Fight IQ: Battle Tested Tactics to Beat Counter Strikers

Two MMA fighters with one beating the other who is a counter striker.

Counter strikers can be tricky to master. They’re the tricksters, trap setters, and deadly vipers waiting to strike when the moment’s right. Yes, they’re annoying to fight too.

But, even the best of ’em are beatable. You can use a counter striker’s style to your own advantage. Turn their traps into set ups, capitalize on their tendencies, and finish the fight on your terms. This is how to do it.

Understanding the Counter Striker

Let’s take a quick look at the counter striker. On the surface, these fighters prefer to follow, rather than lead. They’ll counter your attack, which usually puts the pressure on you to attack. They’re not usually known to attack first, but wait and set traps.

Of course, there’s more to the intricacies. We’ll get to that later though.

Fighting a skilled counter striker can be frustrating. We’ve all been there, thinking we have a way in only to be clipped by an elusive, moving target. Apparently, trying to hit the top counter strikers feels like trying to fight smoke that hits back. At best they’re just annoying.

But, you’re not here to worship the counter striker. You’re here to study the art of beating them. So, now we know what we’re facing, let’s get to it.


Tactics to beat counter strikers

Beating a counter striker isn’t a secret science. We’ve seen it time and time before, so the blueprint is already laid out. We’re just writing it all down to make it convenient for fighters like you. After all, you’ve got training to do, let us gather the evidence.

Let’s get stuck in. Tactic number one, use your feints.

#1 – Feinting

Feinting is the art of making it look like you’re throwing a shot, without actually doing it. What you’re doing here is giving the counter striker fake tells.

One thing a counter fighter loves is an opponent who tries to land every single shot. We learned this ourselves by speaking to elite striker one sparring session. It’s safe to say we felt it too.

Okay, back to feinting.

By feinting during the fight, you’ll make your opponent second guess your true intentions. Do it well and you’ll be able to set traps of your own.

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Notice they’re slipping to the outside and looking for a long left when you throw a jab? Feint, and counter their response. Drop their hands when you levels chance? Well, fake and come up over the top, then shoot.

Two can play at that game, right? Feints are an integral part of all the following tactics too. So, if you’re not using them, get started!


#2 – Capitalize on tells

A tell is just boxing talk for a movement pattern. All fighters tend to have them, and even the best might have one or two still stuck in their programming. There’s a high chance your counter striking opponent will have tells too.

Look for patterns they repeat in response to certain cues. It’s kind of like we mentioned with feinting, except a tell can come from anything.

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Do they always move a certain way after three steps? Can you see that them dropping their right hand when exiting the clinch? What’s their response when you do land a jab? Maybe you’ve spotted them touch their gloves together before throwing a hook?

Tells are one of the things fans fail to see when watching fights on TV. They can be so subtle, that only the people in the cage see them.

Bottom line – look for tells and capitalize.


#3 – Be unconventional

Counter strikers usually rely on slips and footwork to evade being hit. They’ll also train to respond to conventional strikes too, say a low kick, or a right straight. You can turn this into your advantage.

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First of all, you can come at your opponent with unconventional attacks they’re not used to. Spinning elbows inside the pocket, hook kicks, side kicks, all the things you don’t see in every fight. This option is a bit less high percentage than out other tactics. But, hey, if you’ve got the skills then try it.

Next, making a counter striker block unconventional shots brings them out of their comfort zone too. So, by deliberately punching the chest, side kicking the stomach, or front kicking the hip, you’re forcing your opponent to block or take the shot, thus breaking their usual rhythm.

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As they block, you can use this as your opening. Those guys haven’t trained to block these shots and fire back, so their base should be compromised and their counters slower.

Unconventional timing

Another great tactic is unconventional timing. By attacking and moving off beat, you’ll essentially throw off your opponent’s internal clock. So, if they’re used to responding to a jab, cross, hook combination in time, by going off time and breaking up the rhythm you also create confusion.

Imagine the jab landing on the beat, cross half a beat late, then the cross half a beat late. Weird, right? Imagine trying to get the timing down to counter that.

Look at Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, or Dominic Cruz as three examples. They never allow their opponents to settle into a strict rhythm, which throws off everything from their footwork, to the way they breathe.

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You can also see TJ Dillashaw using the slow-fast method in his fights too. He’ll break up the rhythm of the fight as a whole by slowing everything down before rapidly accelerating.

Chances are, you’ll be able to draw your opponent into taking the foot off the gas and relaxing too, before exploding into action and catching them unawares.

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#4 – Don’t stay in the pocket

Whenever you’re in the pocket, you’re in striking range. It sounds super obvious, but using an in-out style against a counter striker can be more effective than standing to brawl.

You can bet they’d prefer you to stay close and throw something. There’ better odds of landing their perfectly practised counters if you do. But, this isn’t your first rodeo. It’s time for them to fight your fight instead.

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When you get in, land, and then exit, you’ll actively avoid their response. Over time this can build up frustration in your opponent, which can then lead to overcompensation, tension, or reduced quality of technique.

After all, you’re hitting them hard, but they’re not getting their shots off on you. This isn’t how they imagined the fight. You’re literally beating the counter striker at their own game.


