Three Ways To Exploit & Conquer Bigger Opponents
Bigger opponents pose a bigger problem – as they are – you guessed it – bigger. They’ve got longer reach, wider stance and a lot more strength, which means they can land strikes harder and from much further away.
On the other hand, being a smaller fighter has its benefits. You’re much more agile, faster and lighter on your feet, so instead of having to power through your opponent landing punches you can dodge and reposition to exploit their comparatively sluggish movement.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”
Never does this ring truer than when fighting an opponent of incredibly dominating physical stature. Bobbing, weaving and moving into their peripherals will leave any good fighter swinging for the fences.
Obviously, there are some things that should definitely be considered when fighting someone bigger than you, and these should be looked for in previous fights they’ve been in. Are they as quick as you? Do they work all eight limbs or do they have a favorite selection? Do they have good spatial awareness? How’s their peripheral vision?
Now for a few strategies that give the smaller man the upper hand:
Grab The Bull By The Horns: Force The Clinch
If you’ve got canned lightning in your knees and elbows, this is the technique for you.
Power your way through their guard with one leg in the crush position – usually the lead leg – to dismantle the distance barrier: you’re now on a level playing field. In the clinch, you’ve got a bigger target to hit and much more control and accuracy with which to do it. A bigger opponent has longer limbs and therefore will struggle to control where they go, as they’re just hoping to hit something – anything – at all.
Focus on mainly knees when wrapped up close. If they push their hips back for a straight knee, then (1) use a hard elbow to disrupt and go for the sweep, (2) remove their vertical base and mount their abdomen, (3) and work a ground-and-pound technique. Be wary of them bridging their hips and rolling up so you’re on the ground instead, because there’s no way to get out of that. If necessary, break the mount and start again. Similarly, make sure not to go into full guard because they can wrap you up with stronger legs – then you’re easy pickings.
Clinching up is good in the early stages of the fight because it really makes your opponent work hard to land meaningful combos, and even when they do it’s not worth the amount of energy exerted to do so. Be very mindful of them trying to throw you – you’re like a paperweight to them, but some fighters aren’t confident enough to do anything like that. Exploit that.
(Editor’s note: If you need to work on your clinch game, we’ve got you covered.)
Fight In A Phonebooth: Close The Distance
Bigger opponents, as you’d expect, have bigger reach than you – I’m 6’6” and mine is 79” – which they can use to stay out of your range and have an all-you-can-eat buffet of free shot opportunities. There’s nothing you’re able to do in return when you’re so far away.
Similar to when you go for the clinch (this is a good way to trick them into thinking that’s what you’re doing), force yourself through their guard and into tight range, but avoid the clinch so that you can pick your shots better, instead of having a blanket tactic.
Ensuring that your limbs are fully extendable and theirs not gives you a huge advantage: they can’t put full power behind three-quarters of their strikes. Their limbs will not fully extend upon contact, meaning the full force isn’t transferred. Nor can they teep you away to create distance, as they don’t have the space to chamber and then extend the leg. You’re completely stuck to them. If they start going backwards, swarm them. Push them up against the ropes if necessary, then look for an opportunity to work some other techniques.
Aim for specific areas and wear them down: focus kicks onto legs and the midsection but avoid the head, as that will leave you open to a wider array of counter-attacks. Work in hammer fists, overhands to break guard, elbows and knees. Deny their clinch attempts so you can force mistakes. Most big fighters are used to clinching to take complete control and dominate their opponent, and keeping them out of this comfort zone is not only a great way to help them learn but will hopefully give the upper hand.
If they do attempt a clinch, parry to the side as they rush in, and then you’ve got their side. If applicable, land heavy kicks to the back to score points, and try to land knees to the kidneys and liver. Make sure that you only kick with the rear leg: switch from orthodox to southpaw if necessary, because this gives you extra insurance in case they catch the kick, you can clinch up and ultimately escape faster.
Be Like Water: Avoid Your Opponent
A solid defense against a bigger fighter is running away (kind of). Try and stay out of range, but obviously if you keep going backwards then you hit the ropes and are trapped – and at the mercy of your opponent. So instead of going backwards, assess the angles that are available.
If they throw a heavy jab or cross, dodge through and under, and move off to the side, throwing kicks to the legs and midsection. Flanking a bigger opponent is the best way to chop the gigantic tree you’re faced with into smaller more manageable pieces.
Sometimes it’s inevitable that you get caught by a combo, and it’s always tempting to lock into a pillar block and take it. Don’t – try and keep away from that strategy against someone so much bigger than you, as they will overwhelm you very quickly and break through that block.
Parrying and ducking are your best tools. If they can’t hit you they can’t hurt you, and it will be very detrimental to them when they swing at the air and throw themselves off balance to let you land more and more continuous blows.
Don’t be afraid to get hit: conditioning is an important part of any fight, and of course a bigger opponent is going to hit you harder than anything you’ll have experienced before. Be prepared to take a few hard knocks when you get caught out. Just make sure you give them back.
- Ben Evans is a 17-year-old Brit with a year of Muay Thai training under his belt. His experience in martial arts so far has inspired him to continuing learning and helping to teach others about the sport.