What is Grappling in MMA?

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The combat sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is complex. You require technical superiority in various combat fighting techniques, namely wrestling, boxing, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), and Muay Thai. However, to be successful at a professional level, you also require high levels of fortitude, mental toughness, physical strength, and endurance. 

All these elements combined will give you the upper hand over your opponent. Being well versed in grappling, striking, and clinching and staying focused while maintaining mental awareness is crucial. This said, grappling is considered possibly the most important aspect of MMA fighting. 

If you have a great grappling technique to force submissions and dominant positioning, then it enables you to have more control over the fight. In this article, we’ll discuss what is grappling in MMA and delve deeper into the aspects surrounding grappling techniques. Continue reading and find out more about this technique in MMA!

What is Grappling? 

Grappling is brought into play in various combative sports, namely wrestling, BJJ, Judo, Pehlwani, Sumo, and Combat Jiu-Jitsu. MMA fighting involves a combination of grappling submission techniques from wrestling, Judo, Sambo, and BJJ. 

When MMA started in the 1990s, BJJ fighters reigned as the most successful for their grappling techniques. Today, fighters with wrestling backgrounds have become more dominant in the sport as they’re able to counter the submission of BJJ fighters. It will be to your advantage if you are well versed in offensive grappling techniques in all the combat sports that are used in MMA fights.

The Importance of Grappling

All professional MMA fighters that want to step into the octagon must be well versed in offensive and defensive grappling techniques. You won’t last very long if you don’t have these skills. Grappling allows you to control and dominate the fight by keeping your opponent on the ground, and you’re allowed to apply strikes on your opponent while they’re down.

When MMA tournaments began in the 1990s, most championship fights ended in grappling submissions. Submissions have decreased over the years due to fighters becoming more proficient in the art of grappling.

MMA fighters with extensive experience in the grappling arts are less vulnerable. They’re able to manipulate the fight and wear out their opponents more effectively and quickly. A striker can be disabled and brought to the ground, making them unable to impose their striking skills. When offensive grappling is applied, you place yourself in a dominant position, and you can force your opponent to tap out, or you’ll be in a better position to hail down more lethal strikes. 

Defensive grappling can be applied to counter your opponent’s attempts to bring you down and gain a physical advantage over you. You’ll be able to improve your position or make essential moves to avoid pressure. Having striking skills is important, but you must be very proficient in grappling to survive in MMA.

Success can only be achieved through obtaining a combination of fighting skills. We’ve listed some of the most important grappling fighting styles. This will help you decide which fighting mat you should hit first.

What Judo Brings to MMA Fights

Judo is the combination of the central concepts of throws and takedowns involved in BJJ, Jujitsu (the ancient empty hand fighting style of the Samurai), and Sambo (a fighting style that combines grappling and ground fighting aspects of catch wrestling and Judo). 

A Judoka (a Judo practitioner with a 4th dan or higher) brings diverse skills to the octagon. These fighters have an excellent balance, and they’re armed with various grappling techniques. Once a Judoka is on top of you or has you in a clinch, it’s considerably difficult to escape. 

Judokas are well versed in takedowns. They’re armed with precise hip throws, footsweeps, sacrifice throws, and slams. They can also produce a range of unexpected trips and use your own force to get you down on the ground. Since Judo focuses more on position than submissions, you can overwhelm them with the correct grappling training.

What Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Brings to MMA Fights

BJJ is considered to be the best first combat sport to create a foundation if you want to become a successful professional MMA fighter. BJJ teaches fighters the basic technical elements of grappling, but it’s not an easy sport to learn. 

Royce Gracie introduced this fighting technique to professional MMA sports. In the 1990s, the MMA fighters of the time had never been exposed to BJJ, and they had no clue how to defend themselves against Gracies’ grappling techniques. BJJ fighters started taking advantage of this, and their competitive edge gave them the upper hand against their opponents. Later, other fighters started learning BJJ or simply learned techniques to counteract BJJ grappling. All MMA fighters today are familiar with BJJ, and most MMA fighters commonly use it.

