When Royce Gracie came out and destroyed some of the world’s best martial artists with his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the early days of the UFC, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu became one of the most feared martial arts around. But that was 1993. Today, MMA is a whole different ball game. Strikers are learning how to grapple; wrestlers are training striking and submissions, and there is a new breed of MMA fighters who train MMA as a whole. For BJJ black belts who specialize in sports jiu-jitsu, they find themselves having to abandon many of the techniques they’ve learned throughout the years in order to transition to MMA.
Why sport jiu-jitsu doesn’t work in MMA
10x BJJ World Champion and perhaps the greatest sport BJJ competitor of all time, Roger Gracie, said in an interview: “80% of my competition game would not work in MMA.” If Roger Gracie says it, it must be true, and there’s very little reason to believe otherwise. Sport jiu-jitsu, which is heavily reliant on using the gi/kimono to control one’s opponent is a completely different animal from MMA grappling. With the gi, the practitioner is able to utilize grips and manipulate his opponent’s gi to his advantage. The lack of the gi in MMA changes everything – from the pace to the techniques that must be utilized.
Although no-gi grappling is obviously the most transferable form of BJJ in MMA, to successfully adapt your BJJ game to MMA, you must do the following:
1) Work on your takedowns
In BJJ, the takedowns you have learned are probably Judo or wrestling based. These will translate well into MMA but must be practiced without a gi. If you are the type of BJJ practitioner who likes to pull guard, there is a high chance that this game plan wouldn’t work in MMA. Although you can argue that some of the most-high level MMA fighters such as DREAM Lightweight World Champion and ONE Superstar Shinya Aoki or UFC fighter Nick Diaz like to pull guard, it is a very risky move, and you must be willing to take a punch or two. Work on getting some solid takedowns and get on top. This will give you positional dominance and allow you to land some GNP.
2) Learn how to work with strikes
As we mentioned, one of the most obvious differences between MMA and BJJ is the striking aspect of MMA. In MMA, you must be ready for strikes to land at any time. Thus, you must adapt your BJJ game to striking:
Keep your opponent close to you: By using a high closed guard or even the rubber guard, you can keep your opponent from posturing up and landing strikes. In this fight, Shinya Aoki utilizes the rubber guard to prevent his opponent from throwing strikes and uses it to set up the gogoplata.
Using underhooks and overhooks: Whether on your feet or on the ground, you must use underhooks or overhooks to control your opponent and keep him close to you. This prevents him from getting space and allows you to control the distance. You can also takedown from here.
3) Go back to basics
In MMA, there’s no room or time for berimbolos or other flashy moves. A good closed guard and half guard are all you’ll need to survive inside the cage. From these two positions, you must have at least 2-3 good sweeps and a solid submission chain. Once you get your opponent into your guard, you must work to sweep him immediately and get a dominant position and submit.
4) Work on your top game
If you’ve been watching MMA, you’d know that the guard is not a great place to be for most MMA fighters. Even the most experienced MMA fighters prefer to get up and base or takedown and get the top position. Because of this, you must work on your top game. When you’re on the top, you have positional dominance, and it gives you the option to land some devastating GNP.
There’s no doubt that BJJ practitioners are the only fighters who have “the third option”, the ability to pull guard and end the fight from this position. Combined with a strong striking and wrestling base, BJJ practitioners who transition to MMA could certainly be some of the most deadly fighters in the sport.