The Techniques

As there are a variety of martial arts represented in MMA, you will see countless techniques executed during fights. Listing every single technique seen in MMA is virtually impossible, but there are many techniques you'll see quite often - from fundamental strikes in boxing and kickboxing to wrestling takedowns and submission holds. 

Below the common techniques and positions are explained. Note: all links on this page are to GIFs that can be useful visual aides.  

Striking

These are the common striking techniques you'll see used in MMA. While most strikes are covered, there are plenty of variations of these and you'll see them used with different setups, in different circumstances, and combined with other techniques regularly by fighters.

The Jab

The jab is both one of the simplest, and yet one of the most vital and nuanced punches in a boxer/fighter's arsenal. To put it simply, a jab is just a quick punch from the lead hand (typically the left hand, since most fighters fight orthodox or left-hand-forward).

 

It's straight, there's no wind up, and it's not very complicated. It's the quickest and easiest punch a fighter can land - since it's a straightforward motion from the lead hand which is the closest part of the body to the opponent, it only has to travel a short distance to reach its target.

 

Despite its simplicity, it is a vital strike in a fighter's striking arsenal and is important for a variety of reasons - it can be used as a rangefinder (to gauge the distance to an opponent for more powerful strikes), an annoyance to fluster the opponent at range, a stiff bar to stop the opponent from getting in close, a distraction to keep the opponent busy while a more powerful strike follows, and can even be used as a power punch when combined with a brisk step forward. The jab is versatile and a staple of most good striker's playbooks, regardless of whether they compete in boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, or MMA. 

 

In general, there are three main types of jabs (illustrated below) - the traditional or flick jab, the power jab, and the pawing jab.

 

The traditional jab is obviously the most common - it's performed simply by extending the lead hand quickly towards the opponent's face. Some fighters will also fight with their lead hand low, and "flick" the jab in a snapping motion, which is sometimes referred to as a flick jab. It's generally used to start or end combinations, to keep an opponent at a distance and establish range, and to accumulate damage over time.

This gif shows the traditional or flick jab, which Jose Aldo throws 3 times in this sequence. Note how it can stop an opponent from closing the distance and keep them at range.

 

The power jab on the other hand is a much more offensive weapon - to generate power, the fighter will push off the rear foot, extending their arm as they do so and striking their opponent with their full body weight behind the blow. This creates a stiff connection and forces an opponent backward, and it can even shatter someone's orbital bone or nose; however, missing a power jab can put the fighter dangerously out of position if the opponent slips the jab, and therefore missing the target is much riskier than missing a normal jab.

This is a power jab - note how GSP moves his whole body behind the strike; despite his arm not having to move much there is still plenty of force behind the blow due to this transfer of weight.

 

Last but not least there's the pawing jab, or rangefinder - these are often not meant to land or cause damage whatsoever, but are meant simply to keep the fighter's glove in the face of the opponent, obstructing their vision and finding the right distance to land more powerful strikes such as a right straight or left hook.

 

Here's an example of pawing jabs - note how Jon Jones throws several to distract his opponent, distracting his opponent and drawing a reaction in order for his power right hand to land unobstructed. The pawing jabs also serve as a guide for his power punch as he knows he has to throw the strike further than his left hand is reaching in order to land it.

The Body Jab

While still technically just a jab, when thrown to the body (which requires a "dip" or level change to lower the upper body enough to allow the jab to hit the opponent's body rather than the head) it has quite different results and thus warrants a closer look.

 

While often underutilized in both MMA and even modern boxing, the body jab is a flustering and annoying strike that also has very effective defensive applications despite it not being a knockout punch.

 

Getting hit in the body is never fun, and while a jab to the head will usually stop an opponent's forward momentum, the body jab is effectively placing a wall in front of them. A head jab can be caught by an opponent's hand, or can be slipped by moving side to side or backward - a body jab is much more difficult to avoid, since the torso is much larger and doesn't move nearly as much as someone's head.

 

Over time, a fighter will need to lower their hands to block the body jab, and thus the jab's main goal is fulfilled - setting up a target for more powerful strikes. When someone's hands are lowered it's obviously much harder for them to protect their head, and thus a fighter can simply "dip" their body in the same motion used for a body jab to get the opponent to drop their hands in anticipation of a body blow. 

 

When their opponent is dropping their hands regularly to block body jabs, a savvy striker will use that dipping motion to add power and throw an overhand right to their opponent's exposed head instead.

 

The body jab is doubly effective in MMA, as a wrestler looking for takedowns needs to come forward and lower their level in order to take someone down - the body jab effectively stops their forward momentum and because the fighter has already lowered their level to throw the strike, they are in a better position to defend the takedown should the opponent try to take them down anyway.

 

Here's the body jab in action.

The Straight

The right or rear straight is the standard power punch - thrown straight down the middle toward the target, it has a longer path to its target than a jab because it's delivered by the rear hand. Power is generated by the turning of the hips during the punch, and by driving off the rear foot to initiate the strike.

 

When a fighter is in a southpaw stance, the left straight or southpaw straight will often be talked about - that's because when fighters are fighting in opposite stances (one southpaw, one orthodox) the lead hand is largely obstructed by the opponent's lead hand but their rear hands are completely unobstructed, making the power hands of both fighters more important and effective.

 

This strike can of course be paired with a level change to hit the body, though it's riskier as the straight is a long punch and leaves your head exposed while throwing it; combined with a level change, it leaves a fighter wide open for a left-hook with nothing to protect them.


A straight right in action. And here's a straight from the southpaw stance.

Right (or Rear) Hook

As you can probably guess, a hook is a punch thrown with the arm bent, thus the punch "hooks" around an opponent's guard (their hands/forearms that are held in front of their face to defend their head).

 

A hook is thrown horizontally in a circular motion toward the opponent, generating power by turning the hips as you punch. They can come from different angles and don't need to be thrown perfectly horizontal, with many fighters changing the angles on their hooks in order to throw off opponents and exploit openings. 

 

The rear hook is very common and fighters will often throw multiple hooks in combination, left-right left-right, as the shifting in weight as they punch puts their body in prime position to shift the opposite way (for a hook on the other side) like a coiled spring. 


In this wild exchange, note how John Lineker (his back is to the camera) throws multiple hooks, shifting his weight back and forth as he does so to generate power. You can also see how he adjusts the angles on his punches to attack different targets (the body and the head) during the exchange.

Left (or Lead) Hook

In boxing, the left hook has been called the "king of the counters" and for good reason - when a fighter is throwing from their power side (typically the right hand) they must reach across themselves in order to hit their target. In doing so, the right side of their head is exposed and a brief window of opportunity opens - which is where the left hook comes in.

 

Most counter-punchers have a very good left hook and will purposely try to get their opponent to commit to a rear-hand power punch, then counter it with the left hook; because the lead hand is much closer to the target than the rear hand, it's much faster and will land first the majority of the time. 

A common setup for landing a lead hook is to fake a jab, getting the opponent to bring their hand forward to block it, only to throw the hook instead to land right over their outstretched arm.

 

Another tactic used is to block an incoming right hand with the lead glove or forearm, then immediately fire off a left hook while the opponent is still bringing their hand back to a defensive position. 

 

Experienced boxers will often hook directly after throwing the jab rather than faking the jab; the jab will bring their hands forward regardless of whether they block the jab or not, and the hook will follow in the open space created.

 

As with any strike, the most devastating application of the lead hook is when it is used as counter punch on a fighter that's moving forward, as it uses the opponent's forward momentum against them to increase the force of the collision.

 

Here's a beautiful example of a counter left hook - although here the victim is leading with their left hand, their right hand is lowered and their chin wide open for a crisp left from Shogun Rua to close the show.

 

Here's a beautiful lead hook from a southpaw, combined with excellent head movement to avoid the wide right of his opponent.

 

Here's one of the best GIFs ever made, showing off Bigfoot Silva's freakishly large head as well as the potency of throwing a left hook immediately following a jab.

Overhand Right/Right Cross

Again, from a southpaw stance, this would simply be an overhand left or left cross. An overhand is essentially a hook, but thrown arcing up and over, rather than horizontally. It's extremely common as is generates a lot of force and leads to a lot of knockouts, but leaves the attacker exposed and can easily become predictable when thrown repeatedly as it is a long punch and has considerable wind-up.

 

One of the most devastating counter strikes anyone can throw is the right (or left for a southpaw) cross. When the opponent throws a jab, a fighter can "slip" the jab by moving their head out of its path while throwing an overhand right overtop of their opponent's outstretched arm - this is then called a right cross, as the punch "crosses" over the opponent's jab.

There is also a variation of the overhand called a "Russian hook". A Russian hook is an arcing punch where the elbow is completely straight when thrown, with the knuckles turned in toward the floor. Because of the straightened arm this punch has more range than a typical overhand or hook and can come in at odd angles, though the risk of breaking a hand is also heightened.

