For the newer MMA fan, watching fights can be both fascinating and confusing as hell. Trying to figure out why the judges awarded the win to one fighter when you thought the other one had it in the bag can sometimes make learning about MMA more complicated than it has to be (life pro tip: wondering what the judges were thinking never really goes away). If you’re new to watching or training MMA, here are five simple things to keep an eye on during a fight.
This is the easiest one to be aware of. Which fighter is landing more strikes on their opponent? While this is a factor in every fight, it more often comes into play at the lower weight classes. At the upper end of the weight spectrum, a strike that’s landed cleanly can often lead to a knockout. At bantamweight (135lbs) and below, it becomes harder to deliver that knockout blow, simply because there’s not enough weight behind it. As a result, the number of strikes landed often comes into play during a decision at these levels. It’s not only a factor in decisions, but a fighter who may not be able to secure the knockout may being able to land a number of strikes that can wear down their opponent or lead to a TKO.
Control of the cage
The judges are always looking to see who is controlling the octagon. Is there one fighter that is putting constant pressure on their opponent by moving forward, forcing the other fighter to strike off their back foot as they move out of the way? If one fighter is constantly having to circle away from the other in order to avoid heavy strikes or being caught with their back against the cage, they will be getting unfavorable marks in the eyes of the judges. It isn’t necessary to be aggressively moving forward in order to control the cage – often you’ll see one fighter who stays in the center of the octagon, keeping the other fighter at distance, forcing them to move in order to land a strike or secure a takedown. This also is much more tiring for the fighter ‘on the run’, as being forced to move is much more effort than holding court in the center of the cage.
Which fighter attempts – and wins – more takedowns? This is a fairly simple one to recognize for even the novice fan, as going from standing to landing on your back is easy to notice. Securing more takedowns earns points from the judges, but so does attempting more takedowns, since, as any fighter knows, takedowns are exhausting. Watch for classic double and single legs, but also trips that occur when the fighters are clinched up against the cage.
On the ground, who is attempting more submissions? Ground and pound is heavily favored, of course, but so is trying to secure a submission. On the ground, fighters must be doing something, and this is where you’ll often see referees standing up fighters who simply appear to be resting while holding their opponent down, or who aren’t landing strikes or going for submissions even though they have a dominant position. A fighter in a dominant position must be attempting to advance their position (by working for a submission) or landing strikes. A fighter who attempts several submissions will be favored over their opponent who hung out in mount and didn’t land any strikes.
Speaking of, a fighter who is able to maintain the majority of dominant positions on the ground will rate more highly in the judge’s eyes. Being able to hold mount, sit in an opponent’s guard and throw punches/elbows, get side control, etc. will all earn points. This one is usually obvious. Who’s getting smashed into the mat, and who’s doing the smashing?
Watching fights is fun. Knowing what to look for when you’re watching them will make it even better, and saying, ‘he’s definitely getting points for that takedown, but I feel like the other guy has been controlling the cage a lot more’ will go a long way toward impressing your buddies who can only yell, ‘throw more punches!’