A lot of BJJ competitors will eventually have their attention turned to MMA for a wide variety of reasons and it becomes necessary to adapt the skills they already have to their new sport. Sometimes it’s because the end-goal was always becoming a professional MMA fighter and BJJ was just a means to an end, or sometimes it’s because there aren’t many challenges left in the world of professional grappling. It’s also worth remembering that for the vast majority of BJJ competitors, there isn’t a lot of money to be made in the sport. Professional MMA fighters in the early days of their UFC career will likely make more from competition than some of the best grapplers on the planet do.
How Do You Adapt Your BJJ For An MMA Fight?
Whatever the reason for making the transition to MMA, all of these BJJ competitors need to take the same general steps in order to find success in their new sport. It can definitely be tempting to jump headfirst into the world of professional MMA, attempting to rely on the skills they already have to succeed. If the grappler is exceptionally talented then this approach might even work for a while, and if they have some titles under their belt then they can probably get paid pretty handsomely for doing so. It still happens surprisingly often even today and there are examples of this approach at the very highest levels of the sport, like Kron Gracie. In order to prepare for long-term success at every level of MMA, the foundations of that success have to be built from the very start.
Start Training BJJ For MMA, Not For BJJ
It’s no secret that the most common rulesets used for competitive BJJ encourage a different style of grappling than what has the most success in MMA. While there are definitely professional grapplers who make good use of wrestling-heavy styles that rely on controlling from top positions, the vast majority of BJJ competitors do not. Pulling guard is frequent in BJJ competition and there is a huge number of positions that work brilliantly in the gi, but are virtually useless in no gi competition with strikes allowed. The first port of call should be to identify what positions and techniques don’t work in MMA or what might be less-effective, and removing them from training. Along with that, keeping these three rules in mind will help you succeed conceptually as well:
Get on top, stay on top
This is the golden rule for grappling with strikes involved. The element of gravity means that strikes from a top position can be devastating, whereas strikes from the bottom are significantly less effective. Even positions that are generally considered to be good for BJJ, like closed guard or half-guard, can put grapplers on the receiving end of a TKO in MMA. For that reason, you should never really be happy with taking bottom position in an MMA fight. Obviously there are times when this is unavoidable and everyone gets taken down at some point, but the first thing on the bottom players mind should be to reverse the position.
If you can’t get on top, get up
It’s not always possible for a grappler to sweep an opponent and it’s a common sight in BJJ that they might settle back into playing guard, but this just opens you up to more strikes in MMA. If a sweep is unsuccessful, it should always create some amount of space when the opponent posts out or re-balances to avoid being swept. Using that space to work back to your feet is absolutely vital in MMA, rather than continuing to try and work from your back. Although returning to a striking exchange might not seem appealing to a veteran grappler, it gives you an opportunity to reset the fight and there’s nothing wrong with attempting a takedown shortly after standing up.
Constant offense off your back to achieve these goals
Sometimes a grappler on the bottom is incapable of either getting on top or standing up, usually because the top player has established a strong positional control. Stopping for a moment to asses the situation or attempting to defend for extended periods while an opponent is landing strikes is often a one-way ticket to a TKO loss. Veteran BJJ competitors have the skills for success in these situations though, as threatening submissions off your back is a great way to force an opponent to open up in MMA. This might lead to a submission win or in the worst-case scenario, it prevents strikes from being thrown and helps create sweep or stand-up opportunities. Several UFC world champions like Charles Oliveira and Anthony Pettis have used this kind of relentless offense to huge success in their careers.
Learn The Skills Necessary For Your BJJ To Shine
It’s a common theme among all combat sports veterans transitioning to MMA, but it can be tempting for BJJ competitors to become something of a specialist in the sport. This approach can work for a long time and has even carried some exceptional grapplers or strikers to the very top of the professional MMA world. The fact remains that this approach doesn’t work forever, because specialists in MMA are presenting their opponents with one problem to solve. One-dimensional fighters put themselves in a predicament, because an opponent who is able to avoid their area of specialty suddenly has a very good chance of beating them. BJJ competitors developing in these three ways will find more success, and will get to use their original skills even more due to the variety of threats they offer:
Wrestle, wrestle, wrestle
Some grapplers have tried to find different ways to take the fight to the ground, like Imanari rolls or even pulling guard. While these approaches can definitely work from time to time, they aren’t anywhere near as efficient as actual takedowns. They generally work for MMA with the added element of surprise included, and not when a BJJ competitor is known for doing them or has already attempted them once or twice in that fight. Learning to use wrestling in order to dictate where the fight takes place is the best way to get to use your BJJ in an MMA fight and will only make your overall grappling better as well.
Don’t rely on BJJ, learn to strike for real success in MMA
Elite BJJ and the wrestling necessary to taking the fight to the ground is still not the full story when it comes to becoming a high-level MMA fighter. It can certainly be tempting to develop some rudimentary striking in order to be able to survive on the feet before dragging the opponent down to where you can finish the fight, but this is still not becoming a truly well-rounded fighter. Learning more advanced striking concepts and tactics like effectively cutting off the cage or setting traps takes years, but gaining the ability to do that means that you can outwork opponents everywhere. As for it enhancing your grappling, rocking opponents on the feet can often lead to submission opportunities when they panic-wrestle or when they drop to their back.
Don’t rush into the highest level, work your way up to it
The transition from BJJ to MMA is a lengthy one and trying to speed that up can be a recipe for disaster. As wise men say, ‘it takes as long as it takes’. It can be difficult for grapplers used to competing at a high level to return to a lower level competition, but it’s worth remembering that MMA is essentially a completely new sport. It’s worth taking at least a few amateur fights and sticking to competing on the regional MMA circuit for a while before you ever even consider moving to bigger promotions even if the opportunity does arise. Not just that but while you’re still getting in work in amateur fights, it can be worth taking Muay Thai or kickboxing fights, or even Combat Jiu-Jitsu matches as well. These are incredibly low-pressure ways to work on developing those standing and grounded striking skills against fully resisting opponents, before the stakes get higher.
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