BJJ focuses on steady groundwork, emphasizing gaining control over your opponent, grappling them, and forcing them to submit. BJJ fighters gain control by redirecting their opponents’ force in their favor. A BJJ fighter is trained to engage while lying on their back and is, therefore, more dangerous in the submissive position and inexperienced MMA fighters who’ve not undergone sufficient cross-training find this out the hard way.

What Wrestling Brings to MMA Fights

The majority of MMA fighters today come from a wrestling background. Wrestling builds incredible strength and more importantly, understanding of positioning. Wrestlers are trained from a young age, and the athlete builds phenomenal endurance over the years. 

Wrestlers have the upper hand as they’ve already well-conditioned their bodies and disciplined their minds through the demands of training and participating in professional fights. These training regimens include high-intensity plyometrics training, and these wrestlers have the knowledge of how to diet and cut their weight before a fight.

MMA fighters with a wrestling background have excellent control over their opponents. They’re able to dominate the fight by grappling their opponents into submission, placing them in the perfect position to shower down lethal strikes or get their opposition to tap out.

Whether BJJ or wrestling is the best combat sport to lay a solid foundation for MMA fighting is debatable. BJJ fighting takes a considerable amount of time to learn, and wrestling may be a better option for novice fighters without any BJJ exposure. 

What Sambo Brings to MMA Fights

Sambo is a fighting style made popular by Russian MMA fighters. It’s not used a lot, but it’s effective when used correctly. Not many fighters are familiar with Sambo grappling, so using it will be to your advantage, as most fighters don’t know how to counteract this grappling style. Sambo incorporates effective grappling techniques for defensive fighting. The style uses sweeps, striking, positions of control, and submission techniques. It’s a great weapon to manage the pace of a fight and dictate ground control.

What Muay Thai Brings to MMA Fights

Thai kickboxing, or Muay Thai, which arose in the early 20th century, is a combination of Thai martial arts and western boxing. Muay Thai fights have boxing elements, including setting rules, padded gloves, and setting rounds in a boxing ring. This fighting art focuses on making practitioners stronger and better physically, mentally, and emotionally. It teaches fighters respect, discipline, focus, power, decisiveness, and mindfulness. 

Muay Thai MMA fighters undergo intense physical and mental conditioning, making them known as human weapons. They use their entire body as weapons to fight, excluding their heads, to apply powerful kicks and blows with their feet, shins, fists, knees, and elbows. Muay Thai training involves excellent endurance training, which builds remarkable core strength, which helps them with endurance during multi-round fights.

Muay Thai training is strongly advised to prepare yourself for the octagon. There’s a misconception among some that Muay Thai involves grappling, which is an important component of MMA fights. 

What Comes Under the Grappling Umbrella?

Many grappling techniques are used in MMA fighting. Below is a detailed breakdown of the different methods that fall under the grappling umbrella. All these techniques involve a fighter either gaining a physical advantage, escaping your opponent, forcing an opponent to tap out, or improving your position during a fight


This grappling technique is a method of throwing or taking down your opponent primarily using your upper body. A clinch involves a close hold of your opponent’s head or arms. Both of you will try to prevent your opponent from gaining the upper hand during a clinch move. In this position, you’re able to perform takedowns or strikes. Some of the most common takedowns include the forearm slide to back and the angle/inside block takedowns.


This grappling technique is designed to throw your combatant off balance and get them to the ground. In some instances, this also involves the aggressive maneuvering of your opponent into the air. It consists of a rotation movement on the ground while standing with your opponent. A throw ends with only your opponent on the floor. Regular throws include shoulder and back, hip, pick-ups, and sacrificial throws.


