MMA fighter kick
Martial arts fighter Cristiano Souza kicks the heavy weight bag at American Top Team (Photo © The Palm Beach Post/ZUMApress.com)
Guard: By no means is this where you want to be, but you can hold here to await back up. (Photos Daniel Brady)
Full Mount: This is one of the worst places you can be as an LEO. You need to evaluate your ability to defeat this suspect.
The rear naked choke is very rapidly incapacitating. When this goes on you have 8?12 seconds of consciousness left.
Despite the size advantage I have on this suspect, he's removed a majority of it by pulling me in close with a Thai Clinch.
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The explosion of popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA), specifically in the form of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) isn’t really difficult to explain. Fighting has been a form of entertainment for thousands of years. The wild popularity of MMA should, however, be alarming to the street cop on the beat. I’m not against the UFC or MMA in general. In fact, it’s just the opposite: I’m a huge fan and a very amateur practitioner myself, but MMA poses a significant threat to cops everywhere.
During my career I’ve responded to and broken up dozens if not a hundred or so bar fights. This particular winter night was much the same as any other. I stopped at a bar where there was a report of an unruly male refusing to leave. My partner for the night had arrived first and was already issuing the male a court appearance citation. I took a cover position to his left a couple feet away, as she stood facing him writing out the citation. I judged him to be 5'07"–5'08" and about 165 lbs., giving me a 7–8" and 45–50-lb. advantage. He ranted about us harassing him, it not being his fault, etc. He became animated and loud, spraying spittle as he ranted. My partner stopped writing and asked him not to spit when he spoke to her. He then spat directly in her face. I immediately grabbed his left arm in an escort/arm bar position and slammed him into the wall.
Every other drunken idiot who has ever had the misfortune of taking a swing at me has telegraphed it, giving me plenty of reaction time. This man shot his right fist directly across his body catching me on the right side of my chin, simultaneously pivoting his right foot across his own body and moving into the momentum I’d established with my arm bar. He landed with his back against the exterior wall of the bar and no longer were his arm joints locked out. He reached up with both arms around my neck and pulled me into a classic Thai clinch, removing my leverage advantage.
I knew I was now fighting someone with better-than-average ability. I threw a knee strike into his groin, loosening his grip around my neck. I re-established control of his left arm and took him to the sidewalk. He again spun into me on the way down.
During the initial grappling session, my partner had unholstered her Taser and looked for an opening. As I went for the takedown she fired and one probe stuck and the other missed as we went to the ground. She advanced on us as he attempted to wrap his legs around me in a “guard position”; he saw her and kicked her legs out from under her on the icy sidewalk. I established a dominant position just in time for my partner to move over to his calf and connect the Taser via “drive stun.” He and I were wrapped in Taser wire from rolling to the ground, so we both went for the ride. I knew how long it would last having been there before and was ready. As soon as it was over his body relaxed and we established control and got him into cuffs.
The UFC started in the early 1990s as a test to see what style of martial arts was better or more effective. High-level fighters from many disciplines were pitted against each other with very little in the way of rules: kung fu vs. karate, wrestler vs. boxer and so on. Much of each of the individual arts went out the window during the match and it devolved into a street fight on the ground.
Enter Royce Gracie, legend of Brazilian jujitsu. Most of the fights went to the ground and that is where Brazilian jujitsu is gold in a one-on-one fight. Gracie would intentionally take the fight to the ground and submit his opponent rapidly with a choke or joint lock. Gracie won every fight and was quickly the champion of the UFC. Outspoken critic John McCain referred to it as “inhumane” and “human cock fighting,” and it was quickly made illegal in most states and most of the action went over seas.
Gracie’s successes didn’t go unnoticed by fighters worldwide and the interest in Brazilian jujitsu exploded. The UFC became a crucible, as fighters began incorporating what worked best in such a permissive combat environment, where style was unimportant and results ruled. The term MMA was born. Fighters incorporated the best techniques from several disciplines: strikes from boxing and muay Thai; take downs and take down defense from wrestling and judo; and submissions and choke holds from Brazilian jujitsu. Thus refined, MMA became an art of its own. Marketing genius Dana White revamped the UFC, with added rules such as weight classes, gloves and mouth guards, and extinguished “dirty tactics” such as groin strikes, head-butts and small joint manipulation. The UFC became a nationally known sporting association and MMA came to the arenas and coliseums of the U.S.
Cops vs. MMA Fighters
The dangers of MMA to the American cop are similar to the dangers of any other combative sport, such as competitive pistol shooting. It’s the marketing and popularity that drive this new subculture of toughs, nearly none of whom will ever make it to the big fighting leagues like the UFC.
