How to Fight Taller Opponents – Basic Self-Defense Moves


Fighting is science and there is a winning formula for every type of fight. For many people, it is a game of chess since there are many factors that can decide the outcome of the fight. It doesn’t matter how small or big you are, every person brings to the table certain advantages or disadvantages. 

You see, size does matter whether it’s a fight on the street or in the ring. But people tend to forget that size is just a single factor that can’t be a decisive one. It doesn’t matter how small you are. There’s always a way for you to win a fight against a bigger and taller rival. 

In this article, we will explain to you how a shorter person can defeat a taller rival in a self-defense situation using MMA techniques that are proven to be very effective in an MMA fight

We are not going to overwhelm you with millions of techniques and information. Instead, I will explain in the most basic steps so you can have an idea of how these techniques work especially for those who have no past martial arts background

But, bear in mind that it takes time to master these techniques and how to perform them the right way.  

You Have To Stay Calm First!

Every type of fight is a stressful situation full of emotions like adrenalin and fear. Knowing how to stay calm in a fight is what separates skilled fighters from regular people. 

We can often hear MMA fighters talking about the importance of putting the emotions under control. According to them, no techniques can work if your emotions are getting the best of you. This may sound cliché for many people but we can’t stress enough how important this is. 

At first, emotions like anger can make you fearless and boost your aggression. But anger blocks your mind from thinking straight and making rational decisions in fights. So there is a high chance for you to make a mistake since you won’t be able to properly assess the situation you are in

Also, emotions shut down your fighting abilities. For instance, it slows down your reaction time and it clouds your mind so you can’t judge the distance properly. Also, emotions like fear will raise your heartbeat and the body will require more oxygen. This means you will start breathing much faster and get tired early in the fight. Check out this video about how an MMA fighter has to deal with fight anxiety.

So, you must train your mind as much as you train your body. We know, fighting against a taller and bigger person is scary. But you have to keep your mind calm to assess the situation clearly and do what it takes to stay safe. 

One of the best tips for you is to take a couple of deep breaths. We know this may sound odd, but people forget to breathe when they are in a stressful situation. With the lack of oxygen, emotions like fear will get more intense and your mind can easily enter the panic mode. It has been scientifically shown that breathing reduces stress and will calm you down significantly.

There is a small margin for error in fighting against a taller opponent, and you must calm your nerve if you want to win. 

Protect Yourself At All Time

Protecting yourself at all times is the most important rule of every fight. You must always protect your head and don’t let your guard down at any costs.

But due to the sudden rush of fear and adrenalin, many people forget to cover themselves. You should keep your hands up in a guard position that covers your facial as well as your below the neck area. 

But since we are dealing with a bigger and taller person, keeping your hands up in the guard is not enough. A bigger person is stronger and can generate much more power in the strikes. Even if you block them, these strikes can still hurt you. So you can’t just stand in front of them and block their strikers as when you are facing a person similar size. 

Instead, if attacked, focus on keeping your head off the center line and dodging the strikes instead of blocking them. This is originally a boxing technique called “Slipping punches. The key is to slide your head to the outside of the punch and make the opponent “overshoot” with the punch. 

This is much safer than blocking since you don’t have to absorb any damage. And it leaves the opponent open for your counter-attack. 

Keep Your Distance And Learn The Footwork

Distance is your friend in fights, and staying out of the opponent’s range will keep you safe from all dangers. This is easier said than done when you have a much taller rival who has a huge reach advantage. But you can stop them from utilizing a high reach by using footwork and mobility. Here’s an instructional video about footwork in a fight. 

Let’s say the rival comes at you straight forward. Your initial reaction would be to move straight backward. Yet, stepping back makes you off-balance and an easy target for the rival who is already moving in your direction. So instead of moving back in a straight line, you have to step back by moving diagonally at a 45-degree angle. 

Whether you pivot left or right, this will make the rival off-balance because they can’t change the direction in the middle of the attack. Since you moved away from their line of attack, there is a great chance you would avoid the strike as well. MMA fighter Stephen Thompson is synonymous with great footwork and escaping troubles by moving to the side. 

Staying out of the opponent’s range is one of the fundamentals of fighting. But its importance goes to another level when you are facing a much taller rival. As a shorter person, you must use the mobility to always move left or right and avoid standing in front of them. 

Staying out of the range will keep you safe and give time to react. It’s also much easier to apply offensive or defensive moves when there’s a distance between you and the opponent. 

