Now we come to the aspect that makes MMA unique to almost any other combat sport, ground grappling which allows striking. The ground game is often a mystery to those fans who haven't practice a grappling art, and can be divisive aspect of the sport. Some fans decry ground work as boring while others get absorbed in the minuet details, and I fall squarely into the latter category.
Let start with the basics, any time when two fighters are grappling one fighter will be on the top and the other on the bottom. There are a variety of positions, differentiated by the amount of control and danger the top fighter can impose on the bottom fighter. In general, the fighter on top is considered to have the advantage but some positions offer more advantage than other. Positions in which the bottom fighter has no offensive options are referred to as "dominant positions" because the top fighter is in complete control.
We will start with the position which offers the bottom fighter the most offensive options, the guard. The guard position originated in Judo, but it was in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that the guard really blossomed. The guard can be loosely defined as any time the bottom fighter has both his legs free and between himself and the top fighter. The closed, or full, guard the bottom fighter wraps his legs around the top man and locks his ankles. This limits the movement of the top man and provides the bottom fighter a variety of sweeps or submissions.
(gif from Iron Forges Iron)
Carlos Condit made excellent use of the guard at UFC 132. Condit had been taken down by Dong Hyun Kim, very strong top position grappler, and the defensive aspect of the guard is very useful against fighters using that style.
The guard provides good defense against striking and once off balanced the top fighter can be rolled over. Known as a sweep, Condit executes this move to perfection as he pulls Kim forward and uses a leg to lift Kim's hips and roll him over.
Sweeps from the guard work on the basic principle of off balancing the top man and taking away their ability to catch their balance by blocking one of their arms or legs, and then applying a little force to cause them to fall.
Now for the top man he must either establish a strong base of balance or attempt to pass the guard. Passing means working around the legs of the bottom man and taking them out of play. This is the best option for the top fighter most times as it is very difficult to finish a competent guard player while in guard. During a pass the bottom man may entrap one leg in what is refereed as the halfguard.
(pic via bjjr.ru)
The half guard is a position that can favor either fighter. Elite half gaurd players like Demian Maia prefer to use the half guard to quickly turn the tables on fighters with his array of sweeps. But it takes an elite bottom player to operate with real success from the half guard.
Wrestlers, like the recently retired Brock Lesnar or Randy Couture, like to use the half guard as a controlling position that they can strike from effectively. Brock Lesnar used the half guard to punish Frank Mir at the UFC 100.
Once a top man escapes the half guard he enters into the dominant positions. Side control is the first dominant position, in which the top man lays across the chest of the bottom fighter. As the name suggests, this position offers excellent control, openings for strikes or submissions. The bottom man can defend himself from strikes or submissions but he cannot mount any real offense, the bottom man's focus normally is either to escape to standing or reestablish the guard.
Now some times the bottom man prefers to go to his knees in a position known as the turtle position. While the rules of MMA protect the bottom fighter to some degree because they disallow kicks to the head and strikes to the spine, this is still a position fighters look to exit from quickly by either standing or going for takedowns. Even with rules limiting strikes from this position, it is a very dangerous position for the bottom man to linger.
A fighter can advance from side control to another dominant position, refereed to as the mount. The mount is where basically the top man sits on the bottom man's chest.
From this position the top man can strike the bottom man to the head but the bottom man cannot strike back. It not only offers position for power strikes but also an array of submissions.
The mount is an excellent offensive position and in the old days of MMA it was cause enough for a referee to stop a fight. But modern MMA fighters have learned the knee-to-elbow and upa escapes, the most basic escapes from the position.
Now fighters will sometimes panic when mounted and they roll over, surrendering their back. The back mount is possibly the most dominate of all positions. A death sentence on the streets, the back mount is limited by the rules of MMA making strikes to the back of the head illegal, but it is an ideal position for submission attacks. Submissions though are a subject for another article.