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Adapting Your Wrestling For MMA - Setting Up Shots

Adapting Your Wrestling For MMA - Setting Up Shots


Wrestling is one of the most sought after skills in the world of MMA. The fighter that wins the wrestling exchanges will dictate where a fight takes place. If you're primarily a striker, then your ability to defend takedowns will determine whether or not you're able to keep the fight standing. If you're primarily a grappler, then your ability to execute takedowns will determine whether or not you can get the fight to the mat.

At first glance this seems like a dream for wrestlers just starting off in MMA. Whichever area that their opponent is better then them at, they simply use their wrestling to keep the fight in the opposite area. The problem is that regardless of what combat sport you started with, the rules of MMA are much broader, so you'll need to adapt your skills so that they work against moves or techniques that would otherwise be illegal in your original sport. Wrestling is no exception.

A common sight in many MMA gyms, is that of a recent High School or Collegiate graduate coming in and wanting to join the fight team. They had a pretty good run in the Wrestling room and would like to transition those skills to MMA. During their first few wrestling practices they do fairly well, maybe even really well. Taking down fighter after fighter with relative ease. But later down the road when they start sparring MMA, things change. They can no longer finish their takedown attempts, and instead find themselves being takedown. So what's different?

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If you just stood in front of a good wrestler and randomly took shots without setting them up, it would be very unlikely that you would complete any of those takedown attempts. Without any setups, your opponent would see each shot coming from a mile away and would easily defend them. In that sense, MMA is no different. You still have to setup each shot. The difference is how you do it.

In MMA you’re operating at a much further range then you would in Wrestling. This is obviously due to the addition of Striking. If you constantly stood at what would be a Wrestling range, you would get punched in the face.... a lot. But because of the further range, majority of the setups that you're probably used to aren't going to work. Fighting for hand control, collar ties, arm drags, etc. These are all things that you can't do when you're standing at MMA range. (Note: They can be "adapted" for use on the cage wall. But that's a whole other topic onto itself.)

There are three primary principles that you're going to use to setup your shots in MMA. Striking Offense, Striking Defense, and Movement. Developing setups in all three areas is going to be key to finishing your shots in the open mat.

Striking Offense

Just as the name implies, you're going to use strikes to setup your shot. The general principle is that by throwing strike to your opponent’s head, you can accomplish two things. 

  1. It will get you into a range where you're close enough to complete a good shot. 
  2. When your opponent brings their hands up to defend from being hit in the head, they won't be able to use them to defend the takedown. Thus making the takedown easier to complete.

It's a fairly simple principle, but can be made more intricate at higher levels. For instance, a favorite strike of many wrestlers is the overhand right. The reason for this is that you can start the punch with a quick level change before throwing it. By making that initial level change, you put your opponent in a position where they have to make a quick decision. Hands up to defend the punch, or hands down to defend the takedown. They can't do both, and many times it can result in your opponent freezing like a deer in headlights.

Striking Defense

Defensively, striking is a little more technically demanding. Simply covering up may defend a few strikes, but if you're posing no threat back at your opponent, then there's no reason for them to stop striking you. Eventually they will work their way through your guard. A better option would be to use proper defensive blocks and head movement to avoid strikes initially, then take your shot when your opponent is committed to a particular strike.

For example; when throwing a hook it requires rotating the same side hip over with the punch. This is how a hook generates power. If you made a level change and dipped under your opponents hook, their hips would be rotated over at the same time you took your shot. This would make it very difficult for them to mount any sort of defense from that point.


This one is actually applicable in both MMA and Wrestling. It's the art of manipulating your opponent's movement without making any physical contact. Circling around your opponent, backing up so they follow, marching in so they back up. These are all things that can manipulate your opponent into the direction that you want them to go in. The key to using that with your shots is getting them to over commit.

A great example is the in and out darting that's popular amongst Karate practitioners. Repeatedly darting in to land strikes then back out. If your opponent launches in to chase you down when you're trying to dart back out, a simple level change will put you in the proper position, and their own forward momentum will take care of the penetration step for you.

Understanding these three principles will go along way in both finishing and defending takedowns.

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