Crash Test Dummies Don’t Hit Back

Which is the more devestating blow; a punch delivered from standing or from the mount?

Those of us who have seen National Geographic’s “Fight Masters” might feel secure in the opinion that punches delivered from top position to a grounded opponent are more damaging than punches delivered from the standing position. The scientists on the show clocked Randy Couture’s punches from the mount at 910 kilos of force, nearly four times the force of his punch from standing. Bas Rutten matches the force of a heavy weight boxer with a rear-hand straight punch from the standing position measuring 423 kilos of force. Oddly enough, Bas’s lead hand hook weighed in at 585 kilos of force, with a hick value of 291; nearly double that required for a concussion. It seems clear from the numbers that ground and pound offers the more forceful blow, but do these blows actually do more damage?

Force is not the most relevant factor when it comes to hurting someone in a fight, as this force can be distributed over differing periods of time over differing amounts of surface area. Thus, when the “Fight Masters” team measured the difference between standing strikes with a boxing glove, an MMA glove, and bare-knuckled, the difference in force was not great. However, any fighter can tell you which strike he would prefer to absorb. The more padding on the fist, the greater amount of time (albeit measured in microseconds) the strike takes to deliver all of its energy into the target and the greater the surface area that the force is transferred through. This translates into massive differences in the amount of damage done with each respective blow. This is why “rolling with the punches” is so effective; moving away from a strike along its trajectory will ensure that the strike will make contact for a greater length of time and thus dissipate the amount of energy that is transferred at the (now lengthened) instant of contact. Furthermore, the brain is already moving in the direction that the incoming force would have it go and is much less likely to make contact with the scull, which is what causes a concussion. Thus, power is the most relevent statistic to measure when it comes to striking, as this equation (P=w/t) takes time into account.

However, neither metric translates easily into damage done to a human body. This is why scientists use the hick value to estimate the chance of a concussion or VC (viscus criteria) to measure potential damage to internal organs in the chest cavity. Unfortunatly, the NG team did not give us the hick value for ground strikes, while measuring 291 for Bas’s lead hook. Given that the head of a grounded opponent is stationary and has very limited range of motion, the force of the blow would be transferred in a shorter amount of time, causing a more violent shaking of the brain. This amounts to many smaller concussions as the brain bounces back and forth in the scull, which has little space and time to accelerate before meeting insurmountable resitance in the floor.  A concussion occurs when the brain, which is floating in cerebral-spinal fluid, makes contact with the scull, causing first a bruise or “coup” on one side of the brain, and most of the time a second bruise on the opposite side of the brain, called a “counter-coup,” as the brain rebounds inside the scull.  A ground and pound strike certainly has the advantage in terms of the number of coups and counter-coups, but perhaps not in the severity of each coup. Though this last point is perhaps debatable, the most important factor in deciding the outcome of our question, a factor entirely ignored by the “Fight Masters” team, is beyond contention.

This factor is of course the force of a converging opponent. All of their measurements were done on a stationary crash test dummy, and dummys don’t hit back. When Bas Rutten delivers 585 kilos of force with his left lead hook, we must make an adjustment for the added force of an opponent in the left lead fading to his right. The force added by an opponent’s momentum easily brings the force of a standing strike into the range of that produced by a strike on the ground, which cannot possibly utilize this factor given the grounded opponent’s lack of mobility. This is why timing is more important than the force of your punch, because a well-timed strike not only finds an oppening, but also takes advantage of the opponent’s incoming force. This is why strikes delivered from the bottom to an opponent in top position who is crashing down with a blow can be so effective. Donald Cerrone nearly knocked out Ben Henderson with strikes from the bottom, which, if measured by our “Fight Masters” team, would have scored incredibly low in terms of force, because Ben was in fact providing most of it. This also explains how Anderson Silva could knock out Forrest Griffin while moving backwards and throwing a seemingly insignificant lead punch; he is borrowing Griffin’s forward energy to “power” the blow. Moreover, as Griffin lunges forward, he effectively creates a wall of force that will resist his head snapping back, thus magnifying the severity of the concussion as well as leaving nowhere for the head to go but to the side, magnifying the torque on the neck, which is the second cause of a knockout. Forrest is throwing his right hand, funneling all of his energy into moving his body to the left, just as Silva forces his head in the opposing direction, resulting in a severe twist of Forrest’s neck:

In addition, some MMA punches differ from those of boxing, as both fighters are at a slighly greater distance from each other so as to utilize and avoid kicks. This means that an MMA fighter sometimes lunges in and throws a punch from a greater distance than a boxer does, but more importantly, he might be firing a shot at the same time his opponent lunges in to do the same thing. This is a far different collision than that caused by a boxer leaning into Bas’s lead hook, as both fighters are exploding into the collision powered by the strongest muscles in the human body. A “super-man” punch, for example, is initiated from kicking range and culminates in the full extention of the punchers body. However, hitting a stationary dummy with such a punch will not yield the same results as doing so to an opponent who is also lunging in and extending his body fully. Take a look at Fedor Emelianenko’s recent KO of Andrei Orlovskyi. He delivers an overhand right at the precise moment that Orlovskyi throws a jumping knee, creating a massive collision that bears little resemblance to one caused by the mere force of the overhand right.

The scientists on “Fight Masters” are surely aware that the severeity of a car crash is determined not by the speed of one’s vehicle, but the combined speed of both vehicles, yet they failed to incorporate this factor into their measurements. They measured, for example, the amount of deflection in the chest cavity resulting from a muai thai knee strike and a rear, roundhouse kick from Bas Rutten at 5cm and 6.7cm respectively. However, these numbers do not take into account the force added by a converging opponent. That muai thai knee strike that is delivered to a stationary opponent who is being pulled into the strike, is surely much less damaging than a rear knee thrown almost in a leaping motion to an opponent who is also leaping in. It seems clear from this line of reasoning that Fedor’s overhand right is much more damaging than Couture’s ground and pound strike.

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