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I was watching some MMA and grapplers like Khabib are incredibly fast and efficient in launching on the opponent. But it seems to me compared to the other reactions like dodging when being kicked at, that there is time for the opposite fighter to knee him to head or punch him behind his head as grappler launches on him. And even if grappler is on him, there seems to be little windows where fighter might strike him for example with a fist to grappler's face. Don't get me wrong its still super fast and hard and I don't want to sound claiming that I would do better job, but considered their reactions in other situations, it seems to me it's manageable for them.

So my question is, are there any rules that prohibits reactions as described which would render grappling unusable in the real world scenario? In my limited real world experience it seemed to me very hard to successfully grapple somebody and I would often get hit trying to do so. Also when controlling other person I would sometimes get punched in that little window I described. I certainly have zero technique whatsoever, those were situations I got in unwillingly, but I wonder if that is all about my lack of technique or if MMA rules actually helps grappling to be more effective?

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    There are a lot of good takes on how the sport would change if certain rules were banned. One rule that isn't mentioned so often is the ban on eye-gouging. It's probably just obvious, but it's what I think of most when I see a prolonged position against the cage or in guard. A lot of grappling doesn't leave the eyes exposed, so it's not like street rules would make wrestling obsolete (hell, medieval knights did double legs), but it would change the dynamics a lot. – BatWannaBe Oct 23 at 23:32
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    @BatWannaBe True, I think that in real world scenario it also depends on the severity of the 'altercation'. In most scenarios you want to just neutralize your opponent but also avoid going to the trial or jail for making him for example lose his eye sight. So that may be also the reason why one also won't go for the eyes if the situation is not kill or get killed. – eXPRESS Oct 25 at 8:20
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It's certainly possible to hit someone while they work on a takedown. It sounds like you're asking specifically about countering wrestling shots, where the grappler attacks the hips and legs, rather than clinch takedowns generally, so I'll focus on that. (Nevertheless, remember that upper-body clinch takedowns are common and effective as well.) Punishing wrestling shots with knees is a good but not foolproof strategy that requires practice both on the counter and on what to do when it fails. The success rate is below 50%.

Striking an opponent as they shoot is absolutely allowed in MMA, except for a narrow rule against targeting the two-inch strip at the back of the head and the spine. All other targets are legal, and striking an opponent as they try to take you down is definitely allowed. Sometimes it works spectacularly, such as when Jorge Masvidal made Ben Askren stiff as a board with a flying knee, or when Travis Browne knocked out several opponents with elbow strikes while they worked to secure a double-leg grip against the cage.

There's another rule to be aware of, which both helps and hinders grapplers. In most modern MMA rulesets, it's illegal to knee or kick the head of an opponent on the ground. (This wasn't true in the now-defunct Pride organization, so watch those old Japanese fights to see how MMA worked without this ban.) This means that if a fighter shoots for your legs and finds themself in a turtle because they can't finish the takedown, they don't have to worry about the obvious counter from their sprawled opponent: knees to the head. However, this rule also punishes good wrestlers and grapplers, because if they are able to finish their takedown, they can't take advantage of one of the most powerful ground attacks.

Sometimes—usually—it doesn't work. One of the best examples of what a good-but-not-good-enough knee-strike counter looks like comes from when Conor McGregor tried to catch Khabib Nurmagomedov as the Dagestani wrestler shot in for a single leg takedown. Another example is when Rafael dos Anjos expended a lot of energy to miss a flying knee on the clinching Colby Covington. There are many, many more examples where one fighter planned on such a knee counter and couldn't get it off, because the footwork and timing is actually quite difficult. And when it fails, then you're in the wrestler's world. This is why MMA fighters train grappling even if they would prefer to avoid it: you can't always dictate where the fight happens, so you have to prepare. You have to be familiar with the various takedowns, counters, counters to the counters, techniques for standing up once the takedown works, and techniques for defending yourself when the stand-ups don't work.

There are no techniques that render grappling unusable in real world scenarios, because grappling is an ever-present part of fighting. Clinches and wrestling occur naturally in any fight, which is why all striking sports have extensive rules dealing with it as an inevitability. If grappling doesn't work for you in sparring it's probably because you're not yet very good at takedowns.

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  • Great answer, thanks for the examples! – eXPRESS Oct 20 at 14:57
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    You could argue that there are rules taht reduce the risk for failed takedown shots by prohibiting stomping/kicking downed opponents, so they enable more takedown attempts because you won't get 'punished' as severely if you fail to take the opponent down. – Peteris Oct 20 at 20:11
  • @Peteris that's a great point. Shooting under Pride rules was very different, and forced a lot of wrestlers to pull guard instead of staying turtled after their shot failed. – Dave Liepmann Oct 21 at 9:51
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    Maybe it would be worth specifying what "being in the wrestler's world" actually means, ie. that people going for shots usually are the superior grapplers and that if you do not focus staying on your own two feet and try strikes instead you will be on the ground quite fast. Not only that, as soon as the direct knee fails, you will probably be out of balance, which makes it impossible to strike with meaningful force, same for striking from below on the ground. That's also the main reason why real world fights are often decided in clinch and ground situations IMHO. – Philip Klöcking Oct 23 at 20:55
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    Khabib dodging the counter knee in that split second is beautiful. – BatWannaBe Oct 23 at 23:36

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