Poof! A MMA heavyweight has been transported back in time to ancient Rome. He is to fight in the colosseum. One of the (many) things that fascinates me about this juxtaposition of worlds is the stylistic differences. Modern MMA is typically unarmed, but in ancient Rome there was armed combat. And that is just scratching the tip of the iceberg. Imagine the current heavy-weight MMA Champion (actually champion of two weight divisions) Daniel Cormier staring down a lion! In fact, that's just what we're going to do.

When I first conceived this question, I just laughed it off. However, it grew on me since; modern MMA in my view is really an important milestone in human physical prowess. Through MMA, a scientific process was established that allowed for fighting styles to compete with each other and allow for the most dominant styles to be confirmed at an empirical level. One such example is in the early days of UFC many purists of traditional martial-arts would compete, however these days the UFC has very few purists. Competition culture, sparring techniques as well as exposure to clinch/grapping all lead to a rise of just a handful of dominant styles. More on that here.

The dominant styles that survive at the competitive level in MMA today are what is in scope for this question. This UFC page has an excellent illustrated list. For convenience: boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, judo, muay thai

It's great and all that we have taken scientifically measured steps to elevate unarmed combat between humans, however, let's not forget in ancient Rome the opponent will be a lion.


Which modern MMA style would give the time traveling MMA fighter the best chance of success at defeating a lion in unarmed combat? Standing and slugging it out with a lion doesn't sound all that wise, but then again neither does trying to land an armbar on such a ferocious beast. To spice things up further, the MMA fighter must adhere to some of the MMA rules:

  • No eye pokes (let alone gouging)
  • No biting the lion (obviously)
  • No 12 to 6 elbows

Everything else is fair game!

Further Clarifications:

  • Assume no training camp: the MMA fighter will have zero advance knowledge that his opponent will be a lion. He will only know when the gates are raised and the lion comes strutting out.
  • No dark arts: I'm excluding martial arts that are primarily deception based (ninjitsu et all)
  • MMA fighter weight: heavyweight (206-265 pounds)
  • MMA fighter physique: I'll leave this up to the answerers, could be short and stocky like the reigning champ Daniel Cormier, or could be a giant of a man like Stipe Miocic or Francis Ngannou.
  • By "best chance of success" I mean just that. Maybe the odds are against the MMA fighter regardless, but if Style A gives him a 20% chance but Style B gives him a 30% chance, then B it is (I'm not requiring an actual percentage, use common sense and your best judgement)
  • POB concerns: I recognize there is a danger of POB, but I assert there is enough science in the moving parts to this to make for quantifiable answers. The tools are known (the fighting style choices) and the application is known (fighting a lion), so much in the same way a doctor would have more utility from a scalpel than a hammer, using science we can infer, albeit roughly, which fighting styles would give the MMA fighter the most utility. The other component is one would have to know the mechanics and empirical track record of the fighting styles to extrapolate against lion opponents as well as an understanding of the anatomy of a lion.

closed as off-topic by Renan, Frostfyre, slobodan.blazeski, Separatrix, Mołot Oct 6 '18 at 0:11

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – Renan, Frostfyre, slobodan.blazeski, Separatrix
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Chances of success of an unarmed human against a hypercarnivore predator weighing a quarter of a ton? What is the human going to do to the lion? (Although in a famous scene in The Return of Tarzan, Tarzan of the Apes did kill an Algerian lion with his bare hands. And Androcles found a different way to escape uneaten.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 2 '18 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ MMA is designed to allow humans to try different fighting styles against other humans and determine which one works best against those humans. The odds that whatever happens to work well in MMA will also be even close to what's useful against a completely different animal that weighs much more, has razor-sharp claws, stands on four legs, and isn't restricted by rules like "no biting" seem to be ridiculously low. You might as well ask which style of drumming would make the best poet. $\endgroup$ – abarnert Sep 2 '18 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ Also, remember the viral video where three pro wrestlers took on a relatively small (250lb) lion in tug-of-war and couldn't even get it to move? That should give you an idea of how useful wrestling, judo, etc.. would be against a full-sized lion. $\endgroup$ – abarnert Sep 2 '18 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ An adult African lion? Have you ever been up close to one? Its not even a competition. $\endgroup$ – GrandmasterB Sep 2 '18 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ I'm afraid putting MMA on a pedestal like this is a form of lion to yourself $\endgroup$ – nullpointer Sep 3 '18 at 1:41

The $%#@

Which modern MMA style would give the time traveling MMA fighter the best chance of success at defeating a lion in unarmed combat?

Why does he even need to time travel to have a life or death battle with a lion, plane tickets to Africa are cheaper.

Anyways first, man isn't designed like other animals for physical combat, especially compared to a lion which has evolved to kill all kinds of things with it bare paws. There is also the phrase "cat like reflexes" which comes to mind.

As the lion is literally bringing a paw full of knives to the fight, styles involving blocking are for the most part out. This also includes a good deal of various counters as in blocking or dodging the claws will likely be followed up with a very precisely placed bite. So that's 3 simultaneous upper body blood drawing attack vectors that the fighter would have to counter where he would normally only have to deal with 2 at most in Man vs Man.

The only minor physical advantage I can see humans having over a lion comes from the range of motion offered by a bipedal stance. Which allows us to effectively jump in any direction without having to reorient the body. This is harder for quadrupeds as they can mostly only go forwards and or have to turn their torso to change directions. This advantage would buy virtually a few hundredths of a second maybe more if the user is able to incorporate surprise and misdirection somehow.

The only vulnerable spot on a lion is their back because their jaw and claws cant reach there. From that position a fighter could put the lion into a choke hold whilst protected from any attacks. This isn't foolproof as the lions hind legs can reach its mane potentially lacerating the arms wrapped around it. There's also the possibility of the 500lb lion rolling over onto the fighter and crushing him.

The other option is eye gouging from the back though that's against the rules. A blind lion would be a fairer fight if wanting to fight with fists.

To spice things up further, the MMA fighter must adhere to some of the MMA rules:

Why even add rules? The dude is fighting an animal to the death. Kitty isn't going to play by any rules nor should he.......

In conclusion, modern MMA is well adapted in Man vs Man combat, however it is not at all adapted to fighting a lion or other beast. There are slim chances for victory however much will come down to extreme skill and nerve. In such a primal fight, things like self glorifying rules or compassion or hesitation would result in instant loss as timing would be everything.


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