They don’t call MMA the hurt business for nothing. Aggression can take a fighter far, and for some, it’s their deadliest weapon. At some point in your fight career you’ll face one of these opponents. Maybe it’s your next fight and that’s why you’re here?
So, it pays to pressure test how to beat ’em before fists start flying. With the right tactics, you can turn their hot-headed rage into your advantage. Here’s how to deal with aggressive fighters in MMA.
Tactic 1: Distance control
Their aggressiveness is for nothing if you control the distance. Manage the distance, manage the pace, control the fight. It’s yours for the taking – so try these tactics.
Don’t stand in the mid-range
First of all, think about your movement. Standing in the mid-range puts you right in the firing line for an aggressive opponent. You’re in a prime position to be blitzed on, because not only are you a close distance away, but there’s still room to explode forward.
Now, you have two options here. Either crash in close to initiate a clinch or create more space.
By closing the distance into a clinch, you deny your opponent any space to explode into you with shots. This is where it pays dividends to have a good wresting or striking clinch game. Do you know how to dirty box? Expose the aggressive fighters tendency to go wild by beating them up on the inside.
Alternatively, by creating more distance, you give yourself longer to react to the blitz. It’ll take your opponent a few more milliseconds to reach you, which theoretically gives you more time to move or counter. You can create more space with footwork and kicks.
If you’ve got yourself a super-aggressive fighter, you might find this extra space makes them lunge in even harder. Use this to your advantage by cutting an angle and hitting them off balance!
Aggressive fighters usually always come forward in straight lines. So you can disrupt their blitzes by circling away.
If you’ve fought an over aggressive opponent before, you’ll know they typically plant their feet. After all, you can only explode forward with your feet on the grounds. Planting the feet takes time, and if you’re circling away, you’re already out of the way by the time they attack.
Circling also helps to plant a seed of doubt in an aggressive fighters mind. They’ll get frustrated, second guessing when it’s the right time to dig their toes in and go hard. Check out TJ Dillashaw moving away from well-known aggressive striker Renan Barão. Notice his feints and footwork working together to set up the knockout.
Use feints here to keep them guessing. Make their blood boil and start to dominate the mental battle! By remaining cool and composed while circling, there’s a chance you’ll make your opponent believe their blitzing style is less effective against you. If this is how they win fights, you’ll start to plant tiny seeds of doubt.
Cut an angle
Cutting an angle should be your next action. If you’ve circled away from a blitz, there’s a chance you’re in a position to strike and not be hit. Make the most of their vulnerability and get busy!
Secure a firm base with your feet. Next, hit the aggressive fighter from your dominant angle. It might be a slick one-two, a big lead leg roundhouse, or a blast double leg.
The entire sport of boxing is built on putting yourself in a position to hit, without being hit. Apply the same idea to MMA and don’t get sucked in to a slug-fest.
Unless, you’re Don Frye, in which case ignore this entire article. See below if you’re not sure who that mustachioed manly man is.
Stay away from the cage
Staying away from the cage is considered a smart move at the best of times. With your back against the cage, you’re pretty much trapped. You’ve only got two real avenues for escape, and you it’s super hard to retreat away from a bull-rushing opponent. Check out how UK MMA pioneer Paul Daley lines guys up against the fence – avoid this situation at all costs.
Aggressive fighters love to pin their opponent against the cage. They might even leave a door open to the left or right, then chase you through it with power shots.
But, if you stay away from the cage, you can’t get trapped. The trick is to not take too many steps backward. One or two steps is normally fine, if you’re setting up a counter.
But just remember this: an aggressive fighters can move forward in straight lines faster than you can retreat. So, circle off instead and stay off the cage.
Tactic 2: Striking against aggressive fighters
It’s all good evading an aggressive fighter. But don’t you want to win the fight too?
Front kicks are one of the most underrated strikes in MMA. They’re especially effective against forward pressure fighters because the harder your opponent comes in, the harder the kick hits them. A roundhouse kick might wrap around the arms, but a front kick can drive straight through the middle. You’ll see this technique used a lot in Muay Thai and K1.
