MMA Fighting Techniques

Sprawl and brawl

mma fighting techniques

A strategy used by fighters whose strengths are in striking techniques and stand-up fighting. These fighters try to keep the fight standing and avoid being taken down by developing appropriate defence techniques. They specialise in knockout kicks, punches, knees and elbows. In case they do end up on the ground, most of these fighters are trained in submission wrestling. If a fighter who prefers the sprawl and brawl strategy is taken to the ground, they try to stall their opponent until the referee brings the fight back to standing. Alternatively, they try to escape from their opponent and return to their feet.

This strategy is often used by fighters such as Mirko Cro Cop or Chuck Liddell.

Clinch fighting


A strategy involving holding an opponent in a clinch and either going for a takedown or applying elbow/knee strikes, punches or stomps. Fighters with a strong wrestling or Muay Thai (Thai boxing) background are keen on this style, which can be devastating for an opponent. The clinch is used to prevent the opponent from moving away and to keep them within range for strikes and takedowns. The clinch can also be used as a defence against strikes and takedowns.

In the professional arena, Randy Couture and Anderson Silva are good examples of fighters who use this strategy to their advantage.

Submission grappling

A fighter applying the submission grappling strategy takes their opponent to the ground with a throw or takedown to achieve a dominant position and apply a submission hold. Fighters using this strategy do so because they prefer working on the ground and feel comfortable with the variety of ground fighting positions.

Fighters known to be effective in applying this strategy are Royce Gracie and Fedor Emelianenko.

Ground and pound

A ground fighting strategy which takes the opponent to the ground with takedowns or throws. Once there, the fighter gets on top of them to gain the dominant position and then pummels them with punches and elbows until they are knocked out or submit. This strategy has proved that good striking techniques can also be effective on the ground when maintaining a grappling position.

The UFC and PRIDE grand prix champion Mark Coleman was one of the first fighters to prove the effectiveness of this strategy. Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz have also shown its merit and it has become part of MMA training.

Lay and pray

The strategy of lay and pray involves the fighter taking the opponent to the ground, gaining a dominant or neutral position and hoping that a victory can be claimed by pinning them there. The tempo and action are taken out of the fight, which is stalled in the hope that it can be won by the judge’s decision rather than a knockout or submission. This strategy can be favoured by wrestlers as they have takedown skills, but little experience in submission grappling or ground and pound. Lay and pray is used by fighters who are not as capable on the ground.

Multiple strategies (hybrid styles) This term is used to describe fighters who use a wide range of strategies to gain victory. They are well trained in striking, submission techniques and ground and pound. Most fighters rely on a limited base of strengths and do not have this wide range. As such, they must always defend against their weaknesses.

Good examples of fighters applying multiple strategies are B J Penn and Fedor Emelianenko.

Stances and footwork are very important in MMA as they allow for quick transitions into strikes, grapples, sprawls, shoots and takedowns at all ranges.

Balance is also important, so the stance should not be too wide or too narrow and the feet should ideally be shoulder width apart. The stance should be re-established as often as possible when moving around. This also helps prevent the legs from crossing and the stance from becoming too spread.

Standard stance

The standard stance is used when moving around the fighting area because it allows for fast movement and easy strikes. The shoulders should be square to the opponent and the hips slightly angled with one leg in front of the other.

This reduces the risk of being taken down: the legs are not beside each other and it is possible to crouch down further.

Crouched stance

The crouched stance is the same as the standard stance, only lower and with the upper body bent forwards to align the head with the front leg. This stance is used in preparation for a takedown or to defend against one by sprawling. It can also be used as a feint before returning to the standard stance and striking if an opening has been created.

A common error with the crouched stance is to lean forwards without lowering the body. This hinders movement and presents the opponent with an easier target to strike.

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