When conducting an analysis of a fighter, there are four main areas to look at:
Each of these can be broken down into offensive and defensive aspects.
There are 2 main things to look at in MMA, boxing and kickboxing. Instead of going through an entire breakdown of each individual style, like Western/European boxing, Muay Thai, Karate, Western Kickboxing, etc. We are just going to lump them into each area, punching and kicking.
Entire books have been written about boxing. It is a very old sport that has developed and evolved along it very limiting rule sets. As such, much of what makes a good boxer, doesn’t work in MMA. For example, in boxing, a fighter can put up his hands and use his large gloves to protect himself from strikes. In MMA, the smaller gloves make such a defensive maneuver much less effective. The strikes are more apt to slip through and connect, compared to boxing.
There is also a problem with range and wrestling in MMA that doesn’t exist in boxing. While a boxer can keep a high, straight up stance, an MMA fighter has to have a much wider base in order to sprawl and defend against takedowns. The high stance of a boxer would immediately entice a wrestler or BJJ guy to take it to the ground.
So what boxing skills do translate over to MMA?
1. Combinations. A fighter that throws good combinations have a much higher success rate than one-punch wonders and brawlers who attempt to overwhelm with hay-makers. A proper combination sets up the power hits and disrupts opponents. Therefore, determine who uses combinations the best, and be sure to include their ability to be unpredictable. A fighter who only throws a jab + cross combo with the same hands each time, is setting themselves up for the proper counter. So determine who mixes up their combos to be the most unpredictable.
2. Feints. In conjunction with proper combinations, feints allow a fighter to keep their opponent off guard, but also open up their defense. When a fighter feints well, they make their opponents react. That can signal what their split second reaction is to a certain strike, and then allows the fighter to fake and catch them off guard. Good feints are also highly effective at disrupting an opponent’s game plan and rhythm.
3. Footwork. It is much harder to hit a moving target. It is even harder to hit a target that is always moving away from your power hand. Therefore, look at the way a fighter moves while engaging. If they are dart back and forth, or constantly circle in different directions, they are much harder to hit. Good fighters know how to move their feet and not just stand there and get peppered while they blindly slug away.
4. Head movement. Since MMA gloves are so small and KOs are much more common than in boxing, a defensive move like proper head movement gives a fighter a huge advantage. Slipping a punch with a slight tilt of the head while throwing leather decreases the likelihoods of those flash knockouts that some like to label “the lucky punch”. Fighters with good head movement are less likelier to be caught.
Just like boxing, kicking another human being is an amazing art form. These is truly evident in the large number of different disciplines that use it. For our purposes, we are going to look at a few main principles that make a good kickboxer.
1. Hip rotation. A good kick gets its power from the snapping hip rotation of a fighter. A fighter that rotates their hips will be far more effective than one that doesn’t.
2. Hands Dropping. One of the most frustrating thing to watch in a fight is a veteran fighter dropping their hands when throwing a low-kick. It is a recipe for disaster that will eventually strike. Always be wary of a fighter that drops their hand when kicking. It will catch up with them.
3. Combinations. Again, the effective mixing of strikes in an intelligent way will increase the likelihood of success. A good kickboxer will setup devastating kicks with a good boxing combination that focuses their opponents attention elsewhere. That way, they don’t even know they just got kicked in the thigh, until it starts to hurt after the exchange.
The clinch is the very common position that fighters take when they move past normal striking distance and are maneuvering against the cage/ropes. It is kind of like a standing grappling competition with dominant position at stake. There are a few positions that need to be understood to really understand who will have an edge during the fight.
1. Hooks. Fighters will attempt to get their arms under their opponent’s arms. This gives them much more control and presents far more offensive opportunities to the fighter. They can drop for takedowns, get some dirty boxing in, knee, or execute Judo throws. Greco-Roman wrestlers, tend to have the advantage when it comes to using hooks.
2. Knees. This is where the Muay Thai guys shine. If they can get that Thai Plum (both hands around the back of the head and their elbows on the opponents shoulders) it can be a quick fight. A busy fighter will also execute knees in the clinch to the thighs and midsection to wear their opponents out. It probably won’t end a fight, but it does accumulate damage.
3. Dirty Boxing. The art of hitting a guy while up close. These aren’t power shots, they are usually just quick hooks that accrue damage, much like knees.
4. Takedowns. Strong wrestlers and Judo fighters can usually turn clinch work into ground fights. Always assume that the stronger wrestler will be able to get the takedown in the clinch.
Wrestling is probably one of the most important skills in MMA. Whoever has the best wrestling will be able to dictate where the fight occurs. Now with wrestling, there are several areas that need to be covered.
1. Takedowns. These need to be evaluated not just from inside the clinch, but from the standing position. A good wrestler will feint with a strike or time their takedowns with their opponent’s strikes. The better the wrestler’s double-leg takedown, the more they will drive through their opponents and get their hips lower than the oppositions. The better the single-leg takedown, the more they will rotate in the opposite direction of their head, and the more they will utilize trips. Those are the two most common takedowns in MMA.
1. Sprawl. The sprawl is the most common defense to a takedown attempt in wrestling. Most wrestlers have drilled sprawling so much that it is second nature. It involves the kicking out the feet and hips and preventing the opponent from getting their hips low enough to drive through on their takedowns. A good sprawls requires heavy hips that stay very low to the ground and putting the weight of the body on the opponents head.
Not every grappler is equal. Some guys are great from the top, some from the bottom. Of all of the disciplines in MMA, grappling is probably the most complex. Anyone can learn decent striking or wrestling in a few years, but learning BJJ takes a large amount of time to truly understand all of the different aspects of the game. For our purposes, we are going to look at a fighters Top Game and Bottom Game.
Top game is how a fighter does while in their opponents guard. Do they attempt to pass and move to superior positions? Do they have effective ground and pound?
1. Heavy Hips. Most wrestlers have the heavy hips required to maintain their position while on top. They keep their hips in close and don’t allow their opponents to create a lot of room between them in order to work submission or escapes. So, a fighter that keeps their hips close to their opponent has heavy hips
2. Guard Passing. Good grapplers are always trying to improve their positioning. Sitting in someone’s guard is actually a pretty neutral position. Moving past that guard and trying to attain the mount or the opponents back is a sure way to end the fight with a submission. It is more difficult to do while in the guard.
3. Ground and Pound. Many high level grapplers tend to leave this out of their fight game. Hitting an opponent while on top can not only result in a T(KO), but it also opens more opportunities for passing the guard or sinking in a submission. The proper use of the GnP is to not only hurt an opponent, but make them think about something other than the submission currently being attempted.
A fighter’s bottom game is highly dependent on a few major areas.
1. Hip Movement. Just like a good top game requires heavy hips, a good bottom game requires moving the hips away from the opponent (hipping out), and creating space. This is usually best done by moving at an angle and by the fighter not staying flat on their back.
2. Reversals/Escapes. Fighters with good reversals and escapes are always working possible submissions and moves that will translate into taking top position.
3. Stretchy Legs. In order to attain submission from the bottom, a fighter requires not only the creation of room, but creeping their legs up near their opponents head in order to sink in chokes or armbars. Fighters with low flexibility will be unable to pull off such moves and will be in a lot of danger while on their backs.