MMA Defense: 5 Essential Techniques You Need To Know

No combat sport on the planet demands as much from a competitor as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). The modern fighter must adopt a Swiss Army Knife approach to counter the multitude of threats aimed their way. Excelling in this game requires proficiency in multiple core disciplines, which include Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and Wrestling. 

As such, the most crucial aspect of MMA is defense. Without the ability to escape dangerous situations, even the most talented offensive fighter is fair game. Whether it is strikes on the feet or submissions on the floor, hazards are aplenty. By mastering these five essential MMA defense techniques, you can improve your chances of navigating through the storm.


1) Movement And Distance Management

All mixed martial arts fights begin on the feet. Therefore, it is crucial to understand essential MMA techniques aimed at avoiding damage from strikes. One of the most tried and trusted ways of avoiding damage inside the cage is to know when it’s time to move.  

Great movement and distance management are crucial. They make a competitor a difficult puzzle to solve for the most common striking styles in MMA. To apply this art, one must master a couple of key components – lateral footwork and head movement. By dedicating time to improving your movement and distance management, you can avail yourself of the following.

  • Limit Damage – Mastering head movement can help you avoid taking too many shots. This can keep you fresh and, in the fight, but may also extend your career.
  • Increased Counter Attacks – When perfected, strong movement and distance management skills can help a fighter circle out of trouble and set up opportunities to answer back.
  • Exhausting For The Opponent – Tricky movers can drain an opponent’s gas tank by forcing them to chase. A great example of this was Holly Holm’s masterclass against Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.
  • Unravel Gameplans If done right, becoming an elusive target can cause the opponent to become frustrated. This can reveal key tells and signs of an opponent’s attack while raising the potential for complacency.
  • Appeal To Judges Consistently escaping attacks while landing your shots will be a hit with both the crowd and the judges. 

Movement and distance management are among the most essential techniques in MMA to practice. They can only be improved through repetition – although you must adjust them to the type of fighter you meet inside of the cage. A short, stocky southpaw boxer and a lanky, orthodox kickboxer will present different challenges. 

These techniques are best worked on in light sparring at the gym with a good, reliable training partner. Before sparring, watch videos of master movers and evaders like Anderson Silva and Israel Adesanya to observe the execution behind their movement. Adriano Moraes of ONE Championship is another masterful fighter who used movement and exceptional distance management to his advantage.


2) Blocks And Checks

Slick head movement and counterstriking are beautiful to watch. Although not considered as flashy, blocking and checking are essential MMA techniques to learn. This is a sport where you must anticipate a wide array of strikes – punches, kicks, knees, and elbows are all permitted. And a great understanding of Muay Thai principles can help you keep your house safe.

Blocks and checks form the second line of defense in MMA. It may appear that they are only useful for limiting damage from direct strikes – that is not exactly true. In MMA, strikes can be used to open the door for takedowns and submission attempts, too, which makes it vital to know which ones to use. Here are five essential MMA techniques under this banner, which include catches and parries.

  • High And Low Blocks – The easiest way to discern between high and low blocks is to think about the purpose each serves. High blocks are when you move your guard up in anticipation of strikes to the face, while the low block protects your abdomen and lower part of the body.
  • Inside Block – By pushing your elbow outward, you can protect your body from kicks and strikes. When timed right, it can be a painful lesson for your opponent should they meet what is effectively a guard to the target.
  • Checks – These are essential to dealing with a proficient leg kicker. Dustin Poirier dismantled Conor McGregor at UFC 257 when he identified McGregor’s inability to check his low kicks. Good checking technique can also damage the opponent.
  • Catches – While not exactly a block, a catch is a well-executed anticipation of a strike. It can immobilize the opponent and leave them unbalanced, with the potential to sweep and take them to the floor. 
  • ParriesOne of the most important defensive techniques in MMA, the parry is a tremendous tool for fighters to take into the cage. Parries require minimal movement but exceptional timing. They open up counter opportunities that can catch an opponent by surprise.

The techniques above can be perfected in training. Partners playing both the defensive and offensive roles can benefit from practicing these moves, as they can identify shortcomings from each side. We also recommend studying masters who exhibited tremendous technical ability in these areas. 

One of the best defensive fighters of all time is ONE Championship’s Demetrious Johnson. Johnson regularly used many of the techniques above to write his name into the history books and is an excellent teacher to follow.


3) Defense In The Clinch

One of the most valuable MMA defense techniques is perfecting the Muay Thai clinch. Much of this has to do with the fact that it takes time to hone the craft. Nevertheless, clinch work is essential to improving your MMA defense and should never be passed on. 

Fighters with a strong clinch game possess a serious advantage over those who don’t – this can often be the equalizer between fighters of ostensibly similar skill sets. 

