I have a character who was an MMA fighter, he is retired and now owns a gym where he trains people new to the sport. If he were to get jumped on the street by 4 men with improvised weapons, is his training any good in this situation?
This is a little tricky to gauge because there are a lot of potential, messy, outliers. The short answer is, probably not, and the slightly longer version could be summed up as, “probably not, but even if it is still useful, it’s still not going to be enough.”
As its name implies, MMA isn’t a single, uniform, martial art, while most MMA fighters don’t have combat backgrounds, it is possible (though, unlikely), that you’d find an MMA fighter with training in Military Krav Maga, Systema, MCMAP, or another practical combat martial art. In one of these examples, it is possible their training would be somewhat useful. However, if that’s their background, its highly unlikely they were using it in bouts.
When I say “unlikely,” I can count on one hand the number of Systema practitioners I can find who’ve competed in MMA tournaments. There could be more out there, but these kinds of martial artists don’t, often transition into sport fighting. A good illustration of why comes from the MCMAP training manual, which reminds instructors to watch for, and stop trainees engage in “sports fighting,” during training. All of these practical martial arts put a high priority on ending the fight as quickly and efficiently as possible. While it results in combatants who survive combat with minimal injuries, it’s not going to be an entertaining MMA match.
Having said all of that, if we ignore your character for a moment, and say that you have an ex-special forces operator who is unarmed, in that situation, facing four foes armed with improvised weapons, there is a very real chance that the ex-operator will end up seriously injured or dead.
With an MMA fighter, you’re likely looking someone with a background in Boxing, Wrestling, Kickboxing, Taekwondo, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Karate, or Judo. TKD, and Judo both have practical branches, but with an MMA fighter, they’re almost certainly training in the sports variants of their martial arts. While this results in athletes who are certainly talented, they are training to fight in a very specific situation; one on one, unarmed, with a wide range of limitations designed to ensure the relative safety of all participants. It’s not simply a matter of saying, “well, this time I’m going to just cut loose,” they’ve trained to fight this way.
In some situations, their training can carry them through an actual situation. There’s enough youtube videos of amateur MMA practitioners TKOing an idiot on the street. The key there is the singular. They punch out one individual. They’re not getting into a fight with multiple enemies.
Combat against multiple foes requires you split your attention across the entire group. You cannot afford to lose track of them, because if you do, they will be able to exploit that. Keeping track of multiple foes in the chaos of a real fight is extremely difficult. Everyone’s moving, some are probably trying to flank, and no matter what you do, you have more foes than eyes.
Once you do start taking hits, it’s likely to become a death spiral. Even minor injuries will impair your ability to continue fighting, making it harder to defend against subsequent attacks. This isn’t a death by papercuts scenario, the first few hits might not do much on their own, but they’ll open the victim up to more devastating injuries.
If that wasn’t bad enough, getting hit basically ensures you’re going to lose track of some of your foes. This means that even if you successfully defend against a strike, there’s a real danger you no longer know where all of your foes are, and can no longer defend against some of them.
And it gets worse.
Dealing an armed opponent while unarmed is extremely dangerous. It is something that an experienced martial artist may be able to handle, if they’ve been trained for it. However, there are a depressing of stories of experienced martial artists failing to execute a combat disarm and being seriously injured or killed.
Dealing with an armed opponent means you cannot afford to lose focus on their weapon. You need to know exactly where it is at all times, and you cannot afford any lapses. If you get hit with a weapon (even an improvised one) it will be so much worse than an unarmed strike. You can continue fighting after taking a punch, you cannot continue to fight effectively after taking a blow from a crowbar. Survival depends on finding a way to neutralize their weapon as quickly as possible.
So, here’s a problem, you have multiple foes which require you to split your focus, and they’re all armed, meaning you need to individually devote your full undivided attention to each weapon.
If you’ve found a way to divide your undivided attention, congratulations, you’re now a superhero.
So, is your character’s training any good at this point? Yeah, if he understands how bad the situation is, and runs. Even at his age, he’s probably in excellent physical condition, and it’s very possible he can outrun them.
There is another problem, and it might impact his ability to run. Martial arts puts a serious toll on the body. This is especially true for competitive sports fighters. It’s entirely possible that he’d have mobility issues as early as his 30s. This also feeds into the reason why sport fighters retire at (relatively) young ages, or transition into less physically stressful careers. A career in competitive fighting will absolutely destroy your body. If you have someone who retired from the ring, it’s very likely that, due to a mix of old injuries, they’re physically incapable of fighting effectively. They can still coach people. They can train others. But, their body simply isn’t up to the task anymore. Throwing someone like that against a group of armed foes is a death sentence.
There are ways someone could get out of a situation like this alive. Like I said, running is probably the best option. If your character is in excellent physical condition, they will probably be able to outrun their attackers. If they can retreat to a fortified position, and hold out for help, that’s another option. A much riskier strategy is to immediately neutralize the group’s leader, as an intimidation tactic. This is more about convincing the remaining three that they have no chance of success, however, it’s a bluff, and one that can easily blow up in your character’s face.
Group combat is very popular in visual media because it’s dynamic. It looks cool. When you have an experienced group of marital artists working together, they can turn a group fight into poetry in motion. It’s not real, but that was never the point.
Because group combat is so popular, it can create an illusion about how accessible it is. Fighting multiple foes is extremely difficult and dangerous. Fighting multiple armed foes is the domain of superheroes and action movies.