Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was the first combat style to dominate mixed martial arts. Royce Gracie won three of the first four UFC contests by taking opponents down and tapping them out. Most fighters had no idea how to defend against submissions and other grappling techniques back then, giving BJJ fighters a significant advantage during the first era.
Things have changed a lot since then. Even casual MMA fans have basic knowledge about defending against submissions these days. Takedown defense has also significantly improved since then, so BJJ fighters must put more effort into getting their opponents where they want them.
This article will explore the new skills BJJ fighters have to add to their arsenal to be successful in mixed martial arts.
Making The Transition From BJJ To MMA
Here are some of the things you should focus on as you transition from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to mixed martial arts:
Your submission skills won’t mean anything if you can’t get your opponents on the ground. Most modern MMA fighters understand the fundamentals of defending against takedowns, so you’ll have to work for each takedown you get.
One of the most significant weaknesses of BJJ is that students don’t spend enough time working on takedowns. Rolling sessions typically start with both students on their knees, so many BJJ fighters have good ground games and subpar takedowns. That’s enough when you’re only competing against other BJJ fighters or untrained people, but you’ll need more than that to be successful as a mixed martial artist.
That’s where wrestling comes in. Wrestling is dedicated to takedowns and gaining control in top positions, so it complements BJJ perfectly. Focus on all aspects of wrestling when you train since you’ll need to use it offensively and defensively.
Wrestling helps you to dictate where the fight takes place, and it gives you a plan B to go to when things are not going your way in the striking department. If he hadn’t been working on his wrestling, UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou would have probably lost his title when he faced Ciryl Gane at UFC 270. Down two rounds due to Gane out striking him, Ngannou changed things in the third round, using his wrestling to dominate Gane on the ground.
Wrestling is the most natural complement to BJJ. It even improves your effectiveness on the mat and gives you an edge during BJJ tournaments. Judo can also be an excellent complement for BJJ, but the throws judo focuses on are not as effective as wrestling takedowns inside a cage. However, it should be noted that fighters like Ronda Rousey have been able to dominate opponents at the highest levels with their Judo. If you have access to Judo classes at your gym, attending a few classes doesn’t hurt.
2) Muay Thai
MMA fights start with both fighters standing up, so you must be competent at striking to succeed. Muay Thai is arguably the most effective martial art for mixed martial arts, so make it a part of your training program.
Muay Thai teaches you how to fight with your fists, elbows, knees, and shins. It also teaches you how to defend against such attacks and work in a clinch. It pretty much prepares you for any type of striking attack your opponent might launch at you.
Make sure you spend lots of time sparring when you train since you need to build up experience against resisting opponents. You want to develop your striking game to the fullest since there is no guarantee you will be able to take every opponent you face down inside the cage. Some opponents might force you to stand up with them, so you want to be ready to strike against anyone.
Retired UFC veteran Damian Maia was one of the most skilled BJJ aces to compete inside the cage, and his takedowns were pretty good. Still, Maia was often forced to stand and strike when he faced top fighters with top-notch takedown defense like Anderson Silva, Tyron Woodley, and Colby Covington. That was the biggest hurdle that prevented Maia from securing UFC gold since he typically found himself getting outpointed whenever he was forced to stand and bang.
Do not underestimate the importance of striking in MMA. It’s a massive part of the sport, so make it a priority to become the best Muay Thai fighter you can be. If possible, compete in local Muay Thai tournaments since that gives you some striking competition experience.
Taking mixed martial arts classes where BJJ, wrestling, Muay Thai, Judo, and boxing techniques are mixed together will work wonders for you as you transition. There, you’ll learn strategies and techniques that are specific to MMA.
For example, throwing punches on the ground isn’t allowed in wrestling, BJJ, or Judo, but it is in mixed martial arts. You don’t want your MMA debut to be the first time you have to deal with someone throwing punches and elbows at you as you try to work your submission on the ground.
Those punches make a huge difference, so you want to get used to dealing with strikes on the ground. BJJ legend Carlson Gracie Sr. once said, “Punch a black belt in the face once, he becomes a brown belt. Punch him again, purple…”
Training MMA specifically also allows you to develop your striking game when takedowns are in place. That also makes a significant difference in how you perform. It isn’t uncommon in MMA to see a wrestler out-strike a kickboxer despite being less seasoned as a striker. It’s the takedowns. They make people hesitate to throw punches and can even force a fighter to use a less effective fighting stance to avoid getting taken down.
Most importantly, you want to become used to punches, knees, elbows, and shins coming your way as you look to secure takedowns. You’ll probably want to ground most of your opponents, so you should know how to avoid taking hard strikes while shooting in for takedowns or a clinch.
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