Letters: Fighting on the feet in MMA

Fighting on the feet in MMA

11 November 2004

What are your top tips for keeping a fight standing-up against somebody looking for a takedown? In the MMA gyms there’s the usual advice of having a good sprawl, avoiding the clinch and keeping the distance on the punches but this can lead people to fight with too much caution or on the counter offense. Is there something we’re missing on how to be a good PRESSURE stand-up fighter while still having a good take-down defence?

Mark Chen

The point is having an offensive defense, like Wanderlei Silva for example. In other words, don’t just sprawl defensively; you sprawl in such a way as to allow the man to come to his feet, and then deploy your knees, rather than, as Pedro Rizzo, simply sprawling and getting back to the feet. Rizzo would have been a better standup fighter, particularly against Randy Couture, if he’d been a more offensive fighter with defenses built within his offense. Because he relied entirely on the counteroffense, it meant he usually was one move behind.

Having a second move within a move, whether it’s offensive, defensive or counteroffensive, is the key to becoming a successful fighter, whether on the feet or on the ground. Hence my stressing of the importance of half-beat.

In other words, I live my life in the half-beat zone. I’m always working in anticipation that something’s going to happen in between what I’m doing, not in synchrony with what I’m doing.

Standup fighters come in two essential types:

1) Those, like Chuck Lidell, who essentially NEED to stay on their feet, and have devised the tactics (i.e., short punches, sprawls, ways of dealing with the clinch) by which to do so. Their strategy is to stay in the open position, or, if finding themselves in an unfavourable position on the ground, to shut it down until the ref breaks up the clinch.

2) those like Randy Couture, the ground and pound specialists, who want to avoid being hit (particularly by the knee if the guy’s a good striker) or being taken down from the open position, and make the intial part of the game to tie-up their opponent so that he can’t strike or can’t shoot. And once having established that position, having the mindset and conditioning to keep the opponent there until he tires, and then taking him to the ground and mauling him with fists and elbows.

One of the problems with keeping the game in the standup position is that you very well might elect to be in the standup, but not necessarily have the devastating punches and strikes to do the job. You might find yourself forcing a standup against someone who is a more effective striker or clincher than you. However, having said that, as I demonstrated during the fight you witnessed the other day, the blows don’t necessarily have to be heavy to be effective. You can stun, disorient or distract somebody with a lighter shot, and then capitalize on that with rapid fire to overwhelm him. Again, as with the MMA pro I just fought, watch him drop to the ground, semi-conscious, and then move in, with a certain caution, for the mount and continue to keep him in that state of disorientation with rapid fire until you feel the moment is right to put in your finishing shotsÑor a submission, if the position makes that more favourable.

I suppose, Mark, one of the secrets to having effective strikes is not so much the technique or bag/pad work or sparring you do, but having the violent drive behind them. It’s the intent that’s often more important. And so you have to be in an optimal state of arousal, though controlled.

One of the things about many fighters, from my experience and observation, is that in their mind they’re not playing a fast game. That doesn’t mean that once the game’s started, they can’t pick up the pace, but they’re not mentally set for that pace before it begins, and they don’t initiate that pace by starting the fight with rapid fire and keeping it there until the guy goes down. When you think of it, I’m 61 years of age, I don’t have anybody to practice with, I don’t even have a bag, and I simply run the scenarios through my mind and set my mind, and subsequently my body, to fight. Even when I’m laying down in bed.

The whole thing is about your mindset. All training is about your mindset. But setting it in a way that is based on reality and not an illusion. The reason I explode is not physical, but because the explosions are going off in my head.

Brazilian fighting has influenced MMA in many, many ways. Not least of which is the low, relaxed tempo that characterizes much of their fighting. Which is a great way of lulling an opponent into an equally relaxed tempo, and then shocking him with a sudden change in tempo. This is similar to my tactic of engaging an opponent in a conversationÑverbal or physical But all the while I’m talking, I might not show it, but I’m in top gear, ready to either deal with his physical response, or initiate mine. You instantly have to be able to take it to an explosive level, with no prep and no indication.

The fast game I was telling you about needs to be taking place in your mind. It’s no longer this slow-tempo sparring exchange, where you might have been becoming familiarized with the skills. It’s going to be high-intensity work. When I’m training, the reason why it’s high intensity is because I’m always chasing my tail, so to speak, and filling in the gaps with what he might be doing in response to me.

You’re right about the current state of the MMA game. What a lot of these guys fail to realize is that I was engaging in this kind of ‘business’ nearly every day, not on the door of a club, but either on the mat or within the reception area of the gym. A fight’s a fight, no matter which way you look at it.

After the incident at the course the other day, what I would have anticipated from the pro fighter in question was rather like in the cliche of the old samurai movies, where the young warrior challenges the master and is given a quick ‘lesson’. It’s a tradition among fighters that after being beaten in this way, the young guy should turn around and ask the old guy to teach him how he did it! Not turn around and moan that he’s lost all respect.

The MMA scene has got a lot to learn. Particularly about the fundamental skills. Without an understanding both of them and of the concepts and principles which underlie them, you simply can’t devise realistic training methods. If your training predominantly consists of sparring/fighting you’re only ever going to be as good as your latest training partner. What you need to do is to be able to break the fight down into its various scenarios and work them at a very high intensity, either as a drill or competitively, in isolation. Then when you come to put them back together again in the fight, each component has been really developed at all levels. In other words, in your training you not only envisage, say, Randy Couture as your next opponent, but you can break down his fight game and devise the strategy and tactics to be used against him. Simply going into the gym and preparing by visualizing his face on your sparring partner is only a small part of the whole equation.

You can have the balls to get into the ring, but you’ve got to have procedures to win the fights consistently. This processing of the fight isn’t simple. For me, I see myself as a coach and a trainer,not as a fighter (despite what happened the other day), because I can shortcut that process for you. I’m not going to change the fighter dramatically, I’m just going to add a little bit to his training procedures and game, by which he can become a better fighter. And I suppose that’s what I’ve got to bring to the table of the MMA. However, I’ve yet to be approached by more than a few fighters, and those are newer guys, such as yourself.

Going back to your original question, the thing is to be thinking in your head always, “Hit”. And your defense is incidental to that, and not a fixed strategy that you’re going to focus on. And because it’s a controlled environment, cuts, stunning, etc. are going to work in your favour with the ref. As would be to be able to shut down the fight, in the standup or on the ground, so that the ref would re-start the fight in the standup, which would also be in your favour. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why, unlike in the early days when the fight could stay on the ground for 30 minutes, that standup fighters are now becoming more predominant.