What Is Ground And Pound In MMA? A Beginner’s Guide


Mixed martial arts(MMA) is a versatile combat sport where fighters compete both in the standup and on the ground. It is the only combat sport that allows a fighter to strike the grounded opponent using the famous “ground and pound” techniques. Though this may look brutal, ground and pound is a very important aspect of modern MMA fighting. 

Ground and pound is a specific technique where a fighter in top position is striking the opponent on the bottom with punches, elbows, and knees. The man who pioneered ground and pound in MMA was Mark Coleman, and he was also the first one to use this term in the 90s.

Keep reading this article to find out more about ground and pound in MMA.

What Is Ground And Pound In MMA?

Ground and pound is a technique MMA fighters are using when they are in the top position to strike a grounded opponent. Although it may look simple, the ground and pound technique is very complex, and not all MMA fighters are skillful in doing it. 

First, you need to get into a position from which you can start throwing ground and pound. Or in other words, a fighter needs to take the opponent down using takedowns, trips, or the other move. Once the fight hits the ground, the next goal is to secure a dominant position. If a fighter decides to start striking without previously securing a strong top control, they are risking losing a position. This is why they must get into a strong top position like:

  • Back mount
  • Full mount
  • Side control
  • Half guard
  • Guard

Once in a dominant position, they would posture up and start striking the grounded opponent with punches and elbows. They can also use knee strikes to the body from side control for instance. These strikes may look “soft” on TV, but some fighters have the ability to generate huge force in ground and pound, and knock the opponent out.

Who Started Ground And Pound Techniques?

The pioneer of ground and pound technique in MMA was a wrestler, and former UFC champ, Mark Coleman. He is often seen as the “Godfather of Ground and Pound”, and this specific technique was a big part of his fighting style. Also, Coleman was the first one to use the term “ground and pound” during the pre-fight interview prior to UFC 14 event held in 1997.

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Coleman came into MMA from wrestling and made his debut at UFC 10 tournament in 1996. At the time, Coleman was among the most muscular fighters who used this mix of strength and top wrestling skills to rule the sport in the 90s. His game plan was very simple on paper, but really hard to execute. He would first take the opponent down, secure a strong top control, and then posture up to unload with the barrage of punches. He also used various other brutal moves like headbutts to smash their faces, which was legal at the time.

Coleman put the ground and pound technique on the map, and in some way, he revolutionized the sport. Though there was ground fighting before him, Coleman was the one who used it in a strategic way to win fights, and he changed the game forever.

Bear in mind that, at the time, fighters trained in BJJ used to rule the sport. Wrestlers would often end up being submitted in the top position simply because they were not skillful enough to defend against chokes and joint locks. But Coleman created a blueprint on how wrestlers could avoid playing the BJJ game on the ground and finish BJJ fighters with strikes.

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What Strikes Are Allowed In Ground And Pound?

According to the “unified rules of MMA” fighters can use all types of punches as long as they are not hitting the back of the head of the opponent. The rules allow them to strike the face, and even the side of the head, but not the back of the head because this is a very delicate area where our spinal cord is located. These strikes are also known as “rabbit punches” and could lead to serious injuries.

Next, MMA fighters can also use vicious elbow strikes to do damage from the top position. But, bear in mind that they are not allowed to strike downward using the point of the elbow. This is also known as the “12 to 6 elbow”, which is an illegal strike in MMA. Landing the elbow from the upper position (12 o’clock) to the lower position (6 o’clock) is illegal in modern MMA. The most famous fighter who was a victim of this specific rule was the UFC champ, Jon Jones.

MMA fighters can also use knee strikes to ground and pound. According to rules, MMA fighters can land knee strikes only to the body of their opponent. Landing a knee to the head of the grounded opponent is illegal and would get you disqualified from a match.

Different Styles Of Ground And Pound Explained

In MMA, there are many ways fighters can attack the opponent with ground and pound techniques. These ground and pound styles are basically defined by the top position you are in:

Standing position — this style of ground and pound is the most destructive one, but at the same time, carries a high risk. From a standing position, fighters can generate a lot of power in every punch. However, the grounded opponent may blast you with an up-kick, or catch into submissions like leg locks, or armbar, and triangle as you are striking.

Guard position — is the safest and most common position on the ground. On one side, it allows you to establish strong top control, land punches, and vicious elbows. But on the other, a skilled opponent may fight back with submissions or strikes from the bottom.

Half guard positionin modern MMA, most fighters prefer to strike from the half-guard position. This position is great because it gives you enough space to strike while maintaining strong top control.

Side control position — is a very dominant position, especially if you get into a crucifix position. The crucifix is one of the most dominant positions and if a fighter manages to get it, the finish is guaranteed. 

Full mountthis is the most dominant position when it comes to ground and pound. Once an MMA fighter gets into a full mount position and starts raining down hard punches, it’s game over in most cases. Fighters on the bottom may try to explore and escape, but it usually all ends in a quick finish.

Back mountis also a very dominant position from which a fighter can easily finish the fight with punches. It is a very tricky position for a fighter on the bottom who, in most cases, ends up being in a turtle position, protecting their head. If they choose to escape and get back to their feet, they must drop their hands and expose their head to ground and pound shots coming from the top. 

Who Are The Best ‘Ground And Pound’ Fighters In MMA?

