MMA is by far the most complex martial art or combat sport. It encapsulates techniques from virtually all other martial arts, with minor restrictions. Having a strong ground and pound game has been proven countless times to raise a fighter’s level of success. So, what is ground and pound in the UFC and MMA in general?
Ground and pound is a technique or strategy used in MMA where one gets their opponent down on the mat and asserts dominant position from which they throw punches, elbows, and other strikes to the head or body of the opponent.
The strategy was quite specific initially, but like all other segments of MMA, ground and pound also evolved over the years. It’s not just reckless pounding; it’s an intelligent, strategic, and effective approach that guys like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Georges St-Pierre mastered. Let’s dive deep and explore everything you need to know about ground and pound in the UFC.
What Does Ground And Pound Mean?
Ground and pound is a term which Mark Coleman has been accredited coining. Coleman was the first UFC heavyweight champion, and he was the first guy to start using ground and pound as a strategy.
Before Coleman, fighters would use ground and pound, too, but nobody made it the focal point in their ground game approach. So, what is it, and what does it mean?
Well, it’s simple: “ground” stands for taking your opponent down to the mat, and “pound” means throwing punches to the downed opponent. It was as straightforward as that when the term was coined.
Coleman won his first six career fights using the approach. He would take the fight to the ground, control his opponent’s movements, and seek openings to throw punches.
Since then, ground and pound got far more complex, making it even more effective. It started with Mark, earning him the nickname “The Godfather of Ground and Pound,” and evolved through guys like Tito Ortiz, Georges St-Pierre, Kamaru Usman, and most notably, the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Where Does Ground and Pound Come From?
Ground and Pound has existed ever since MMA’s creation. The technique was used by wrestlers that had trouble securing submissions but were great at controlling the opponent on the ground or by strikers when somebody would take them to the mat.
However, as I mentioned, Mark The Hammer Coleman coined the term after using it successfully to become the first UFC heavyweight champion.
Before his MMA days, Mark had quite an impressive wrestling career. He was elite at controlling his opponents and asserting a dominant position, but he didn’t know many submission holds. So, he used his skills to get in control on the ground and then start bashing away at the opponent.
You can’t generate as much power on the ground as you could when standing up, but those strikes do a lot of accumulated damage. Guys like Khabib, Cain Velasquez, or Kamaru Usman have a motor to bash away for five rounds relentlessly, badly battering their opponents.
Therefore, one could say that ground and pound comes from wrestling, but combining it with striking to help finish an MMA fight.
How Does Ground and Pound Work?
At first, a casual MMA fan would think that ground and pound is an easy game – simply get to the floor and throw strikes. That’s true in theory, but it’s way more than that.
Ground and pound is science right now, requiring focus, energy, skill, and full control of everything in the octagon, from the position in the cage to the opponent’s movements, strikes, and escape attempts.
The initial part is clear; you need to take the fight to the ground. That usually happens with any form of takedown: double-leg, single-leg, sweeps, etc. After you’ve secured the takedown, get into a dominant position. That’s usually the top guard, but several variants might happen in the cage.
The first and by far the most common position from which ground and pound is utilized is from the full guard. You’re on your knees, and the opponent has their legs wrapped around your abdomen or waist.
It’s the least risky approach for you, but still, there are things you should look after. Your opponent might attack with strikes or even submissions. You also need to control them and keep them on the ground in the bottom position, so you should keep them pressured with your body weight and be active with your offense.
The second position is ground and pound from half guard. To get into half guard, clear one of your opponent’s legs from full guard. You now have their other leg in between yours. Drive the forearm closer to their head in their place, pinning them down to set up an attack.
Be careful with escapes and passivity from this position, as your opponent can have you in trouble if you lose control of that position.
You’ll get into side control or the side guard if you manage to get your other leg over to the side from half-guard. It’s difficult to keep your opponent pinned that way, but if you act quickly, you can pin one of their arms with your head and the other with your legs to create a crucifix position, giving you a free ticket to their face and probably some plastic surgery after the match.
Finally, the riskiest but the most powerful position from which to go for ground and pound would be standing. Of course, your opponent needs to be on the ground while you attempt to attack from your feet.
I say it’s risky because your opponent is mobile on the ground, and you have the least control of their movement. Up kicks are a huge risk here, so you need to know how to clear them.
The most common approach is to step in with your lead leg with a bent knee to avoid kick damage and move in to block one leg. Clear the other leg with your hand and then explode down for a strike.
If you can clear both legs to the side, it gives a whole new dimension to the position. You’ll have a very high chance of finishing the fight if you get there.
Ground and pound from a standing position is so dangerous because you can generate the most force that way. You have the room to rotate your hips to generate power. To add to it, you can use gravity to rain down on your opponent for maximum damage.
Usually, you can get a standing position on your opponent after a knockdown or a slip. Otherwise, it might be difficult to get there, but not impossible either.
Does Ground and Pound Hurt?
I can’t think of a striking technique that hurts worse than ground and pound. Don’t get me wrong; powerful one-punch knockouts hurt like hell, but they put you to sleep. Ground and pound keeps you conscious while getting hit in the same spots again and again.
And not just punches – elbows, forearms, knees to the body, getting your head squashed against the mat and your opponent’s head and all that while getting your head bounced off the canvas repetitively. Trust me; it’s better to get clipped and fall asleep before you hit the ground than to endure that kind of torture on the floor.
Using ground and pound in a street fight can get you in jail in no time for attempted murder. Concrete is not as soft as canvas, and those bounces off the concrete as you bash somebody with ground and pound can put them in a coma at best.
So yes, the ground and pound hurts. Not only does it hurt, but it can get out of hand quickly and become fatal, especially on the streets, where there are no referees to stop the fight or a medical team to prevent fatal outcomes.
Who Has the Best Ground and Pound in the UFC?
There were many phenomenal ground and pound fighters in UFC history: Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Cain Velasquez, Matt Hughes, etc. However, some guys have simply elevated it to the next level.
Georges St-Pierre had great stand-up, but as a primary wrestler, he learned how to control every aspect of his opponent’s movements to gain the edge and attack with ground and pound.
Fighters like Jon Jones have taken the striking creativity in the ground and pound up a notch.
Still, there’s an absolute kingpin in this category when it comes to dominating everybody with ground and pound, and that’s Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The guy is undefeated his entire career (29-0), and he virtually lost only a single round in that entire run (against Conor McGregor in a fight he finished via neck crank).
What he’s doing with his ground and pound is groundbreaking. The way he controls the opponent’s limbs to create a position for effective ground striking is remarkable.
For instance, when having his opponent’s back against the cage sitting on the floor, Khabib locks their legs with his legs to prevent them from pushing themselves up against the cage and back on their feet. Instead, he controls them on the ground and against the cage, demolishing them with a flurry of strikes.
After Khabib retired, I believe Kamaru Usman is currently the ground and pound kingpin in the UFC. If you need a demonstration of why that’s the case, just watch the fight against Tyron Woodley, where Usman took the welterweight title away from him.