 

One of the most famous knockouts with an overhand right in combat sports history, Dan Henderson's right hand was dubbed the H-Bomb for a reason.

A textbook example of the right cross - note the victim's second jab misses and the counter comes right over top of his arm.

The Uppercut

Typically thrown from the rear hand to generate more power, though a lead uppercut can also be effective, the uppercut is essentially a hook thrown upward.

 

Often used as a counter to someone who is ducking down (while throwing a heavy overhand or when going for a takedown for example), the uppercut has a short range and leaves a fighter exposed when thrown, as their throwing hand is far away from their head and their shoulder/arm is not in a position to protect their chin either. When landed however it can be devastating, as a fighter often cannot see the uppercut coming and is therefore blindsided.

 

Here's the king of uppercuts, Mike Tyson, landing a vicious one.

Vitor Belfort lifted Dan Henderson off his feet with this beautifully timed uppercut.

The Superman Punch

It may not be the most powerful or effective punch in a fighter's arsenal, but it does look cool. Getting its name from the iconic superhero, a Superman punch is performed by thrusting forward on the lead leg, raising the rear leg then in the air thrusting it backward as the power hand is propelled forward, with the fighter striking the iconic superman pose in the air.

 

MMA legend Georges St. Pierre is a master of the punch and even throws the extremely rare Superman jab, which uses the same principle to gather forward momentum but is launched off the rear foot with the lead leg being thrust backward in the air behind the lead hand. 

 

The superman punch is a risky technique however as a fighter is in the air and on one leg while they're throwing it, thus making them susceptible to a counter. Good timing and concealing the strike well is essential to it being successful.

 

A short superman punch lands as the opponent misses a push kick.

A superman punch scores the knockdown.

GSP's superman jab can cover a lot of distance and is one of his best weapons.

Blocking/Parrying Strikes

While this is kind of obvious, every fighter will look to block strikes at some point by using their hands/forearms (or even their shoulders) to absorb a blow rather than have it hit their head/body.

 

There are many different styles of guarding, with some fighter's hiding behind their gloves (very easy to do in boxing, much harder to do in MMA due to the small gloves used) or forearms, some reaching out to intercept the wrists/arms of their opponents to block the strike before it gets close, or others opting to primarily keep their hands low and utilize head movement (see next item) to avoid getting hit at all. 

 

A parry is much like blocking a strike, but rather than simply absorbing the blow, the strike is redirected or deflected. For instance, if your opponent throws a jab, you may reach out and paw their hand down before it reaches your chin, redirecting their punch and opening up counter opportunities.


Look at Miguel Cotto (in blue) here - see how he ducks under his opponent's jab and lands one of his own, then as his opponent throws punches, his hands are actively parrying or pushing the punches away from his head - meanwhile, the guy in red, has his hands up to guard himself, but Cotto sneaks his shots in by throwing punches around his opponent's guard, which fails to block the incoming strikes.

Here's an excellent example of a fighter blocking and parrying punches before they get close to their target.

Head Movement

Just as important as blocking and parrying, head movement is a key principal in a successful fighter's defense. "Head movement" refers to a vast array of movements that all constitute the same thing - avoiding strikes to the head.

 

It's good form to move your head off the centre-line when throwing a punch, as if you don't, it becomes very easy for an opponent to predict where your head will be in order to throw a counter. It's also good to move your head away from any incoming strikes; even if the strike still lands, if you are moving in the same direction as the punch, the impact it has is going to be considerably less than if you were simply standing still or worse, moving toward the strike.

 

Of course, that's also the problem with head movement - if a fighter misjudges or mis-times their movement, they could be moving their head right into a strike and therefore increase the damage it does.

 

It's generally best to move your head in conjunction with keeping your hands up to block or parry strikes, but there are benefits to keeping your hands low - with your hands low, it becomes more difficult for opponents to see your punches coming, and in MMA, it becomes a lot easier to defend a takedown if your arms are under your opponents.

 

Also note: head movement is kind of a misnomer, as the head itself isn't doing the moving, it's actually the upper body (typically the midsection or waist) that's actually doing the moving, but an opponent's target is usually the head and therefore what needs to move to avoid punishment.

 

Here's some famous Mike Tyson head movement; note his extremely low positioning really wouldn't work in MMA, as a knee/kick would easily decapitate him...in boxing however it's extremely useful and an impressive defense.

 

Here's Anderson Silva dodging punches like he’s in the matrix - notice how head movement relies heavily on predicting the opponent's strikes, not just reacting to the strikes themselves. Generally, a fighter has to predict incoming shots before they're actually thrown by noticing their opponent's "tells" or the initial movements of a strike. This of course can backfire if predicted wrong, especially if the evading fighter is relying solely on head movement and doesn't have their hands in position to block the strike.

 

Speaking of which, here's an example of head movement backfiring - after rolling with the first two punches, Anderson Silva isn't expecting the throwaway right hand Weidman threw immediately following his missed right straight - he reacts instinctively and dodges it, but in doing so is bent so far backward over his own feet he had no room to dodge the next left hand, which caught him badly out of position with nothing in the way to block the punch or cushion the impact.


And of course, the great Muhammad Ali showing off his stellar head movement on an overmatched opponent.

Elbows 

Up until now, all of the striking techniques in this section have been around for over a century through boxing - now, we'll be focusing on things that put the "mixed" in mixed martial arts, and are taken from kickboxing, Muay Thai, and other combat sports as well as MMA itself. 

 

Firstly, something that is forbidden in boxing (and usually in kickboxing) - elbows.

 

Now, some boxers will actually flare their elbows out when missing a punch in an attempt to graze their opponent with their elbow - this is illegal in boxing, but it still happens and can be a sneaky way of cutting an opponent.

 

Elbows (or even the forearm) are much harder and sharper than the gloved fist, and thus can cause a large amount of damage to the recipient and as an added bonus, there's no risk of breaking a hand when landing it. They are also great for causing cuts; even if an elbow only grazes the opponent, there's a chance it will split open an opponent's face.

 

Of course, elbows have a much shorter range than a punch, so the recipient must be in close in order for it to land - thus, most elbows are thrown from the clinch or as a counter when the opponent is stepping into the fighter, or while grappling on the ground. They can be thrown from all sorts of angles (going directly downward from the ceiling to the floor is illegal in MMA, which is a stupid rule, but as long as there's at least a slight angle on the trajectory it's legal). 

 

Here's an upward elbow thrown as a counter - note the recipient is stepping in to deliver his own strike, and creates most of the force of the blow with his own forward momentum.

 

A famous reverse-elbow KO from Anderson Silva. Note how the upward trajectory goes right through the middle of the opponent's guard.

 

Here's a perfect example of what a boxer may try - a hook is thrown up close by Tony Fergusson and misses the mark, however with his elbow flared out, the elbow lands across the opponent's temple, hurting him and causing a cut. This is something savvy boxers will sometimes attempt (and claim it was accident if it lands, as it's highly illegal) but in MMA, it's perfectly legal.

The Spinning Back Fist/Elbow

The spinning back fist is a move that's thrown often in MMA, as spinning for a punch is perfectly legal (it's illegal in boxing as often the forearm will land rather than the glove, and in kickboxing some promotions don't allow it for this same reason).

 

It's thrown exactly as the name implies - a fighter will spin around while whipping an arm out to try and catch the opponent with the side or back of their fist, forearm, or, if a fighter is closer to their target, they'll bend their arm in tight and instead look to land with the point of the elbow.

 

The spin is where the force of the blow comes from and it can generate a ton of power, but because of the spin, it's an easier strike to see coming and can simply be avoided or ducked under. Anytime someone spins in MMA, they are also exposing their back momentarily which is a good way to get taken down easily if the opponent can time a takedown with the spin. 

 

A spinning back fist thrown in close that lands with the lower forearm.

 

A picture perfect spinning back fist. Note how he steps in as he spins to cover more distance. The back fist was also disguised by him throwing spinning kicks to the body earlier, leading the victim to drop his hands anticipating a body shot.


Here's a spinning elbownotice how the attacker needs to be closer to the opponent in order for it to land, which means they can easily eat a strike during the spin or give up an easy takedown.

The Hammer Fist

This is a strike almost exclusively used for ground and pound (ie. the recipient is on the ground), but since it's a punch and can be thrown on the feet it's included here.

 

Imagine hitting a nail with a hammer - the hammer fist is the same downward motion, with the goal being to land with the side of the hand rather than the knuckles or palm. It's actually an illegal blow in boxing since there isn't padding on that part of the glove, and although the padding in MMA gloves is minimal, the side of the hand still has less.

 

Some fighters will also throw backhands if they miss the mark while throwing a hook - instead of just bringing their hand back to their guard, they'll whip their hand in a backward arc toward their opponent, landing with either the back of their hand or with the side (which would make it a hammer fist).

