Can MMA be used for self-defense and street fights? Why MMA sucks for street fights and self-defense, and why it’s awesome too.

Bill has been practicing MMA for almost a year now. He is stronger than he has ever been in his life and he is getting fitter with each passing month. His striking is still a bit rough around the edges, but he’s hitting faster and harder than ever. His grappling game is not bad either. He can submit people with a couple of good guillotine chokes, armbars and a sneaky leg lock here and there. On the outside everything looks great. Bill is becoming one of the toughest people on the plant – an MMA fighter. But what no one knows is… Bill has a secret fear.

Bill is afraid of losing in a street fight.

Bill hides this fear like the dirtiest secret he could ever have. He thinks about it after all the time. He thinks about it after the hard sparring sessions and the adrenaline is gone. He thinks about it in the showers. Bill even thinks about it late at night before he sleeps. He sometimes wakes up in a cold sweat after having nightmares about it.

Can MMA be used for a self-defense? Bill is afraid of getting into a street fight and being beaten up by someone who has never stepped into a martial arts gym in his life. If this happens he is afraid he will look like a fool. He will be shamed for life and might as well commit harakiri.

Imagine Bill the MMA tough guy walking into a bar, with his arms around a hot girl. Suddenly, a big 300 pound bouncer-type guy with tattoos all over my arms who’s never as much stepped into a boxing gym gives Bill and his girl steaming hiot dish of disrespect. They step outside to settle the score, but Bill gets beaten black and blue. Forever Bill will be shamed by his teammates and friends. The MMA fighter who lost a street fight. It is every MMA fighter’s nightmare.

Let’s examine why MMA first sucks for street fighting and self-defense, then let’s tackle the why MMA is good for street fights and self-defense.

Why MMA sucks for street fights and self-defense

Okay, MMA is one of the most awesome combat sports on the planet. But what are the reasons why MMA would suck in a street fight. Here’s one for the “street fighters”.

Different pace

Most street fights are quick. It might be just a couple of second or perhaps a few minutes of adrenaline-pumped men swinging at each other with all they got at 100 miles per hours. After an explosion of activity, the winner is usually decided.

A good MMA fighter knows how to pace himself. He know that if he busts out all his energy, he’ll be flat by the end of the round. Hence, many MMA fighters tend to be conservative when it comes to energy expenditure. There’s a big chance the way an MMA fighter used to fighting in cage will influence how he fights on the street. If you’re being rushed by drunk, you better put him down quick and dirty as you can, before his buddies come to help him out.


Do I have to explain this? Or does a knife in between the ribs sound good?

Multiple Opponents

The techniques and fighting style used in MMA developed to handle one single opponent in a closed, controlled environment. Jump guard in a street fight? Nope. Double leg take down versus a gang of four with chains and lead pipes? Nope. Low leg kicks against someone with a screw driver? Nope.

This is perhaps one of the areas where the traditional martial arts have a leg up over MMA. I’d certainly use my Judo throws instead of going down and dirty with a double or single leg take down if I were surrounded by a pack of thugs.

True story. There is a local MMA coaching legend where I’m from. He’s legit. He’s a striking legend and can probably kick my head off in a kickboxing match. He built up one of the country’s top MMA teams. Word has it though that early one morning he had to take out the garbage because of the garbage truck had just come down his street. No one knows exactly what happened but he picked a fight with one of the sanitation workers who came with the garbage truck. Bad choice. There were seven sanitation workers. Needless to say, he was beaten within an inch of his life.

Bumping into another Martial Artist

I know a guy, let’s call him Jim. Jim was in a scuffle with his brothers and some drunken frat boys. Jim was an excellent local MMA fighter, so without fear he ferociously attacked their opponents. It so happened one of the frat boys was an accomplished grappler. The grappler neutralized Jim by taking his back and trapping him in a full nelson to hold hot-headed jack, until cooler heads prevailed and the hotter heads got the beat down.

Never go into a fight thinking you are the only one who knows martial arts.

Different environment

Do you really want to grapple on the pavement? Is there broken glass on the floor? Any sharp protruding pieces of metal or rock that can cause grave bodily harm. An MMA fighter might be so used to the nice clean and regular surfaces and space in fighting.

An MMA fighter is usually oriented towards fighting in a matted area, with ropes or a chain link fence to keep them enclosed. There are no heavy or sharp objects in the environment. No escape routes. No “Sh*t, I shouldn’t have worn these shoes today” moments. No slippery surfaces (have you ever tried doing heavy kicks with slippery shoes?).

Worse, because of the environment you could accidentally permanently main or god forbid kill your opponent. And then, you would have a real problem. The environment can work against you too (did you notice that crowbar beside him?). For example you could get assaulted in a slippery bathroom in bar and you’re in a tight spot. And if your opponent gets the upper hand and now you will have a bigger problem.

No dirty tricks

There’s this guy. Let’s call him Jim. Once Jim was at a party and he accidentally offended his guests with his loud and uncouth manners. He of course meant no one offense and was just having a great time at the party guzzling beers and listening to loud music. This drunk punk at the party didn’t like Jim’s face. The drunk challenged Jim to fight and said ” Yeah, I know you’re an MMA fighter but when we fight it’s going to be a street fight and there will be no rules. Your MMA won’t work on the street.”

Of course, Jim and his buddies just laughed it off and saved the drunk punk from being beaten within an inch of his life. The drunk did have a kernel of reason it must be admitted. A wily “street fighter” will be able to use what’s available or in the environment to his advantage. A wily street fighter will also be able to use lots of dirty tricky that are illegal in MMA like eye gouging, groin kicking, hair pulling and other cute fighting tactics.

