One of Grandmaster Helio Gracie’s fight strategies was to play a tight defense and allow the opponent to tire himself out. Once fatigued, the opponent was more likely to make a mistake and give Gracie an opportunity to submit.
Don’t forget this was in the days of no time limit fights and a fighter could not hope to be saved by the bell.
More recently the fight world witnessed Conor McGregor look good early only to gas out and get stopped by Floyd Mayweather. Jiu-jitsu sage John Danaher accurately predicted the outcome of the fight in a social media post.
Opponents are much easier to submit when they are exhausted. What should BJJ guys understand about fatigue?
The most obvious solution is train your cardio! If your strategy involves waiting for your opponent to get tired, you had better make sure that your own engine is not going to run out of gas!
It is very rare that an athlete preparing to compete in any combat sport does not emphasize running, swimming, or other cardiovascular exercises heavily to prepare.
Fight commentators talk about a fighter “emptying their gas tank” and “blowing their wad”. This crude analogy means expending too much energy in the early stage of the fight and getting into an oxygen deficit from which they may never recover. The athlete’s ability to recover from intense bursts of energy is important to go the distance in a closely competitive match.
Of course having a solid base of cardiovascular conditioning is important, but it is not the only factor in gassing out. Pacing oneself is critical.
Some fighters are known as first-round fighters, as they seem to have more fast twitch muscle fibers. They are explosive and capable of ending the fight early, but if the opponent weathers the storm, they fade significantly as the match gets longer.
A couple of other significant factors are involved in fighters gassing out: your ability to be efficient and remain comfortable in different areas of the fight — for example, standing stroking versus ground grappling, or remaining calm on the bottom if you are predominantly a top game fighter.
Top trainer Firas Zahabi talks about this in this excellent video.
Another factor is breathing while expending effort. One of the first signs of an athlete fatiguing in a match is having one’s mouth wide open and taking heaving breaths from the top of the lungs. The athlete is in oxygen debt and unable to recover from the effort for another burst to get a takedown or try to escape.
Check out this article on Rickson Gracie discussing the importance of breathing in fighting.