 

This typically isn't an overly powerful punch, but can catch someone by surprise and also keep them from countering a missed punch. A spinning back fist may also be a hammer fist if the fighter has their hand horizontal, landing with the side rather than back of the hand.

 

Here's a comical-looking barrage of short hammer fists on the ground. Unlike most normal punches, hammer fists can be thrown extremely quickly, though that also limits their power as body weight isn't put into the blow.

 

Here's a spinning hammer fist.

Knees

As with elbows, knees can come from a variety of angles and positions and are all quite simple. Of course they are mainly thrown from clinch range, as they require you to be in close proximity to the target in order to land compared to a kick.

 

Knees can also be used as a strong counter to a takedown, as someone shooting in on their opponent's hips has their head down at waist height and is a prime target for a knee, though if it misses they're almost assuredly giving up a free takedown. They work best when paired with the Muay Thai or "plum" clinch (see the In the Clinch section for more info).

 

A perfectly timed knee from Jose Aldo as his opponent changes levels for a takedown.

A stepping knee from the most devastating user of knees in MMA, Alistair Overeem. Here he is landing a big knee in the clinch on another victim.

The Flying Knee/Double Knee

The flying knee is an explosive strike that can easily knock someone out, though it's also highly risky as the attacker is airborne and thus completely vulnerable to getting taken down or being countered without having the ability to move out of the way.

 

When timed correctly, it is a devastating strike and is essentially a knee thrust forward while jumping in the air toward the target. The double knee is similar, but both knees are thrown in succession, one after the other. 

 

A flying knee of biblical proportions.

Here's a flying double knee from Jose Aldo. Say hello to a broken orbital bone.

Another flying knee.

The Jump Knee/Counter Knee

The jump knee is similar to a flying knee, but is used as a counter. Instead of running forward and leaping toward the opponent, the jump knee is thrown by jumping straight up and landing the knee as the opponent is coming forward and into the path of the knee. It is a devastating strike when landed, but is rare and extremely hard to time (and like the flying knee, gives up a free takedown or counter if the opponent sees it coming). 

 

A perfectly timed jump knee KO.

Another jump knee, this time used as the victim is throwing a punch rather than going for a takedown.

The Leg/Low Kick

One of the most overlooked strikes in combat sports, a leg kick serves multiple functions. Put simply, it's a kick thrown in a circular motion (or roundhouse kick) toward either the outside of the opponent's thigh, or the inside of their thigh (called an inside leg kick).

 

Just a few well-placed low kicks can not only be very painful (just think of how much it hurts getting a charlie horse) but it can limit someone's ability to put weight on their leg - this cripples their ability to push off the leg to throw their own strikes, to utilize their footwork, and in severe cases, to even stand up at all.

 

It's also a good way to set up strikes, as the opponent will either have their leg kicked out of place and thus be off balance for a moment, or if they move their leg out of the way or check it they will be on one leg and thus not be in a good position to immediately throw a counter. 

 

There are multiple ways to counter or defend low kicks however and any time someone is on one leg, they're risking getting taken down easily or being knocked down should they get hit. This is why the low kick is best not to be thrown by itself, or "naked"; rather, using the kick in the middle or at the end of a combination, timing it when the opponent is stepping backward or when they have just thrown a strike are all preferred times to use the low kick.

In traditional kickboxing martial arts the aim is to land the kick with the top of the foot, but in Muay Thai, the shin is used and is much harder than a foot and thus has more impact. You'll also see some fighters step heavily into their opponent to throw a low kick at their opponent's rear leg, as the rear leg is often less conditioned for receiving kicks and is more crucial to a fighter's striking. 

In recent years, the calf kick has become quite popular - a low kick that's thrown to an opponent's lower leg and targeting their calves. As a kick to the thigh can be grabbed or checked (see next item) and risks hitting the knee and damaging the kicker's foot or shin, the calf kick is less risky and as an added benefit can do more immediate damage. Most fighters condition their legs to be able to withstand leg kicks, but the calves are not nearly as tough a target and a kick that low runs no risk of being checked - a fighter can lift their leg or turn their shin outward to block it, but a shin on shin collision is much less dangerous than hitting someone's knee cap.

 

This GIF shows multiple leg kicks landing; note how Jose Aldo sets up his legendary leg kicks with punches upstairs or throws them as his opponent is retreating.

 

Here's a good illustration of what damage leg kicks can do - note the welts on the recipients leg, and how gingerly he is forced to move due to his compromised leg - this takes power away from his punches and makes the recipient noticeably slower on his feet.

 

This leg kick illustrates how it can break the stance of the opponent, knocking them down or off-balance.

Checking/Catching Kicks

Other than withdrawing the leg to avoid getting kicked entirely (which puts the fighter farther away from the attacker and not in a good position to counter), there are two main ways of countering a leg kick: checking it, or catching it.

 

Checking a kick is quite simple; all it requires is to lift the targeted leg slightly off the ground and turn the knee slightly outward. This will put the kicker's leg in danger - if their shin or foot lands on a knee, it's a good way to hurt their leg or break their foot. If the kick is aimed below the knee the shin will take the impact, but since it's in the air, it has plenty of give and isn't going to hurt much.

 

The other method involves lowering the hand on the side being kicked and catching the kicker's leg/foot when or after it impacts the leg, which then leaves multiple options open to the catcher - they can drive forward and score an easy takedown since their attacker is on one leg, they can throw a kick at the standing leg which is now defenseless, or they can throw a punch at the opponent who can't move away while on one leg and may be easily knocked down because of it. 

 

Some fighters will put their weight on their front leg and throw a powerful counter shot, looking to hit the opponent while they are on one leg; this can score a quick knockdown and do some damage, but often means they're taking the full force of the kick, so choosing this option every time can easily add up to a damaged leg.

 

A more consistent version of this has a fighter throw a quick strike such as a jab as soon as they see their opponent throwing a leg kick - if it lands before the kick does, it will knock them off balance and take away the power of the kick.

 

An extreme example of how checking a kick can break your opponent's leg...it's graphic, so don't watch if you're squemish...

 

An example of catching a low kick and scoring a knockout with a counter while the opponent is on one leg.


A good example of catching a low kick and driving through for a takedown.

The Oblique Kick

The oblique kick looks relatively harmless, but is actually one of the scariest strikes someone can throw, as if an opponent doesn't have their weight on their lead leg, it has a good chance of hyperextending the victim's knee if it lands.

 

The oblique kick is thrown by raising either leg (on an angle away from the body or toward the thrower's stomach) and driving the foot down toward the opponent's knee or thigh. 

 

The easiest way to check it is to simply "sit down" or bend your knees, distributing your weight over your legs - if you are balanced and have weight on your lead leg, the kick really isn't going to hurt or cause your knee to bend. Raising the targeted leg and letting the kick either miss or simply bounce off your raised thigh/knee also works, though it runs the risk of putting you off balance.

 

The danger occurs when the intended target is coming forward, or is light on their lead leg when it hits (with their foot still on the ground), as it can easily hyperextend the knee and in many cases blow someone's knee out.

 

ACL tears often mean surgery and up to a year of recovery time depending on severity, and knee injuries often cause recurring problems throughout an athlete's career which is why this is a feared technique and a very effective one in deterring an opponent from coming forward.

 

If a fighter throws an oblique kick and misses entirely however, they are put off balance and can easily be countered while on one leg.

 

The oblique kick in action.

And another knee hyperextension.

The Body Kick

As you might guess, a body kick is simply a round kick delivered to the body. Often, the main target is the liver (on the right side of the stomach) as getting kicked there is extremely painful.

 

A body kick can either be blocked with the arms or caught like a leg kick (it's easier to catch than a leg kick since the kick lands right under the arm), but is often paired with a high kick - if someone starts lowering their hands regularly to block body kicks, then the head becomes an easier target and vice versa.


A beautiful body kick right to the liver.

The Head Kick

Much like the body kick, the head kick is pretty self-explanatory. Ideally, the shin impacts the head, but connecting with the foot can also do tons of damage as well.

 

As legs are much more powerful than arms, head kicks often deliver knockouts if they land, but because of the distance they need to travel and the wind-up required they're easier to see coming. Blocking heavy kicks on the arms can also hurt someone's arm; if the kick hits an elbow however it can easily break a foot or hurt the kicker's shin. 

 

Like all kicks, there are generally two ways to throw it - quickly and without much wind-up, which has a better chance of landing but generates less power (karate, tae-kwon do, and traditional kickboxing all generally throw kicks this way), or to fully turn the hips and throw with full power (the Muay Thai style of kicking, which generates tremendous power but is also slower and easier to see coming).

 

Muay Thai practitioners always try to land with the shin, where traditional martial artists aim to land with the foot - the shin creates a greater impact but means the kicker needs to be closer to the target, where the foot can be further out but has more give and can also be broken easily depending on where it lands. 

 

A clean head kick KO.

And another one bites the dust.