Street cops in the U.S. are problem-solvers in general—blue Band-Aids of society, helping people fix problems they themselves helped create, and then off to the next call. We get into this job to help people and, generally, after the academy, combatives training is no longer emphasized by agencies. Cops receive minimal training to help keep themselves safe. The average police officer in the U.S. receives 8–20 hours per year of control-and-restraint training. That’s one to three weeks of training time for your hobby MMA practitioner.
The physical and mental advantages a fairly minimally trained MMA fighter has over the average street cop are daunting. Training gives the fighter a skill advantage: He’s likely to be a better, faster striker and wrestler, and better at defending himself from retaliatory blows from the officer. Most cops have never been punched full force in the face; most MMA fighters have this happen weekly. The fighter also has a stress inoculation advantage. Being in a caged fight for three to five minutes and even knowing you can tap out or quit is stressful. You’re against a guy the same size and skill level doing his level best to render you unconscious. This is a stress level most cops are never subjected to. The fighter has a movement advantage: He isn’t encumbered by 12–18 lbs. of gear, a bulletproof vest or restrictive uniform. He’s agile, limber and light on his feet. He also likely has a fitness advantage. Spending that amount of time actively fighting is exhausting. I’ve personally had in excess of 100 use-of-force incidents throughout my career—three have been full-on fights that went longer than one minute, and I was completely exhausted at the end of that one minute.
How to Spot a Fighter
Most of the time, it’ll be the clothing. The marketing of MMA is amazing, and I see walking UFC and MMA billboards all the time. The fight gear is the biggest clue. Name brands like UFC, Sprawl, TapouT, Full Contact Fighter, KTFO and others are all over T-shirts.
Tattoos seem to be heavily intermixed in the MMA culture, with many fighters covering portions of their bodies in ink. Fighters move with grace despite very toned and muscular builds. A seasoned fighter will likely have a few other physical indicators such as “cauliflower ear,” a condition brought on by swelling of the cartilage in the ear, deforming the shape of the ears. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll not soon forget it. The “boxer’s nose,” or saddle nose deformity, is a nose that’s been flattened by repeated breaks from being punched in the face.
Keeping yourself safe means keeping best officer safety practices in mind. A good reactionary gap needs to always be maintained in all situations. Keep 6–8 feet of space between you and the person you’re speaking with. Reading body language and other nonverbal cues is very important for officer safety. Most people telegraph to a certain extent that they’re getting ready to fight. Actions such as neck rolling, knuckle cracking, stretching, pushing up sleeves and taking off glasses should be noted and significantly raise your hackles. You must keep your hands in front of you and unoccupied while you interact with any POI.
What to Do in a Fight
If you find yourself in the middle of a throwdown and realize the person you’re tangling with has more training than you, do everything you can to disengage and get to one of your tools on your bat belt.
Once a trained fighter has you grounded, even with a size disadvantage, they can do a lot of damage very quickly. Should you be unable to disengage, you must go into damage control mode and get the word out: You need help in the worst possible way. If you end up on your back, you need to pull guard. You can hold a guard position and wait for backup.
For an untrained ground fighter, the guard isn’t a desirable position to be in, but it’s better than some others. For the street cop, guard is a “survive-this” tactic. Should the assault continue and you’re unable to pull or hold a guard position and your assailant gains a full mount or transitions to a control break or choke position, they’ve decided this is a deadly-force encounter. Any of the pictured positions places this assailant in such a dominant position of advantage the only real viable option is to shoot this person quickly. Articulating the shooting of an unarmed assailant is a rough thing to do. Once an assailant renders you unconscious they’re in complete control of your destiny. There’s no referee to stop the fight like in competition. You must end the fight by any means necessary.
Train, Train, Train
I urge all street cops to take some form of training in this area. There are LEO ground-fighting courses taught all over the country and, in most cities, an MMA gym has popped up. Basically any training is better than no training. I don’t expect all cops to be amateur MMA fighters, but the threat is out there. Remember: The only threat you can’t defeat is the one you’re unaware of. I have little doubt that the vast majority of MMA trainers and practitioners are law-abiding citizens who enjoy a fulfilling, physical activity and some good self-defense training. However, most trainers don’t require or perform background checks.
In the situation described at the beginning of this article, I was lucky to have some training and a substantial size advantage to carry me through the altercation. But it opened my eyes. Most police officers have become tool dependant. Pepper spray, baton and Tasers are effective tools in most cases. However, the ability to handle a hands-on situation can never be totally supplanted by tooled force.
Be careful out there, and train like your life depends on it—because it does.