There’s a lot of different techniques and skills to learn in the world of MMA. Being that it’s not one single Martial Art, the sport is constantly evolving and new or more innovative techniques are being introduced on a regular basis.
From its birth into popular culture, MMA has grown to be one of the most diverse sports in the world. In the beginning, BJJ was the hot, new skill to learn due to Royce Gracie’s dominance in the first UFCs.
Since then Muay Thai, wrestling, kickboxing, and many other Martial Arts have introduced powerful new ways to win fights and those winning methods have been copied and learned by MMA practitioners the world over.
As a reaction, those moves and their popularity have created defenses to those and other moves.
So where should you start when taking on MMA? What are the most battle tested and proven skills that time and again work in the world of MMA?
Below are 5 moves every MMA practitioner should know before stepping into the cage for the first time. Most of them are very basic and all of them are part of the fundamentals of fighting in MMA and most of them are the easiest to drill over and over again until it’s muscle memory. As with most sports, fundamentals are what make or break you.
Two of the most basic takedowns in wrestling, BJJ, and MMA are the single and double leg takedowns. The reason they are in the same category is because when one doesn’t work often you can make the other work.
For example, when you shoot for a double you are sometimes only able to get one leg. By the same token can be working on the cage worth one leg and then, with the right opening, turn it into a double.
In any reputable wrestling, BJJ, or MMA gym, these are often the takedowns taught first and drilled the most often.
They are the two takedowns easiest to teach and are often the easiest to remember late in the third round when all your mental capacities are focused on keeping your hands up and winning the fight.
By themselves, either take down can be easily telegraphed and easy to spot by your opponent, however, these two takedowns are also easily combined with other combinations and techniques making them the most versatile and dependable of the takedowns.
You can also avoid the takedown being stuffed if you simply drill it so hard and so often, the speed of your takedown defeats any defense.
Both takedowns, especially the double, can be game changers if executed well and at the right moment. There have been countless fights where a fighter was down by two rounds with only one to go and a double changed the momentum of the fight, pulling out a victory where defeat was almost certain.
Though a great move at the end of the fight, it’s an even better move at the beginning where you can dictate and set the tone for the rest of the fight.
Not much of a wrestler or still working on your takedown game? At the very minimum you should know how to sprawl. The most common and quickest defense against most takedowns, the sprawl is a very basic defense that can be drilled over and over again.
The sprawl can keep a striker from getting taken down on their opponent’s terms and instead help dictate the pace of the fight.
Sprawling, like the double and single, is the basic take down defense and can lead to several more advantageous positions, turning your opponent’s aggression into their downfall.
Sprawling is very easy to learn but is highly effective for not only beginners, but advanced fighters as well. Any veteran in the UFC incorporates sprawling in most if not all of their grappling workouts. Fighters facing a wrestler or a BJJ practitioner focus on takedown defense, the basis of which is the sprawl.
Jab, Cross, Hook Punch Combination
Every fight and every round starts on the feet. The days of being able to wrestle your opponent to the ground and lay on top of them to win the fight are gone. To get the takedown you’re going to have to throw at least one punch and even that most likely won’t be enough.
Aside from learning the technique of each individual punch, combinations of punches are crucial in order win the fight.
The jab, cross, hook combo is one of the easiest to learn and is the basis for striking together longer, more complicated combos involving knees, kicks, and elbows.
The jab is meant to find your distance to your opponent, making sure you can make contact with your cross later in the combo.
The cross is meant to bring your opponent’s hands up and slightly push them back. The hook is the killer blow meant to finish the combination with a high-energy, high-impact punch.
From this combo you can add elbows and upper cuts, or extend the combo and finish with a kick to the body when your opponent raises their hands to block.
Regardless of what new combination you create, the basis of most effective combinations is the jab, cross, hook combo.
Unless you and your opponent agree before the fight to keep the fight standing or both want to keep the fight standing the entire time, you’ll need to learn what to do when you get taken down.
Most of us have seen enough fights, grappling matches, or YouTube videos to know the most basic BJJ move is the guard.
The guard is the fundamental position in BJJ with most submissions first being taught from this position. The idea behind BJJ is self-defense in a street fight.
Since most street fights end up going to the ground with an attacker over their opponent, the guard position is vital to keep punches from raining down on your face.
Guard is important to understand in terms of defense against punches but also to turn the momentum of your opponent into a submission attempt. When in guard you are at a disadvantage because you are below your opponent and only have so much control.
However as your opponent throws a punch or elbow, you can use his movement to throw him off balance and take advantage of him being out of position.
Slips/ Kick Checking
Head movement when boxing is one of the most important forms of defense aside from covering up. The downside to covering up is your lack of vision while moving your head and slipping punches allows you to keep your eyes on your opponent while avoiding a strike.
Slipping has the added benefit of frustrating your opponent and forcing him to use energy inefficiently. When you make your opponent miss, the power he put into that punch is now gone with little or no impact depending on how fast you slip. The more they miss, the more frustrated they get, and the more it will have an effect later in the fight.
Checking kicks is along the same vein as blocking a punch in that it minimizes the impact of the strike being thrown against you. The idea behind checking a kick is to determine where your opponents kick lands.
Rather than landing on the soft tissue and muscle of your thigh or calf, the kick lands on the tougher, firmer shin bone.
While this can be painful without shin guards, it is ultimately less painful than taking kick to your quads and hamstrings.
If anyone has followed UFC for any length of time, they are most likely familiar with Anderson Silva’s broken leg in 2012. His injury was a result of Chris Weidman timing Silva’s kicks and effectively checking them time and again.
Anyone starting MMA training should learn to use checks as a defense with an understanding that they can be used as an offensive tool as well.
Obviously this a very short list of techniques to learn in MMA and they may not seem like the flashiest moves in the world and that is by design.
Fundamentals win fights more often than not. Granted there’s a lot of complicated and effective moves, but the basis of all those moves are the fundamentals.
A strong foundation in the fundamentals and proficiency therein will greatly improve your experiences in the cage should you decide to use them there.
This list is also a decent measure of the quality of the gym you plan on training at. If they don’t teach you these moves at some point in the first few weeks of your training, it’s probably not the greatest gym in the world and you might want to train elsewhere.
If you have any other moves or techniques that should be on this list, feel free to comment below.