I’m always looking for ways that the sticky hands-like training found in Chinese martial arts like Tai Chi Chuan, Wing Chun, Praying Mantis, White Crane and Hung Gar, where contact between the forearms or hands is maintained and the practitioner is encouraged to ‘listen’ to the movements of the opponent through this contact, can be used in MMA.
A clip of Bruce Lee showing sticky hands training
The problem with transferring these sorts of skills to MMA is quite obvious: nobody in a ‘real’ fight is going to offer up their arm to you to stick too. Instead, they’re just going to punch you straight in the face, and not leave their fist hanging in the air afterward for you to grab.
Perhaps the most famous MMA practitioner ever, Conor McGregor, is a master of counter-attacking and timing. He waits for the opponent to commit to a strike before throwing his deadly left hand and catching him just as he comes in. He mixes this up with kicking techniques straight from a Tae Kwon Do instruction manual.
Other fighters like Nate Diaz are known for their straight-up boxing style hands and fighters like Gobrandt and Cruz have evolved the MMA striking game into a movement based style.
One of the names you don’t often hear mentioned regarding striking is the UFC light heavyweight champion, and now the new heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier. Cormier, a former Olympic Wrestler, has a strong background in grappling but has dominated the light heavyweight division (despite two losses to Jon Jones, who keeps getting disqualified and banned for failing drug tests), achieving 10 TKO or KO victories from striking.
Using wrestling as his base he’s developed a style of clinch-based dirty boxing that has been very successful. He doesn’t look like a typical striker, with both his hands outstretched, instead of in a typical boxing guard. When engaging an opponent on his feet Cormier seeks to smother the other guy’s hands, and feed in strikes once they are out of the way, moving into a clinch position, then looking to land a strong hook as either he or his opponent exit the clinch. And of course, once in the clinch, he can use his wrestling to get a takedown. Video here.
If he can catch his opponent with his hands down as he exits the clinch then a short hook can mean its lights out, as the ex Heavy Weight champion Stipe Miocic found out to his cost this Saturday at UFC 226 when Cormier moved up a weight division to challenge for the belt, becoming a two-division champion in the process as Miocic collapsed to the floor following a clean hook to the chin from Cormier.
Cormier’s tactics have a president in boxing. Jack Johnson and George Forman used to smother opponents hands to set up their own fence and draw loopier punches that they could cut inside of.
MMA Analyst Jack Slack has broken down the stylistic punching of Cormier in Clash of Kings: Tactical Guide to Stipe Miocic vs Daniel Cormier, ahead of the UFC 226 heavyweight clash. Slack calls it the “mummy” style of guard, presumably because it resembles a horror movie mummy approaching with outstretched arms.
Jack Slack breaks Cormier’s style down further in a subsequent article, after the event, which looks at Cormier’s use of a blocking arm, known as a barring arm. Video here.
But what peaked my interest was the idea that this style of fighting could be the ‘way in’ that Chinese Martial Arts practitioners are looking for when transitioning to MMA (or heck, just even real fighting). Cormier’s style makes extensive use of subtle angle changes and sensitivity that push hands and sticky hands training builds up.
If you’ve got a background in this style of sticky hands then read those Jack Slack articles and take a closer look at what Cormier is doing because it could be a style of fighting that would probably work for you too.