Everybody loves a standup war. The constantly looming threat of a knockout is what draws people to combat sports. Knockouts sell tickets, and fighters that fight for the KO are always fan favorites. Regardless of your preferred fight game, every fighter must learn to navigate the minefield that is the standup game.
To be effective in the standup game, you must look at MMA as a whole and mold your game accordingly. The stance is different, movements are different, and the threats are different. Smaller gloves, takedowns, clinches, elbows, knees, and kicks make the standup aspects of MMA unique. Boxing, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and karate are all great base arts, but each one presents weaknesses that need to be addressed when fighting MMA. A successful standup game for MMA is a hybrid.
Regardless of your base, there are some things you can do improve your standup and help build a solid foundation.
5. EDUCATE YOUR FEET
The great boxing coach Peter Welch is fond of saying, “Smart feet, smart fighter; stupid feet, stupid fighter.” Footwork applies to many aspects of the standup game. Fighters with great feet are in constant motion, setting and breaking rhythm and timing. Your feet control the distance and angles, putting you in position to connect and keeping you out of danger. The best drill to improve your footwork is shadowboxing. Focus on remaining balanced and staying on your toes. Imagine an opponent in front of you, and try to stay inconstant motion. A few rounds of shadowboxing every day will make a noticeable improvement in your feet.
4. DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
The highest expression of the standup game comes down to the following: hit without being hit. The four-ounce gloves used in MMA leave little room for defensive mistakes. Simple behaviors such as keeping your hands up and your chin down must become second nature. Fighters must always be moving their feet and head. Many fighters spend so much time hitting pads that they never develop a solid defense. It is important to learn to defend kicks as well as punches. Some simple defensive drills you need to spend a lot of time on include: defending basic combos and firing back; sparring one side offense and one side defense; and corner/wall drills.
3. LEARN TO BOX
For my money, there is no better base for standup than Western Boxing. Most of the other standup combat sports incorporate Western Boxing for their hands. I start all my students off with Western Boxing (with some stance modifications) as the initial standup delivery system. We then begin to add and subtract elements that fit both MMA and the fighter’s personal style. There are important lessons you can take away from boxing training such as: how to punch with power, combination striking, learning to get hit and firing back, fighting at angles, hitting the body, and head movement. The most underutilized tool in MMA is the jab. Every fighter should go back to the basics and improve their jab.
4. LEARN TO WRESTLE
If you want to strike, you need to be able to either stay on your feet or get back to them. You need to take into account certain wrestling strategies when developing your standup style. What combos put you in danger of being taken down? How do you modify your stance and movement for wrestling? Good wrestling or good counter wrestling allows you to be more aggressive moving forward with your striking. An early takedown, or even just the threat of one, can make your opponent much more tentative. A standup fighter who is overly fearful of being taken down will fight more as a counter puncher.
5. TRAIN MMA
Over the years, I have seen far too many fighters who have developed their standup in a vacuum. They can box or kick box at a decent level, but they cannot incorporate those skills into an MMA context. Although you may isolate certain areas for training, such as boxing or kickboxing, you need to spend time during every sparring session working specifically on MMA. This could include doing standup with takedowns, light training with MMA gloves, or full MMA training with boxing gloves. In addition to preparing you for the technical requirements of MMA, sparring this way will also help to prepare you for the conditioning requirements of MMA.