The Best MMA Defensive Move Is A Wrestling Takedown

Staying at distance and knowing how to avoid the attack is great. But the worst thing you can do is to stand and trade strikes with a taller opponent because height does matter in a fight unless you know what to do. If a taller person decides to attack, you should shift your focus on taking them down as soon as possible. UFC fighter Henry Cejudo, who stands at only 5’3″, teaches you how to takedown a bigger opponent in this video.

Let’s suppose the opponent who is tall comes at you swinging. The best move you can execute is to duck under and shoot for a takedown. Taking them down instantly nullifies their height and reach advantages. Also, it puts you right into the dominant position. And you can use it to keep them on the bottom or do damage with the MMA ground and pound techniques. 

Taking someone down has many benefits. But you need to spend a lot of time training and learning how to execute the moves. Wrestling techniques like single or double-leg takedown may look easy when MMA fighters are performing them. But you have to learn how to position yourself for a takedown and develop timing on the entry to execute these moves the right way. 

As MMA fights have shown over the years, a wrestling takedown technique is the best technique for a short/smaller guy to win a fight against taller/bigger guy.

More Tips On Wrestling Takedown

Even if you know how to execute a single or double leg takedown, you can’t just dive in for the opponent’s legs every time. In a nutshell, you must avoid telegraphing the attack by mixing things up so that your opponent does not see or can’t predict your intent. The best trick MMA fighters use is to pretend they are throwing a punch and then duck under and go for a takedown. 

The key behind fighting a taller man or any other person is to be unpredictable and keep them guessing. You can have much better success in taking down someone by faking a punch and then quickly move in for a takedown before the rival can set up their defense. This is the most effective way to take a bigger and taller person down. 

But taking someone down doesn’t mean you are all safe and in a dominant position. The opponent will try to push you away or overpower from the bottom to reverse the position. You still need to learn how to distribute the weight the right way and keep them on the bottom and stop from scrambling back to their feet. 

Knowing how to execute the takedown the right way and establish strong top control is very effective against much taller and bigger opponents.

Striking From The Top Position Is Very Effective

Let’s suppose you are in the mount position and controlling your opponent on the bottom. One of the best things you can do is to posture up and unload with the strikes. In MMA, this technique is called “ground and pound” and is very effective because you are punching with the force going downwards. Thus, you can generate much force and do huge damage by landing just a couple of strikes. 

In some way, it is the same as throwing a ball. You can generate more force by throwing a ball directly below you than throwing it in a horizontal line. Punches moving downwards don’t lose much energy like the ones going into the horizontal line. 

Also, the opponent will absorb every bit of impact since their head is on the ground. So you don’t have to be a power puncher to land hard punches from the top. 

Throwing punches from the top position is not a science and you don’t need any striking skills to be good at it. Every punch thrown from the top position has enough force to hurt the opponent more greatly than during the standup exchanges. 

When on top, MMA fighters also use elbow strikes. They are very powerful and can produce nasty cuts. It’s even more effective than a punch since the top of the elbow is very sharp and thick. If you throw them the right way, their power is equivalent to getting hit by an object. 

Muay Thai Kicks Are Also Very Effective

Tall people will always have a reach advantage. But if you are comfortable with kicking, you can use Muay Thai low kicks to neutralize the opponent’s attacks and movement. 

When a taller opponent swings at you with a punch, throw a low kick to their lead leg. This can instantly stop their attack, and a couple of hard kicks can temporally immobilize their legs and movement. This is the favorite technique of the former UFC champ, Jose Aldo. 

This kick is very powerful, and you can learn how to throw them relatively easily. In some way, it is the same as kicking a soccer ball. Just imagine your target is your opponent’s shin area. 

Another kick you can use is the popular “push kick.” Although this kick can’t do much damage, it is one of the best ways you can keep the opponent at distance or counter their punches. 

Some people have an easier time learning how to kick and some don’t. It truly depends on how flexible and naturally gifted you are for kicking. But you must know how to execute both push kick and low kick when facing a taller opponent.

Avoid If You Can!

In the end, the best advice we can give you is to avoid the fight at all costs.  There’s no shame in walking away from petty fight. The technique that works the best in a street fight is not getting into fighting at all. 

But as we know, life is unpredictable and sometimes you will find yourself into a situation where you have to defend yourself. All the techniques above are for self-defense purpose and can get you out of trouble if you apply them correctly. 

Clay E

Clay E is a MMA/Muay Thai practitioner who was a collegiate wrestler at James Madison University.

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