Common Terms & References
As with any sport, there are plenty of colloquialisms you're bound to hear thrown around during an MMA broadcast or in conversation with an MMA fan.
Here are the common terms you're likely to hear and what they mean; for more on the techniques and moves involved in the sport, check out The Techniques page of this guide.
Ground and Pound
This is a term used all the time and even throughout this guide. Ground and pound refers to any strikes performed when one fighter is on top of the other on the ground. This can mean punches, elbows, and knees to the body (just no knees to the head as that's illegal when a fighter is on the ground).
Some ground and pound resulting in a knockout.
Height and reach are a vital aspect of any striking sport and they give clues as to how fighters match up. Reach refers to how long a fighter's arms are and this is measured by having a fighter spread their arms at shoulder height, fully extended, then measuring from fingertip to fingertip.
Generally, those with a longer reach or a height advantage (as the shorter fighter needs to punch "up" in order to reach their opponent's head, thus increasing the distance they need to cover) will look to keep to the outside to utilize their size advantage, where they can land jabs and straight punches from a range where their opponent can't reach them. The fighter with the reach and/or height disadvantage will look to close that gap and fight on the inside where they can land their strikes.
When kicks are added however, reach gets more tricky - leg reach generally isn't measured, but a long reach advantage can be largely nullified through kicking, as the legs are always longer than the arms and thus someone can kick from farther out than they could throw a punch.
A tall and long fighter however can use kicks in the same way as jabs and straights, throwing straight or push kicks from a distance to keep their opponent at bay and use their long legs to their advantage just like they could their arms.
There are plenty of different words/phrases MMA fans have to describe someone being knocked out, so here are a few to get you started:
KOd/KTFOd (Knocked The Fuck Out)
A flash KO refers to someone being knocked unconscious but waking right back up - this is common, and why boxers can often stand back up after being dropped even if they're hurt badly.
The biggest tell someone was knocked unconscious is in their eyes - if they roll back into their skull after impact, they were knocked out, even if only for a second.
A flash knockout often has the fighter get knocked down, but by the time they hit the ground or immediately following they're awake. In some cases the fighter doesn't even seem to be affected and defends themself just fine, where in other cases they'll be dazed and out of it, which is often easily seen if they get back to their feet, where they'll have unsteady legs, seem sluggish or unaware, or move uncharacteristically.
A flash knockout - see how the victim falls and his body goes limp for a moment, but when he lands on his back his eyes are open and he's visibly awake (he was still very dazed and ended up getting knocked out cold moments later).
You'll hear this a lot and it refers to a fighter that was hit and is dazed or hurt, ie. "He's rocked!".
The most obvious sign (besides a fighter that openly grimaces or collapses) is in a fighter's eyes, but of course when spectating that's hard to pick up on and thus the legs become the biggest giveaway that a strike rocked a fighter - you'll see a rocked fighter typically stumbles or seems unsteady on their feet, and often retreats, backing up to the cage or just covering up and avoiding damage without firing back.
Often you'll see a sudden shift in a fighter's perceived gameplan, where before they may have been striking but after getting rocked they'll be looking desperately to take their opponent down or to clinch up and avoid trading strikes. Some will also attempt to fire back when rocked, but often they're wild swings and you can also see they're often much slower and sloppier than their normal punches, almost looking like they're moving underwater, a telltale sign the fighter is still dazed.
When one fighter is rocked, you'll often see the other ramp up the pressure to try and get the finish, either by landing more shots on the feet or ground or by taking them down and trying to lock up a submission while they're too dazed to defend properly.
Here, a fighter gets hit by a right hand and stumbles, then immediately retreats, showing he was rocked by the punch.
The chin, when used in the context of fighting, does not just refer to someone's physical chin - more so, it refers to someone's ability to take a punch (or elbow, kick, knee, etc. in the case of MMA).
Taking a shot on the jawline or chin is typically what fighters want to avoid, as it tends to result in knockouts. Hence well-trained fighters are always taught to keep their chins tucked, close to their chest and preferably with their shoulder or arm in the way to block punches from landing there.