The Front Kick/Snap Kick

The front kick is one of the first kicks taught to most kids in karate class. Rather than kicking in a circular motion like a roundhouse kick, the leg is thrown straight up the middle.

 

The kick starts by raising the kicking knee, then "snapping" the foot upward and toward the opponent. The goal is to land with the ball of the foot and it can be delivered to the face (right up the middle, effectively landing between the opponent's hands and below their vision) or to the body, which can quickly take a toll on someone's ribs or gut. 

 

The front kick in action.

Here Lyoto Machida fakes a left kick, then throws a jumping right front kick - this is called a crane kick and was already famous thanks to The Karate Kid.

The Teep or Push Kick

Similar to the front kick, except rather than generating power by rapidly "snapping" the leg, the foot is raised then "pushed" toward the target. Picture the "This is Sparta!" kick from 300.

 

These are a staple in Muay Thai, where the technique is called a "teep" and is often compared to the jab but with a fighter's legs rather than hands. They don't normally have enough power to knock someone out, but are effective at pushing an opponent backward and off balance, and are a great way of keeping an opponent away.

 

If the opponent sees it coming though, it's easy for them to simply raise the kicker's foot and tip them off balance. It also puts the kicker off balance and in a compromising position if they miss the kick entirely.

 

A nice teep to the gut that sends someone flying.

Here's a cool hopping teep.

The Switch Kick

The switch kick is essentially a faked kick that's then thrown from the opposite side - for instance, faking the left kick and instead throwing a right. The switch is done very quickly and can catch an opponent off guard. The first kick is generally just a fake or very light kick, used only to set up the more powerful kick off the other side.

 

A jumping switch kick.

This one just grazes but shows the switch clearly in midair.

A light leg kick sets up this switch to a heavy left high kick.

The Spinning Back Kick/Turning Side Kick

Much like the spinning back fist, the spinning back kick generates power using the momentum of the spin; however with the back kick, the kicker not only spins their leg, they also thrust it toward the opponent when they reach the end of their spin.

 

Typically thrown to the body, it can be absolutely devastating when landed and can easily break a rib or crush the liver if the heel lands. The kick is also very risky as the spin can be easily stopped by an opponent simply moving into the kicker, and because during the spin the kicker's back is toward their opponent, they can't see a counter strike should one be coming. If a fighter is flexible enough, it can also be delivered to the head to brutal effect.

 

A textbook spinning back kick - notice how the leg is spun, then thrust toward the opponent during the last part of the spin.

A spinning back kick that lands to the face with devastating power - note how here Uriah Hall doesn't really thrust the leg, he simply spins, making this a cross between a spinning back kick and a spinning wheel kick where the leg is straightened (see next entry).

The Side Kick

The side kick is quite simple; the leg is lifted toward the center with the knee bent and the foot horizontal, then the foot is thrusted toward its target.

 

Generally, these are viewed as being similar to a jab or the teep as a means to keep opponents at range and rarely deliver much damage. If combined with a step forward and enough thrust, they can actually be quite damaging however.

 

Essentially, a spinning back kick is just a spin combined with a side kick...or perhaps a side kick is a spinning back kick without the spin?

 

When thrown to the thigh or knee, it's generally referred to as an oblique kick which can also be performed by moving the knee outward before thrusting the foot forward, rather than inward like a side kick.

 

A side kick to the body.

A powerful side kick delivered to the head.

The Wheel Kick/Spinning Heel Kick

The spinning heel/wheel kick is one of the most devastating strikes a fighter can throw, though it's also one of the most difficult to perform and land. It's mechanically very similar to a spinning back fist, in that the striker spins around and utilizes the momentum from the spin to whip a limb around and look to land it on the opponent.

 

Obviously, the difference here is that it's a leg being whipped around rather than a fist and to straighten the leg while whipping it backward is extremely difficult, requiring a lot of balance and flexibility. Although more rare, it can also be thrown to the body or to the leg (the latter of which is also called the Hug Tornado after the late Andy Hug made this technique famous).

 

Although a very difficult move to pull off, the effects are devastating; the heel is one of the hardest parts of the human bod, and when whipped around at the end of the long lever which is someone's leg, if it connects with the target it's an almost guaranteed show-stopper. The foot can also land should the heel narrowly miss, though it's much less damaging/effective.

 

The first, and still the greatest, spinning heel kick in UFC history courtesy of Edson Barboza.

Here Vitor Belfort spins and connects cleanly.

 

A devastating and perfectly executed Hug Tornado.

The Axe Kick

A rare but very cool looking kick, the axe kick utilizes the hardness of the heel along with the fact the strike comes straight down toward its target which isn't an area fighters are used to having to defend.

 

The axe kick starts by lifting the leg either straight up or on a slight arc until it's straight above the opponent, then thrusting it down towards the top of their head. As the actual travel distance from the height of its arc to the top of the target's head is quite short it isn't the most powerful strike, but it can be effective nonetheless.

 

A great deal of leg flexibility is required, and the hips need to move forward when the kick is thrown in order to cover distance.

 

A clean axe kick lands.

A rare axe kick KO.

In the Clinch

These are the common clinch positions and options available during a fight. Of course there are tons of variants and little subtleties, but these are the most basic and common ones found in MMA.

Over/Under Position

 

One of the most important elements of the clinch is hand/arm positioning. You'll hear "over-" and "under-" hooks mentioned frequently by commentators when fighters are clinching. This refers to where the fighter's arms are placed - think of it this way, if you are hugging someone, where are your arms placed? If both of your arms are above the person's you're hugging, they have double underhooks, while you have 2 overhooks. If you put your arms more diagonally, one over their shoulder and one of their arms over your shoulder, you both have an underhook, and one overhook - this is the over/under position.

 

Essentially, to secure (or defend) takedowns you want double underhooks, or at least one underhook so that you are in an even position with your opponent. You will often see fighter's jockeying for position with their arms for this reason, or securing their opponent's wrist to gain control (wrist control is also an important factor in the clinch, as it can set up strikes as the opponent can't move their arm in time to defend).

 

Here's a trip secured from an over/under position - note how Shogun Rua locked his hands together in a body lock, with one arm over Dan Henderson's (back to camera) left arm, the other underneath Henderson's right arm.

 

A slick takedown from the over/under position.

Double Underhooks/Body Lock

The reason this is called double underhooks rather than double overhooks is that underhooks are the more desirable arm position. With double underhooks, you can control your opponent much more effectively, and locking your hands together behind your opponent's back is called a body lock.

 

This is very useful when attempting trips or throws. Some throws and trips can still be performed with double overhooks but it is more difficult and limited, thus securing underhooks is essential to stopping takedowns (or initiating them).

 

A trip from the body lock (double underhook) position.

And another body lock takedown.

Single Collar Tie

Pulling on the back of the head is illegal in boxing, but nonetheless boxers over the years learned to sneak in these kinds of things in the clinch. The collar tie is essentially just a name for a hand holding the back of an opponent's head - it's effective at controlling the opponent, because wherever the head goes, the body has to follow. I

 

t's also effective for pulling someone down into the path of a strike, or at least holding them in place so they can't avoid it. The collar tie, and fighting in the clinch in general, is referred to as "dirty boxing" as it stems from the use of illegal moves in boxing, though it's perfectly legal in MMA. 

 

Daniel Cormier (blue gloves) used a single collar tie to land uppercuts on Jon Jones (red shorts) - note how his left hand holds Jones' head in place or pulls it down into the uppercuts.

 

Another excellent use of the collar tie to land uppercuts. It's also a good way to land knees or elbows in the clinch.

 

Using the collar tie to land knees as well as an elbow.

The Plum/Muay Thai Clinch

The plum clinch, often called the Muay Thai clinch as that is where the technique comes from, is one of the scariest places to be if an opponent knows how to use it.

 

Essentially it's a double collar tie, with both hands on the back of your opponent's head rather than one - this is particularly effective in MMA, as Muay Thai fighters wear boxing gloves which makes it more difficult to hold, whereas in MMA, the fingers can even be locked together. Because of the extra hand in play, it's much easier to control the opponent and pull them into knee strikes. 

 

The key to a successful plum clinch is actually in the forearms; with the hands locked behind an opponent's head, the arms are pinched together and push on the opponent's chest/collar bones, so that their head is pulled down but their chest is pushed backward, locking them in place. From there, knees are king - pulling the victim's head down into rising knees is extremely effective and landing knees to the gut/chest as they're forced to hunch over is equally brutal. 

 

Fighters will often try punching their way out of the plum clinch, but because of their head being pulled down and the forearms pressing on their neck/clavicle, it's very difficult to generate any power and leaves them wide open for a knee to the face. Having a good plum clinch can also work wonders in defending takedowns or controlling opponents in the clinch, as wrestlers often look for underhooks and if their chest is pinned upright by good forearm placement in the plum, they can't duck down for a takedown. 

