When you’re first learning to fight one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is learning how to block in MMA.
Blocking in MMA comes down to having a strong understanding of different kinds of attacks and the defenses against them. An MMA fighter needs to learn defensive stances and guards from different martial arts. Which are mostly Boxing, Muay Thai, and Wrestling.
In MMA, various attacks can come your way and knock your face off. Or your leg. You’ve heard of the lethality of the calf kick already, right?
Well, keep reading because I promise by the end you’ll have a better base with which to start blocking different kinds of attacks in MMA.
Table of Contents
How to block punches in MMA
When you’re going from a beginner to an intermediate in boxing or MMA you’ll have likely started sparring with partners.
Sparring is a critical part of the learning process in any fighting sport, especially MMA since the attacks can come from many angles. It’s where you will learn the most about how to block in MMA.
Blocking a punch in MMA, Muay Thai, or even regular boxing is effectively always the same important steps.
Keeping up your guard
It’s so simple but so important. Look, if you want to stop getting bonked on the nose or caught on the chin with every movement you make – keep your damn guard up!
You will always face a better fighter than you. Maybe they have better movement or just plain luck in prediction on that day. You can’t continue fighting it with your face. You need to strategize with every single encounter.
If you’ve had even a half-decent boxing trainer then you’ll notice they keep gesturing to you to keep your hands up. I know that has been my experience because it took the majority of my first year of regular boxing to even build up the stamina to keep my hands up and remember to keep them placed there, too.
Get better and more resistant with keeping your hands up. Just that extra inch of the tip of your gloves protecting your face can count for milliseconds of additional reaction time for you to parry or successfully make a block.
So keep your damn hands up!
How to block a body punch
Intelligent fighters will use the body punch as a way or varying their shots but importantly making you change the way you guard and find an opening.
A body punch usually comes in two forms, from the side or directly to the gut.
Blocking a side body punch requires you to have trained reactions and a solid guard with elbows tight to the ribs. If your elbows are tight to your ribs, and without any space of air, then you have better protection for taking a side body punch into your arm rather than into your ribs where they do the damage.
As for your reaction to a side-body punch, you have to think about how it can be very difficult to predict whether your opponent’s hook is coming at your head or your body. The way a fighter winds up their body for a hook looks the same at its starting point, and you won’t know for sure where the hook is heading for at least half way through their movement.
So you have two responses in dealing with a hook: a tight and high-but-not-too-high guard or get the hell out of the way.
You either want to use your footwork to get out of the way of the hook situation entirely, because they can generate a ton of power, or be tightly compacted with your guard. Your gloves at the sides of your head on either side and your elbows tucked neatly into your ribs.
The final part of the reaction is swaying your body into the punch. This allows you to brace your core and body by gesturing into the punch and offers more protection from your elbow and arm to block against the hook.
So let’s say if your opponent throws a left hook, your defensive reaction should be to have a tight guard and sway from the waist to your right thus bringing your elbow further down your right side of your body whilst still protecting your head. This one can take a lot of practice and repetition and can only really be developed with a trainer or sparring time.
How to block wearing MMA gloves
Wearing MMA gloves during the fight means less overall material to cover your face. Boxers just don’t understand how good they have it, do they?
With boxing gloves, the extra padding creates a much weightier and bigger surface area with which to cover your face. The classic MMA glove barely adds a couple of inches extra of coverage, and that’s mainly over the knuckles just to avoid damage to the fighter’s hand.
Blocking with MMA gloves requires you to be more creative with the additional options you have available. For starters, an MMA glove lets you open your palm because of the need for grappling in the sport.
When you open your palm you create a much bigger surface area. It might mainly consist only of small finger bones, but the padding around the knuckles and the back of the hand act as a much-needed extra layer of defense.
Holding your open palm to the side of your head is a typical way of defending your head from blunt force during an MMA fight.
For every other kind of block, it’s essentially the same as it would be in boxing or whilst wearing a full boxing glove. Keep the elbows tight to the ribs, hands high, and wait for your opening.