#5 – Pressure

Pressure can carry a fighter far. By not giving your opponent a moments peace, you’re denying them the right to set their feet and get comfortable. It’s tiring, demoralising, and forces mistakes. Think about fighters like Conor McGregor, Justin Gaethje, Lomachenko, and Cain Velasquez. They don’t give their opponent a second to think, never mind breathe and plan an attack.

Now, when we say pressure, we mean intelligent pressure. More constantly throwing feints and not letting your opponent settle, rather than driving forward with reckless abandon.

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Counter strikers don’t tend to enjoy being constantly on their toes and fighting moving backward. Because yes, they’re comfortable fighting on the back foot, they’d be a poor counter striker if not. But, they’d rather everything be on their terms.

Being a successful pressure fighter relies on solid defense. Plan for the long term and work on slipping shots, rather than taking one to give one. Make sure to drill moving off safely too.


Types of Counter Strikers

Two women fighting in MMA match. One is landing a punch on the other to beat a counter striker.
photo credit: MAZA FIGHT JAPAN 8Y9A0427-19 via photopin (license)

Now we’ve looked at how to beat a counter striker, let’s examine the kinds you might face. There are two overarching types of counter strikers:

  • Active
  • Passive

Active counter strikers

Active counter strikers are the type who turn up to fight. They’re typically longer in the tooth and seasoned in the art of deception. Basically, they’ve got the art down to a tee.

An active counter striker chooses to fight the way they do. Think Anderson Silva, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Floyd Mayweather as easy examples. They don’t wait because they’re scared. Counter striking isn’t forced on them because they’re frightened to engage.

We’ll break down the active counter striker sub set in a minute. But here are a few things you’ll see in them:

  • Relaxed
  • Loose
  • Focused
  • Not scared to engage
  • Lays traps
  • Waits calmly
  • Confident
  • Lands clean

Aggressively active counter strikers

Remember we mentioned Lomachenko earlier? Well, he’s the king of aggressive counter striking. These guys pressure their opponent into throwing a shot, shooting for a takedown, or making whatever mistake they choose.

Because that’s what aggressive counter strikers force – mistakes.

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They look like they’re ploughing forward. But in their head, they’re waiting for you to retaliate. They’re going to make you miss, and you’ll pay the price.

Conor McGregor is a textbook example. He’ll pepper his opponents and goad them into throwing something to try and stop his forward pressure. The problem is, McGregor’s already got the counter loaded in his back pocket.

Because while it looks like these guys are just drilling forward like a lion chasing down a kill, they’re more like a coiled viper. Drawing you out of your shell so you dive right into their fangs.

Passively aggressive counter strikers

Now, this is where the likes of Anderson ‘the Spider’ Silva come in. Back in his prime, Anderson was the king of passive aggressive counter striking. He’d frustrate his opponents by appearing elusive and creating tension, more than he’d apply punishing pressure to make them react.

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Prime Anderson was infamous for encouraging his opponent’s to rush him. It’d also be out of either frustration or desperation. He’d set traps just like a spider, making it look like there was an opening before injecting his venom.

Check out Silva’s highlight reel to see it for yourself. He routinely made top ten international fighters look amateur. Back in the day, watching Anderson Silva was like looking into the matrix.

Passive vs. passive

But, when Anderson came up against other passive counter strikers, he wasn’t so effective. His fight with BJJ phenom Damian Maia will always go down in history as being one of the most boring headline events ever. Their passively aggressive waiting styles cancelled each other out.

We wouldn’t recommend fighting a counter striker by just standing and waiting yourself. We’re here to win! The trick is to be active in the right way.

Passive counter strikers

Passive counter strikers, on the other hand, are the complete opposite. You might have even experienced fighting one yourself.

These guys are usually found in the lower ranks, where they’re tense and almost afraid to push the fight forward. Their counter strikes usually aren’t set up well, are mostly wild, and are more an instinctive lashing out in fear than a well executed shot.

A passive counter striker probably isn’t used to fighting just yet. They might do in time, but for now, they’re more likely to turn away and throw a hook than look you dead in the eye, slip, and land a right flush across your jaw.

Dealing with passive counter strikers

If there’s one tip to beat these guys, it’s don’t confuse their passivity for not being dangerous. Because plenty of people have been dropped with a blind left thrown in a mad panic. Keep your cool though and apply intelligent pressure, you’ll have ’em tumbling in no time.

Here are a few things you’ll see in passive counter strikers:

  • Tense
  • Uncontrolled
  • Waits, but doesn’t appear calm
  • Hesitant
  • Seems fearful when you engage
  • Turns away, closes eyes
  • Traps aren’t sophisticated
  • Shells up

Now, at some point you might face an experienced counter puncher who is still passive. It could be that they’re injured, or have issues with their conditioning. Tread with caution and don’t take their passivity helplessness. Keep your head and turn their hindrance into your advantage.


Two MMA fighters fighting

Final round on beating a counter striker

Counter strikers can the most annoying opponent’s you’ll ever fight. But with the right tactics, you can drag them kicking and screaming out of their comfort zone, and into your cage. Make sure to comment any of your own tactics below. We’re all for the fighters here at Fight Intel.

Header image credit: photo credit: MAZA FIGHT JAPAN 8Y9A2913 via photopin (license)

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