The temple, side of the head, and cheek are also good spots to land knockout blows on, but it's really the jaw that tends to cause the most knockouts.
You may see some fighters lower their head into an incoming punch, taking the blow on the forehead - while it might seem weird to not move away from a strike, the forehead is extremely tough and can easily break someone's hand, and is the best place to receive a strike if you're going to get hit in the head as a strike is unlikely to rock or knock you out when it lands there.
You may hear someone saying a fighter has a "suspect chin" or is "chinny" - this just means the fighter gets hurt relatively easily or can't take that big a shot without getting KOd.
The chin is a weird conundrum - some people have a natural ability to absorb tons of punishment and stay upright, while others get knocked out with ease.
There's no real way to improve this, although strengthening the neck is believed to help a bit, along with seeing a shot coming - when someone doesn't see an incoming strike, there's a much greater chance it hurts or knocks them out, even if it isn't a huge shot.
While there aren't any real ways to improve one's chin, there are plenty of ways to degrade the chin however - taking significant damage, especially over time, will eventually catch up to the fighter and their chin will falter (everyone's different, but even the most granite-jawed fighters eventually lose their ability to take damage).
Hard sparring or fighting quickly after being concussed or knocked out often makes it much easier to get concussed or knocked out again, and age always plays a factor as well - the older you get, the less damage your brain can take before shutting down.
Basically, the best way to avoid losing the ability to take punishment, is to avoid taking punishment altogether.
Game or Gamer
This is a stupid one but it's still said by commentators so it makes the list. Being “game” essentially means a fighter is tough, gritty and willing to throw down.
Basically these are the types that aren’t going to quit when things aren’t going their way, and are always trying to find ways to win even if they are clearly losing in a fight. Fighters like this are sometimes called “gamers”, not to be confused with the more modern meaning of a gamer, being someone who plays videogames.
A self-explanatory term, a combination is simply two or more strikes thrown in quick succession. The most basic combination is the one-two from boxing, which is simply a jab then straight punch.
There are all sorts of combinations, and good combinations utilize punches or strikes that set up the next one - typically this means going left-right-left-right or vice versa so you can shift your body weight back and forth into each punch, though advanced strikers will often double up on a single side to break this rhythm and catch their opponent off guard.
Not every strike in a combination is meant to be damaging or even to land - sometimes you'll see fighters throw out very lazy or quick punches with no intention of landing that are simply thrown to get their opponent to react before following up with a serious strike.
A flailing combo with the hands used to distract the opponent from a powerful head kick to finish the combination.
The "pocket" is a boxing term that is used to describe the close-proximity zone in which both fighters are in range to hit each other. This is a dangerous place to hang out in as although you can strike your opponent from this range, they can also strike you - close range fighters and brawlers are typically adept at this range and look to stay "in the pocket" throughout the fight.
Close range fighting is also referred to as "in-fighting" in boxing, where long range (throwing jabs, or leg kicks in MMA for instance) is referred to as out-fighting. You may also hear the phrase "fighting in a phone booth" used when two fighters opt to stay in the pocket and trade blows for extended periods.
Ringcraft, sometimes mistakenly interchanged with footwork, is essentially the art of utilizing a fighter's position in the ring or cage. This is a very important aspect of fighting that is often overlooked, even by elite fighters (more so in MMA than boxing).
In boxing, there are four corners - the essentials of ringcraft are for a fighter to stay out of those corners because if they run themselves into it, they're trapped, unable to move away from incoming punches.
Conversely, an offensive fighter will look to trap their opponent into a corner where they can unload punches on their trapped prey (see "Swarmers" under the types of fighters appendix for more on some ways to do this).
Generally, good footwork is needed in boxing, whether it's to avoid being put in a corner or to put the opponent in said corner; that doesn't mean however that good footwork equels good ringcraft.
Some fighters for instance will have lovely footwork out in open space, positioning themselves well for offense and moving out on angles to avoid getting hit, but don't have a good sense of where they are in the ring/cage and therefore will back themselves into a corner or against the cage without even realizing it, and therefore have poor ringcraft.