This grappling technique involves you in a standing position forcing your combatant to the mat. The most important thing is getting your opponent off balance, which is sometimes also known as a ‘shoot’ when it’s done fast. Some popular takedowns include the single-leg, double-leg, outside-leg, and ankle-pick-single takedown.


This grappling technique is a defensive move performed as a counteraction to your opponent attempting to take you down. When your opponent tries to ‘shoot’ on you, you can sprawl to keep you from falling down. Sprawling involves popping your legs out behind you, keeping safely away from your combatant’s reach, and then landing your upper body on your opponent’s back. If you can do this correctly, your weight will force your opponent down, giving you the upper hand.

Ground Game

Ground game or ground fighting occurs when you and your opponent are both on the ground. Many strikes, joint locks, and chokeholds can be applied to best your opponent.


Reversals occur when you’re able to maneuver yourself out of a grapple hold to gain the top position. It all depends on seizing the right opportunity to turn your opponent’s mistake into a win.


BJJ grappling techniques are considered the most effective grappling in MMA. BJJ teaches fighters to strike back while on their backs, which surprises some. Most assume that when a fighter is at the bottom of a grapple, he loses, but in BJJ, there are effectively more attacks and submissions at the bottom. You need only one opening to impose a choke or joint lock on getting your opponent to tap out. BJJ has countless reversal, submission, and sweep techniques. 

What’s the Benefits of Learning Grappling for MMA?

Learning grappling techniques will give you the upper hand in an MMA fight. It’s crucial for MMA fighters to have a solid understanding of strikes and grappling with being successful. Avoid being at the mercy of your opponent by learning many grappling techniques. Below are the benefits of learning grappling techniques in more detail.

Meditative Advantages

Learning grappling techniques affects your daily life. It teaches you to remain calm under pressure. For example, when you’re in a fight and your opponent starts coming after you, you don’t have the luxury of time to deliberate with your thoughts on how you’ll react. In doing that, your response will be too late and you’ll be forced into submission before you know it. Once you become well versed in grappling techniques, it’ll become a form of moving meditation.

Combines Problem-solving, Strength, and Cardio

Grappling builds endurance and physical resistance as you deal with your opponent’s body weight. It builds remarkable strength and fitness. In addition, it improves your problem-solving skills and stimulates intellect since your brain must constantly stay focused on your next move. Grappling also involves certain fun and play elements as your mind has to remain constantly engaged in the present.

Builds Mental Toughness and Confidence

After you’ve experienced a choke hold or joint lock, other things that used to bother you will seem trivial in comparison. Having an opponent sitting on top of you is not pleasant, but once you become accustomed to dealing with these situations, you’ll get less stressed coping with issues in your daily life. Also, when you learn to escape and reverse your opponent’s dominance over you, you’ll acquire more confidence to tackle any difficulties that may come your way.

Physiological Advantages

As you learn the art of grappling, your body’s nerve centers and muscles will receive incredible stimulation, thereby sending signals to your physiology to remain youthful and healthy. Grappling utilizes every muscle in your body and it provides complete conditioning.

Builds Friendships

Learning grappling techniques involves the participation of two people. You’re more than likely to become close with your sparring partner. We need people in our personal space, and you’ll build trust with your grappling partner, knowing that you’re safe with them, and they’ll let go if you tap out. It builds strong bonds and friendships over time.  

How to Learn Grappling as a Striker?

Learning grappling techniques takes a lot of training, time, and experience. Fighters with the best grappling techniques have had extensive training in some form of combative sport. If you’re a striker and you have limited grappling exposure and want to learn some techniques, we suggest that you focus on defensive grappling. 

Fighters like Connor McGregor and Israel Adesanya have effective defensive grappling models that have served them well to keep the fights on the feet. We’ve listed three of the most effective grappling techniques for strikers to learn.

