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Why Do UFC Fighters Keep Punching After A Knockdown?

To the average person, MMA seems like a brutal, uncivilized, and unnecessary sport. In particular, there are a few parts of MMA that make it seem more brutal than it needs to be.

One of those things is ground fighting. In other words, that the fight continues even if your opponent is on the ground, knocked out. So why is this part of the sport? Why do fighters keep punching after a knockdown?

In short, UFC fighters keep punching after their opponent is knocked down because they cannot know if their opponent is knocked out or not in the heat of the moment. A fighter that is knocked down can still quickly turn around the fight with an upkick or a submission from the ground.

Of course, the real reason is because, it’s a part of the rules. A big part of MMA is that fighters can use a lot of techniques when they are on the ground, something that is not a part of other combat sports such as boxing.

In the rest of this post, I’m going to cover examples of how a fighter can come back from a knockdown, as well as fighters that actually DO stop punching.

Why Do They Keep Punching?

So first, let’s talk about why the fighters actually keep punching. I mean sure, we know it’s not part of the rules, but why isn’t it?

When a fighter is on their back, they bring their legs up to defend themselves with, as Nate Diaz does in this picture.
When a fighter is on their back, they bring their legs up to defend themselves with, as Nate Diaz does in this picture.

In contrast to boxing, MMA serves to represent the true essence of fighting. And of course, this includes disciplines that are fought on the ground, such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Because boxing is limited to punches, a fighter on the ground doesn’t have very many ways to defend themselves from their opponent. In contrast, an MMA fighter on his back can win the fight without even having to stand up.

Of course, many MMA fighters respect their opponents and show good sportsmanship after a clear knockout, saving their opponents any unnecessary damage. For example, when Chad Mendes knocked out Ricardo Lamas, Chad knew the fight was over, and looked at the ref to step in.

Chad throws a short punch here, but then stops himself and looks at the ref, who shortly after stops the fight.
Chad throws a short punch here towards Ricardo Lamas, but then stops himself and looks at the ref, who shortly after stops the fight.

But the fight is technically not over until the referee steps in, and so a fighter is allowed to keep punching until then.

A big reason why a fighter has to keep punching is because there’s always the chance that their opponent was not knocked out, and can come back and win the fight.

Let’s look at some ways how.

How A Knocked Down Fighter Can Win From The Ground

If you know anything about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, then you know that there are many ways to submit your opponent even if you’re on your back. But first, let’s take about one of the rarest knockout strikes in UFC history.

Upkick Knockout

The upkick is the rarest finishing strike in UFC history, with only two of them ever having occurred in the Octagon. But what exactly is an upkick?

An upkick is a strike thrown with your legs while laying on your back. The person throwing the upkick is on their back with their legs raised, but bent, a common defense from a standing opponent in MMA.

This is the moment Niko Price landed the upkick on James Vick. Note the heel hitting Vick's jaw.
This is the moment Niko Price landed the upkick on James Vick. Note the heel hitting Vick’s jaw.

The upkick is thrown as the opponent is entering the guard, with the attempt of striking the opponent’s face with the heel of your foot. If the opponent is not careful, they could end up knocked out from the upkick, such as when Niko Price knocked out James Vick with his own upkick.

Even though there have only been 2 upkick knockouts in UFC history, it is still a very dangerous kick. If you watch the video of Niko Price’s upkick, you’ll notice that Vick initially grabs Price’s feet, as this is standard technique against an opponent on the ground.

Unfortunately, James made a mistake by letting go of Price’s right leg, which resulted in the knockout.

Triangle Choke

One of the more common submissions in MMA (after the rear-naked choke and the armbar) is the triangle choke. The triangle choke is most commonly used when a fighter is on their back, as the legs are wrapped around the opponent’s neck to choke them.

Nate Diaz submitted Kurt Pellegrino with a triangle choke, note how the legs are crossed and one arm is in.
Nate Diaz submitted Kurt Pellegrino with a triangle choke, note how the legs are crossed and one arm is in.

As the choke requires the use of the legs, it is naturally used most often while a fighter is lying on their back. A fighter who is not careful with their opponent’s guard can quickly get caught in a triangle choke.

Armbar From Guard

Another common technique that can be thrown while on your back is the armbar. While the armbar is more commonly applied with the opponent on their back, it can also be used from the bottom.

A perfect example of this occurred when Anthony Pettis beat Benson Henderson with an armbar from his guard at UFC 164, winning the Lightweight Championship.

Anthony Pettis submitted Benson Henderson off his back using an armbar.
Anthony Pettis submitted Benson Henderson off his back using an armbar.

Heel-Hook

The last technique a fighter can use while on the ground against a standing opponent is the heel-hook. This is a technique where a fighter uses his legs and arms to create leverage against their opponent’s knee, causing pressure and pain.

Probably the most proficient heel-hook specialist in all of MMA is Featherweight UFC fighter Ryan Hall.

Ryan Hall became famous in the MMA community after winning his season of The Ultimate Fighter, due to his impressive Jiu-Jitsu skills. His impressiveness was mostly due to his signature heel-hook submission while in the 50-50 guard, which is when both fighters have their legs entangled.

Ryan Hall submitted BJ Penn with a heel-hook after grabbing his legs with an imanari roll.
Ryan Hall submitted BJ Penn with a heel-hook after grabbing his legs with an imanari roll.

When Ryan slips or gets knocked down, he usually just waits and hopes his opponent moves into his guard, where he has the advantage. But more often, Ryan will chase the legs of his opponent by using a berimbolo or an imanari roll, which are simply techniques where he drops towards his opponent and aims for the legs, kind of as seen above.

There are likely many other techniques that can be employed by a fighter to defeat their opponent while laying on their back. The point is, a fighter should not stop if their opponent goes down, because that hesitation could give their opponent a chance to win.

Conclusion

The biggest reason why fighters don’t stop punching is because they want to win the fight. Plain and simple. Of course, there can be other factors, such as having legitimate ire towards their opponent, but typically, they keep punching because its how the sport works.

In short, UFC fighters keep punching because there is always the chance their opponent is still conscious. If that’s the case, any hesitation by the fighter could leave an opening for their opponent to beat them with an upkick or a submission off their back.

I hope this explained a little bit of how the sport of MMA works, and if you are new to MMA, I hope this post demonstrates that it is more than just “human cockfighting”.

If you enjoyed the post, please consider checking out similar ones on the Martial Arts History page. Thanks for reading!

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