In the UFC's Octagon there are no sharp corners, thus being trapped in a corner doesn't happen - however, with the cage enclosure rather than ring ropes, when a fighter is backed into it they have absolutely no way backward - a boxer against the ropes can still at least lean backward and limit the damage taken and can still create a bit of space by leaning on the ropes, whereas the cage has very little give and makes that impossible.
Thus, while it is easier to avoid being completely cornered in MMA, a fighter who is backed into the cage can easily be pinned to it and given that clinching is fully allowed unlike in boxing, it is easier to keep them there.
You may also hear ringcraft referred to as ring (or cage) generalship, ring/cage awareness, or ring/cage control.
Fight IQ, as you might imagine, refers to the intelligence in decision making a fighter displays during their fights.
Fighters that are said to have a high fight IQ are those that can stick to effective gameplans, can adjust their tactics during a fight based on what's working and what isn't, and can exploit an opponent's weaknesses when they're presented.
On the other end of the spectrum, fighters deemed to have a low fight IQ either have trouble sticking to a good gameplan, keep trying the same things over and over even when it clearly isn't working, seem oblivious to openings or opportunities they are afforded, or can't adjust their tactics when things aren't going their way.
Though there are many examples of good fight IQ, the bad showings stick out and become painfully clear for viewers. Of course it's easier said than done and stepping into a cage to fight a trained killer is never easy, but when a fighter's own corner is pleading with them to do something (or stop doing something) and they refuse to listen, you may be witnessing poor fight IQ in action.
Low fight IQ can be downright infuriating to watch at times - for example when a fighter clearly has their opponent rocked and decides to go for a takedown or clinch and let them recover instead of pressing them, or when a fighter is getting taken down every time they throw a leg kick and finally returns to their feet only to immediately throw a leg kick and get taken down again.
Killer Instinct/Finishing Ability
This is pretty self-explanatory, but there are levels to it. Most fighters will turn up the aggression when they see their opponent is hurt by a strike or is tired when they aren't (that's basic fight IQ) but not all fighters are great at this.
Some thrive when they have an opponent hurt and turn into downright berserkers, throwing bombs until their opponent can't take any more. Others will keep calm and pick their shots, looking to land another bomb but not getting too excited and risking being taken down or walking into a counter.
Still others will continue what they were doing and refuse to alter their pace, letting their opponent recover or allowing them to clinch or grapple to shake off the cobwebs. These fighters would have what those in combat sports call a lack of killer instinct.
This simply means transitioning from one technique to the other - typically used to refer to grappling techniques. A transition could be going from half-guard to side control, or from mount to the back for instance (for more on these positions, check out The Techniques tab).
Transitions can also be chained together, sort of like the grappling equivalent of a combination - chaining together transitions, particularly when going for submissions, can be very effective. For instance, a fighter might transition out of half guard and into side-control, then step over into mount immediately after, before their opponent has had a chance to adjust. Or they could go for a kimura submission, and while their opponent is defending it, transition to an armbar instead.
Here GSP attacks a kimura, but as his opponent straightens his arm to defend it, he transitions to an armbar instead.
A scramble is just a term used when two fighters are jockeying for position in quick succession - for instance, a fighter could scramble to their feet using one or several different techniques, or two fighters could be scrambling for position on the mat with one fighter regaining top position.
A level change simply refers to changing the level in which a fighter is striking, or lowering their stance to attempt a takedown or evade a punch.
Think of the body as being made up of 3 zones - the head, the torso, and the legs. If for instance, both fighters are throwing punches at each other's head, a wise move from either fighter may be to change their target and mix in a strike or two to the body - a "level" change in this case would require the fighter to lower their stance in order to hit their target (this doesn't mean the person has to stay hunched over, just while throwing the strike).
Similarly, someone looking to shoot a takedown on their opponent needs to lower their stance, ie. change their level, to get down low enough to grab their opponent's leg(s) or hips.