The Rear Naked Choke Defense Technique

  • Begin by sitting on the mat with your opponent holding you from the rear in a naked choke.
  • Start by grabbing your opponent’s wrist or forearms with both hands like you’re holding a seat belt.
  • Drive backwards and use your hips to rise away from the mat into a high bridge position (to avoid the chokehold). The higher you bridge upwards, the less likely your opponent will be able to choke you.
  • Elevate yourself from there, elevate your opponent’s arm up, and move your head under their arm and again over the side.
  • Ensure you maintain a firm grip on their arm while maintaining pressure on it.
  • As you finish your rotation, you should have taken the top position.
  • Be careful not to expose your arm while rotating, as this will leave you susceptible to a counter-armbar attack.

The Armbar Defense Technique

Let your training partner lay down on the mat with their back to the ground to set up. Face your opponent while standing on your knees in their guard position. Let your opponent grab your arm to set the armbar defense. 

  • Allow your partner to swing their leg around your neck to start the armbar grapple.
  • Grab your bicep with your arm held in place and set down your free arm on your opponent’s hamstring.
  • Ensure to grab their hamstring deep to impose more control over your opponent.
  • Move your arm deeper into the hamstring to get more control and avoid getting arm barred.
  • Then move to the side of your combatant until you’re perpendicular to your combatant’s body.
  • Bring your outside leg up to 90 degrees to balance yourself. Your opposite leg must still be in the kneeled position.
  • Press your elbow on your partner’s face to add extra pressure and deter them from continuing to armbar you.
  • Continuously apply pressure to your opponent’s hamstring.
  • Apply your body weight to keep pressure on your opponent’s head.
  • Remove your arm from your opponent’s grasp.
  • Once you’ve cleared your opponent’s grip. You must circle to your combatant’s opposite side.
  • Form a side control position.

The Foot Lock Defense Technique

  • Start by sitting on the mat and facing your combatant.
  • Position your foot to secure a foot lock.
  • Ensure your other foot is secure on the ground.
  • Push off your opponent’s outside leg and hold it with your outside hand.
  • Keep pressure on your combatant’s leg.
  • Move your body towards the leg that’s pinned.
  • Once you’re in position, you can lift yourself onto your combatant’s pinned leg.
  • Continue to move up until you’re cleared.
  • Push your combatant’s leg away and bring the free leg into a scramble position.

What’s the Benefits of Learning Grappling?

By now, you should be convinced about learning some grappling technique, but if you’re still not convinced, we’ve included a breakdown of more advantages you can expect when you’ve mastered the art of grappling. 

Effective Defense

Learning grappling techniques and styles will give you the upper hand in a fight as you’ll be able to anticipate grappling tactics used by your opponent and effectively defend yourself. Grappling defensive skills are important to ensure that you don’t make yourself vulnerable to attacks. Professional MMA fighters have the know-how to quickly pick-up on their opponent’s weaknesses during a fight because they are skilled in grappling techniques. 

Mix Up Your Offense

The more grappling styles you learn will give your fighting offense more dimension. If you constantly don’t evolve your offensive tactics, you’re not going to last very long. Once you know more grappling techniques you’ll be able to quickly notice your opponent’s weak points and cash in on it by attacking those weaknesses.

Develop a More Complete Game

It’s a fact that champion MMA fighters understand how important grappling is to their longevity and success in MMA. To reap the benefits, you must utilize an intelligent game plan. Ultimately, you must optimize your skills to include a strategy with grappling techniques to fight more competitively. 


If you’re planning a professional career in MMA, you must learn at least two of the four grappling martial arts to be successful. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an excellent skill to learn, but it’s better when you have some wrestling, Sambo, or Judo to compliment it.

Although they are similar, each is unique and has its unique advantages. MMA fighting has evolved significantly since 1990, and you need to be well versed in grappling exchanges if you’re planning on becoming an MMA fighter. 

It’s important to remember that there’s really no such thing as a superior grappling technique, but you can learn a lot from each grappling style. Also, it’s good to remind you that prominent past and present MMA champions have learned more than one grappling technique. 

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