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Measuring the importance of ground & pound in the current MMA landscape

By Zach Arnold | September 20, 2011

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As a 5-to-1 favorite in Saturday’s UFC 135 title fight, Jon “Bones” Jones is one high-profile champion utilizing ground ‘n pound skills in a manner conducive to offense, which goes against the grain of fighters like Jon Fitch & Georges St. Pierre. For this article, we take a look at the introduction of GNP in the earlier days of MMA and how/why it is currently utilized the way it is in the sport.

By Julien Solomita ( | @streetmadeteam)

MMA has changed and promoters of the sport persist that they can make the industry into one of the world’s most popular sports. Ground and pound is something that gave fighter’s considerable attention when it was especially common in the early days of MMA and, as the sport advances, usage of GNP must also evolve for the good of the sport in order to maintain its relevancy. It isn’t that ground and pound usage doesn’t exist anymore in the sport but rather the strategy behind using it has been tweaked. There is interesting psychology behind this transformation that can shed light on the reason for change.

In no way has ground and pound left mixed martial arts, as there are still a number of fighters who apply it to their game fluently. Many great fighters in the UFC are continuing to utilize this tool to beat down opponents. Chad Mendes has the great ability to slip punches into quick takedowns, then follow it with a strong ground attack. UFC bantamweight Scott Jorgensen showed a great example of effective ground and pound when he overpowered the active guard of Ken Stone by landing a quick storm of punches. UFC veteran Alan Belcher, coming off a long layoff was able to win his bout over Jason McDonald with the help of ground and pound. Most famously, Jon Jones is known for crushing fighters who end up on their back. From the famous broken nose of Brandon Vera, to the 10 consecutive elbows in a matter of four seconds against Matyushenko, to the ground elbow onslaught poured onto Shogun Rua all have proved the light heavyweight champion to be a dangerous fighter. When watching these fighters exercise this tactic so effectively, it still appears that ground and pound is as strong as it ever was, yet there are still some fighters who are able to win without it.

The beatings handed to downed opponents in the early days of mixed martial arts had a similar feel to today’s GNP’ers. UFC Hall of Famers Mark Coleman and Randy Couture were great practitioners of delivering such beatings. Once having put their opponent on the mat, they had one goal that was made clear to anyone watching them work. The goal: finish the fight. The barrage of wild alternating hooks and the constant striking onslaught even gassed the old ground and pound kings. The traditional offensive ground game that put ground and pound on the map isn’t put to use by some of today’s fighters, and although ground and pound still works for many, those that don’t prioritize it are losing popularity.

Stronger and more athletic than ever, today’s fighters continue to shape themselves into well rounded, and complete mixed martial artists. Exciting strikers continue to create knockout legacies and the level of jiu-jitsu continues to progress, creating a stronger ground game. The ground and pound was at one point the most feared quality in a fighter and brought wrestlers such as Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes, and Mark Coleman to the top of the sport. These knockout artists worked at taking their opponents down so they were able to neutralize them in the most primitive way possible, beating them into submission. These fighters gained their immense popularity with the success of this tool that they utilized so well. 

One of the most accomplished fighters of all time, who is battling to retain his status as a premier athlete, is the UFC welterweight champion. Georges St. Pierre has an uncanny ability to develop and execute a game plan to beat any fighter he faces, but just like any other champion, St. Pierre takes a lot of criticism.

GSP has beaten eight of his last nine opponents yet only finished two of those fights. His killer instinct isn’t the problem but rather his obsession with winning. St. Pierre wants to win more than anything, but sometimes this means he isn’t all that interested in engaging in canvas warfare. This hunger to win has brought GSP to amazing heights but is now starting to hinder his killer instinct. St. Pierre is a strong wrestler and a takedown specialist. He has the ability to put fighters on their back, find submissions, and win decision victories from that position. However, wouldn’t he be more dominating if he mastered striking on the ground and was willing to display any sort of risk-taking to finish opponents like Dan Hardy? Georges will, from time to time, hit his grounded opponents but often it is when he is being told to “keep working” by the ref or if he can’t find submissions or to steal a round and win the decision. The larger point is that St. Pierre doesn’t use his devastating offensive tools to his full potential and it has resulted in not demonstrating the ability he has to smash his opponents in a much more violent fashion than he should be doing.

This is where ground and pound is now used differently than it ever has been in the sport.

It is now used as an emergency tactic for some guys and therefore isn’t being prioritized as an offensive weapon. I believe that ground and pound is something that fighters will either include in their strategy or eventually become irrelevant. Veterans such as Matt Hughes, and Tito Ortiz are struggling to stay alive in the sport today and much of it due to their transparent style. These guys are great at wrestling, and have been for years, but they are losing the third dimension in their game. Both guys have won a number of fights in their career by ground and pounding their way to victory, but they are losing their hunger and now are trying to simply get by, and survive fights, which is a detrimental approach. In addition to this, age induces a taming of that hunger that a fighter possesses when they are young. When Tito was emerging, he had explosive rage when he fought, and this naturally evoked his ground and pound, yet in the light heavyweight’s recent loss to Rashad Evans, it was “Suga” who proved that he is still thriving as a fighter. Evans was animalistic in ground and pounding Ortiz into the cage, and was strong with his stand up and takedowns too. Doesn’t an athletic fighter like Evans with such devastating ground and pound exhibit the need for such a method in today’s mixed martial arts?