The key to breaking from this position is smothering the opponent (typically by forcing them into the cage) so they can't throw knees, then forcing an arm through the middle of their arms.

 

Anderson Silva putting on a Muay Thai clinic thanks to his application of the plum clinch. Note how easily he controls his opponent from this position.

Some extensive work done in the plum clinch.

Takedowns

These are the most common and basic takedowns used in MMA - most takedowns come from wrestling, though many trips and throws come from Judo or even Muay Thai. These techniques have lots of variations, but essentially all break down into one of these basic categories.

The Double Leg

The double leg takedown is the bread and butter of any freestyle wrestler and is extremely common in MMA. It begins by changing levels, bending the knees and dipping down while driving forward at waist height and grabbing the back of the opponent's thighs or knees, pulling their legs out from under them to take them down.

 

While there are plenty of variations, particularly when one fighter has their back against the fence, they all focus on both of the opponent's legs in order to take their feet out from under them.

 

In a clinch battle, you'll often see one fighter bend down at waist level, trying to lock their hands together behind their opponent's thighs and effectively "scoop" them onto their back. 

 

Here's Georges St. Pierre catching his opponent's leg off a kick, then grabbing his other leg and driving through, taking his opponent down easily.

 

GSP is the king of the double leg thanks to his timing, athleticism and ability to mix up strikes with his takedowns - here he gets the double leg and turns his opponent in the air, slamming them on the ground and passing their guard automatically (see the next section for more on the guard).

 

Sometimes the double leg won't quite get the job done, but if the fighter continues driving through, they can still take their opponent down simply from their forward momentum - as you can see, GSP has the double leg, but instead moves his arms up to chest level and simply keeps going forward to score the takedown.

The Sprawl

This is actually not a takedown but a technique used to defend a takedown. To stop an opponent from getting a double leg, the default mechanism is to sprawl - simply throwing the legs back and out of the opponent's reach, dropping the hips down toward the floor and putting the defending fighter's weight down on top of their opponent.

 

Most fighters nowadays have developed at least a decent sprawl, which means shooting in on someone's hips is difficult to get a takedown out in the open - to secure the takedown, usually a fighter needs to time it well (ducking down under a punch for instance, when someone can't move their hips right away), set it up by throwing strikes first to distract them, or use fakes and feints to mess with an opponent's timing.

 

Here Robbie Lawler utilizes a sprawl to prevent a takedown, moving his hips and legs away from his opponent's reach and pushing down on his opponent’s back then throwing a knee as he stands back up.

 

Spreading the legs during a sprawl is also very effective, as it makes it much harder for the opponent to be able to grasp both legs and puts even more weight on them, driving them down toward the mat where any leverage they have is gone.

The Single Leg

 

As you can probably guess, the single leg takedown focuses on getting someone down by grabbing just one of their legs rather than both. Often one leg is grabbed, then the fighter is pulled or pushed sideways, forcing them to fall down.

 

You'll also often see someone secure one leg, then kick or trip the fighter's other leg out from under them - the single leg is regularly started in MMA by catching an opponent's kick.

 

Henry Cejudo showcases several single leg takedowns.

 

Here Daniel Cormier attacks a single leg, but then lifts his opponent up and slams him rather than tripping or pulling him down (this particular slam is also called a high-crotch takedown).

Feeding the Single/Limp Legging

Again this isn't a takedown, but rather a way of defending them. Since the single leg takedown relies on isolating a leg, the other leg is free - fighters who have great balance and wrestling awareness will often "feed" the single leg to their opponent rather than just sprawling, by turning their hips and presenting one leg as an easy target to grab.

 

Rather than having to sprawl on a double leg then, the fighter can then land shots on their opponent's head if they can keep their balance, since both of the person's arms are occupied with holding the leg and they can then turn and shrimp out of their opponent's grasp.

 

Jose Aldo is unbelievably good at this, and is known to be almost impossible to take down; although his sprawl is incredible in it's own right, he'll often feed his opponents a single leg because he is so confident of being able to get out of their grasp quickly.

 

Rather than sprawling when his opponent shoots for a double leg takedown, Aldo instead just puts one leg back for balance, "feeding" his opponent the single leg takedown. With his balance he's able to stay upright, lands a punch, then breaks free of his opponent.

 

You'll often see someone who is defending a single leg hop back into the fence, making it much easier to stay upright as they can't fall backwards.

The Ankle Pick

 

Rather than dealing with the upper leg, the ankle pick is a trickier move as the person must get low enough to grab their opponent's ankle or heel. Once the ankle/heel is grasped, the leg is simply pulled back to yank the target's leg out from under them, sending them toppling backwards.

 

This isn't seen a lot in MMA but is a cool move, though it's easy to defend if it's seen coming.

 

A textbook and ridiculously quick and cool-looking ankle pick courtesy of Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero.

The Suplex

The suplex is a takedown that most people have heard of and it comes from the body lock position but with the fighters facing in the same direction rather than facing each other. The suplex is performed by locking the hands around an opponent's chest and stomach then lifting the opponent by their midsection and bending backwards (on an angle, or else the person doing the suplex would land on their own back) and throwing the opponent backward.

 

Depending on how someone lands, this can actually injure a fighter or even knock them out should they land on their head, but it can also injure the fighter performing the suplex if done improperly.

 

The suplex in action

 

This single gif shows 3 excellent suplexes, with the last one knocking the victim unconscious for an extremely rare suplex KO.

 

Probably the most famous suplex in MMA history, heavyweight legend Fedor is lifted high up in the air and slammed on the back of his head by Kevin Randleman yet somehow continued fighting and won the fight shortly after.

Slams

Since there are many variants, they're covered here under an umbrella term: slams. These are simply takedowns that slam the victim forcefully into the ground - a suplex is a type of slam if done properly, and even a double leg can be if the opponent is lifted off both feet and then thrown into the mat.

 

These can also come from people being locked in submission holds (most commonly the triangle choke or armbar) and lifting their opponent then slamming them down to try and force them to let go of the submission.

 

There have been quite a few slam KOs in MMA and even a few self-inflicted knockouts where the person doing the slam has ended up hitting their own head on the canvas, knocking themself out rather than their opponent.

 

Rampage Jackson is the king of slams in MMA, and this is easily the most famous slam in MMA history - Sports Science determined it to be the biggest impact in sports history on a human body. The slam resulted from Rampage being caught in a triangle choke and his opponent refused to let go of it even after being lifted high into the air.

 

Another slam by Rampage.

 

A brutal slam KO.

 

An incredibly rare double finish - Gray Maynard scored a double leg and turned it into an explosive slam, breaking his opponent's ribs on impact and causing him to tap - unfortunately, Gray's own head hit the canvas at the same time and knocked him out cold.

Hip Toss/Head and Arm Throw

The hip toss is a throw from judo and is very effective when an opponent isn't expecting it.

 

There are many different variations of it, but generally the opponent's upper body is thrown one way and their legs are kicked out or pushed in the opposite direction, taking their legs out from under them.

 

The head and arm throw is a variation on the hip toss that has the fighter wrap an arm around the opponent's head and throw them over their hip or upper thigh. This is however a risky maneuver in MMA because if the throw is defended it can expose the thrower's back to their opponent, putting them a precarious position.

 

These throws are generally risky, but offer great rewards as successfully hitting one often puts the thrower in a dominant position past the opponent's legs, thus passing right by their guard and achieving side control or even mount right away (see next section for more on those positions).

 

A hip toss from judo.

Several hip tosses from Cub Swanson.

Countering a takedown attempt with a hip toss.

 

Trips

Again there are many variations of trips and mostly they are executed from clinch positions. Trips are common in Judo and Muay Thai, and even wrestling takedowns regularly utilize trips (for example, a single leg takedown where the standing leg is tripped out from under them as the other leg is held).

 

They are often very effective when the opponent is expecting a different kind of takedown or are in the middle of trying their own throw/trip. 

 

Here's a cool trip from Lyoto Machida off of a dodged punch.

 

Here Machida throws a right hand and moves his right leg behind his opponent's lead leg, then pushes him back to execute the trip.


Another trip from Machida, who turned his upper body one way and kicked out the leg on that side.

Grappling

These are the common grappling positions and options available during a fight. Of course there are tons of variations and little subtleties to note, but these are the most basic and common ones found in MMA.

The Guard

 

The "guard" is a term used in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is essentially a defensive position with someone on their back that limits the opponent's offensive capabilities on top and can also be used to set up submissions from the bottom.

 

The guard or full guard is refers to the position of the fighter on their back with their legs wrapped around their opponent's waist - typically the goal of the person on the bottom is to gain control of the top person's wrists, which both limits their ability to move or strike, and can also be used to set up armbars and chokes.

 

There are two main variants: the closed guard which is much more defensive, is where the bottom fighter crosses their feet or ankles behind their opponent's back, essentially locking them in place, and the open guard is where bottom fighter's legs are not crossed and thus the hips are free to move to a side to throw up a submission or attempt to push off their opponent.