How to block kicks in MMA
Kicks, and especially head kicks, are one of the most dangerous attacks in the sport of MMA. One accurate head kick can lay an opponent out cold for a worrying amount of time.
The KO and resulting blackout is a human response and you’ll see it a lot like when watching the UFC. But some head kicks can snap the neck so violently due to the significant force that it can cause a really lasting effect.
OK – you get it – head kicks are bad m’kay. So let’s talk about how to block the worst of them.
How to block a powerful kick
A powerful kick can come low, middle, or high (at the head). They can all be lethal and cause you a lot of problems, so learning how to block each of them and building up your predictive reaction times is going to be a big help in sparring or an actual fight.
How to block a calf kick
Becoming one of the most utilized kicks in the UFC, the calf kick causes all kinds of nerve problems and swelling in the calf that makes that leg useless in a fight. It’s the same kick that enabled Dustin Poirier to beat Conor McGregor in their rematch.
There are usually only a couple of ways to actually block a calf kick such as turning your defending leg outward so as to place your shin as the obstacle for the attacker. This could break your opponent’s leg if they strike hard enough.
The other way, depending on the height they attack from, could be the classic Muay Thai leg block which is to raise the defending leg from the ground and push the shin towards the attack.
But calf kicks are extremely difficult to predict, time, and defend against with a block.
More often than not, the best method of defense from a calf kick is either in absorb and countering or nullifying the opponent’s attack.
You can try to absorb the calf kick a handful of times whilst making sure that you are coming right back at the opponent with a counter straight whilst closing the distance to punish them for taking the shot. The key is discouraging them from trying it again by showing them that you’ll close distance fast and squash their attacks. It’s risky, but it can work.
Nullifying the calf kick could be done by staying light and bouncy on your feet, being ready to hop backward or slightly sideways to avoid it altogether. You can’t take too many hits in the same spot on any part of your body, so avoiding it altogether is usually the best option.
But like the absorb and counter, you should try to throw in a counter with avoiding. Punish the attempt and make them think twice about doing it again. This way you can start moving the flow of the fight back into the direction you want.
How to block a body kick
Taking too many body kicks hurts bad, man. I know, I’ve had it. Blocking a body kick which comes usually to the side of the body requires a lot of habitual practice of receiving the kick, lifting the leg high enough on that side so that you protect your body, and responding with a strong straight punch to put them off trying it again.
When it comes to body kicks to the chest or stomach, like a roundhouse, your best technique is avoiding it. Learn the footwork and turns of this attack and others like it to know when to expect them and then get the hell out of the way.
If you’ve watched enough fights you will know that fighters can drop to their knees and even voluntarily tap out because one of their organs just took a deathly hit and they know they can’t continue. It is that effective.
Learning how to block in MMA can sometimes be not having to block at all. Instead, it’s a big dose of predicting your opponent and getting out of the way of their most dangerous shots so you can counter with your own.
I know myself after taking three spinning back kicks directly to the chest in one sparring session that it was not fun spending the next few months recovering from it. Learn from my mistake and get the hell out of the way!
How to block a head kick
Blocking a head kick comes down to understanding the common footwork and positioning of your opponents to be able to predict when the higher kick is coming. Having a high guard or being able to move to it quickly is vital to defending KO kicks like these.
You will also want to observe and get better at naturally defending the right sides of your body based on your opponent’s combinations. What comes after a Jab, Straight (with step switch)? More often than not it’s a strong kick from the leading leg.
Know these things by doing lots of combinations work yourself and observing how others fight, too.
You should also be highly aware of the leg kicks that can come towards your head if you are grounded. That means when you’re on your hands and knees on the floor. In an MMA fight, you could be on the end of a soccer kick to the head and you might as well just say good night.
Being effective at blocking anything in MMA requires a lot of practice. You need to get better at understanding footwork which helps improve your prediction and finally upgrade your responsiveness and blocking technique. So that when any attack comes in you have a muscle response to keep yourself protected.