How to Transition from Wrestling to MMA

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This article is for those who have a background in wrestling and want to transition to MMA. Let’s just be clear here that I’m referring to what is wrestling the sport – freestyle, greco-roman, collegiate and folkstyle wrestling. This is often I’m not referring to the threatrical professional wrestling here.

Back in university, I trained and competed as part of our university’s wrestling club. Even though I did compete in MMA and other grappling sports, we primarily saw ourselves as wrestlers who competed in MMA. I even trained for a time with our national wrestling team. My wrestling came to a point where I was selected to join the World University Wrestling championship. (I ended up not going since I didn’t have the funds for it, but you get my point. I was wrestling crazy back in the day.)

Throughout this time, my teammates and I, who primarily trained in wrestling, would often compete in MMA competitions. We were young punks that wanted a little taste of the money and the glory of MMA. There were a lot of lessons I picked up along the way on transitioning from wrestling to MMA. If you’re planning to make the transition from wrestling to MMA, I hope this article has some gems you can pick up.

Maybe you are ranked high up in Division I wrestling and you want to test your mettle in the cage. Maybe you’ve been wrestling since you were a kid and you want to try another challenge. Or perhaps, you are a wrestler and you have an upcoming MMA fight. Maybe as a wrestler, you’re thinking of dabbling in MMA on the side to get a taste of this exciting new world.

As a wrestler transitioning to MMA, you will discover that you will have weaknesses in your game. However, you will also have strengths. Capitalize on your strengths and neutralize your weakness. This article will be your guide.

Bring in Striking and Submission Skills from the Outside

If necessary, bring in skills from the outside to your game. There are primarily two broad sets of skills you will want to bring in: striking skills and submission skills.  Let’s focus first on striking skills.

As earlier discussed, you will have to upgrade your striking skills and experience. However, if your team is one that focuses on wrestling, you may want to seek outside skills, unless you have a coach or teammate who can also coach striking well. A supportive coach, should not see you training outside this team as a threat. The supportive coach should actively encourage his athletes to cross-train in other disciplines if he knows that it will ultimately benefit his athlete. You should seek a boxing or kickboxing gym where you should immerse yourself in striking. Another place you can get striking skill is seeking a karate team which engages in full-contact competitive combat styles, such as Kyokushin karate. MMA fighters who have no background with kyokushin karate, might scoff at the mention of the word “karate”, but even some legendary world-class MMA fighters like George St.-Pierre identify themselves as primarily Kyokushin karate martial artists. Kyokushin karate, in fact, places a lot of emphasis on being able to absorb hard bare-knuckle blows, which will be useful for you. (Competitive Kyokushin karate does not allow strikes to the head though so will have to modify the stance a little for MMA.)

Focus on striking, I mean really focus

You have probably figured out that as a wrestler, you’re probably handicapped in a striking game against strikers, like boxers, Muay Thai fighters, and even karatekas. The common-sense approach is to incorporate some striking practice into your routine. That’s all well and good.

Many wrestlers preparing for an MMA match will tack on striking training almost like an afterthought. They might throw in a couple of pad or mitt-works and bagwork. They might even throw in a couple rounds of kickboxing at the end of the training session. This is just way too little, way too late. There has to focused training on striking.

Don’t just learn to throw a punch, learn to take one as well

If you’re new to striking and you don’t have much time (such as, only a couple of months), I suggest that you immediately and purposefully begin training not only how to deliver strikes, but how to defend against them as well. “Taking a punch” here is not just absorbing a punch literally, but also the other defensive skills in striking. This includes learning a whole gamut of defensive skills, such as defending against kicks, keeping your eyes on your opponent, controlling your flinch reflex, controlling the distance, and other defensive skills.

I often see wrestlers, and grapplers in general, when they are preparing for their first MMA match, only focusing on throwing punches and kicks. However, just as important, or perhaps even more important as a grappler, is learning to defend yourself and keeping your composure during a striking exchange.

Ground and Pound has to Practiced Too

Don’t assume that just because you can dominate your opponent in positioning on the ground that you will be able to effectively ground-and-pound your opponent. Ground-and-pound is basically striking an opponent while you are in a dominant grappling position. Take at least some time to learn and practice basic techniques in grounding and pounding your opponent. This is a skill that is purely belong is the realm of MMA. Don’t shy away from learning online if you can’t find an experience MMA fighters to guide you on ground-and-pound. Some of the world’s most successful MMA fighters, whose fight records you can easily verify online, are on YouTube sharing their knowledge and techniques.

Source: MMA For the Working Man

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