 

Pulling guard refers to the act of grabbing a hold of an opponent and pulling them down to the ground, locking them up in a guard position and conceding the top position to their opponent - this is typically used by BJJ experts who are unable take their opponents down and are confident in their ability to sweep or submit their opponent off of their back.

Here is an aggressive guard pull by Shinya Aoki - note Aoki pulls his opponent to the ground and has full guard, with the person on top "in" Aoki's guard. Notice how Aoki has control of both of his opponent's wrists, meaning that not only can he avoid getting hit, but he can also use that control to possibly look for a submission.

If the fighter on the bottom doesn't control the wrists, they leave themselves open to ground and pound, as demonstrated here.

Half Guard

The half guard is generally a better position for the top person than the guard, as the person on the bottom has less control of their body. The half guard has the bottom person's legs wrapped around one of their opponent's, rather than the waist like the full guard.

 

This is a harder position to attack submissions from, though sweeps (more on sweeps later) are an option and some fighters are great at using this position to stand up. This is generally a good position for the top person to land ground and pound from.

Khabib Nurmagomedov demonstrates ground and pound in his opponent's loose half guard - note how little control the fighter on the bottom has of their opponent in this case.

Here's an example of a fighter using his half guard to get up from under his opponent.

Ground and pound from half guard can be extremely effective.

The Rubber Guard

The rubber guard is rare as it requires a lot of flexibility and its offensive options are very limited, but it's an extremely effective way to neutralize someone's offense.

 

There are a few fighters however that can use it quite effectively to threaten submissions and gain better positions rather than simply trapping their opponent in place. Essentially, it's the guard position but one leg is lifted up behind the opponent's head and secured by the opposite arm, locking the top person in place and rendering them unable to gain the space required to throw strikes.

Here, the rubber guard is shown for a moment; notice how little the fighter on top can move when the bottom fighter's legs are up high on their back.

The Butterfly Guard/Butterfly Hooks

Butterfly hooks were rarely utilized in MMA just a few years ago, but many fighters have used them very effectively more recently. Rather than the bottom fighter wrapping their legs around the opponent, the legs (or just one) is kept underneath the opponent, with the shin against the top fighter's body and the foot hooked underneath their leg.

 

It can also simply be one foot (or both) placed on the top person's hip(s), where the bottom person can push their opponent off of them. The butterfly guard is good for lifting the opponent's hips to offset their balance and make it more difficult for them to throw strikes, and can also be used to sweep the opponent to wind up on top.

 

Butterfly guard refers to the case where both legs are in this position, where a butterfly hook is simply one leg in this position (you could also say a butterfly guard is just two butterfly hooks). 

 

Here the butterfly guard is used to sweep the top fighter and reverse the position.


The butterfly guard being used to get up from the bottom position

Guard Passing

You'll notice all of the guard techniques above heavily emphasize the bottom fighter's use of their legs to control their opponent - as such, the top fighter typically wants to get past their opponent's legs to secure a more dominant position. That's where guard passes come in.

 

The guard and all of its variations restrict the top person's movements and ability to use their own hips and legs for submissions, thus getting past the guard is the most important aspect of improving position on the ground, and positions like side control and full mount are much more desirable for the top fighter.

 

There are many ways to do this, and often it's done by a combination of things - throwing punches or elbows to shift the opponent's focus, pushing off an opponent’s thigh, or even throwing the legs of the bottom fighter to one side and crashing down on them.

A BJJ instructor showing the intent of a guard pass.

A methodical guard pass and move right into mount.

Side Control 

This is a position where the bottom person has no guard, and thus no control over the top person's hips. The fighter on the bottom is extremely limited in this position, unable to attack with any submissions and their upper body can be easily controlled by their opponent - generally it's a great position for the top person to land ground and pound to the body or head, or look for submissions of their own such as the kimura.

 

The bottom person needs to either trap their opponent's leg and regain half guard or full guard, or if they can buck their hips and upper body, attempt to bump the top person up too high to enable them to slip out from underneath.


Here, BJ Penn is trapped in side control but beautifully uses a butterfly hook to turn his hips and regain guard.

Full Mount

One of the most dominant positions for the fighter on top, full mount (or just mount) is something that you've probably seen demonstrated in the schoolyard - it eliminates all offensive capabilities of the person on bottom, making their legs and hips (which are critical in Brazilian jiu-jitsu) all but useless.

 

Mount refers to the position where the person on top is sitting on their opponent's stomach or chest and is free to posture up and throw punches and elbows down on their victim. They also have several submissions available to them, particularly the armbar or arm triangle choke.

 

The person on bottom needs to buck their hips, attempting to basically throw their opponent off of them or force them higher up where the bottom person can then slip out from under them. Often, a fighter who has been caught in mount will turn their back to their opponent, which means they'll take less strikes (since striking to the back of the head/neck is illegal in MMA) but this makes them very vulnerable to the rear-naked choke which is a very effective submission. 

 

The full mount in action, showing just how effective it can be at trapping someone and enabling the top fighter to land hand shots on them.

 

Some more ground and pound from the full mount.

North/South Position

The north south position has one fighter laying on their back with the other fighter on top and facing the opposite direction. It's not a very advantageous position for either person, but it is rather safe for the bottom person compared to side control or full mount.

 

The top fighter can land a few shows to the body, or can try a choke from this position, though finishing the choke is rare and it's one of the easier submissions to get out of. The fighter on top has no control over the bottom fighter's, which is why the north/south position is rarely kept for long.


A north/south choke in action.

Posturing Up

This isn't a position but rather a principle that you'll often hear about and see in action. "Posturing up" refers to the fighter on top sitting up so they are perpendicular to their opponent. This can be done from virtually any ground position by whoever is on top.

 

To generate power in punches or elbows requires space, and thus if a fighter is laying chest-to-chest on their opponent, they aren't able to generate power in strikes - if they sit up however, the upper body can turn and generate power as well as give the fighter plenty of space to throw punches or elbows.

 

Generally, the fighter on the bottom wants to keep their opponent close to them to prevent getting hit and to facilitate submission attempts, but getting up or sweeping an opponent is often easier when the opponent is postured up. Maintaining top position against a trained opponent is thus often a careful game of picking spots to posture up and land blows before regaining tight control of the opponent.

 

Here GSP postures up a bit in order to land an elbow - notice the space between their chests, allowing enough distance to strike.

 

Here the top fighter even stands up in order to generate more power, still keeping his weight on his opponent to keep them down as he punches.

The Back/Back Control/Back Mount

The back is one of the most dominant positions for an MMA fighter to be in as it all but eliminates the opponent's offensive capabilities.

 

Taking the back is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, with one fighter behind the other - the position is secured using both leg and arm hooks, similar to hooks in a guard or in the clinch position; the feet can be crossed (though this isn't a very effective way to keep someone there, and just having them crossed can often have the opponent spin out and end up on top), or hooked in the opponent's thighs to stop them from turning their hips. The arms are also used to pin the upper body in place, usually through using at least one underhook.

 

From there, the person who has the back position can throw punches to the sides of their victim's head (as the back of the head is illegal), or, as is most common, look to slip their arm under their opponent's chin and lock in a fight-ending choke. 

 

The back can also be a good position to get an armbar from, though many fighters don't want to risk losing the back position and rarely go for it from there. Though there are many ways to prevent it from being applied, the rear naked choke is one of the most effective submissions and is extremely difficult to escape from once locked in.

 

Typically, it's simply called taking the back when the fighters are on their side or the dominant fighter is laying on their back, but it's often referred to as the back mount when they top fighter is on top and the opponent is facedown on the ground. The most effective way of keeping someone in this position, the body triangle, is discussed in next. 

 

An elbow from the back mount.

Some ground and pound from the back position, ending in a submission (the rear naked choke).

Sinking in a choke from the back.

The Body Triangle

The body triangle, while primarily being used to stop an opponent's movement, can actually be a submission in itself.

 

From the back (you can put a body triangle on someone in your guard, but it doesn't restrict their striking ability all that much but does prevent them from getting up), you place one leg across the opponent's belly, then hook your foot behind your other knee, forming a right angle with your legs.

 

The straight leg pulls the other leg tight across the victim's stomach, putting a lot of pressure on their midsection and stopping them from turning into you to escape the position. 

 

A properly applied body triangle is incredibly difficult to escape, and when applied to a fighter who is facedown, the top fighter will look to pull on the upper body of their opponent, stretching their back and putting tremendous pressure on their spine which also makes breathing incredibly difficult on top of leaving them very open to ground and pound.

 

It's an extremely painful position when applied in this manner and can even be used as a submission by itself, though typically it's used only to trap the victim in the position. It's often paired with the rear naked choke as this is the main submission available from someone's back, and having the triangle locked in means they can't spin out of the choke. 

 

Here's the body triangle applied in back mount that leads to a rear-naked choke submission.