Throughout MMA history, there have been many great MMA fighters whose game has relied upon strong ground and pound techniques. Here are some of the most famous fighters who have had a strong ground and pound game:

  • Mark Coleman — is a pioneer of strategically using ground and pound techniques to win matches in MMA. The former UFC and PRIDE FC champ is also the one who come up with the name “ground and pound”.
  • Khabib Nurmagomedov — is a former UFC lightweight champ who has built his success on utilizing top grappling skills and strong ground and pound. On top of that, his game was vicious as he had the ability to generate huge power in every shot he threw from the top position.
  • Tito Ortiz — is a former UFC 205 lbs champ who had strong top control and great ground and pound skills. While Coleman is a godfather of ground and pound, Ortiz is a fighter who elevated this specific technique to another level. One of the best examples of his ground and pound skills was his fight against Elvis Sinosic at UFC 32.

Honorable mentions:

  • Cain Valasquez
  • Randy Couture
  • Georges St. Pierre
  • Fedor Emelianenko
  • Matt Hughes
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Is Ground And Pound Dangerous?

Yes, ground and pound techniques are very dangerous and can lead to serious injuries like fractures or deep cuts. Seeing an MMA fighter throwing “soft” strikes from a top position may not look dangerous. But bear in mind that skilled fighters know how to generate a lot of power in these shots.

For instance, the force of the impact could be much higher when you are striking the grounded opponent. When a fighter receives a shot on the feet, their head snaps backward or to the side which reduces the force of the impact. But the physics is a bit different when the opponent is absorbing punches while lying on the ground. Their head doesn’t have space to move backward, or in other words, it must absorb the entire force of the impact. The best example of this was when Stipe Miocic knocked out Alistair Overeem at UFC 203 in 2016.

The other dangerous situation is when a fighter on top is in the back mount position. This means that the back of the head of the grounded opponent is exposed to punches. Although the grounded fighter would cover up and get into a turtle position, they are still vulnerable to the back of the head punches, which can cause serious injuries.

Ground & Pound from back mount position
Photo by Matthew Walsh

Dangers of ground and pound techniques go even higher if we move to street fighting, but more about that later.

How To Defend Against The Ground And Pound?

Although ground and pound is a very effective technique, there are many ways you can defend against this type of attack. No matter if the fight is inside the cage under the rules or out on the streets, the procedure is very much the same for all scenarios. Once in the bottom position, the main goal is to control the opponent’s posture, and do not allow them to posture up and create space to throw punches. A fighter in a top position needs space to land punches and elbows, and your objective is to stop this. There are dozens of ways you can do this, and here is a popular one.

The most common way to defend against ground and pound is to pull guard. The key is to wrap the opponent with both legs and wrap up one or both of their arms. This way, you can control their posture, and prevent them from landing punches and elbows. And this also creates a chance for skilled grapplers to attack with various submissions, reverse the position, or start working their way back to the feet.

Pulling Guard in MMA

Can You Throw Elbows In Ground And Pound?

Yes, MMA fighters are allowed to use elbows as a weapon to hurt or knock out the grounded opponent. According to “Unified Rules of MMA”, fighters can use elbow strikes as long as they are not landing an elbow from a straight-up position to straight down. This is the famous “12 to 6 elbow” rule that is based on the concept of a clock on the wall where 12 is a straight up position and 6 straight down.

Elbows are a very effective ground and pound technique that often contribute to the finish of the match. The most common grappling position from which fighters unload with the barrage of elbows is half-guard and full mount. From these positions, fighters can generate a lot of power in every strike, and landing an elbow could cause more damage than a punch.

A well-placed elbow can slice through the opponent’s skin like a knife and open up a huge cut. These cuts usually lead to severe bleedings, which often end up in a doctor’s stoppage. Also, in the eyes of the referees, elbow strikes are far more brutal than punches. If the fighter is intelligently defending, MMA referees would often allow them to absorb a lot of punches, and give them every chance to recover. But once a fighter starts raining down vicious elbows, the referees would, in most cases, instantly stop the fight.

Can You Throw A Knee Strike In Ground And Pound?

Yes, MMA fighters are allowed to strike the grounded opponent with knees, but they can only target the body. They are not allowed to strike the head of the grounded opponent because that move is too dangerous and illegal. However, you don’t see UFC fighters, for instance, striking with knees simply because punches and elbows are far more efficient. You need a lot of space to land a clean and powerful knee to the body and hurt the opponent with it. On the other side, punches do not require as much space, and fighters can throw them from every position. 

However, well-placed knees to the body can do a lot of damage to the liver and the opponent’s ribs. The best example of this came when Mateusz Gamrot took the back of Carlos Ferreira and finished him with a single well-placed knee to body at UFC Vegas 45. The other great position on the ground to land a knee is side control.

Is Ground And Pound Effective In A Street Fight?

Yes, ground and pound techniques are very effective in street fighting, but, you have to be careful. Using ground and pound on the streets is fraught with danger and could easily end up being deadly. Striking the grounded opponent can cause serious damage, especially if the opponent is laying on the concrete. This is because they must absorb the entire force of the impact, and this could be lethal if their head bounces off the concrete.

Things could get even more dangerous if the opponent panics and decides to turn their back. A person in top position landing a barrage of punches could easily hit the back of the head. This is notably true for people not trained in martial arts who, due to the rush of adrenalin and fear, have a blurred mind and can’t aim their shots well. The back of the head is a place where our spinal cord is located, along with many other important nerves. Just a single punch to this area could be lethal or paralyze the person.

Overall, ground and pound techniques are very effective in a street fight but are not recommended to use.

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