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Paying Dues: Things to Do Before Your First MMA Fight

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Those who have been training for a while can still look back and fondly remember that first day stepping into the gym or dojo and just knowing that within the next couple of months they would be an MMA star. . . Then subsequently getting hit in the head and waking to realize maybe they weren’t quite cage-ready.

It happens to the best of us.

Getting Cage-Ready

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Jumping right in to an MMA bout is not the best way to further a fight career, especially for someone who has not been training for an extended time. That doesn’t mean that competition is out of reach, but there are safer and more effective ways to pay your dues before taking your first MMA fight.

There are some key benefits to competing in specific disciplines before mixing them up which include:

  • Learning to hear your corner
  • Practicing the weight cut
  • Experiencing the pressure of an audience
  • Coping with pre-fight adrenaline
  • Familiarizing with competition etiquette

For those lucky enough to have trained in martial arts as a child growing up competing in karate or taekwondo tournaments, or even wrestling in high school and college, this may serve as a head start in some of these crucial areas. This isn’t the case for everyone. A lot of fighters today begin their journey as adults and for them experiences before entering the cage are even more important. Even for those with experience in a specific discipline or sport, it is not always a great idea to jump in mouth-guard first. There are some good places to start this journey to the cage that will result in more confident and prepared competitors going into that first MMA fight.

Local and National Jiu Jitsu Tournaments

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The ground component is a crucial part of MMA and it is one of the few areas that allow opponents to compete at full sparring pace without heavy risk of injury due to the ability to tap and utilization of the point system.

Most of the high-point positions are places from which fighters can strike in an MMA match and cause damage. Most of these are top-game positions. Just like in MMA, if you want to play bottom-game you have to be able to pull off a submission to get the win or else there is a good chance you will be out-pointed.

There are usually multiple matches going on in very close proximity during Jiu Jitsu tournaments and this makes noise filtration crucial. In order to be able to hear your coach, you must really focus on where they are and what cues they are giving. Having the opportunity to face multiple opponent in a single day is also good for judging mental and physical stamina.

Amateur Boxing Matches

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All fights start standing. Being confident in your hands is an important part of cage-life. Amateur boxing typically requires that both participants wear headgear and large gloves. This mitigates some of the risk of head trauma due to repeated punching, especially for someone who is not a veteran of the sport.

Ring awareness is very similar to cage awareness in that fighters have to be able to identify which corner is theirs and decipher what coaches are saying. The ring atmosphere also requires the use of peripheral vision and distancing to avoid getting stuck against the ropes. Rounds are typically only two or three minutes for a total of three to five rounds.

Amateur Kickboxing Matches

Nathan Allyene (Hurricane) and Sean Baxter (Sean Kinsella) fighting at Storm Full Contact kickboxing event

Kickboxing is not sanctioned by a uniform commission like boxing, though there are specific promotions and organizations that are similar in their regulations. That being said, the rules on equipment such as headgear, glove size and shin guards are not the same across all events.

Taking a kickboxing match using protective equipment is a good “next step” toward cage readiness. The combination of punches and kicks ads an element of multi-attacks coming both high and low. This may be more challenging for competitors who are not prone to kicking. Being able to throw kicks effectively is a great benefit as an MMA fighter. Even for someone who is not a kicker, being able to block or respond properly to kicks and punches is crucial.

Kickboxing will also help with ring/cage awareness.

Pankration

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Pankration is almost MMA. This sport introduced into the Greek Olympic Games in 648 B.C., but tapered off being replaced by other less-brutal sports. There is constant conversation about attempting to re-establish pankration as an Olympic event. It is generally considered the pre-cursor to MMA amongst combat sports competitors.

Not all pankration rules are the same, but the common denominator that separates the sport from MMA is that there are no punches to the head of a downed opponent. In some cases there are no punches on the ground at all. Knees and elbows are usually illegal as well.

This is a great introduction to what an MMA fight will feel like without and heads bouncing off the cage floor. Matches are often held in a cage although they can also be in a ring or an open mat.

Travel for Competition

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Though it is not “crucial”, it is not a bad idea to try and compete in one of these pre-cursor events somewhere other than your home state, or at least somewhere not within driving distance.

Traveling to compete requires a different type of mindset and adaptability to an unfamiliar environment. It is a good idea to experience this early before you begin your MMA journey and accept that first MMA fight.