Body Punching: The Future of MMA

Jack Slack@@JackSlackMMALead MMA AnalystSeptember 26, 2013

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 24:  Ricky Hatton hits Juan Lazcano with a left hand body punch during the IBO light-welterweight title fight between Ricky Hatton and Juan Lazcano at the City of Manchester Stadium on May 24, 2008 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

One of the top links on the MMA subreddit Thursday was an excellent highlight of some of the more wince inducing body shots in MMA history. This brought to mind one of the questions I am tweeted pretty routinely:

"Why don't more MMA fighters target the body?"

It's a damn good question.

The benefits of striking the opponent's body and putting "money in the bank" read like a list of terrible side effects. Body shots may cause tiredness, shortness of breath, lack of coordination in the limbs and, in some extreme cases, soiling oneself.

I think pretty much anyone out there would list these pretty highly in "things I would like to have happen to my opponent while fighting him", yet so few fighters in MMA commit to body strikes that it's almost as if many fighters have a gentleman's agreement only to swing for the head. 

Firstly, the punching of the body involves either changing levels (the smarter, safer way) and punching, or dropping one's hand as one punches. Obviously with an opponent close enough to hit you in the head the last thing you will be wanting to do is reach down and hook his body.

In MMA or Muay Thai one runs the additional risk of ending up on the bad end of a double collar tie. This position, with both hands cupped on the base of an opponent's skull, is basically the back mount of the fight on the feet.

It is pretty much the worst position to be in mechanically as you will be mostly on the defensive. Fighters are occasionally knocked out while holding the double collar tie, but it is certainly only in exceptional cases.

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Nick Diaz has negated this wonderfully and often invites the double collar tie simply in order to stay in posture and throw hooks at his opponent's ribs while their arms are pre-occupied on the clinch. It's a dangerous tactic and if you do it badly, or even reasonably well, you end up getting hit with knees like Fabio Maldonado often does from this position. 

Nick Diaz presses Paul Daley into the fence. He gives Daley his neck while landing punches underneath Daley's elbows.
Nick Diaz presses Paul Daley into the fence. He gives Daley his neck while landing punches underneath Daley's elbows.

Diaz braces his head against Cyborg and batters him behind the elbows.
Diaz braces his head against Cyborg and batters him behind the elbows.

Maldonado and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira have also been pioneering taking the under hook on one side of the opponent against the fence, pressing in with their head and landing hard body shots with the free arm. While "Big Nog" is not a particularly skilled or effective puncher, Maldonado can really beat his opponents body up from here.

Big Nog presses Frank Mir up against the cage and frees a hand to strike.
Big Nog presses Frank Mir up against the cage and frees a hand to strike.

A final problem with the prospect of striking the body is that it requires a degree of commitment. Against a professional athlete one is rarely going to land a body punch with single strike knockdown force. They are more common in MMA because of the rarity of their use, but in boxing a single body shot knockout is pretty rare. 

Ricky Hatton and Roy Jones Jr. famously put opponents down with one good body punch, but they also fought plenty of fights where they threw scores of punches to the body and aside from the opponent slowing and tiring there was little sign of their effect. 

Striking the body means committing to landing a good volume of body strikes and knowing that they will give a fighter an edge which gets sharper with every blow landed, not necessarily get the job done on their own.

If a fighter feels he can knock an opponent out with one good punch to the head, he may be in the attitude of "if i'm not swinging for his head, he'll be swinging for mine." 

Just look at the Diaz brothers. Granted they have exceptional chins and their defense is pretty shoddy, but it is shocking how few punches an opponent can throw with power when he is answered with body punches.

Once an opponent gets hit with a body punch he is also less inclined to throw punches altogether.

When you throw a punch and your fist leaves your chin, you can move your head and lift your shoulder make the best of protecting that side. You can't protect your body while punching.

There are very, very few punches which allow the elbows to stay in a good, protective posture. If a fighter is tagged with a good body punch mid attack he is anything but keen to immediately take his elbows away from his midsection.

The number of ways to alleviate the danger of attacking the body is enormous, and the variety of set ups shown in the aforementioned highlight definitely make it worth a watch.

0:04 Max Holloway uses a double left hook (or a lever punch) to keep his opponent's hands high before sneaking a palm down right hook in to the body (George Foreman style) and a left hook to follow. 

0:28 Cub Swanson punishes his opponent for lifting his leg to check a kick by leaping in with a left hook to the body. This kind of feinting an opponent into checking and shelling up, before sneaking a left hook through to their liver was a favourite of Ernesto Hoost. He could get anyone to check his kicks so it served him wonderfully to have the body shot as a plan B.

0:42 Jon Jones performs a simple hand trap to keep Vitor's lead elbow from obstructing the side kick which follows.

0:49 Anderson Silva pushes Stefan Bonnar onto the fence and hops to catch Bonnar with a switch knee as he returns off of the fence. I examined this here.

1:14 Donald Cerrone is over-reacting to the threat of Anthony Pettis' infamous high kick and leaves himself exposed to a liver kick. The exact same thing worked for Mirko Cro Cop at 2:55 and 3:05. Sometimes a reputation can serve as enough of a set up.

1:45 Is a beautiful example of something I congratulate every fighter who attempts it on, hopping up from the knees against the turtle to land knee strikes to the midsection. Beautiful.

2:20 You can see Rory MacDonald working the body up and down. BJ Penn can't move his head with the constant threat of high kicks and body kicks and so must stand up and defend his head.

When Penn attempts to check kicks MacDonald punches him through the shell as Cub Swanson did above. When Penn bends forward in pain it is back to the high kicks which forces Penn back upright and exposes his body all over again.

3:30 Alistair Overeem demonstrates how punching always exposes the rib cage as he knees underneath his opponent's right straight. In Muay Thai this is usually accompanied with a parry, but Overeem eats the punch.

The highlight rounds out with some beautiful Dennis Siver back kicks. These work wonderfully in tandem with the lead leg high kick which he uses to keep his opponents upright and defensive all bout.

As you can see, body shots are hard to land, but this actually makes fighters who want to land them work harder to set the body strikes up. I could take any MMA knockouts highlight from the Internet and there wouldn't be nearly so much technique at play, it would be a lot of overhands and blind left hooks. But the guys in this video learned to set their strikes up, and it really shows.

Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking from his blog, Fights Gone By.

Jack can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. 

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