The Progression of Mixed Martial Arts
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We are living through an exciting time in sports, the emergence of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. Because this is such a new sport, the progression has gone through some distinctive frames. The first and most notable is the Jiu-Jitsu or Gracie era. This one was planned. The Gracie family brought their brand and version of Jiu-Jitsu to the United States and created the Ultimate Fighting Championship to put it on display against other martial arts. UFC hall-of-famer, Royce Gracie, although not the family’s first choice, ended up representing the Gracie family and winning 3 of the first 4 events. At UFC 3, the one that Royce didn’t win, he was so exhausted after his defeat of Kimo that he was physically unable to continue. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was new to the U.S. and allowed a relatively small fighter such as Royce to defeat much larger fighters.
As the fighters became used to the Jiu-Jitsu style, and found ways to defend themselves from these painful submission locks to the joints, wrestling emerged as the next dominant discipline. This started with fighters such as Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, and Dan Severn. These fighters used their ability to get fighters on the ground and use their incredible strength and balance to keep them pinned to the ground and grind out a decision win.
Several years into the UFC, along side the wrestlers was the slow emergence of what would eventually become the mixed martial artist. It started with fighters like ‘the polar bear’ Paul Varelans, who taught a use what ever works style. This progressed with fighters like Frank Shamrock who started working out with fighters from other disciplines, teaching each other their strengths to create a more-well rounded fighter. The ‘Croatian sensation’ Pat Militech developed the Militech Fighting System which was the real mixed martial artist. He took a fighters strength whether that be striking or wrestling and developed the other aspects of a fighter that would allow that fighter to use their strength. For example, Matt Hughes was an incredible wrestler, so with Matt he developed his Jiu-Jitsui and striking around his wrestling. His striking allows him to stand and trade with another fighter until he sees and opening and then he explodes and puts the other fighter on the ground. The striking abilities make his take downs less predictable and more effective. The submissions serve the primary purpose of keeping Matt from being caught by another fighter while on the ground, and his submission attempts are slow and methodical. Many times with a fighter like Matt you can see the submission coming, however because of his incredible strength and ability to keep you pinned down there is little you can do. A great example of this is the Royce Gracie vs Matt Hughes fight. Matt took Royce’s back and put him face down on the mat. He even put him into a submission which most fighters would have tapped out from. Matt later said that he realized that Royce was refusing to tap and rather then seriously hurt him, he let the submission go and chose to punch him in the head until the referee stopped the fight.
Fighters like Chuck Liddell used their wrestling ability to dictate where the fight would take place. The strong wrestling background allows him to stop almost any takedown or get back on his feet quickly to use his standup ability to knock people out. This is when we saw a lot of the ‘Striker vs Grappler’ fights. The strikers, such as Chuck, are power punchers. They use punches like the overhand punch and superman punch to generate great power and leave their opponent laying on the mat. Newer fans are still familiar with most of these fighters because they are still competitive today, but not at the level they used to be.
The newest generation of fighters is starting out at camps and gyms that train in a wide variety of techniques, being exposed to all of the disciplines from the very beginning. In the United States we still have a lot of college wrestlers transitioning very well into MMA. Wrestling is an excellent base because of the balance, strength, and incredible discipline that it takes to be a wrestler, such as cutting weight. The latest transitions that were currently seeing are in the type of striking. Fighters are starting to transition away from traditional boxing, and from the Chuck Liddell overhand punch. They are being replaced by Mui Tai, which emphasizes the use of knees and elbows in the clinch, and the strikes have gotten faster and more accurate. A fast, well placed punch is just as effective if not more effective to knock someone out with as a slower power punch, and with the increased speed and deception, these punches are more likely to land. The amount of leg kicks was dramatically increased over the last few years. The low kicks to the legs are an effective way to slow down an opponent, especially if the other fighter is looking for the takedown and needs that lead leg to get a strong push off. Forest Griffen wearing down Ramage Jackson and Keith Jardine against Chuck Liddell are excellent examples of the use of low leg kicks. Quick and accurate head kicks are creating some very dramatic finishes as well. The slower leg kicks of the past used to be easily blocked, and although the power of a leg kick can still do damage if blocked, the faster snap kicks that are being developed now are much more effective knockout. Great examples of the newer style fighters are fighters like Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, and newly crowned Light-Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. St. Pierra uses his great athleticism, quickness, and complete skill set to overwhelm his opponents. With a fighter like Georges, there aren’t really any trends or anywhere that you can take the fight that put him at a severe disadvantage. Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida are examples of the very fast, very accurate pin point striking that has made the Brazilians so hard to beat as of late. The Brazilians are learning and practicing this striking from a very young age, and our American fighters have some catching up to do in the striking game if we want to remain competitive. As with all of the different trends, when the entire sport catches up to the level of striking of some of our current champions and top contenders, the sport of MMA will be at an entirely new level and that much more exciting to watch.
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