MMA Explained

Martial arts is one of my favorite topics to write about. MMA happens to be my premiere interest when it comes to sports. Of course, there is also a matter of principle. The Solar Prince is not only an artist and intellectual, but also a fighter. Clearly, well-roundedness and polymathy is an Apollonian trait. To that end, I hope that this article will inspire people to take a greater interest in the discipline of MMA.

What Is MMA?

Let me begin by saying that MMA is not the freak-show that it was in the 1990’s. Every fighter has some technical proficiency in every discipline. The jack-of-all-trades trend began in the late 90’s and has only become more pronounced. With that said, most fighters have a niche and they use the skills they have in every other discipline to bring the fight to where they are most comfortable. The problem is that the wrestler has the final say as to where the fight happens, despite how badly strikers like to pretend that they can “keep the fight up” (no, they can’t) and despite all the nonsense Jiu Jitsu people tell themselves about how they are ok with being on their backs (no, they aren’t).


The wrestler decides whether the fight stays standing, on the ground, in the clinch, or at boxing range. Why? Because in MMA, there are 2 kind of weapons. To use a missile analogy, you have delivery mechanism (the rocket) and a payload (bomb, bioload, whatever). Wrestling and straight kicks are a delivery mechanism, as they determine range and position. Punches and submissions are the payload, as they require a certain range and position to be of any value. Granted, wrestling slams can be their own paylod and so can round kicks, but those are high-energy / low-percentage techniques, against wrestlers. Generally, punches and submissions are what determine the winner, whereas wrestling and straight kicks are used to establish the desired position where punches or submissions can take place.

As such, wrestling is the core of MMA. If MMA were a programming language, wrestling is to MMA what C is to C++. I know that some in the martial artists world would disagree with this school of thought. However, wrestlers are undeniably the most successful athletes in MMA. Let’s take a look at the GOATs:

  • George St-Pierre started with a Karate background and ended up being one of the best wrestlers in the game. He was known to throw an excellent back kick in situations when he wanted more range.
  • Jon Jones is an excellent wrestler and is known for his straight kicks to the knees. Usually being the taller fighter, he likes to use those kicks to keep a safe distance where he can use his long limbs for striking.
  • Anderson Silva is one of the greatest strikers in UFC history and has a Jiu Jitsu black belt. His wrestling is mediocre, at best. By comparison, Chael Sonnen was mediocre at every aspect of MMA except wrestling. He took Silva down for 5 rounds and smesh him. Chael got caught in an unlucky triangle late in the 5th round, but up until that point, Silva was getting mauled.
  • Khabib Nurmagomedov is universally considered the best wrestler in UFC history. He had an undefeated record, never lost a round, and he smesh that classless loudmouth Conor McGregor while making it look easy.

The bottom line is this: wrestling is domination. The wrestler, both in skill and mindset, is fundamentally the predator. Everyone else is just trying to survive (eww, yuck). I would rather lose as the dominator than to win as a survivor.


Some of you might be wondering why I don’t say that straight kicks are also the core of MMA. The simple answer is that wrestlers can easily learn to deal with those. But kickers can’t easily learn to wrestle. Sooner or later, the wrestler will get past those legs, in boxing range. Guess what? Boxing range is wrestling range. Game over, straight-kicker.

That brings us to striking, in general. Round kicks eventually get catched and when they do, the wrestler will take the fight down and smesh. Similarly, boxing requires a weight transfer to the lead leg, which opens the door to leg attacks (single leg, ankle pick…). And then, the wrestler puts the striker on his back and smesh.

To cope with the takedown threat, some strikers opt to kick less and be more mobile. But that will create another problem. Firstly, the striker will back himself into a corner or against the cage (if it’s an octagon). Once there, clinching becomes inevitable and… you guessed it… takedown + smesh. But even if the striker survives, being extra mobile backwards and laterally requires a lot of oxygen. The striker will tire and get smesh.

The Khabib vs Conor fight illustrates this perfectly. The more recent 2nd fight between Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan demonstrates a similar point.

Jiu Jitsu

Here’s the thing. I love Jiu Jitsu. I’m truly a fan of the sport and it is admittedly a crucial aspect of MMA. But… I have never seen such lazy unathletic people as in Jiu Jitsu. The champions of the sport are a glaring exception, of course. I mean that the average Jiu Jitsu practitioner, when compared to the average wrestler, is basically like comparing Homer Simpson to He-Man. Joe Rogan famously said on his podcast how shocked he was at how wrestlers train. Oh yes. If you haven’t wrestled, you don’t know the meaning of the word “exercise”.

So ok, let’s discount the nobodies and just look at the champions. Still, we have another problem. Jiu Jitsu is primarily taught in Brazilian / Gracie Jiu Jitsu schools and they tend to be a bit culty. It’s not a full-on church sermon or anything (although that has happened) but they do usually package their services with a bundle of values, customs, weird handshakes, and so on. It’s really cringe for anyone who just wants to learn the sport.

But anyways, more to the point. This cultiness of Jiu Jitsu creates somewhat of an echo chamber. As a result, Jiu Jitsu people have a fundamentally incorrect perception of what they are capable of and what they are not.

For example, one of the most common misperceptions is the idea that they can fight on their backs. In Jiu Jitsu, the full guard is a very dangerous spot for the person on top, as he is open to a triangle, armbar, kimura, omoplata, and he can be sweeped. In MMA, those threats are still there but Jiu Jitsu guys run into the following problem.

> Ok, he’s in my guard. Let me try a tr- smesh.

> Never mind. I’ll instead go for a kim- smesh.

> ****. I gotta deal with the strikes. Let me try to swee- smesh.

You get the idea. The full guard is a dangerous spot, even in MMA… but not as dangerous. In MMA, I would rather be in someone else’s guard than to be on my back. But even then, who the heck still hangs around in full guard? That’s some very old school MMA. In modern MMA, wrestlers pass the guard either straight to side control, or at least a half-guard. Why? Because that’s half the battle to get to mount (i.e. sitting on the chest) – an ideal position to smesh.

Now, here’s the thing. Offensive Jiu Jitsu on top is still effective in MMA. But that takes us back to the core of MMA. The wrestler decides whether you get to use your Jiu Jitsu skills or not. To use offensive Jiu Jitsu, you have to be… the better wrestler. Does that put Jiu Jitsu into perspective a little?

I would recommend watching the fight between Khamzat Chimaev (a no-name wrestler) and Gilbert Burns (4x Jiu Jitsu world champion). Khamzat was able to take Gilbert down and cut him open with elbows. After a while, Khamzat got reckless decided that he wanted a striking match. As he was getting the better end of the striking, Gilbert tried to take Khamzat down, and Khamzat pretty much decided “not today”.

That’s the power and role of wrestling. There is no substitute for it. In fact, the top 5 MMA gyms specifically offer at least 1 hour of wrestling per week, whereas most MMA gyms don’t.


Any striker who thinks he will learn Jiu Jitsu “in case I get taken down” simply doesn’t understand MMA. Any Jiu Jitsu person who thinks he will learn to strike and use “Jiu Jitsu” for the grapping is delusional. The wrestler decides whether you’re a striker or a grappler. If you are anything but the wrestler, you might still win… but only as the survivor of the fight. The only way to deal with wrestling is better wrestling. No “takedown defense” or “anti-wrestling uppercuts” (lol) or “defensive Jiu Jitsu” is going to save you.

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Conceptual Open-Source License (COSL)

The original ideas and arguments presented herein are published under the COSL license.