can immediately change the entire fight.


3. Perfect Your Escapes


Training to escape is one of the least enjoyable aspects of BJJ. However, no BJJ practitioner would argue that escapes aren’t an important aspect of grappling. Being on the bottom in an MMA fight—outside of the guard—is a dangerous position. All fighters must learn to stay relaxed on bottom, defend themselves from strikes, and work back to a more suitable position. Training in bad positions and learning to survive is important.


4. Train With Strikes


Carlson Gracie once said, “Punch a jiu-jitsu black belt in the face once and he becomes a brown belt, punch him in the face twice and he becomes a purple belt.” Punches and elbows make top positions more dominant and some bottom positions and techniques downright dangerous. Train grappling for MMA with grappling gloves while allowing strikes.


5. Learn to Get Up


An effective guard offers three constantly chained attacks. I call this the S-3 game.


• Submission (always the ultimate goal of grappling)
• Sweeps (see number 2)
• Standing up out of guard. Pressuring the top man to hold you down can open the other two lines of attack. More importantly, being able to stand up can help negate the advantages a world-class wrestler has. No one has been better at this skill than Chuck Liddell.


Shark Attack


“I am a shark, the ground is my ocean, and most people can’t even swim.”—Rickson Gracie


On November 12, 1993, I watched a skinny Brazilian man beat three larger fighters on the ground in less than five minutes. Even the announcers were confused by the tactics he was using.The birth of MMA and the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu invasion took place that night in Denver, Colorado. Some viewers might have seen Royce Gracie’s UFC 1 Tournament victory as a fluke. However, I just knew I had to learn to do what Royce could do.


It took some time before I had the opportunity to train in BJJ, and after 11 years of training, I received my black belt from Roberto Traven in April 2009. Still today, I watch fights like a chess match. My love of grappling has never wavered.


It takes many tough hours to become skilled at BJJ, and those hours can be both painful and frustrating. Even for skilled athletes, it takes upwards of 10 years of constant training to reach a world-class level. To ensure success in the cage, focus on fundamentals, high percentage moves that work under the pressures of MMA, and proper strategies. These five keys can help even the most experienced grapplers make a smooth transition to MMA.

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