If you’re a fan of mixed martial arts it’s probably due to the large variety of styles and techniques allowed in the cage. Wrestlers shoot in for double leg takedowns, kick boxers mix it up with elbows and kicks, and the jiu-jitsu guys are arm barring and triangle choking everybody.
Absent from the list above is boxing. Some fighters have avoided typical boxing strategies in the past, focusing instead on power punches by swinging for the fences and hoping for the knock out. The jab is the antithesis of such an approach to fighting. One of the fundamental punches of boxing, a good jab does three things: it establishes distance, is an economical use of force, and it sets up the opponent for combinations of stronger punches such as the left hook or right cross.
Fighting is ultimately an exercise in distance. When one fighter can establish the distance and rhythm of the fight chances are he will win. There is kicking distance, punching distance, wrestling or clinch fighting distance etc. If the grappler can’t get close enough to the kick-boxer, chances are he will get knocked out, but if the grappler can close the distance and take the fight to the ground he will be more likely to win. The jab is an effective tool to use at punching distance. One can move in to or away from a clinch at that range, or simply use the jab to punish your advancing opponent—a stinging reminder that he just stepped within your punching range.
Economy of force simply means getting the most bang for your buck. Fighting is exhausting; just watch how tired a fighter looks after shooting for a takedown only to have it fought off. A jab can be thrown hundreds of times. It involves quickly flicking out the lead hand in a tight, straight fist as if you are trying to swat a fly. The fighter’s balance isn’t upset much by over extending or swinging wildly plus it’s relatively easy to quickly bring your fist back to guard against incoming attacks.
The jab is also used to set up combinations of power punches or kicks. Most fight sport enthusiasts are familiar with the old one-two (a jab followed by a powerful right cross), but fighters can also double up on the jab, keeping the opponent’s hands high while closing the distance for a clinch or takedown around the body.
In the context of mixed martial arts the jab is incredibly effective. It’s quick, relatively low risk, and can serve as the precursor to more powerful combinations of attacks. It can be used offensively or defensively and in four-ounce mixed martial arts gloves opponents can be marked up so badly they may lose on a cut simply from getting jabbed.