How Mixed is your Mixed Martial Arts?
The number fastest growing sport in the United States is Mixed Martial Arts. Since the late 1980's and early 1990's it has steadily grown from an “underground” sport to a prime time TV blockbuster with events like the The Ultimate Fighter, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator gaining a huge fan bases on channels like Fox, FX, Spike TV and Pay Per View. As the fan base has grown, so has the number of people interested in training and competing in UFC style mixed martial arts events.
It is easy to see greats like George St. Pierre, BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, or Chuck Liddell enter the cage and witness their fights and be left with the impression that it is easy. (as if fighting is easy). But their expertise does make the spectacle seem easier than the reality. Chalk it up to the armchair quarterback syndrome. Everything looks easy from the sidelines. It is their expertise is martial arts, and their ability to outperform their opponents in various ranges of fighting that make them winners.
GSP is one of the best strikers/grapplers in MMA, B.J. Penn is a true “prodigy” of Brazilian Jui Jitsu, Anderson Silva is one of the best Muay Thai /MMA strikers, and Chuck Liddell an accomplished wrestler. What truly makes these mixed martial artists is their complementary skill sets, and how it allows them to dominate in their particular area of expertise.
George St. Pierre has the tactical advantage when he can out strike an opponent on his feet, frequently using his fast lead jab, and powerful punching and kicking combinations to great effect. He uses his vast abilities as a wrestler and grappler to prevent take downs and maintain the fight in the range of his choosing. GSP has also show great ability at taking weaker wrestlers to the mats and securing and advantageous top position and using ground and pound striking to win fights. It was this ability to control range and fight from his opponents weaker areas that lead him to so many championships.
B.J. Penn is another fighter who's supremacy on the ground allowed him to use his striking skills to flourish and finish lessor opponents. And on opponents that he didn't fair as well with in the stand up, he would alternatively finish on the ground like Kenny Florian at UFC 101, or Joe Stevenson at UFC 80.
Anderson Silva is bit the opposite template, where you have a tremendous world class striker, who uses his Brazilian Jui Jitsu skills to prevent take downs, and has historically knocked out his opponents like his wins over Yushin Okami, Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. And his submission grappling played a smaller but vital role in his submission wins over Travis Lutter, Dan Henderson, and last second sub of Chael Sonnen at UFC 117.
As we see the art evolve, we have seen the early years of the sport where UFC championships were owned by the Brazilian Jui Jitsu fighters. It didn't take long for contenders to learn the BJJ game and start to nullify it, which lead to a wrestlers era of champions like Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. Go forward a little more and everyone was working their grappling, and the shift fell to the strikers like Anderson Silva, or hybrid grapplers with exceptional striking.
And now we seem to be in the tail end of the specialists era and entering the true Mixed Martial Arts age. Where young athletes are training mixed arts from an early age. They understand all the ranges and may excel in one, two or three areas. And not only that, but these true hybrid athletes are finding the gaps and transitions in the game that does make all the difference. Young Champion John Jones could be a good example of this. His back ground in wrestling allowed him to step into MMA and but his striking and its use from original positions and ranges shows a great variety of technique, much of which had not been seen before. His ability to throw punches and elbows from clinch, shooting, or on the ground has earned him may victories. It is like a game of chess now, with guys matching up skill sets and seeing which prevails, and many of the victories will be found in those that can transition effectively, or excel in the gaps of experience of their opponent.
About the author
Ray White's Midwest Martial Arts teaches Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts to students, amateur and professional fighters from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. He can be reached at the SMB Academy in Battle Creek Michigan, at www.facebook.com/RayWhiteMMA and at www.mmacoachescorner.com .