The obsession with winning in sports is a positive thing. It forces athletes to work hard, and compete at their best to become victorious. It can also push fighters past their limits to become the best, but in MMA it can have the opposite effect. Some guys want to get a win on their record so badly that they will use the tactic of smothering opponents without actually doing damage, or attempting to finish them.  Using wrestling as a controlling factor in a fight rather than a set up for ground punishment has become prevalent with today’s wrestlers.

Jon Fitch and Anthony Johnson are two of today’s wrestlers who have been criticized for not finishing fights. Johnson, who is an enormous welterweight and cuts from above 200 pounds down to 170 is able to use his size advantage to weigh on top of fighters, and tire them out. When he faced Dan Hardy, there wasn’t a moment where Johnson looked eager to finish the fight. He was fully in position to finish with ground and pound, as he was on top of “The Outlaw” for the majority of the fight… but didn’t pull the trigger. Jon Fitch is similar to St. Pierre in that he doesn’t bother with ground and pound unless he has exhausted all other options. He is comfortable striking on the feet, but when on the ground he doesn’t show a need for ground and pound, and is happy with an abundance of decision wins rather than a few impressive knockout wins.

Jon Jones, Carlos Condit, Cain Velasquez and Rashad Evans are some of today’s fighters who recognize the importance of ground and pound and it is no coincidence that they are all fighting for world titles. With the way Carlos Condit has skyrocketed through the welterweight division, his finishing style should serve as an example. The way he finished the young and extremely talented Rory MacDonald with a third round of ground and pound is a perfect example of why he is so popular and now receiving his title shot. Even if Condit loses his UFC 137 bout, who can honestly predict this to be another boring title defense by GSP?

Ground and pound has always been an exiting way to end a fight, but it has been redefined in such a way that fighters who don’t use it simply don’t have a chance at being as great as those who do.

Julien Solomita is a student at Chapman University. He can be reached on Twitter @JulienSolomita. His personal web site can be accessed here.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 10 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

10 Responses to “Measuring the importance of ground & pound in the current MMA landscape”

  1. ddevil says:

    “When he faced Dan Hardy, there wasn’t a moment where Johnson looked eager to finish the fight.”

    Why is it that everybody seems to have forgotten about the third round?

  2. cutch says:

    Shogun vs Dan Henderson to headline UFC 139, this just needs another top fight and it will be a stacked card.

    Dana said that prelims will not be on facebook anymore and will be on one of the FOX channels, hopefully they can get these done internationally as well.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      He sure changed his tune fast on “internet streaming is the future!” didn’t he?

      I don’t blame him – he did his best by putting the fights on Facebook in hopes of stemming piracy. Instead, the #’s on FB viewers reportedly was not too hot as opposed to airing the prelims on conventional TV.

      Fuel seems to be the destination for prelims… which, of course, poses it’s own problems because few people get the channel. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

      • cutch says:

        I don’t live in the US, so it does’nt really matter to me but they should put the Facebook level fights on Fuel and then do a one hour prelim show on FX, just like they currently do with Spike.

        I am guessing that there was a lot of last minute buys from people watching on Spike and that would most likely continue with FX.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        1) It is becoming increasingly clear that online content is supplemental…. but cannot replace a TV presentation.

        2) Except for the price of my cable bill…. I am happy with the prelims being on TV. It’s nearly impossible for me to devote 5pm to midnight for the UFC. While watching the prelims was a nice bonus, it became more annoying due to the fact that I had to watch it live. DVR is your best friend here.

        3) The best option for the UFC would be a 2 hour prelim show on FUEL. A 1 hour prelim show on FX. Then the PPV. Then a 1 hour post game show on FUEL TV. Maybe even add a 1 hour pre game show on FUEL as well, and make it an all day affair.

        4)It doesn’t shock me that the prelims didn’t get a good number of viewers. But it did help increase the UFC’s followers on Facebook. When the Facebook prelims first started, the UFC had slightly less then 5 Million. Now they are over 6 Million.

      • fd says:

        It seems like Fox intends to use UFC content as leverage to get FUEL included in more cable packages.

      • Jason Harris says:

        The problem with streaming the fights on facebook is, I don’t have a computer hooked up to my TV. I want to watch the fights on my big screen in my living room, instead I’m holed up on the computer watching prelims in my office chair.

        What’s funny/odd to me is that I own the ROKU box which has a UFC channel on there for streaming fights….seems like the perfect place to stream the prelims, but no dice. In fact the whole ROKU program seems to be dead on the vine.

  3. Oh Yeah says:

    A lot of generalization in this article, lost some steam towards the end. Rashad was heavily criticized for LnP vs. Thiago Silva and stalling vs. Rampage. But he recognizes the value of GnP because he recently beat up an inferior fighter in Tito? Fitch put substantial GnP on guys like Saunders and Penn but decided instead to control Alves. Perhaps because many better fighters won’t allow you to control them positionally while also inflicting big damage.

    Good to see more writers on the site Zach.


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