True enough, MMA rules don’t have these girly man fighting tactics of hair pulling, biting and groin kicking. It can be argued that because day in and day out MMA fighters are trained not to do these illegal tactics, MMA fighters will be less likely to do them in self-defense situations or street fights.

In fact, there are rare occasions, MMA training can make you less dangerous. This same guy Jim got into a scuffle with some drunks at a party who were picking on a defenseless friend. Several people traded blows. Jim caught one drunk in a rear naked choke. The drunk with all his might vainly thrashed and clawed in vain at Jim’s steel python-like arms. Just before, the drunk totally blacked out, he tapped Jim’s arms. Jim, having been a trained fighter for all of his adult life due to sheer 100% knee-jerk reaction (or should I say “arm-jerk reaction”) let go of the choke instead of sending the drunk to sleepy land as Jim intended.

Why MMA is awesome for street fights and self-defense

Okay, let’s swing the other way now. Now, we all know MMA is the most practical fighting sports there is out there. So let me go on and say how awesome MMA is for street fighting.


If it goes on the ground, standing up or that messy in between, MMA got your back. MMA is precisely all about being a well-rounded fighter whether you are on your back grappling, tussling for a dominant position, or a straight out brawl flying fists and all (nice rhyme). For example, just look at the statistic of the top submissions used in MMA and you’ll see that the techniques are of such a wide variety, positions and functions (e.g. the top 1 most used submission in MMA is the rear-naked choke which used from the back mount, followed by guillotine which is used when your opponent in front of you). ‘Nuf said.


When you know that you have fought with people who can probably punch five times harder and twice as fast than your opponent you probably will be more confident in a fight. MMA fighters are confident that in a fair fight they’d probably come out the winner. Of course, the keyword here is probably, as street fights can be unpredicatable and volatile, but this increased probability will give you confidence.

Also when you are more confident, you have a cooler head. You probably will just laugh off skinny punk taunting you on a bus knowing that if you wanted to you could twist him into a pretzel and make him say “uncle”.

Wide Variety of Techniques

Street fights and self-defense situation are not all the same. Sometimes, it’s really serious and you have to kill your opponent before he kills you. Sometimes, it’s just a young punk in school trying to bully your kid. Obviously you can’t use the most devastating technique in every situation. With MMA you’ve got techniques to handle every situation. A Neo-Nazi skinhead roughing up an old Asian couple on the train? A snug rear-naked choke will do the job. Drug-crazed man with a knife coming towards you and your family? Those shoulder throws can come in handy. Make him land hard, please.

What make MMA special in this aspect is that MMA fighters are always calculating what technique is best to use in each situation. This plays well in a street fight or self-defense situation where you have to temper your reaction to suit the threat. Especially that every good MMA fighter or martial artist for that matter is always careful not to permanently injure or main his sparring partners and even opponents in the ring. This skill is important in real fights. An untrained man on the other hand will just give it everything he’s got. This puts him at a risk of him responding with excessive force.

Techniques to Neutralize Opponent

This is closely related to the preceding one. MMA has a lot of grappling techniques that can neutralize your opponent until help of law-enforcement arrives. Chokes are definitely  one way of putting an aggressive man to sleep. Pinning maneuvers and back control and great ways to letting an unruly drunk calm down and not hurt him. Again, the ability to respond appropriately to a threat is key, and no combat sport or martial art gives you as many tools as MMA.

MMA makes you a d*mn good fighter

The plain advantage is that MMA just makes you d*mn good fighter. MMA is the testing ground of fighting techniques where only the most effective and practical survive. MMA teaches you to fight without non-sense and only use techniques that work. Lots of other martial arts out there teach you a bunch load of cr*p. MMA is all business. The ankle locks, throws, punches, and takedown defenses you use in the MMA cage or ring are 100% effective and can be used in the right situation in a street fight or self-defense situation. I can’t say the same about other martial arts and fighting systems that use questionable techniques like never pinches or fancy wrist locks.

MMA fighters can do dirty tricks too

Continuing from the story of Jim at the party who was challenged to a fight, it is true that MMA fighters are can’t use “dirty tricks” in fighting, because they are illegal in the cage or ring. But who said that during a street fight or self-defense situation an MMA fighter won’t use these illegal techniques. In fact, MMA fighters can probably eye-gouge, groin kick, hair pull and all those nice cute techniques too, much better than a person untrained in combat sports or martial arts.

In fact, probably because an MMA fighter is used to high pressure situations he can probably think up of a lot more “trick” and ways to use the environment than a person who only gets into fights when even he’s having a bad day.


Training in MMA will give you a definite advantage in a street fight or self-defense situation. This is probably more true than almost any other martial art or fighting system. I say “almost” since there are fighting systems that gear you particularly towards self-defense, such as Israeli art of Krav Maga. But definitely if I were to choose any martial art or combat sport that would best train me for a street fight or self-defense situation, hands down it would be MMA.

Of course, a street fight is fight, and on any given day, a lesser or untrained man (or men) can come out on top, even over a world champion fighter, given the circumstances and sheer luck. However, of all combat sports and martial arts, it’s MMA that’s going to give you the most good luck, and help you handle the most bad luck.

Lastly… Hey guys, I’m an old guy so listen to this old fart. If you can, please avoid street-fights and self-defense situations at all costs. This is the best way to win any fight. There will be those times, and there will be those times, that yeah you will have to use the old one-two punch and get your hands dirty. But aside from those extremely exceptional cases, the guy who walks away wins. Just trust me on it. BCF – Be Cool Fool.

Peace out.

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About Duke Villanueva 18 Articles
Duke is full-time career diplomat assigned in China. He is a two-time collegiate Judo champion. He's also done quite well in Wrestling, BJJ, MMA and Fencing in his years as an athlete. Once a week, he still trains and coaches in grappling and MMA. He's married with two wonderful kids, and a couple of naughty dogs.

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