 

Here's a rare body triangle that's actually applied from a standing position - note the crossing leg is under the stomach so it isn't really affecting the breathing, but is still effective at preventing the opponent from turning out of the position.

The Crucifix/Salaverry

The crucifix is a dominant position that locks an opponent's arms in place, with the aggressor's upper body controlling/trapping their arms.

 

The traditional or true crucifix is applied from behind the opponent, where their head is open for elbows or hammer fists; what most people now know as the crucifix, is actually a reversed crucifix, where the opponent is on their back and the aggressor is laying across them in side control, trapping their arms with their legs and upper body.

 

The more well-known position is much more common and is a more effective position, as it is easier to get and much more difficult to get out of when the full weight of someone is across the chest, and elbows or punches from one hand have free reign on the victim's defenseless head.

 

Although it's difficult to generate a ton of power with punches in this position, with their arms trapped a fighter is virtually defenseless and the ref will step in if they can't get out due to them not being able to defend themselves. This modern crucifix is sometimes referred to as the Salaverry, named after the fighter who first used it in a major MMA organization.

 

The first instance of the crucifix in MMA and the traditional version; this was way back in one of the early UFC tournaments and shows how deadly it can be - especially when paired with a clueless ref that takes forever to realize someone is out cold.

 

The more common variant, a reversed crucifix or Salaverry usually just referred to as a crucifix.

Sprawl

The sprawl, as explained in the takedowns section, is a defense used to stop to a takedown, typically the double leg.

 

When the sprawling fighter's weight is on the back of the person attempting the takedown, if the fighter doesn't get out quickly they may wind up on their knees with their head controlled by the sprawler. This is referred to as the sprawl position, and essentially here the person on bottom doesn't have any offensive capabilities - they must attempt to move to a better position or attempt to get up, while the person on top can land punches from this position, or as is often the case, can spin to a side and attempt to take the back or move into a wrestling ride position (see next entry).

 

You will often see this when a wrestler is very tired and thus doesn't have the energy or speed to get up right away after a failed takedown attempt.

 

The old UFC videogame actually demonstrates this position perfectly.

Wrestling Ride

This is similar to the sprawl position (and is often transitioned to from the sprawl position) except instead of the top person facing the opposite direction, they turn and get behind their opponent, picking a side to kneel on and controlling the downed fighter with an underhook of their arms.

 

This is very close to the back position, but there's no hooks put in with the top fighter's legs - here, it's tricky for the bottom fighter to simply stand up, as the top fighter can then jump up and actually take their back by locking in a hook or two with their legs, and the underhook with the arm prevents them from turning.

 

This is a good position to land punches from by using the free arm, or to throw knees to the body of the downed fighter. The fighter on bottom will look to either stand up and turn into their opponent, or roll to try and get into a guard position or escape their opponent's grasp entirely.

 

Here, GSP actually stands up from the wrestling ride position as his opponent was hurt, keeping his hands on his opponent's back to keep him in place, then slams multiple knees into his side.

 

This gif shows Jose Aldo rock his opponent with an uppercut, then after easily defending a desperate takedown, Aldo spins to get behind his wounded prey, securing an underhook and controlling his opponent's left wrist while throwing punches under the victim's right arm and over top when he moves his arm lower to defend.

Can Opener

The can opener is a very simple technique that was actually first used as a submission - it's a type of neck crank that's applied in someone's guard, and is simply done by placing both hands behind the opponent's head then pulling their head down and toward the chest.

 

This is a painful position but it's very easy to defend, as one simply needs to open their guard (uncross the legs) - it's applied by fighters to get their opponents to open their guard, allowing the top fighter to either attempt to pass the legs or posture up for ground and pound.

 

A can opener that actually submitted someone, who clearly didn't know how to defend it, but illustrates how much discomfort it can cause.

Sweeps/Standups

Sweeps cover a ton of different techniques, but all involve a fighter that's on the bottom "sweeping" the top fighter off of them and putting them on top instead, reversing the situation.

 

They can also be used to stand up and return both fighters to the feet, rather than having the bottom person get on top; often, a sweep will be used and if the opponent defends, the bottom fighter may have an opportunity to instead return to their feet even though the opponent wasn't put on their back.

 

A beautiful standup utilizing butterfly guard to elevate the fighter out of top position.

Here's a sweep right from someone's guard, which when reversed put the sweeper right into full mount.

A double ankle grab sweep.

Submissions

Submissions are grappling techniques that can cause bodily harm, intense pain, or choke someone unconscious if they do not submit or "tap out" before that point.

 

Regarding chokes, there are two types: blood chokes and air chokes. Air chokes are what most people think of when thinking of a chokehold as they cut off the victim's supply of oxygen, causing someone to slowly suffocate and pass out (and die if it was held past this point, or without medical aid nearby). This chokes someone slowly and causes intense panic, leading the victim to panic or in MMA, to tap out. 

 

Contrary to popular belief, most chokes in MMA and BJJ are blood chokes, not air chokes. Rather than cutting off the air supply, blood chokes cut off the supply of blood to the brain, which causes someone to black out without pain (though some blood chokes are painful due to the position someone is in when they're applied).

 

This puts someone to sleep quite quickly and has no adverse side effects besides losing a few seconds of consciousness and the last few seconds of memory before that, where an air choke has the potential to crush the larynx (this hasn't happened in any combat sport that I know of, but directly grabbing the larynx (windpipe) is illegal in MMA and most combat sports to prevent this). Essentially all the chokes you'll see in MMA are blood chokes, or are a combination of both types.

The Guillotine

The guillotine is one of the most attempted submissions in MMA, often used as a defense to a takedown attempt. When someone shoots for a double leg, if their head is put in a position to one side of an opponent, often their chin will be up to see their target, allowing the defender to reach down and slip their wrist underneath the chin and on the neck.

 

The head is caught in the armpit and the choking arm is locked in place by connecting the hands together, putting great pressure on the victim's neck and choking them.

 

There are several variations, the two most common of which are the arm-in guillotine and the no-arm guillotine. 

The arm-in guillotine is more difficult - the non-choking arm is actually hooked around the victim's own arm, and to finish the choke, the person applying the choke needs to move their head and chest toward their opponent, hunching over.

 

The more common (at least in terms of success rate) guillotine, where the hands are locked together without the opponent's arm in the way, is finished by leaning backward.

 

It's important to have the guard in place to finish the guillotine, as without it the victim can roll or spin out of it - it's possible to finish the submission from half guard though it's more difficult, but it's essentially impossible to finish from side-control.

 

An arm-in guillotine - note the choker's left arm is wrapped around the right arm of his opponent and he is lifting his head toward his opponent to maximize leverage in this position.

 

A no-arm guillotine choke - note how it starts standing as the victim is going for a takedown, then Charles Oliveira pulls guard with the victim trying to roll out of it but unsuccessfully thanks to the guard being in place, even putting Oliveira in full mount right before the tap.

 

Here's a guillotine choke applied in full mount - this one is extremely difficult to get out of, and here both of the victim's arms are trapped by his opponent's guard which forces him to tap with his feet.

Rear-Naked Choke

This is the most common submission in the game and is what every fighter looks for when they have an opponent's back.

 

There are several different grips, but all RNC submissions place a choking arm under the chin and across the neck of the victim, then lock it in place with the other arm/hand.

 

The traditional rear-naked choke in BJJ has the aggressor creating a "t" with their arms by holding the crook of their non-choking arm and putting their other hand behind their opponent's head, pushing them into the choke to make it even tighter.

 

With gloves on, this is harder to get and often the hand won't quite get behind the victim's head, thus the victim can pull down the non-choking arm to alleviate the choke. As a result, many fighters will instead lock their hands together in a "Gable grip" to prevent this defense.

 

Common defenses to prevent the choke are to always keep hold of one of the choker's arms so they can't lock them together, to keep the chin tucked to the chest so the aggressor can't get their arm underneath, or to spin into the opponent (this heavily depends on the position, as someone who is also locked in a body triangle doesn't typically have this option).

 

Here is a standing rear naked choke, with the traditional BJJ hand positioning - note how the choking hand is holding the non-choking arm and the non-choking arm is bent, locking the choke in place and the free hand is pushing on the back of the victim's head to provide maximum squeeze.

 

A wounded Conor McGregor gives up his back to avoid more punishment, where Nate Diaz then slips his arm underneath the chin and locks up an RNC.

 

Here's a fighter locking their hands together rather than the traditional arm position; this is often called the Gable grip.

 

Some fighters will attempt to crank their opponent's head and neck rather than actually choke them, simply placing the arm across the jaw to put tremendous pressure on the jaw, or placing it across the cheek and twisting their head in one direction. Here's one such crank, where the jaw is squeezed and the head is twisted in a gruesome position.

