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.
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
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
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
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.