On the mental side of the equation in how to become an MMA fighter, what’s required for success in MMA?Nate Marquardt: You need the ability to go out and perform as well as or better than you do in the gym. A lot of guys do very well in the gym but crumble under the pressure of fighting in front of a crowd. Or they get hit in the face and turtle up. More often than not, the mental component is something you always had, but in some instances, guys have developed it. At first, they’re terrified of getting hit and don’t perform well, but after years of keeping at it, they can develop it. That’s rare, though.
Is that the difference between a great fighter and a great coach?Nate Marquardt: A fighter doesn’t have to be super technical. He really has to know only his own style. He has to be very strong mentally and be able to perform. But a coach has to know styles for big guys, little guys, brawlers, aggressive fighters, counterfighters, etc. He doesn’t necessarily have to have the winning spirit that drives you to victory.
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Speaking of coaching, how important is preparing for your next opponent as opposed to just training to improve your skills?Nate Marquardt: You have to have a good mixture. You should want to be the best you can be at everything. If you’re supposed to fight a specific guy, you shouldn’t drop all you’re doing and train for him. You should continue to work on what you need to improve. But it’s also in your best interest to study your opponent — to see what his strengths and weaknesses are.
How different would MMA be if you didn’t know the identity of your next opponent?Nate Marquardt: It wouldn’t look very different to fans. Most guys, before getting into a big organization like the UFC, don’t get to watch footage of their next opponent. And even if you do get to, you have to remember that he might have progressed and could have a different way of fighting now.
Let’s talk MMA techniques for a minute. For those who are new to MMA or looking for information regarding how to become an MMA fighter, what are the essential submissions?Nate Marquardt: I’d say the guillotine, the rear-naked choke, the kimura, the triangle, the armbar, the leg lock and the arm triangle. You also have to know the defenses for each of them.
What about the essential strikes?Nate Marquardt: I’d say the one-two, the jab and the cross. They can be separate or in combination — it doesn’t matter.
Why are those two punches so important?Nate Marquardt: The jab is No. 1. It’s one punch, but you can throw it with 10 different outcomes. It can be a feint, a luring technique, a power technique, a body shot, a way to off-balance him, a setup for another punch, a way to find your distance and so on.
Is the cross as versatile?Nate Marquardt: Not quite, but it’s almost as good. It can be a power shot or a setup shot. It can be aimed at the head or body, and it can be a feint, a setup for a hook or a way to push him back.
Are you a believer in elbow strikes?Nate Marquardt: Yes. They’re hard to land while standing but easier in the clinch. On the ground, they’re even more important.
Does that also apply to knee strikes?Nate Marquardt: Knees are No. 1 from the clinch. From outside the clinch, they’re “higher percentage” than elbows but still relatively low percentage. You need really good timing.
What about the other facet of striking — kicks?Nate Marquardt: Some guys kick more than others. Even if you don’t rely on them, you need to know how to defend against them. High kicks are important, but low kicks are good, too. In MMA, body kicks are tricky because it’s easy to get taken down. Thigh kicks are safer, but you can still get taken down — you need to time it so he can’t grab your leg. The safest is the high kick because your opponent has to block it before he can counter. That’s the opposite of what many people think.
Which grappling moves are a must for anyone considering how to become an MMA fighter?Nate Marquardt: The takedown from the clinch and the takedown from the shoot. The single-leg with the head inside and with the head outside, and the double-leg. From the clinch, several throws are important: the inside trip, the outside trip, the body-lock throw and the snap down. And you need to be proficient at countering all of these.
About the Fighter: For more information about Nate Marquardt, see his fighter profile at UFC.com. About the Author: Robert W. Young is the executive editor of Black Belt.