In the Art of Stresling, I argue that strestling is not something one resorts to just to compensate for a lack of pure striking skills as in the case of almost all strestlers in MMA history (e.g. Chael Sonnen, the Dagestani team, …). To the contrary,
The better the striking skills, the better the strestling. This is similar to the boxing / kickboxing comparison. Sure, Muay Thai fighters have to kickbox because they can’t afford to be too reliant on boxing. But there are plenty of kickboxers with elite boxing skills. Just as being good at boxing is a bad argument to abandon kickboxing, being good at striking is a bad argument to abandon strestling.
In this article, I discuss the case of Merab Dvalishvili and myself to a lesser degree. Both of us rely on strestling in MMA, yet both of us are much better strikers than we are grapplers. Why do we keep trying to take the fight down when we’re better on our feet?
1. Rules Don’t Care About Skills
In the end, the single most dominant position in MMA is on the ground in top position (ideally in mount). If I were to use a deliberate strategy of staying on my feet, it would mean that I have to forego the most dominant position of the sport. Why would I ever do that, even if I was a world champion at kickboxing?
I am well aware of the often cited argument: “fight where you are best”. The problem is that stand-and-bang only works against people who can’t strestle. So if the goal is to attain GOAT status, pure strikers inherently remove themselves from that conversation, due the existence of an entire class of strestlers who can destroy them.
I will repeat a point I have made in the past: if the legendary BJJ GOAT Gordon Ryan himself were to offer me an MMA fight where I get to pick where we start, I would always and without exception choose the ground in pretty much any top position. And I say that as a striker.
2. Strestlers Out-Strike Strikers
If you take 2 equally skilled MMA fighters where one’s a pure striker and the other’s a strestler, the strestler will out-strike the striker. But why?
Striking is a game of deception. To win at striking, one must be able to cause damage to the opponent, and to then threaten that same damage only to land a different kind of damage than the one that was being telegraphed – a feint-based setup. The greater the avenues for damage, the greater the ability to feint.
Conversely, the lower the diversity of techniques, the fewer things the defender has to worry about, which makes him less reactive. Without reactions, feints stop working. In the fight between Merab Dvalishvili and Petr Yan, we have a striking-dominant strestler against a pure striker. Merab can land all the techniques the Petr can land and can setup combos with the same feints. But Merab can also shoot for the legs, which means Petr also has to react to level changes whereas Merab doesn’t.
Result: Petr got out-classed. The fight was almost entirely a stand-up battle, yet Merab kept coming with the leg attacks. Merab can telegraph a single leg, forcing Petr to sprawl (thereby presenting his chin), only to follow with a hook, uppercut, knee, or overhand.
If you’re a striker in MMA, you will have a much easier time striking when you can credibly threaten leg attacks. Of course, this does require a minimal level of wrestling skills. Also, the opponent will be more likely to react to leg attacks, the better you are at ground-and-pound; it won’t matter if they can just reverse you or get back up.
So, even here, the striker has a strong incentive to engage in offensive grappling as a means of having an advantage on the feet.
Having spent the past year studying and implementing Khabib Nurmagomedov’s ground game, I can confirm that opponents became much more reactive to level changes which benefits me on my feet.