MMA Takedown Defense for Dummies


So you’re a striker, eh?

You’ve got dynamite in both fists and a murderous Muay Thai clinch. Heck, you're so dangerous Mirko Cro Cop takes notes as he watches you train high kicks.

But for reasons beyond your understanding, opponents refuse to stand and sling leather with you on fight night. You’ve tried everything, from talking smack about your opponent's mama to questioning his manhood.

Still, no matter what you do or say, you end up on your back within seconds of the opening bell, staring at the lights wondering what went wrong.

Nothing works, despite your best efforts. So you decide to change things up, switching gyms and forcing yourself to train nothing else besides takedown defense.

In your next fight, you grab double underhooks and toss your foe aside after his first takedown attempt. All the hard work seems to have paid dividends. Pride begins ooze from your pores.

But then just like that, the lil' booger shoots in again, picking you up and power-bombing you through the floor like Rampage Jackson.

So now what?

While knowing the mechanics of stuffing a takedown is essential for any mixed martial artist, this post isn’t about just that.


This is about tactics.


What many strikers fail to realize is that being able to stop one takedown isn’t enough to stop your opponent from trying again.


Picture this analogy: You’ve just brought home a puppy and are preparing to house-train him. Right as you approach him with the leash, he makes a beeline for your bed, squats down and pees on it. The next time he tries this, you pick him up before he gets there, put him down, hook up the leash and go outside.


The third time, however, he runs straight for the bed again.


This is akin to just having takedown defense or the ability to sweep your way back to your feet. You’re giving your opponent very little incentive to stop trying to take you down aside from maybe chipping away at his cardio. Mark Munoz and Diego Sanchez proved this in their fights with Yushin Okami and Martin Kampmann, shooting for more than a dozen takedowns each and succeeding on a combined total of three.


Basically, a dedicated wrestler will continue trying to drag you to the ground until and unless he decides he doesn’t want to.


That’s where you come in.


Back to the puppy: Instead of just picking him up when he tries to whizz on your sheets, you give him a little boff on the head with a rolled-up newspaper and yell a bit (making sure not to look directly into his eyes lest you break down and shower him with adoration and little bowties that make him look so adorableriffically cute).


He might try his thing once or twice more, but once you’ve made it VERY clear that you’re not going to tolerate his disobedience, he stops soiling your sheets.


The circuitous point I’m trying to make is that you have to punish your opponent for having the gall to do whatever will best work in his favor. It’s the same principle as launching a left straight into your foe’s face whenever he tries a leg kick or, inversely, taking him to the mat whenever one of his hooks moves his center of gravity a micrometer to the side.


There are two main categories of punishment: Hurting them DURING the takedown and hurting them AFTER the takedown.


My associate, Joachim Hansen, will provide an example of the former on a diving Masakazu Imanari:


As anyone with experience watching MMA will tell you, going to the ground with Imanari is like doing that "stick your head in a crocodile’s mouth" trick without bothering to train the crocodile first.

It turns out to be hideously painful to you and highly entertaining for everyone else.

Against Hansen, he made it absolutely clear that he wanted the Norwegian's leg for breakfast. After a couple of failed leglocks, "Hell Boy" got his timing down and made it absolutely clear that his leg was fine where it was, thank you very much.

Interestingly, he was only four months removed from doing the exact same thing to Caol Uno.

Martin Kampmann did something similar against Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez, locking up front headlocks and Thai clinches off of failed takedowns and punishing them with knees. Had it not been for Kampmann apparently leaving his brain at home, he could have won convincingly on both occasions:


Oh, speaking of Diego, let's introduce him to John Hathaway's heat-seeking patella:


Punishing during the takedown can also be done with grappling.

If it were not for my irrational hatred of all things Diaz, I'd probably link the Gomi fight here, so instead, I'll just mention that the "Uberknees" aren't the only reason taking down Alistair Overeem is a risky proposition.

His eight guillotine wins are also a bit of an incentive to just trade with him. A great front headlock series can submit almost anyone, as exemplified by Joseph Benavidez (over Wagnney Fabiano) and Gesias Cavalcante (over Rani Yahya).


Guess which one of the two above is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt? Here's a hint: it's not NOT the guy getting his windpipe crushed.

Further, sufficiently quick people can take the back in short order off a good sprawl and sufficiently crazy people can jump into a submission:


Martial Combat 10 Superfight Shungo Oyama Vs Brian Gassaway (via ESPNMartialCombat)

So, in short, work the hell out of your guillotine, short elbows off a sprawl,  as well as move those knees, in addition to the proper arm positioning wrestling coaches teach you.

The second category (or the Nogueira principle) is hurting your opponent once he has already taken you down. While this has gotten a bit harder since they banned headbutts, Anderson Silva has made an art out of elbowing opponents mercilessly while they sit in his guard.

A better way of punishing them, though, is having an active guard. Nobody in their right mind would take Shinya Aoki down without a deathwish and/or amputee fetish, for example. By that same token, nobody would take "Big Nog" down, either, because he is an absolute genius at either submitting people from his guard or sweeping his way into top position:


That's 280 pounds of gelatinous heavyweight getting flipped over there.

I've seen countless elite grapplers get nullified by wrestlers who refuse to take risks. What they need to do is turn the very act of being on top of them into a risk.

Paul Daley and Dan Hardy like to complain about wrestlers, but both of them have fallen victim to having one-dimensional grappling defense. And while they have serviceable takedown defense, there's nothing to stop you from shooting on them over and over again, though Hardy did show a fairly good eye for the kimura against Anthony Johnson.

A huge part of MMA is forcing your foe to do what you want, and there's no better way to do it than to convince your opponent that it's in his best interest to fight to your advantage.

Or else!

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