Pound-for-pound was a term originally coined in boxing to describe Sugar Ray Robinson’s tremendous talent in layman’s terms. Being a pound-for-pound great or the best pound-for-pound is a subjective term used to describe a fighter’s skills, saying that if weight and size were not a factor, they would beat everyone else.
Generally, in the lower weight classes you’ll see more speed and sharper technique, while in the heavier weight classes you’ll see less finesse but more knockouts due to the increased strength and size.
To try and compare fighters across weight classes, people will use the pound-for-pound terminology, which is basically saying “if fighter X and Y were the same size, this is who I think is better based on their skill and technique”. It’s entirely philosophical and not provable as there are weight classes for a reason - if you throw in the best 125-pound fighter in the world with a 205-pounder of decent quality, the larger fighter will emerge victorious virtually every time, even with an immense skill gap.
As you get closer in size of course, that skill gap becomes much more important. The important thing to realize is that pound-for-pound rankings are entirely opinions and should always be taken with a grain of salt.
These are some terms used by hardcore fans - if you want to fit in with the hardcore crowd online or simply want to impress your fellow casual fans, just sprinkle a few of these bad boys into your conversations to make you sound like an MMA expert.
There's an age-old adage in boxing that applies even more so to MMA: styles make fights.
One fighter may match up exceptionally well with a fighter that is perceived to be much better than them - another might seem nigh unstoppable only to be trounced by someone employing a style tailor-made to stop them. While analysts can break down fights and come up with good predictions, nothing is anywhere near 100% accurate when it comes to MMA.
The most common mistake someone can make (and even seasoned fighters and analysts fall victim to it) when breaking down a match-up between two fighters is comparing their wins/losses against the same opponent.
If fighter A beat fighter B, and fighter B beat fighter C, it does not necessarily mean than fighter A beats fighter C, yet you'll regularly see this argument repeated by fans and experts alike.
For example, Joanna Jędrzejczyk beat the brakes off of Carla Esparza, and Carla Esparza handily defeated Rose Namajunas. So Joanna should defeat Rose, correct?
Rose Namajunas defeated Joanna not once, but twice.
While it may make sense in math, it rarely applies to MMA. In fact, taken to its extremes MMA math can be used to create some truly bizarre fighter A > fighter B scenarios.
For instance, a case can be made that former 125-pound UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson would beat UFC heavyweight champion (literally almost twice his size) Stipe Miocic in a fight. Don't believe me? DJ defeated John Dodson (125 pounds), who beat Manvel Gamburyan (135), who beat Cole Miller (145), who beat Ross Pearson (155), who beat Gray Maynard (155), who beat Rich Clementi (155), who beat Anthony Johnson (170), who beat Andrei Arlovski (heavyweight), who beat Stefan Struve (heavyweight), who beat Stipe Miocic.
It's an asinine statement that would be virtually impossible given the size disparity, and yet by MMA math it is true.
There are tons of examples of predictions involving MMA math being wrong, and you can use it to create rather fun hypothetical situations, such as tiny fighters beating heavyweights or obscure journeymen being better than longtime champs.
There's actually a website that will generate MMA math equations for you based on the two fighters you want to compare just to prove how silly it is.
Getting Nelmarked means getting knocked out in a specifically brutal way. Coined by hardcore fans as a reference to poor Steve Nelmark who was viciously posterized by Tank Abbott back in 1996, getting Nelmarked refers to a fighter that gets knocked out and ends up sitting/laying back against the cage unconscious, with one or both legs awkwardly folded underneath them.
The Nelmark is a rare KO but if you happen to spot one, shout out "He just got Nelmarked!" and instantly give yourself street cred.
Similar to being rocked, the stanky leg (also referred to as having "baby deer legs" or "rubber legs") refers to a fighter who gets rocked and does a little dance trying to recover their balance. This is a sure sign a strike hurt the fighter and they are rocked, and can sometimes make for funny moments despite the violence ensuing.