  • Potential For Damage – It’s a dangerous alley to traverse – however, if you have mastered the clinch, you can use this position against your opponent to inflict brutal damage.
  • Multiple Access – There is no single clinch, which makes a master so dangerous. You can study and employ the double collar-tie, the single collar-tie, double underhooks, double overhooks, the cross lock, and other ways to gain ascension.
  • Fight Control The clinch presents a means of controlling your opponent and applying serious damage on the inside. From a defensive position, good clinch work can limit any punishment taken and open doors to advantages. It can also win you close rounds.
  • Recovery – Great defensive clinch work in MMA can allow a masterful clincher some breathing time. If an opponent is finding lots of success on the outside, you can negate this by locking them in the clinch. 
  • Finishing – One of the best ways to avoid damage, or be knocked out, is to get to your opponent first. Knees and elbows are some of the most devastating tools in a fighter’s arsenal. If you are proficient in the clinch, it will be much easier to land finishes this way.

The Muay Thai clinch is an integral component of MMA. The “Art Of Eight Limbs” is the world’s foremost striking discipline and fits tightly into the sport. Despite the presence of wrestling and BJJ in MMA, most aspects of the clinch still apply. The best defense is offense, as explained in the ultimate guide to the Muay Thai clinch, so keep this in mind. 

Naturally, the best defensive techniques in MMA are the ones effective for most styles. Therefore, it pays to be conservative when applying the clinch against those with tricky Muay Thai bases, larger wrestlers, or advanced BJJ practitioners. 


4) The Sprawl

Some strike-oriented beginners may be asking, what is sprawling in MMA? The sprawl is one of the most essential MMA defense techniques you will learn early on. Mainly because of its effectiveness from the basic to elite levels. Sprawling is the first physical aspect of stuffing a takedown and can be used to prevent a wrestler from gaining a serious advantage on the ground.  

There are three basic steps to sprawling, which should be practiced for maximum effect. Here’s how it works.

  • Anticipate The Takedown Read your opponent’s movement to anticipate an incoming takedown. Ensure you are balanced and ready to execute. 
  • Engage The Sprawl – When the opponent moves in, step back on one leg, drop both your hips to the mat, and extend your legs out behind you.
  • Drive Your Hips – Press your hips into your opponent while keeping your balance. Keep your head raised.

It is crucial to ensure you time the drive of your hips while maintaining good form with the posture of your head. These will ensure that the sprawl is effective in applying the right amount of pressure and weight on the opponent when they come in. When the timing and posture are not right, the ability to use the sprawl as a robust defense mechanism may be compromised. The greats will tell you this. 

Although the days of sprawl and brawl in MMA are long gone, the sprawl is an essential technique to learn for budding mixed martial artists. Legendary fighters including Georges St-Pierre, Jose Aldo, and Robbie Lawler are great examples of great sprawlers. Many use it as the key ingredient of their takedown defense. 


5) Shrimping

The last of our essential techniques for MMA defense is shrimping. Also known as the hip escape, it is a valuable asset to any practitioner looking to ensure their safety in grappling exchanges. In addition to movement, blocks, clinch defense, and the sprawl, it can seriously raise your game with good practice. 

Shrimping is one of the most important grappling techniques in MMA that strikers moving over to the sport should learn. But competitors of all backgrounds may never stop trying to perfect it. Here are just a handful of reasons why.

  • Escaping From The Bottom Dominant positions held by the opponent can be turned over with shrimping. This technique makes life more difficult by creating space and limiting their control.
  • Defending Submission Attempts – With additional room to maneuver, you can defend against oncoming submission attempts. This is made possible by moving your hips and remaining active rather than static.
  • Recovering Guard – Your defense positioning is crucial to recovering your guard, so you need your shoulders and hips to reclaim your guard. Doing so denies your opponent a way to execute submission attempts and makes it difficult to attempt to ground-and-pound.

One of the most effective skills in MMA is shrimping, and it should be an essential part of your ongoing training. Shrimping makes life more difficult for any opponent, especially when you use it to escape the mount and side control. Technically, it’s a skill that seems easy on paper but relies upon effort to master. The rewards make it worth the extra time spent on the mat.

It is worth noting that shrimping is also good for transitions, such as regaining your guard. It can also be instrumental in an attacking sense, where submissions are concerned. Learning to shrimp in MMA can really make a difference!



These MMA defense techniques can be practiced with your training partners at the gym. Factors like timing and anticipation are necessary when perfecting your defensive skillset. This means you should dedicate as much as possible to mastering the basics and embedding them into your skillset. 

You can also watch instructional videos to get a better sense of how to better execute movement and distance management. There are advanced MMA footwork and drills that can also help. Blocks and checks should be practiced in sparring, as it is difficult to replicate scenarios where you need to avoid shots when training alone. 

One of the essential MMA defense techniques on this list involved the Muay Thai clinch. Along with the sprawl and shrimping, these are tools that must be sharpened at the gym. With the right application and patience, you will see improvements in your techniques.


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