The Armbar

The armbar has many variations but all involve straightening someone's arm and using your own body to torque the elbow joint in the wrong direction - picture holding out your arm at shoulder height, straightened out, then someone pulling your wrist back (behind you) while simultaneously pushing on your triceps in the direction you're facing.

 

This puts tremendous strain on the elbow joint, and if someone doesn't tap out or waits too long, it can cause a broken arm (typically the forearm), a dislocated elbow, and/or ligament and tendon damage. Unlike chokes, armbars and other submissions targeting the joints are not only painful, but can cause lasting and severe damage to a fighter.

 

Very rarely a fighter will refuse to tap (it's somewhat common with chokes, or they simply try to fight it off and pass out, but they aren't at risk of suffering an injury in doing so) but it has happened and often results in serious damage to a person's arm. 

 

There are many places where an arm can be trapped and an armbar applied, but the most common are either from the guard position (the bottom person turns their hips, holding one of their opponent's wrists and throwing their leg up and over the victim's head, then arching their back to torque the arm) or from full mount; you may also see fighters transition to an armbar from side control, the back, or half guard.

 

There are tons of different styles and variations of armbars, with many ways to defend them as well. Armbars are all about technique and locking them in properly rather than strength or size, and are a key aspect of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which emphasizes being able to defend yourself from physically larger assailants.

 

A textbook armbar - note how the legs are pinning the trapped fighter down while the arm is extended, with the hips being raised to act as a fulcrum to bend the arm in the wrong direction.

 

One of the slickest submissions ever, Demetrious Johnson delivers a suplex and snatches up his opponent's arm while he is still falling.

 

A classic armbar from the guard by Frank Mir that actually snapped his opponent's forearm.

The Kimura

The kimura is a common technique though it's difficult to finish on a highly trained opponent, especially if they are as strong or stronger than the fighter applying the submission.

 

The kimura requires a lot of arm strength and thus many BJJ practitioners aren't high on the move as it goes against the primary principles of the martial art. Police will often use a variation of this technique, which you've likely seen on TV, by placing someone's arm behind their back and pushing it up the spine, putting pressure on the elbow joint and shoulder.

 

When applied to a trained individual, controlling the rest of the body is important to keep the person from spinning or rolling out of it and the grip is what makes or breaks the submission. 

 

To apply a proper kimura, one arm is threaded behind and through the victim's targeted arm, then that hand grips the other forearm or wrist which is holding the recipient's wrist. The hand that's holding the opponent's wrist is then pushed, forcing the victim's arm backward and bending it the wrong way.

 

It's an extremely painful position for the arm and if a fighter doesn't tap, they risk severe tendon and ligament damage, an arm dislocation, or possibly even a broken upper arm.

 

Like the armbar, a kimura can be obtained from various positions, but is most commonly done from side control or full mount, though fighters will often use it from their guard or half guard to force the top fighter to roll onto their back to get their arm free.

The kimura while in side control, one of the most dangerous positions from which to apply the submission as the fighter has tons of leverage while on top.

 

Here the full lethality of the kimura is demonstrated - the victim tries to roll out of it, but Frank Mir rolls with him and maintains his grip then cranks the arm behind the back - the upper arm snapped clean in half and finally forced a tap when it was already too late.

Triangle Choke

The triangle choke is another popular submission and is typically applied from the guard (though it can be applied in other positions, like from mount).

 

The legs form a triangle, similar to the body triangle explained in the grappling section, this time with the crossing leg across the back of the neck and shoulder of the victim that gets locked into place and tightened by the other leg, trapping the victim's head and one of their arms. 

 

This squeeze, when applied correctly, will actually stop the victim's blood from reaching their brain, and is basically choking the person with their own arm. The trapped arm is important - the tightest chokes will put the victim's arm across the stomach, then the fighter will pull on the back of the trapped person's head to make the choke even tighter.

 

When locked in this is a very hard submission to escape from and rather than just choking the victim, some fighters will also throw elbows to their trapped opponent's head as they can't defend themselves or will arch their back and pull on the arm, turning it into a triangle armbar which both chokes them and hyperextends their arm at once. 

 

A triangle choke that puts the victim unconscious - notice the leg is locked in with the foot behind the knee and how just one of the arms is trapped in the triangle.

 

Here, Demian Maia actually sets up the triangle from mount, then turns to his back to cinch up the choke in a beautiful transition.

 

The most famous triangle choke in UFC history courtesy of Anderson Silva in a historic comeback. You can see it's methodically locked in and the victim tries to step over to relieve pressure but then finds his arm extended as well and thus was forced to tap.

Reverse/Inverted Triangle

The triangle choke is applied with the fighters facing each other - the reverse triangle is applied with the aggressor behind their opponent, trapping them with the same leg triangle but the fighter is facing away from them.

 

This is extremely rare, but the inverted triangle is slightly more common (though still extremely rare) - this submission has the victim with their body going in the opposite direction, with their head and arm sticking out underneath the aggressor's butt.

 

A crazy standing inverted triangle.

An inverted triangle choke.

Kneebar/Heel Hook/Leg Locks

Leglocks have many variations but most attack the knee joint, which can be extremely dangerous for fighters - a torn ACL can take a year or more to recover from, with some fighters never regaining the movement they once had and having recurring issues due to knee ligament damage.

 

Like other sports, knee injuries are generally done either in training or simply while moving around or getting hit - very few injuries have resulted from leglocks in MMA, but that's only because fighters know to tap out if they're caught in one.

 

The kneebar is very similar to an armbar, as it extends the limb and puts tremendous pressure on the joint, this time the knee rather than the elbow. This can hyperextend the knee and easily cause tendon and ligament damage, though unlike with an armbar, even if someone didn't tap you aren't likely to see someone's leg snap or dislocate simply due to the ridiculous strength that would be required to cause such an injury.

 

Usually with a kneebar that's fully locked in, you'll see the fighter in pain and their leg extended but you won't see any visible damage. 

 

A heel hook twists the ankle and foot to target the ankle joint, which causes tremendous pain and can break an ankle.

 

All submissions that target the leg fall under the umbrella term of "leglocks". The main problem with going for leglocks is that they often require both arms to attack and the opponent's upper body is unrestricted - this leaves the defending fighter free to throw strikes at their opponent, and in many positions, gives them free shots at the attacker's head as both arms are occupied with the submission attempt.

 

This makes leglocks a risky gamble and fighters have to be aware of their opponent's distance to prevent this - they also often put the attacker of the leglock in a bad position if the defender escapes, though some fighters attack leglocks off their back and use them to wind up on top of their opponent rather than following through to try and get the submission.

 

A heel hook being applied - note how the foot is trapped under the armpit and cranked in an opposing direction, putting incredible pressure on the ankle joint.

 

A kneebar; note how the leg is extended almost identically to an armbar.

D’Arce Choke/Anaconda Choke

A D'arce or anaconda choke (they're slight variations of the same technique) is a choke that's almost a hybrid between a guillotine choke and a triangle choke.

 

An arm is placed under the chin and the hand is secured by the other arm, with one of the victim's shoulders in the hold. This is typically applied from a north/south or sprawl position and is completed by turning to the side of the opponent or rolling them over onto their back.

 

A D'Arce choke in action.

Here's a d'arce choke that also traps one of the legs, making it impossible for the victim to roll or turn out of the choke.

An anaconda choke complete with the roll over onto the back.

Arm Triangle/Head and Arm Choke

An arm triangle, like the name implies, is a triangle choke that is applied with the arms rather than the legs.

 

Rather than choking with the forearm as with a lot of chokes, the arm triangle uses shoulder pressure to cut off the blood supply to the brain and is typically applied in full mount, though it can also be applied in side control or even someone's guard or half guard if the aggressor's grip is strong enough.

 

One arm is wrapped around the opponent's head, with one of the victim's arms pointing straight up and pinned in position by the attacker's own head. The hands are clasped behind the opponent's back and weight is applied to the shoulder, squeezing down on the opponent's neck and cutting off blood flow on the other side of the neck using the defender's own trapped shoulder/arm. 

 

The way to defend this is typically referred to as "answering the phone" and is done by bending your trapped arm and cupping your hand to your ear, as if you were talking on a phone, then pushing your elbow outward - this helps create a bit of space and can fight off the choke, though with strong enough pressure it often isn't enough to survive for long.

 

Although the choke can be finished from mount, or even from the victim's guard/half-guard if the person is strong enough, to get maximum leverage the aggressor needs to pass to side control and angle off to the side away from their opponent.

 

An arm triangle choke - see how Brock Lesnar moves from full mount to side control to get the angle for maximum leverage.

 

Another arm triangle; note how the victim uses the "answering the phone" defense, but the choke is so tight it doesn't matter anyway.

 

An extremely rare standing arm triangle.

North/South Choke

The north/south choke is exactly what it sounds like - a choke applied from the north/south position. Unlike the d'arce/anaconda which can also be applied from this position, no arm is trapped in the choke.

 

A north/south choke in action.