A glass cannon is a fighter with extreme offensive capabilities that can knock out anybody if they get the chance (the cannon); however, they also have defensive deficiencies which makes them very susceptible to being knocked out or stopped themselves (the glass).
Typically, a glass cannon is a very explosive striker that doesn't have a great chin, or is so focused on offense their defense goes out the window and they regularly run themselves into counters.
Glass cannons are always fun to watch as they are capable of finishing people in violent and sudden fashion, but can also be knocked out in brutal fashion as well, so you know someone is going down whenever a glass cannon steps into the cage or ring.
For more on glass cannons, here's a breakdown of the Top 5 Glass Cannons in MMA.
Someone who gets popped by USADA for failing a drug test is said to have been USADA'd. It may also be used to refer to a fighter that was unjustly punished by USADA despite later being proven to have not been at fault.
Horse Meat/Mexican Supplements
Speaking of USADA, there are plenty of terms to use when it comes to taking PED's in sports, from juicing to doping to roiding. If you're talking to a hardcore MMA fan, you may hear them refer to steroids/PEDs as "horse meat" or "Mexican supplements".
The former is a reference to Alistair Overeem - originally a scrawny light heavyweight, Overeem notably bulked up and became a rippling heavyweight mound of muscle while fighting in Japan (which had no drug testing), leading to plenty of speculation that he was on the "sauce". He dispelled those rumours by suggesting his diet, which included plenty of high-protein horse meat (which is common in the Netherlands, where he lived at the time), was the reason for his bulk.
Years later after his first fight in the UFC he would fail a drug test for elevated levels of testosterone and after his suspension, came back noticeably leaner and less muscular. Horse meat indeed.
Mexican supplements was a term made popular by Joe Rogan on multiple occasions through his commentary and on his extremely popular podcast.
If you hear an MMA fan talk about "spinning shit" or saying "so we're throwing spinning shit now?" when a fighter throws a spinning strike, they're likely referencing Nick Diaz's famous quote from UFC 143.
Nick Diaz fought Carlos Condit at the time and became noticeably agitated by Condit's footwork and movement and began (like he often does) trash talking and taunting Condit throughout their interim title bout. Following the controversial fight, Condit relayed in the post-fight press-conference some of what Nick Diaz was saying to him, which included Nick at one point asking him "So we're throwing spinning shit now?" after Condit had thrown a spinning back fist.
The line has lived on in the MMA community ever since.
I'm Not Surprised, Motherfuckers
Moving on to the younger Diaz brother, Nate Diaz put himself on the beloved MMA-quotes map after he defeated Conor McGregor at UFC 196. Taking the bout on extremely short notice, Diaz was a sizable underdog and took a beating in the opening round from the brash Irish superstar, only to come back and dominate the second, rocking McGregor before tapping him with a rear-naked choke.
After the massive win, Diaz was interviewed by Joe Rogan, who quipped "Nate Diaz, you just shook up the world...how does that feel?" Diaz then took the mic and responded bluntly, "I'm not surprised, motherfuckers".
And so a meme was born.
Who the Fook is That Guy
Speaking of Conor McGregor, plenty of the highly-quotable Irishman's trash talk and sayings have become popular with fans, but none are as genuinely hilarious as this one.
Years ago, at a press conference the UFC hosted to promote many of their upcoming fights that year, Jeremy Stephens, a longtime UFC vet, decided to talk shit to Conor McGregor who was also at the presser. Noting that McGregor didn't knock people out quite the way he did and stating McGregor wasn't a true knockout artist, Stephens had no idea he was walking right into a death blow himself.
After Stephens was finished, McGregor took the mic and responded in his trademark Irish accent, looking back over his shoulder to where Stephens was seated - "Who the fook is that guy?"
One still can't find a social media post involving Jeremy Stephens that doesn't have multiple fans posting a GIF of the incident in response.
The Just Bleed GIF is the single greatest GIF in the history of GIFs. It was captured during a UFC event way back in the 90's and is still used today to by hardcore fans to show their hype for an event or fight, typically when talking about really violent and exciting match-ups.