Two guys. Two top-flight mixed martial artists who have relied on a given style for a long time. Two guys with very different results at UFC 144.
The first is Jake Shields, the Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt who has long been quite literally mopping the mat with his opponents. He was successful in his bid to end a two fight losing skid Saturday night, as he overcame a rejuvenated Yoshihiro Akiyama on the way to a decision win.
The second is Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, the former PRIDE star UFC light heavyweight champion known for slamming guys through the mat back in the day and knocking them senseless with his hands in more recent years. He suffered a lopsided beating at the hands of Ryan Bader, a wrestling standout who would have never thrashed Jackson so resoundingly in a past era.
They do share one thing in common, however: they’re in need of a revised approach to the fight game.
Beginning with Shields, he simply can’t be so reliant on taking guys down and working them over anymore. The game has evolved, and while Shields has shown signs of progressing with it, far too often he’s content to starve on the ground when he could feast on the feet.
In the fight against Akiyama he spent much of the time standing just doing enough to get the takedown. It simply never came. He was fortunate to touch up his stagnant opponent with passable kickboxing, but it was obvious he was so focused on getting it to the ground that he didn’t realize how well it was going on the feet.
He did eventually get it to the mat, where he effortlessly took Akiyama’s back, but he ran out of time before he could finish a choke. He had to settle for a decision.
Moments later, Rampage stormed the octagon to the tune of his beloved PRIDE theme music. He entered, touched gloves with Bader, and started swinging. In response, Bader started wrestling.
Fifteen minutes later, Rampage had his second straight loss and Bader had the biggest win of his career.
In an effort to be exciting, something that is of paramount importance to him, Jackson completely ignored an element of mixed martial arts and ended up tasting uneventful and certainly frustrating defeat for it. What’s worse, it’s an element of mixed martial arts that he’s proven to be good at but chooses to cast aside.
What’s interesting about Shields and Jackson is that they’re at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Shields needs to let his fists do the talking a bit more often instead of being so resigned to getting a takedown, while Jackson needs to stop headhunting and mix in some wrestling if he hopes to see any success in whatever fights he has left.
They’re two veterans of the sport, two guys who have been champions and great warriors, and they’re also perilously close to seeing the next generation pass them by if they don’t make some changes.
Whether or not that happens is up to them.