Letters: Fight strategy for smaller guys

13 May 2005

I would like to know what Steve thinks a small guy like me 5’6″ and 8 stonnes should do when competing with a guy much bigger in size. Should I use low kicks, and try to keep my distance or try to evade his stance and attack by counter attacks? Obviously every guy is different in their fighting strategy and style, but what does Steve think about principles that should be kept in mind?

Manbir Singh Mand

The only way you’ll learn how to deal with big people is to fight them, in a relatively safe, realistic environment. You can have a strategy and tactics based on the observation of other people’s successes and your knowledge of the particular opponent you’re going to fight, but to ride a horse it’s no good just reading a book. You’ve got to get on it. But you can’t have a fight ten times a day. That’s what training is about, and that’s why it needs to be realistic and that’s why it needs to be safe. You need to have larger opponents than yourself (who, as your training partners, have your best interests at heart) who will, at the highest intensities, force you to understand the realities of fighting a larger man.

As an eight-stone guy, you have to take encouragement from some 8-stone guys out there who are stronger and more vicious than many, many large guys. That psychological factor is extremely important. You may be a mouse, but psychologically you should be a tiger.

With large guys on the street usually the deterrant is in the intimidation factor of their size. This usually means that most people don’t fight back against them, so you have an advantage in actually attacking him and overwhelming him with sheer ferocity. He just won’t know how to deal with it. That’s my conclusion by both experience and observation.

Jimmy Wilde ‘The Ghost With a Hammer in His Hand’ was a flyweight boxer raised in the boxing booths of Britain who had hundreds of fights a week. Outside his professional career, he took on far larger opponents than himself and defeated them. This success was not only determined by his ability to put his entire weight into the shot, but on perfect timing. Not to mention mental toughness, and pride.

The one thing for sure you know in any fight, and particuarly against a big guy, is that he’s going to try and come and get you. And it’s understanding that transition of movement forward that gives you the opportunity to fit your shots in or go for a takedown. Whereas, if you’re moving to him, you sure know he’s going to try to hit or grab you, and that’s the time not to be there, and to evade/cover/etc., make your takedown, or come up (as Tyson used to do against bigger opponents) with a left hook. Anticipation is everything.

This is only gained by experience, backed up by understanding of red zone, timing and killer shots.

With regards to which, you’re never looking for the knockout. You need an ‘Uzi mentality’. Because one thing for sure you know is going to happen is that you’re going to miss. If you’re looking for that one big shot, you’ve set yourself mentally the wrong way. You need to set yourself to keep going, even if you miss, until you’ve got him. And when you sense he’s momentarily off-balance, stunned, or preoccupied, now your bigger shots can start to come in. Now you’re going in for the kill, whether through strikes, chokes, whatever.

Low kicks against a big guy are not a good idea. You’re coming into his range on one leg. A bruise on his leg isn’t worth a punch in your head, or him being able to grab you. The best place to attack a big guy is to his head. Eyes, nose—but with your fists, not your fingers. For the rate you’re coming in, you’ll break your fingers. You can’t come in with some kung-fu eye gouge, you’ve got to make a vicious barrage of shots that will overwhelm him. Cut him, break his nose, hurt him. Really hurt him. You have to. Your life depends on it.

One leg is easier to lift than two legs. Most people when they try to take down a big guy, try to take the whole guy down. But if he’s a 23 stone guy, good luck! No matter how big he is, though, his leg probably doesn’t weigh more than 8 stone. So attack that leg with your whole body weight, explosively and viciously. This applies to everything you do: head shots, arm bars, chokes. Everything goes into it. And keeps going into it until you’ve got him. That’s why you need your anaerobic threshold training. You can outlast him. In many cases, he couldn’t even run 50 metres without blowing out. Force him to run the race he doesn’t want to run. Keep making him do it. Fuck him up.

Remember, though, that using your body as a whole requires training that encourages you to use your body as a whole. Most martial arts do the opposite.

Footwork and timing are very important. I suppose another analogy could be, if you’ve ever had a small dog down there around your ankles, running around and nipping, he can be sometimes a lot harder to get rid of than a big one.

You’ve also got to learn to take a battering and remain psychologically focused on what you need to do. To do this, you need training partners who are going to push you into that zone, but with an element of safety so that they’re not going to kill you!

Being confronted by a big guy should always raise the bar for you. See them as a real challenge. It’s rather like being locked in a burning room. You’re going to break the door down to get out. You have to do it. That’s a big positive for you, because the other guy usually hasn’t been there before himself. His size has protected him. He’s never been cornered. He’s never been called to book. He’s probably got away with it all his life.

But, having said all that, everybody thinks they’ve got power and everybody thinks they’ve got timing. These are just words, and it’s typical of martial arts to talk about speed and power, but most people who think they’ve got those things, ain’t. It’s just laughable, a lot of the time, when I see them in the gym or on films, or in MMA competitions.

And finally, a big, well-trained guy is going to be a problem for you, no matter what. You’ve got to train real. A lot of people in martial arts will tell stories about one guy beating ten or a little guy taking on a big guy and defeating him. But the real truth is, you’ve got to be able to fight one guy at your own weight before you can raise the bar beyond that. That’s why you want to be watching good Muay Thai (from Thailand) and good lightweights from Pride and the UFC for your inspiration (but not necessarily for your training methods). You can’t have this image in your mind of an eight-stone weakling taking out a huge MMA fighter with Buffy the Vampire Slayer moves. You’ve got to realize the only way you’re going to raise your level is by challenging, punishing workouts that are as close to the reality as possible.

Steve Morris