MMA Skills – Learning the Takedown from a Wrestling Perspective

We consider the takedown the most important offensive weapon in wrestling. Some people might feel that pinning combinations are more important; however, a wrestler must take his opponent to the mat before he can pin him.

NOTE: Another aspect to consider is that a wrestler doesn’t usually pin an opponent of equal ability—and in reality, those are the ones he has to worry most about beating.

It’s usually the wrestler with the greater takedown ability that wins. The wrestlers start the match on their feet and if either wrestler gets an escape, they’re back on their feet—so here is the beginning of many of one’s offensive moves.

Set-ups: We spend about 60% of our practice on set-ups for takedowns—feeling that the set-up for the takedown (getting one’s opponent to make the move one desires) is even more important in being able to accomplish the takedown than the actual moves involved in the takedown itself (maneuvering an opponent for a single leg takedown and then completing the takedown).

NOTE: Our most difficult task is teaching the set-ups for each takedown and also making the wrestler conscious of the potential takedowns his opponent opens for him. In other words, if a wrestler is well defensed for one type of takedown, he has to be weak for another type (I.e., if he’s defensed for leg tackles, he is exposed for arm drags).

takedown gsp

Three takedowns: To be effective, a wrestler must have at least three takedowns he can do with almost equal ability. This eliminates one’s opponent from defensing only one takedown.

This is especially true if they have competed against each other before—or if it becomes known that a certain wrestler can use only one takedown effectively, or uses only takedowns that originate from the neck and triceps tie-up in the standing position.

TIP: Our wrestlers have used this knowledge to their advantage as they would not tie-up with this wrestler in the standing position.

Philosophy: We feel that if we can take an opponent out of his style of wrestling on his feet, we have a much better chance of taking him down and therefore a better chance of beating him. Statistics have shown that the wrestler who gets the takedowns usually wins. We also feel that an escape (1 point) and a takedown (2 points), starting from the referee’s position on the mat, are better than a reversal (2 points).

OUR TAKEDOWN: Although I coach many different takedowns to my wrestlers, my favorite one is the “double knee drop heel hook.” In this takedown, the wrestler drops to both knees as close to his opponent as possible and, while dropping in, extends one leg behind the opponent’s leg and pushes his backward.

There are three phases of any good takedown: (1) the set-up of the opponent; (2) the takedown itself; and (3) the follow through. I feel that the most important part of the takedown is the set-up. The choice of takedown used depends upon what the coach likes and what the wrestler can do. The follow through is simple. All it consists of is making sure that a move, once started, is carried through to completion. Here is how I tell my boys to set up their opponents and some of the drills I use in my wrestling program.


The proper set-up stance has the wrestler with his weight evenly balanced in the middle of his feet, neither on the balls of the feet nor the heels. If the weight is on the balls of the feet, the wrestler will have a tendency to lean too far forward. If his weight is on his heels, he is definitely off balance. Each wrestler must find his own balance point.

If the wrestler can imagine that he is a piano player assuming proper position for playing the piano, he’ll fall into the best position—knees slightly bent, back straight, hips loose, elbows into body, lower arms out in front of body with palms down. I always emphasize that my wrestlers keep their palms down because, if they don’t, their opponent will be able to slap their arms up easily and drop in under them for a takedown.

THE CROSS-STEP: In setting up his opponent, the wrestler should take relatively small steps. I never tell my boys not to cross-step. Why? Most wrestlers are coached that the cross-step is wrong and will quickly (too quickly) move in to catch another wrestler off guard and be off balance and vulnerable themselves.

I coach the strong foot forward or “staggered stance,” with the right foot (if the wrestler is right-handed) ahead of the left. This is a “sucker” stance. It encourages the opponent to charge in and take the wrestler down without regard to his own position. If the opponent goes for the wrestler’s inside leg, the wrestler can flatten out on him or counter with an inside switch. If he goes outside and gets a leg, the wrestler can always rely on the whizzer or use a long arm counter.

TRY AND TRY AGAIN: A wrestler should repeatedly try to set up and take down his opponent. One or two failures in a row mean little when they might finally have thrown the opponent off balance.


Following are four drills that I use to teach my wrestlers proper takedown form and reaction. They have proven to be an important factor in our success.

In order to emphasize the importance of keeping the hips loose, back straight and head up during the takedown, we use this drill. A wall in the wrestling room is padded and each man walks up to it as though it were his opponent. He then drops in to the wall so that his body is touching it from his knees to his head. His arms should be outstretched as if ready to encircle the opponent. The most frequent mistake in shooting a takedown is dropping the head—this drill will cure it!

There might well be four lines of wrestlers doing alternating drop-ins. It is important that each wrestler do at least 20 of them at each practice.

During the past year, I tried this gimmick out and it worked perfectly. I attached a football tackling dummy to the ceiling by a rope tied on to a spring. The spring gives the dummy plenty of “life” and makes the drill more interesting. Each wrestler approaches the dummy, drops in on his knees (head and back up with arms outstretched) and completes the move with a heel hook. We emphasize pushing the opposition over with no more force than absolutely necessary—they are told not to lift the opponent during this takedown.

Football blocking dummys come in several weights. I use the 16 pound dummy (foam rubber) for this drill. The procedure of the drill is the same as that of the preceding drill. The only difference is that each man stretches his leg as far back as he can when he heel hooks. This repeated exercise gives the wrestler flexibility in the groin region and gets him used to extending the leg many times (a big help in stopping the slide back).

In the drill two lines of men take turns walking into each other. One of the men keeps his hands over his head, while the other drops in to him and takes him down. Then they exchange roles and the first man takes the second one down. I have the boys keep their arms up so that they will not counter the man that takes them down. This gives the takedown man the feeling of live “bait.”

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