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The Complexities Of Positioning In MMA With Chael Sonnen

The Complexities Of Positioning In MMA With Chael Sonnen

Combat sports have common principles. Arts as disparate as boxing and judo each have an emphasis on timing. Karate and wrestling each manage distance. One particular point of emphasis that is ubiquitous in martial arts is positioning. 


Layers Of Positioning

Positioning is a multilayered concept. It can be applied on the micro level of individual techniques, such as the positioning of your body when throwing a right cross. On more macro levels of positioning, we refer to the placement within the sporting context: are you controlling the center? Is your back against the ropes? We will also consider our positioning relative to the opponent. In grappling or MMA, this can refer to being on top or on bottom. Striking disciplines could look at the relative position in terms of angles and distance. 


Positioning at the micro-level is non-negotiable. Wrestlers who take a shot must check the boxes of good positioning: head up, back straight, hips in. Breaking these rules of positioning against a competent wrestler will get you sprawled on and smashed into the mat. At other levels, positioning begins to become more flexible. For example, fighters generally wish to control the center of the ring. Being in the center gives a fighter the added option of evading strikes by moving away from the opponent. Some fighters esque this advantage and choose to fight with their back along the ropes. Fighting while backed against the ropes can incentivize an opponent to throw more punches and lead the exchanges more often. This increases the opportunities to counter the opponent, as evidenced in Anderson Silva vs Stephan Bonner, or lead them to expend energy as seen in Ali vs Foreman. 


Positioning choices can be made on the technique level as well. The boxing stance has features that are widely considered to be inviolable. Roy Jones Jr intentionally ignored two of these features to create openings for his offense. Rather than standing with his shoulders bladed and both of his hands up, Roy would square his shoulders, projecting his head foreward, and leave his hands by his waist. Fundamentally unsound as it was, Roy used this stance to keep his left hook loaded. Given his unique physical attributes, speed and reflexes, Roy could use this unorthodox positioning to launch leaping left hooks. Less gifted fighters would have been exposed had they adopted similar positioning.


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How To Make Positioning Decisions

What goes into making choices regarding positioning? To make a sound decision, one must first identify the variables in play. Variables including your skillset, your opponent’s skillset, your physical attributes, your opponents attributes, and how your variables relate to your opponent’s. Once made, considerations of the relevant variables will give you a sense of the odds. Odds in this context refer to the risk vs reward of maintaining certain positions. At face value, standing in front of an opponent with hands down seems like a terrible strategy, and in most cases it is. However, certain variables can make this strategy appealing. 


Take a fighter who might have a particular vulnerability to body shots or leg kicks. Now, also consider that this fighter has particularly sharp counter boxing along with a reach advantage. Given these variables, this positioning could invite his opponent to throw at his head, neglecting the body strikes and leg kicks while simultaneously creating the opportunity for counters. To make this concrete, look at the case of Ryan Hall. Ryan is a prodigious grappler with a diverse set of rangy kicks. Ryan understands that at a certain distance, he can land strikes safely. When this range is closed, he opts to pull guard, a position commonly denigrated in mixed martial arts competition. Ryan can make this choice because his skillset from this position has both the breadth and depth to discourage opponents from capitalizing. 


 

Chael Sonnen: Skilled And Articulate

Clearly, at certain levels, good positioning is uniform across fighters, but at other levels it becomes more nuanced. In the video above, Chael Sonnen gives insight into his considerations of positioning from the front headlock position. It is an interesting look into the mind of a highly successful MMA competitor because one, Sonnen has many options because of his diverse grappling skills from both his wrestling and a brazilian jiu jitsu background. Second, Sonnen is highly articulate and capable of explaining his decision making in ways most fighters cannot. Observing competitive sports over time, it is apparent that not all great athletes are great coaches. Most simply do not have the insight into what made them great or the ability to articulate the skills and strategies that lead to high level success. Chael Sonnen possesses both of these qualities in spades.

 

Chael's Instructional

The Winning Fundamentals Of MMA by Chael Sonnen

Watch this video and the rest of Chael Sonnen’s instructional for incisive instruction into the techniques and tactics of striking in MMA here: The Winning Fundamentals Of MMA by Chael Sonnen – Dynamic Striking

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