I thought I would contribute my 2c worth on an endless debate. MMA is in parenthesise because the underlying principles apply irrespective of the rules. Fighting arts are defined by the rules under which they are contested. Boxing rules disallow kicks, knees, elbows, etc. while current MMA rules allow those & more but generally / currently disallow head-butts & on the street there are no rules. Irrespective of the tools / techniques at the striker's disposal it's the aptitude & application that I am concerned with here.
Fighting is as much science as art. Once the fundamental postures & movements are mastered a fighter needs to understand the principles that allow them to work. For some that understanding isn't intellectual, it's 'instinctive' (intuitive / subconscious maybe?). Instead of learning thousands of techniques & combinations the really good striker applies the principle to the situation. Great strikers are those that take it a step further & innovate. Essentially if a fighter is focused on getting in & out safely and not simply relying on reactions, speed, reach, power & a good chin, he is already a good striker (think black belt) in my opinion. By that definition at least 50% of pro boxers & closer to 80% of MMA pros aren't good let alone great (true masters). True greats are very rare...
What follows is a list of the principles that I feel a striker needs to understand & apply in order to be deemed good / great. The idea is to give you a guide to judge your favourites by. It probability needn't be said, but I 'd like you to analyse your own game & train with this list in mind too. The list is, in broad strokes, in order of complexity / difficulty. Some have abilities at the high-end with 'gaps' lower down; there are as many possibilities as there are fighters.
A good / great striker should:
- not rely on 'a good chin', speed or any other attribute. All great to have & develop, relying on them relying on it certainly is not (the chin in particular i.e. scratch any brawler off your list).
- use range, head / body movement to limit the opponents strikes rather than solely relying on parrying, blocking & covering.
- work the body.
- circle-off / escape the cage / rope / corner.
- tie up effectively when under pressure. (In MMA, entering the clinch or shooting for a take-down).
- (defend the take down for MMA fighters).
- attack & counter with equal proficiency.
- fight inside & out with equal proficiency.
- enter & exit at different angles.
- can lead (start a combination) with both front & back hands.
- set up combinations with fakes, distractions & foot movement.
- use footwork, strikes & distraction to cut angles & 'herd' the opponent to wherever they want.
- use evasive footwork to avoid encounters & engage at the 'chosen moment'. Since the opponent is always playing catch up, their feet won't be ready to strike.
- have different styles to draw on.