BJJ
Shutterstock / Miljan Zivkovic
Early in the UFC’s history, it became clear that Brazilian jiu-jitsu was an extremely effective martial art in terms of applicability in a fight. Royce Gracie won the UFC 1, UFC 2 and UFC 4 — and showed the world that his knowledge of ground positions and submissions was enough to defeat bigger and stronger opponents.

As MMA has grown and developed, however, we’ve seen a shift to athletes who are more well-rounded. Nowadays, the top mixed martial artists train consistently in a variety of disciplines. We’ve seen many champions with wrestling and striking backgrounds, which has caused some fans to question whether BJJ is still an essential part of MMA training.

Let’s examine why jiu-jitsu is and always will be a critical component of mixed martial arts.

Jiu-Jitsu Builds Your Defensive Skills

One of the primary benefits of learning BJJ for mixed martial arts is it prepares you to defend against submissions. If you’ve trained in jiu-jitsu, you know the feeling of helplessness you had during those first few months. You walked into the gym, and people with even a small amount of experience could submit you easily.

Even if you’re world-class at every other martial arts discipline, not knowing jiu-jitsu would be a huge weakness in an MMA fight. At the very least, you must be competent in submission defense. This not only will help you fend off high-level submission attempts but also will give you more confidence to attack.

When you have confidence in your defensive skills, it’s much easier to take a risk and attack, knowing that if you end up in a submission or a bad position, you have the skills to get out.

Jiu-Jitsu Helps You Control Distance

Just as an elite boxer can manage distance in the standing position, so too can a jiu-jitsu athlete manage distance on the ground. Why is this important?

Imagine that you’re in the bottom position with no control of the distance between you and your opponent. You’ll be open to strikes that could end the fight, especially if you don’t have a way to create distance soon.

While this certainly applies for the bottom player, it’s equally important when you’re on top. Knowing how to break down an opponent’s frames and close distance is invaluable when you need to control your opponent and want to begin landing strikes from a position of power.

Jiu-Jitsu Allows You to Finish the Fight

We’ve all seen matches in which a fighter pulls victory straight out of the jaws of defeat. While these moments may seem like pure luck to the untrained eye, they’re most often the result of years of skill building.

Jiu-jitsu is arguably the best martial art in terms of finishing a fight. A well-timed and well-placed punch can often end the encounter. However, it’s not uncommon to see fighters with an unbelievable ability to absorb strikes. Sometimes a punch or kick that would knock out most combat athletes appears to barely cause an opponent to stumble. We see this especially at the higher levels of MMA.

With jiu-jitsu, however — and with chokes, in particular — it’s impossible to resist the technique if it’s applied correctly. No matter how tough or how strong a person is, a properly executed choke will put that person to sleep if there’s no tap. If you have a strong guillotine or rear-naked choke, you’ll be able to finish the fight at a moment’s notice, regardless of whether you were winning up to that point.

Having a great defense, knowing how to control distance and being able to finish fights are three big reasons jiu-jitsu is an essential skillset for mixed martial arts.
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