The striker vs. grappler battle has been a major draw in fighting even before the days of MMA. Fighters have always wanted to prove their style was the best, but in the end, it turned out that all aspects of fighting were equally important. Still, in a pure striker vs. grappler match, who wins?
Both the striker and the grappler have ways to win, and each fight depends a lot on the personal qualities of the participants. But in a one-on-one fight, a grappler has a significant advantage because when the fight gets on the ground, the striker becomes almost helpless, and this has been proven many times in MMA and street fights.
Of course, this statement oversimplifies a complex game involving many variables and possible tactics. Knowing what makes the striker vs. grappler matchup so intriguing is valuable both as a practitioner and a spectator.
Each fight is individual, and a striker can beat a grappler in an MMA or street fight. However, when comparing a pure striker and a pure grappler, let’s say a boxer vs. a BJJ expert, the grappler has a very serious advantage and will win the majority of fights. But let’s see how MMA dispels centuries of myths about fighting.
Back in 1993, when the first UFC event was held, and in the early days of modern MMA, it looked like grapplers would forever dominate fighting when Royce Gracie defeated huge strikers by getting them down and strangling them on the ground. But the situation quickly changed when fighters understood BJJ and how to defend against it.
Styles like the sprawl and brawl were born, and fighters quickly learned how to defend takedowns and the immediate dangers on the ground. This, in turn, forced BJJ experts to learn better takedowns and to improve their striking, at least to help set up grappling. No longer was the original jiu-jitsu doctrine enough to win at high levels.
What MMA has done is showcase the reality of combat. This helped strikers more because they realized how vulnerable they were. Grapplers knew how effective they were, which gave them an advantage now lost.
For a kickboxer to win a fight against a BJJ guy, he knows he has to keep his distance and pick his shots because once he is on the ground, he is swimming with the sharks. It’s only a matter of time before the inevitable submission comes.
There are two reasons pure grapplers usually beat pure strikers. If you are in range to strike, you are in range to be taken down, giving the grapplers a significant advantage.
Furthermore, everyone can throw a punch or kick with decent power without training, so a grappler can still do something on the feet. But on the ground, you are completely helpless if you don’t have any skills.
So, for a striker to win the fight, he has to be careful, precise, and calculated with his approach and avoid being dragged to the ground at any cost. It is possible and has been done, but the chances align with the grappler.
Styles Makes Fights
You’ve heard the old saying styles make fights so many times because it is true. Even in today’s MMA, where fighters are well-rounded, and many young prospects started directly with MMA rather than a specific sport like wrestling or BJJ, many matches are still called striker vs. grappler matchups.
This is done because people still enjoy some style vs. style action. But what does it mean when both fighters know how to strike and grapple?
It means one fighter has a heavy striking background or preference and the other a grappling one. In most cases, the fighters are too well-rounded, but a clean example would be the 2021 fight between Stephen Thompson and Belal Muhammad.
Thompson is as prolific as an MMA fighter gets, and Muhammad is a wrestling pressure machine. This is as pure a striker vs. grappler matchup as we can get in modern-day MMA, and the intrigue for the fans is who will be able to force their game on the other fighter.
In this case, the grappler Muhammad held Thompson down and dominated him for the entire fight.
This is not always the case, though. When the grappler can’t get the fight to the ground, he is forced to trade shots with the striker, which rarely ends well. Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, and Israel Adesanya are perfect examples of high-level strikers with near-perfect takedown defense who demolished people on their feet because they could stay there.
The irresistible allure for us as fans and people with love for one of the two aspects of fighting is who will manage to force his gameplan on the opponent.
The striker vs. grappler matchup has always been exciting, from when the pride of an entire fighting style was at stake to today, where there are no longer tight specialists but complete fighters with an affinity for a fighting style.
Is Striking Or Grappling More Effective In A Street Fight?
Effectiveness in self-defense and street fights depends entirely on the situation. In a one-on-one street fight, grappling gives you a much higher chance of winning and suffering less damage.
Grapplers have the advantage in MMA when strikers also train some grappling. On the street, chances are the opponent has no ground fighting skills whatsoever, so the advantage becomes even more significant.
Another significant benefit of grappling for self-defense is that it gives you more options to deal with the situation. You have a choice in the level of violence you want to apply, from just immobilizing and holding someone down to severely hurting him.
But in many other situations, striking has the upper hand. There is no quicker way (aside from weapons) to finish a fight than to knock the opponent out with a couple of punches. Knowing how to keep your distance and keep people out is important because it lets you escape quicker.
Conversely, you are not getting away quickly once you are on the ground. And this is before we add in the very likely scenario where more people are engaged in the situation, and you can get attacked by them. Then being on the ground is not desirable, to say the least.
So, depending on the situation, striking or grappling can be better. Grappling is superior for winning against a single attacker; striking is much better if you want to end the fight quickly or run away.
Famous Striker vs. Grappler Matchups
There are so many strikers vs. grappler matches in the history of combat sports that it’s impossible to list them all. But I will give you a few famous examples.
Randy Couture vs. James Toney
What happens when an accomplished world champion boxer enters the cage without training on the ground? He gets demolished.
Connor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Of course, I will include Connor vs Khabib. This was one of the biggest fights in the history of MMA, and pre-fight antics and build-up were legendary.
The fight was a classic striker vs. grappler, which once again proved the dominance of wrestling. The 2nd round knockdown of Connor demonstrated how grapplers can take advantage of the fear of the takedown to land their own punches.
Royce Gracie at UFC 1
Often called the day that changed everything, UFC 1 and a few of the following events were a sobering call for all the strikers. Royce Gracie showed them that you need to learn how to grapple if you want to succeed in freestyle fighting.
Reinier de Ridder vs. Anatoly Malykhin
Grapplers do not always get the win, though. If they can’t land a takedown and stay on their feet, things often turn ugly. Until recently, Reiner de Ridder was an undefeated two-division ONE FC world champion with 11 submissions to his name. But when his takedowns didn’t work against Anatoly Malykhin, he had to part with his light heavyweight strap and the 0 on his record.
Rodtang vs. Demetrious Johnson
Demetrious Johnson is one of the most complete MMA fighters of all time, if not the best. Still, he was the grappler in his special rules match against Muay Thai juggernaut Rodtang. The match was exciting because the first round was Muay Thai rules. Still, the second was MMA, and the result was as everyone expected- a submissions win for DJ.
Ilia Topuria vs. Ryan Hall and Thanh Le vs. Garry Tonon
To round up the examples, I want to remind you that grappling can be very dangerous when strikes are involved. Ryan Hall and Garry Tonon are two of the best BJJ specialists fighting in MMA. Still, they had to pay a very high price when they relied too much on their leg grabs and fancy Imanari rolls.