What is your Stance? MMA and the significance of foundation

Recently, we watched UFC Champion Ronda Rousey defend her title against Challenger Sara McMann. Finishing her with a Left Knee to the Liver. (For more information on how the Liver Shot works, please visit our article “The Anatomy of the Liver Shot“).

I was struck by Ronda’s post fight comment “When we were going over Sara’s footage and how she fights, we saw that no one had really gone to the body with her,” Rousey said. “Being that she’s a wrestling style, she’s more likely to be bent over more and I just thought it would be really unexpected.” This quote from the article at the Las Vegas Sun.

Step foot into any reputable gym, and the first thing you should learn is the foundation, the Stance. Be it a Boxing Stance, Thai Boxing Stance, Wrestling Stance, etc. the basic stance has been optimized for the specific art it was developed from. But what does an MMA stance look like?

Many of the top level athletes in MMA today are converts from other disciplines. Sara McMann was and Olympic Wrestler, Ronda a Judo practitioner. As converts, these fighters bring with them baggage in the form of a ready stance. Something practiced so many times, it’s hard to unlearn, something that was studied and capitalized on by Rousey and her camp.

My interest in this topic was peaked before when I first began studying Thai Boxing with Ajarn Surachai Sirisute and he explained the difference between the American Pugilism, Basic Western Boxing Stance (in contrast to the John L. Sullivan Stance, the cross guard or the Archie More style) and then again when I spoke with Catch Legend Billy Robinson and he discussed the differences between the Amateur Wrestling Stance and the Catch As Catch Can Stance.

So what are these differences, why have these stances evolved as such, and what does any of this have to do with MMA? Lets start by examining the stances from a few of the arts found more prevalently in MMA. Mind you, each art, has multiple forms and variations of their basic ready stance. We will attempt to demonstrate the most generalized form that is representative of it’s respective art.

Boxing Stance

The American Pugilism Boxing Stance.  Click here to see it from various angles

The American Pugilism Boxing Stance. Click here to see it from various angles

Notice both feet are turned at a 45 degree angle. This blades the body and brings the liver further back protecting it with distance and the elbows from the opponent. Since there are no attacks to the legs allowed in boxing there is no penalty for turning in the front foot and exposing the sciatic nerve. There is a slight crouch which also protects the body and shrinks the target zones.

Thai Boxing Stance

Basic Thai Boxing Stance.  Click to see it from various angles.

Basic Thai Boxing Stance. Click to see it from various angles.

Here you see more of an upright stance. This guards against knees and kicks which may be directed at the head. Only the rear foot is turned at a 45 degree angle, this makes the hips square up to the opponent, exposing the liver, but also bringing 4 of the more powerful, rear side weapons (shin, knee, elbow, fist) closer to the opponent and therefore easier to bring to bear. Having the front foot pointing straight forward also aids in protecting against leg attacks to the sciatic nerve. The hands are held further outward which helps to prevent the opponent from grabbing and pulling the head downward. The hand positioning also assists in defending against the heavy force of a shin in the event of a head kick, but the stance does so at the cost of exposing the body.

Amateur Wrestling Stance

The Amateur Wrestling Stance.  Click to see from various angles.

The Amateur Wrestling Stance. Click to see from various angles.

This stance is optimized for defense against takedowns. The hips are square much like in Thai Boxing, but the crouch is similar to that found in a Boxing stance. The hands are held close, to guard against attacks such as arm drags etc. and also to be able to defend the legs in the event of a shot. As there are no chokes or neck cranks allowed in Amateur Wrestling, there is no penalty for exposing the head or neck.

Catch Wrestling Stance

The Catch As Catch Can Wrestling Stance

The Catch As Catch Can Wrestling Stance. Click on the image to see from various angles.

In contrast to the Amateur Wrestling Stance, the Catch Wrestling Stance is upright, this exposes the legs for shot style attacks but maximizes the defense of the head and neck as Neck Cranks and Chokes are 100% legal in Catch. Often times an opponent who shoots in on the legs and is unable to immediately effect a takedown, looses the match to a technique such as the Grovit.

The arms and elbows are held close to the body to defend against Underhooks, Body Locks and Arm Drags, and as with Amateur Wrestling, there is no striking allowed thus there is no penalty for exposing the face and head to these types of attacks.

So the next question is, what is the best way to approach fighting in MMA? Would it be best to develop a new, hybridized stance, specifically designed for the complexities of the cage? Or would it be best to transition from one purpose built stance to another based on your intentions?

Like anything, there are pros and cons to each approach. I don’t believe that a generalized stance would be as effective at any one specific task as a specialized stance. However, specialized stances can be exploited and can sometimes be a “tell” to your opponent.

Be sure to leave a comment and share with us your stance on MMA and the best approach to the foundation, the stance.

4 replies
  1. Yoshi Phan
    Yoshi Phan says:

    i think to approach a certain stance in mma is to determine what your opponent’s background is. if you know a guy is a wrestler or a thai boxer, you will adjust your stance slightly. i find it comfortable to transition through various stances. for example. if i see a guy that is in a wrestling type stance, my stance changes to accommodate for takedowns and clinches. so i guess if your are in mma, you should be able to recognize various stances and adapt to the situation.

    Reply
  2. Yoshi Phan says:

    i think to approach a certain stance in mma is to determine what your opponent’s background is. if you know a guy is a wrestler or a thai boxer, you will adjust your stance slightly. i find it comfortable to transition through various stances. for example. if i see a guy that is in a wrestling type stance, my stance changes to accommodate for takedowns and clinches. so i guess if your are in mma, you should be able to recognize various stances and adapt to the situation.

    Reply
  3. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    I have never fought an mma match, but I have boxed and wrestled. My approach is to use one stance as a base and make adjustments as needed to counter an opponent or throw him off.

    My base stance is like an old style (fencing based) boxing stance. It has elements of what you described as the basic boxing stance, the thai boxing stance, and the catch as catch can stance.

    In old style boxing, the front foot was almost pointed directly at the opponent. The old boxing books say that this helps to keep your straight punches truly straight. It also has the benefit of putting you in position to check leg kicks. The weight in this stance can vary between centered over the two legs or shifted to the back leg. If you worry more about leg kicks from your opponent, shift your weight more to the back. This also allows you to take a big lead step with the front leg when needed increasing the range and power of your jab and straight right.

    The body is almost upright in the stance, with a slightly forward inclination. The hands can vary, but the elbows are always in close. Having the elbows in close should allow you to maintain inside control on your opponent, essential for both boxing and wrestling. If I worry more about takedowns, I drop my left lead hand low (the classic old boxer stance, also the one used by the Klitschko’s and other modern fighters). If I’m worried more about head attacks (punches or kicks) the lead hand comes up more. With the hands high, you can still protect against straight body attacks by using an outside parry. Chris Byrd used to do this alot and Russ Anber and David Lemieux demonstrate it in this video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvqJXIj7TTU&list=PL1F18AD93AA299BD3

    As a note, Lemieux’s stance is not the stance I’m talking about. He has his lead leg and his weight way forward, his front foot is turned, and he is more crouched. His stance is much more like the traditional boxing stance described above.

    Being more upright in my mma style stance can make it more difficult to initiate leg takedowns, but it does not eliminate them. I simply have to put more emphasis on level change, drop steps, and the like.

    Anyhow, off this basic stance I can change my stance to set up what I want to do, or to mislead my opponent into making him think I want to do something that I plan to counter. Hope that makes sense.

    Reply

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