Keep popping the front kick toward the midsection. It digs into the stomach and can wind an aggressive fighter if they’re not tense. Plus, if it lands under the chin, you could score a KO.
Check hooks are big business is boxing. The premise is to check your aggressive opponent’s punch, and drop a hook over the top. Because the fighter is moving forward aggressively, they’ll essentially run onto the shot, increasing it’s effectiveness and landing power.
This is one of the counter strikes we mentioned before. It’s perfectly fine to step back into a check hook or simply cover and return. Especially if it lands flush.
Step-off rear hand
The step-off rear hand is tailor made for countering aggressiveness. It uses the cutting an angle principle outlined above and puts you directly in line of their chin.
As your opponent blitzes forward, step off to the side of your rear leg, usually the right. Now, turn slightly so your rear hand can fly in a straight hand onto the end of their chin. Hit them fast, hit them hard, score big. Now this really is a knockout shot. Check out the .gif below if you’re a southpaw!
Step back rear hand
Step back rear hand’s work in a similar way to the above technique. You’ll usually catch your opponent when their punch drops due to falling short. Here, their chin should be exposed, and you’ll probably stop them in their tracks. Landing hard shots when your opponent charges in can shake their confidence. You might even finish them too.
This shot is one of the most devastating weapons in a southpaw’s arsenal. Time to run back McGregor’s KO of Aldo? You bet!
Aggression requires forward movement. Which in return relies on stepping in with a heavy front food. So, exploit this chance to kick them in the calf or meaty thigh.
Stepping back into a low kick is a great option too. Step back, move your head to the outside of their rear hand, and dig your shin in hard. Use this angle as a set up to move off and out of range.
Tactic 3: Grappling against aggressive fighters
Maybe you’re not looking to strike. So here are a few tactics for grappling against aggressive fighters.
Now, this one can seem counter-intuitive. But once you break things down it makes perfect sense.
As your opponent tries to blitz, keep a high guard and meet them half way. Crash into a clinch to stop their advancement dead! You can use this position to your advantage by initiating dirty boxing, knees, trips, takedowns, or simply pushing your opponent to the cage.
Duck under double leg
Aggressive fighters tend to plough forward and lean over their front leg. This exposes their hips and throws off their centre of gravity, making them right open for a double leg.
Because the aggressive fighter has committed to throwing bombs while coming forward, sprawling becomes incredibly difficult. See how the attacking fighter over-commits to the punch below? He’s way too far over his opponent to perform an effective sprawl. Not unless he has extendo-legs, which we’re pretty sure aren’t allowed in Bellator.
Hip toss and other turning throws
The hip toss is a seriously underestimated counter. Just like in the double leg set up, an aggressive fighter will usually always apply forward pressure in the clinch. You can use this to their advantage by loading them onto your hips or executing another turning throw.
Turn that clinch into a hip toss and throw an aggressive fighter hard into the cage floor. The more they try to pressure forward, the more powerful the throw! If you can get your timing down, this will have everyone in the crowd standing on their feet.
Check out a prime Ronda Rousey hitting it in her hay day.
Okay, maybe one more.
And another one showing the entry.
Last round on dealing with an aggressive fighter
Dealing with an aggressive fighter doesn’t need to be complicated. Concentrate on employing these five tactics:
- Distance control
- Exploiting angles
- Counter striking
- Counter grappling
Take time to pressure test each of these in the gym. Grab a training partner and have them act like a stereotypical aggressive fighter. You can keep the power down, but ramp up the pressure and intensity.
Best of skill out there team. Go get that “W”!
More fighting intelligence for your game:
- 7 Tactics to Beat a Southpaw – MMA, Kickboxing & Boxing
- Sparring 101: What is Sparring and How to Do It Well
- Returning Fire – 8 Combos to Make You a Better Counter Striker
Feature image attribution: