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Debunking the Myth: How Often Do Fights Actually Go to the Ground?

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

For years, the claim that "90% of fights end up on the ground" has permeated the martial arts world and fueled debates about the importance of grappling in self-defense. However, this often-cited statistic lacks concrete credible evidence and paints an unrealistic picture of real-world confrontations. A closer look at the data reveals a far more nuanced and surprising truth.


A Closer Look at Street Fights:

In the exploration of street fight dynamics, a study comprising approximately 383 incidents provides insightful revelations on the relevance of grappling. Contrary to popular belief, only 31% of these altercations actually escalated to reaching the ground, where grappling tactics demonstrated their effectiveness.


Surprisingly, within those fights deliberate takedowns played a pivotal role in 41% of cases, constituting a mere 13% involved deliberate takedowns of all street fights in the study, dispelling the myth of frequent grappling exchanges. Notably, 96% of fights initiated with takedowns resulted in a significant advantage for the person who initiated the throw.


Within this subset, intentional throws emerged as formidable tools, conclusively ending the altercation in a striking 96% of instances. Ground and pound techniques predominantly, showcasing the strategic advantage of prioritized grappling strategies for street self-defense, including hard throws, positional control, and ground and pound.


Conversely, less effective strategies in street fights involve falling to the ground and employing submissions, representing a low percentage in street encounters. Emphasizing the importance of standing control, executing throws becomes a crucial aspect of street self-defense, positioning individuals as the ones initiating advantageous confrontations.


Remarkably, 69% of surveyed fights never progressed to the ground, instead concluding either standing or with a decisive knockout strike. This underscores the situational nature of grappling tactics in real-world scenarios.


Officer Arrests vs. Street Fights:

The claim that 97% of street fights end up on the ground is further challenged when examining officer arrests. Challenging the widely circulated claim that 97% of street fights go to the ground, a shift in focus to officer arrests reveals a different narrative. Statistics reveal that:

  • Only 2% of arrests involve resistance.

  • Even within those instances, only 62% result in the individual being restrained on the ground, constituting a mere 1.4% of total arrests.


Sergeant Greg Dossey's "Use of Force" study disputes the 97% statistic, revealing that, in resisting arrest sequences, parties mutually wrestled on the ground 62% of the time when suspects resist arrest.


The Violence Project's study by James LaFond, involving over 1,500 participants in violent encounters with Law Enforcement, found that 38% (which closely matches the 31% of the previous street fight study we mentioned) involved grappling, challenging the prevailing narrative. Importantly, these statistics specifically pertain to mutual grappling, not takedowns for arrest purposes or compliant arrests. This statistical perspective provides a more realistic picture of physical engagement during officer arrests, countering exaggerated claims.


Beyond Street Fights:

In the context of MMA fights, approximately 25% conclude with submissions, highlighting that not all fights, even in a controlled sporting environment, reach the ground. The variation in submission percentages across weight classes in the UFC emphasizes the multifaceted nature of combat sports.


The Importance of Accurate Data:

The exaggerated claims surrounding ground fighting often lead to misconceptions about self-defense strategies. By presenting evidence-based data, we can promote a more realistic understanding of physical confrontations and prioritize effective self-defense strategies that work in various scenarios


In Conclusion:

These findings highlight the effectiveness of throws in street self-defense as they create a clear advantage and often lead to a decisive conclusion. Conversely, falling to the ground and relying solely on submissions proved less successful in real-world situations.


Sergeant Greg Dossey's "Use of Force" study and The Violence Project's research by James LaFond further corroborate this finding, demonstrating that grappling occurs in a significantly lower percentage of real-world encounters.


Even in the controlled environment of MMA fights, only about 25% conclude with submissions, showcasing that grappling is not the dominant factor even in professional combat sports.


The statistics presented counter the exaggerated claim of 97% or 90% of fights going to the ground, emphasizing the importance of accurate data in discussions surrounding physical confrontations.


While grappling skills can be valuable in certain situations, the myth of 90% of fights going to the ground is simply not supported by the evidence. Focusing on standing control, including effective throws and ground & pound, remains crucial for self-defense preparedness. By acknowledging the true dynamics of physical altercations, we can equip individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to stay safe in real-world situations.


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