The Myth of the Neutral Guard in MMA

By | July 28, 2011 at 9:46 pm | 4 comments | MMA

There’s an awful lot of talk in the MMA world these days about a term known as Lay n Pray, and how it is affecting/ruining the great sport of Mixed Martial Arts. The theory goes something like this: when fighter A takes down fighter B and is unable to land significant shots or pass to a more dominant position, fighter A should not get points on the judges cards for the takedown, since guard is a neutral position in MMA, and fighter A didn’t “do anything” with it. I find a couple of problems with this line of thinking.

First, takedowns count. Period. Some people don’t like it, and that’s fine, but here’s what the Unified Rules have to say about it:

2) “Effective Grappling”: THE SUCCESSFUL EXECUTION OF A LEGAL TAKEDOWN and/or reversals INCLUDING the following maneuvers:
a) Takedowns from standing position into dominant positions, or moving from guard and half guard positions to side control or mount position;
b) Passing the guard into MORE DOMINANT positions
c) Bottom position fighters using an active, threatening guard.
3) “Octagon Control”: Dictating the pace, location and position of the contest using the following maneuvers:
a) Countering a grappler’s attempt at takedown to remain standing and legally striking effectively;
c) Creating threatening submission attempts pass the guard to achieve mount, while on the ground;
d) Creating striking opportunities, while on the ground.

So, while some fans and other pundits would like to believe that you have to “do something” with the takedown, i.e. pass guard or land significant strikes, the rules make clear that the takedown itself should count regardless, since it takes the fight where fighter A, the initiator, wanted to take it, to the ground, forcing a ground fight.

It is also clear that the guard, considered to be a neutral position in grappling competions, is no longer neutral once you add striking into the mix. Witness Scott Jorgensen’s knockout of  Ken Stone from guard recently at the TUF 13 finale, for example. Jorgensen KOd Stone FROM THE GUARD, illustrating my point perfectly.

Fighter A, in fighter B’s guard after having completed a takedown, has a distict striking advantage over fighter B, namely that of leverage and gravity. It is fairly common for the top fighter in guard to KO or TKO the bottom fighter (a la Jon Jones TKO of Brandon Vera by brutal elbow), but almost unheard of for the bottom fighter to KO the top fighter, because it is very difficult to get enough leverage to deliver a knockout blow from the bottom. When only submissions are involved, as in a grappling competition, the guard is indeed a neutral position. When strikes are added in, this is clearly not the case. If an advantage exists for one fighter, it is not a neutral position.

This misunderstanding of the guard, thinking of it as neutral, is what leads to much of the discussion of  Lay n Pray.

One of the other factors that results in fans calling a fight/fighter Lay n Pray is when the BOTTOM fighter grabs on for dear life, hoping, or “praying” for a standup from the referee. This, in my opinion, is the only TRUE Lay n Pray.

So, how do we prevent this from happening? Some suggestions making their way around the MMA community include stalling warnings, yellow cards, and quicker standups. All of these are poor or well-meant but ineffective suggestions, in my opinion.

The ground game is complex, and passing guard/setting up submissions takes time. Often a referree, in an attempt to please booing fans, will stand up a pair of fighters who are clearly working to improve position or land strikes. A perfect example of this is the Story/Brenneman fight, where the ref stood up the fighters as Story was trying to secure a kimura/armbar. It is far too difficult, in this age of well-rounded fighters, to secure a takedown, to see all your hard work wasted by an early standup.

My answer to this problem? Glad you asked. Eliminate referee standups altogether. This takes away the benefit for the bottom fighter of immobilizing the top fighter and waiting for the ref to stand them up. Critics will say that this would lead to long fights of nothing but dominant wrestlers laying on their opponents without attempting to actually do anything. I submit that this would not be the case, at least not more than a few times, since entertaining fighters are most often the ones rewarded with bigger contracts, title shots, main card appearances, etc. The market would quickly relegate such “layers” to non-entities in the fight world. Look at Jon Fitch, considered by most to be top 3 in the world in the Welterweight division, yet unable to get a title shot because of his non-fan-friendly style.

What this rule change WOULD do, in my opinion, is force fighters who currently have little or no wrestling/takedown defense to become profficient at it, if they want to be relevant as a fighter. After all, this is MIXED Martial Arts…


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  1. Jkeller281 (6 years ago)

    So, notice how rule #2 of the unified rules say: the successful execuation of a takedown or reversal INCLUDING the following maneuvers? Do you know what that means? That means that when fighter A executes a takedown, he has to include one of the following maneuvers (letters a through d) in order for it to score points. If fighter A gets a takedown and sits in guard with no damaging punches, or no passing guard, IT DOES NOT SCORE POINTS. The takedown itself DOES NOT SCORE POINTS. You have to perform letters A through D in order to score points with the takedown. Notice point A says “takedowns into dominant positions, and moving from guard or half guard to side control or mount positions.” That basically refutes your entire article and proves you no NOTHING about the sport of mma.

  2. Jkeller281 (6 years ago)

    And as far as rule 3b goes, you have to refer right back to rule 2a. Rule 3b is saying “taking down an opponent can count for octagon control. . . . if the fighter performs a takedown and uses it to cause damage or pass to a dominant position.” (like it says in 2a)

  3. Rpatrizzi (6 years ago)

    I agree with Jkeller281, you stated Takedowns “count” and that the rules make it clear that it should. Yet nowhere on said rules do I see that takedowns count, UNLESS you either get to a dominant position or create striking opportunities. You can say well under rule 3c takedowns count, but you are missing the “TO FORCE A GROUND FIGHT”. You used the example of Jones Vs. Vera, whereas the takedown occurred and the fighter inside the guard using his elbows created striking opportunities and with those strikes earned himself the win. This really doesn’t prove your point of just the takedown getting him points, since he used effective striking to win, not takedowns INTO GUARD. I could, in turn, state every MMA fight that Fighter A took Fighter B down only to end up in guard and get submitted, should have given the fighter who got guard points for getting guard. Saying Guard is a neutral position in MMA is completely incorrect. In MMA someone inside Guard has two options, pass or Fight, both can lead to the fighter with guard, getting sweeps, submission, or even brutal striking advantages. You can laugh and say Guard has no effective striking, but if I have guard then the opportunity of a triangle can happen, and then I can just point out the Anderson Silva Vs. Travis Lutter fight to get my point across. Either or, nothing is neutral about guard, it’s still a fight with either fighter having an opportunity to win. To get back to the point, takedowns are only a useful tool to either get to a dominant position or create an opportunity to strike just as guard is a useful tool that can lead to a dominate position or the opportunity to submit or strike , both are great things to train, use, and effectively master, but neither should win you the fight or give you points UNLESS they open up an opportunity of the above mentioned.

  4. Anonymous (6 years ago)

    Leave it to Craig to get some conversation going! Love it! While I completely agree with Jkeller and Rpatrizzi – I will say the effort in this article was aiming towards ‘Let the fighters fight’ – The referee stands up fighters who have been ‘laying and praying’ in all actuality it’s a lot of work controlling your position on the ground; and that’s what they train to do. So the ‘Myth’ that’s here is that these ‘Neutral’ positions however anyone sees them can put either fighter at an advantage whether or not Fighter A is on top of Fighter B. Our example images show dominance, this is true – but to show the opportunity and power of ground game. Love the input guys – that’s what KO lounge is for!!


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