How To Combat A Boxer In MMA

Boxing is a crucial discipline for any mixed martial artist to have in their skill set. As such, striking in the sport relies heavily on boxing fundamentals.

For a fighter accustomed to a boxing gym, the emphasis on punching the right way so as to defend yourself while you strike is among the first things to learn. As strikes are only permitted with the fists in the sport, the body positioning and stance are naturally adjusted to get the best out of your strikes.

Without having to worry about leg kicks, takedowns, and getting into positions which would leave a fighter vulnerable to other attacks molds a boxer into a different shape than a mixed martial artist, kickboxer or Muay Thai fighter. Inside the cage, things are completely different, meaning that the boxer must adapt both his defensive and offensive approaches.

Over the years, the debate surrounding who would emerge with bragging rights from a high-level boxer vs. high-level mixed martial artist has died down a little. UFC legend Randy Couture demonstrated how easy it is to dominate a boxer (multi-division legend James Toney) with no ground game. This was just a couple of years after boxing’s Ray Mercer knocked former UFC heavyweight champion, Tim Sylvia, into another world in just six seconds of his MMA debut.


Combating a Boxer in MMA

Although the boxing vs. MMA test was far from conclusive, the debate still goes on among some. On almost every single MMA card around the world, however, there are a number of fighters who have emerged from strong boxing backgrounds. Quite often, these fighters rely heavily on their boxing abilities in an MMA environment.

As high-level boxing skills are rarely seen in MMA, fighters blessed with a strong understanding of the sport can be a handful. Fighters such as Conor McGregor, Stipe Miocic, Cody Garbrandt, Frankie Edgar, Nick Diaz and others have all demonstrated exceptional boxing in comparison to many of their opponents. 

All have suffered losses, however.

With all of the necessary components required to be an MMA fighter, it is important to have an all-around skill-set. A knowledge of wrestling, Muay Thai, BJJ, and boxing all contribute to enabling a fighter to compete at the highest levels of MMA. Simply having an exceptional wrestling game or impressive boxing skills are not enough.


Understanding a Boxer’s Approach

The majority of MMA fights that don’t go the distance end in strikes. The vast majority of these end in punches. Landing significant strikes with the fists is a lot easier than with kicks, as they are faster, harder to defend, and can be thrown frequently in combinations.

A fighter who approaches an MMA fight heavily reliant on boxing skills will, therefore, look to land a lot of punches. This brings with it a number of problems for the opponent who may not have a stand-up game to match. If boxers can use their abilities to end a fight on the feet, they may fall into the trap of neglecting other aspects of their game. This has been a notable problem for certain fighters in MMA.

Conor McGregor, who partook in a glorified boxing exhibition against one of the greatest boxers of all time, Floyd Mayweather Jr., had a solid boxing base. McGregor’s approach to most of his fights in the UFC was to rely on his excellent left cross and solid punches to end bouts.

With questions over his ability to fight on the floor, McGregor did suffer greatly the first time he faced a solid wrestler in Chad Mendes. “The Notorious” was practically unable to move once Mendes had taken him to the mat in their interim-featherweight title bout at UFC 189. Many believe that Mendes would have beaten McGregor if he had a full camp, but it was almost unanimous that McGregor’s skill-set was at least somewhat exposed.


Exploiting the Boxer’s Weaknesses

McGregor would later suffer a defeat to another last-minute replacement in Nate Diaz on account of an inferior ground game, punctuating how an excellent boxer without a ground game is beatable in MMA. While most of the fight was an exchange of punches, Diaz had an additional advantage over McGregor: if a fighter cannot defend takedowns adequately, or know how to work their way out of potential submissions, their striking skills can be negated.

There are other weaknesses that can be exploited, too. In the case of both Nate and Nick Diaz, their stances have also been a target for many of their opponents. Stockton’s most famous fighting brothers are two of the UFC’s most notable “MMA-boxers”.

Both men are known for their stances, which rely heavily on putting weight on the lead leg, which can be, at times, reminiscent of a traditional boxing stance. Conor McGregor got his own back on Diaz in their rematch at UFC 202 by identifying this as a weakness, employing heavy leg kicks which Diaz could not check. 

The younger of the Diaz brothers had suffered a similar fate against former UFC lightweight champion, Benson Henderson. Henderson will be remembered for absolutely annihilating Diaz’s lead leg. Taking away the lead leg of a boxer strips him of his mobility, which makes him an easier target and less of a threat.

The Diaz brothers try to compensate for their inability to check kicks by working their way into positions which negate their opponent’s ability to land leg kicks. When this is not possible, it can spell big trouble. Additionally, Henderson tied and clinched Diaz up, stifling his shots and smothering his ability to throw at close range.


The Most Effective Way to Beat a Boxer in MMA

There is no surefire way to beat a boxer in MMA. The threats which a boxer can carry into the cage are significant enough to warrant caution, but there are certainly a number of methods which can greatly help.

A boxer without a ground game can be exceptionally vulnerable when facing a wrestler. Takedowns, therefore, should be the basis to negating their strengths. This does come with a danger, as working yourself into a range where a takedown is possible may see you eating some heavy shots.

The movement of a boxer and his stance can also be exploited for good measure. Much like the Diaz brothers, chopping low kicks can severely affect the boxer’s ability to move forward. As boxers rely on working themselves into range, push kicks and body kicks can also prove successful in keeping them off. For fighters with limited ground skills, these will definitely be something you and your coach can work on.


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