Ground and Pound is a method that has been used since the early days of MMA. It was used in many victories by Mark Coleman, and some could argue that it was perfected by Tito Ortiz who added the submission defense factor in order to combat against the occasional tricky Brazilian Jiu Jitsu specialist. Today the ground and pound has evolved into something that has to be used in a lot more calculating manner than it ever has before. Today’s ground and pound has been combined with not only submission defense but with technical grappling, fighters that use this style are typically described as using a “grinding pace” or “willing to grind it out”. This style has pros and cons.
In addressing both the pros and cons of the grind, I’ll use a few different examples. I’ll discuss the value of trying to end the fight while in the midst of a grind, I’ll discuss options when the ground and pound isn’t working, and finally I’ll cover the unpopularity of the grind in MMA, and the solution for remaining exciting while grinding out a decision victory.
Chael Sonnen backed up a lot of his trash talk on Saturday with a dominating performance over Anderson Silva for the better part of four and a half rounds. He was able to exercise superior grappling, and capitalize on mistakes in judgement by Silva by shooting when Silva chose to kick and keeping Silva on his back. Sonnen was doing everything right on the ground for three solid rounds. In round one he was able to negate Silva’s hip movement and land big shots while Silva was on his back. Despite several efforts by Silva to wall walk and bring the fight back to its feet again Sonnen executed superior technical wrestling by always being in the right place at the right time.
Another positive point for Sonnen was that his cardio was outstanding, which is mandatory if you plan to hold someone on their back for 25 minutes. Now don’t get me wrong, this was far from a “lay and pray” decision. However keeping someone on their back where you can land strikes and remain in a dominant position for five rounds is no easy task. While Sonnen didn’t flat out gas in rounds four and five his pace and intensity dropped greatly which opened the door for Silva and his BJJ to work later in the fight. This is one of the downsides of the grind. Typically those who are grinders don’t fight to put their opponents away, but rather to wear their opponents down. In the situation where you have someone who is on their back for an entire fight if they’ve remained relaxed and gathered themselves, you can find yourself facing a fresher opponent in later rounds, which is dangerous but even more so when facing someone with knowledge of submissions.
During his fight with Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin hit the wall by wasting strikes during his ground and pound. I remember while being surprised that Brock Lesnar was for once the victim and not the aggressor, I found myself screaming at the television for Shane Carwin to let Lesnar stand up. I argued with a friend of mine about this later who pointed out that no one should ever give up such a good position. My problem with positioning is that if your position is giving you no advantage why wouldn’t you try to put yourself in an even better position to finish the fight? In this case I simply meant that Carwin already had the clear advantage standing with Lesnar and he had him woozy, standing at that point would’ve been more detrimental to Lesnar who by the second round had gathered his wits and was able to finish a gassed Carwin. In the situation where the ground and pound isn’t working one can only hope that grinders have the presence of mind to try something else.
I think the only way to tell whether or not ground and pound is working is not only by discerning whether or not you’re ahead on the cards but you must also asses damage to your opponent. This is exactly why I think fighters should be aiming to finish every single fight early. If you’re on the ground then the fighter should be taking clean strikes and aiming for the KO or TKO. Since most “grinders” tend to be wrestlers accurate strikes aren’t necessarily a staple for them. Regardless of this , no matter what the method , all “grinders” should have the aim of finishing the fight as quickly as possible.
Being a “grinder” isn’t popular. If you don’t believe me then ask Jon Fitch, who after putting in a dominating performance over Thiago Alves was treated to an overwhelming chorus of boos from the crowd. Fitch has won seven of his last eight fights, including a current five fight win streak. The problem is that he’s won them all by decision however dominating those decisions may have been. His loss was to a “grinder” who not only had better wrestling, but also better striking and is the current UFC welterweight champion. This in large part fuels the argument of why the UFC doesn’t necessarily want to promote GSP vs. Jon Fitch 2 as most fans find fights that play out in this manner boring.
The bottom line is that the grind has come a long way. Much like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the early days of MMA the grind is finding its place. We will continue to see it used well and not so well as the sport continues to grow. As it evolves it will become increasingly effective until another style comes along and edges it out.