How To Defend The Single Leg Takedown In MMA

The sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is one of the most exciting spectacles you’ll ever see. MMA is a hybrid sport combining various martial arts disciplines, each with unique techniques and strategies. The single leg takedown is one of the most common and effective techniques used in MMA, and is by far the most widely used technique to take someone down. The technique originally comes from wrestling and involves grabbing one of the opponent’s legs to bring them down to the mat. Successfully defending against this takedown is an absolute must for competitors who prefer to keep the fight standing. This article discusses the intricacies of defending the single leg takedown in mixed martial arts. 


Understanding The Single Leg Takedown

Before diving into the defense, it’s important to understand the mechanics of the single leg takedown. Basically, the single leg takedown is where you crouch down as you shoot and grab one of your opponent’s legs, either around the thigh or behind the knee. The goal is to force the defender to compromise their balance and eventually drive them to the mat. Given its effectiveness in all levels of combat, it’s a favorite among wrestlers transitioning into MMA.

Now that we have a better understanding of the technique, let’s dive into the general concepts you can employ to level up your takedown defense. Note that while this is not a complete list, the techniques below will surely make your takedown defense better. 


The Importance Of Stance And Distance 

Maintaining a proper stance is the first line of defense against any takedown, including the single leg takedown. As a general rule, you should keep a low center of gravity with the lead leg slightly forward but not overly extended. This position makes it harder for the opponent to shoot in. Additionally, managing the distance by monitoring your position and being generally aware of the opponent’s range can go a long way, defensively speaking. In short, if you can prevent the opponent from attacking by being at the proper distance, you are taking away a big part of their offense, thus limiting your vulnerability to getting taken down. 


The Importance Of Sprawling

Sprawling is perhaps the most basic and critical defense taught against takedowns. When an opponent shoots in for a single leg, widen your stance and lower your base, landing your weight on the opponent’s torso. This movement prevents them from securing the leg and puts them in a spot where they can get counter-attacked. 


Using The Whizzer

If the opponent manages to secure the leg, using the whizzer is a suggested technique. To define, the whizzer involves wrapping your arm around the opponent’s arm (the one holding your leg) and using it as a means to manage distance. This technique is great if you want to move laterally as you defend the opponent’s shot. Remember to use downward force as you use the whizzer. The opponent should feel pressure on their shoulder if done correctly. 


Grip Fighting 

Another crucial aspect of defending the single leg, or any takedown for that matter, is grip fighting. Never allow your opponent to take a grip without a fight. Similarly, you should always seek to dominate your opponent with grips so that you can open up attacking opportunities. Feel free to push and pull your opponent’s head and arms as you see fit. Depending on the technique, you can employ many gripping tactics to discourage the opponent from attacking. In the case of the single leg takedown, pushing against the head as you attempt to strip their grips is suggested. Combine this with the other tactics listed here for greater effect.


Circling Movement

Mobility is similar to distance control, where you should be ready to circle in and out of the opponent’s range as needed. Instead of staying in one spot, pivoting in and out is a much better approach to keep the opponent guessing. This movement not only defends against takedowns but makes you extremely annoying to fight against. 


Strikes And Submissions

Defending the single leg takedown also offers many opportunities for you to strike back. Remember that this is in the context of mixed martial arts, meaning that you can always add strikes with your clinching game. Aside from the threat of strikes, you can also use the threat of submissions to force the opponent on the defensive, instead of them forcing you to defend. Cage control is typically scored in MMA. Make sure that you do your best to stay aggressive throughout the match.


Single Leg Defense In Action

This video details a couple of simple techniques to defend against the single leg takedown. Notice that these techniques are pretty much a combination of the concepts that we went over in this article. You don’t have to overcomplicate things when it comes to defending takedowns. It is a matter of using the proper technique under the right circumstances for almost all situations. 


Drilling And Repetition

Understanding the techniques is just the beginning, as with all things in martial arts. Regular drilling and situational sparring are key so that they become part of your game in time. Talk to your training partners about your intent to drill these defenses, and keep an open mind on their strengths and weaknesses. If you are new to wrestling, the 3 defensive techniques shown in the video above will go a long way.  



Learning how to defend the single leg takedown is an absolute must in today’s grappling landscape. Whether you play Gi or No-Gi, you’ll definitely encounter opponents who prefer to go for the single leg, as it is an easy move to do. The process of learning defense in grappling may take several months of consistent training before it becomes instinctual. Don’t fret if you don’t get all these in the first few weeks of drilling. Stay consistent by drilling these techniques, and we guarantee that you will see improvement in your game in no time.


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