The sport of mixed martial arts is constantly evolving. Fighters who once relied on a single skill in the octagon are becoming phased out and replaced by well-rounded martial artists.
In order to succeed in the UFC, fighters have been forced to adapt their skills, or risk having their weaknesses exposed.
This constant evolution and the influx of new talent have changed the landscape of the UFC dramatically. A new generation of fighters is beginning to dominate. Here is what they will have in common.
The next generation of UFC fighters will have an advanced knowledge of offensive and defensive wrestling in their arsenal. They will need this skill to keep pace with fighters that have extensive wrestling pedigrees.
The UFC fighter of tomorrow will have integrated this into their skill set to avoid the dangers of being smothered for five rounds by an elite grappler.
As the UFC’s talent pool grows, the need to learn wrestling will become mandatory if a fighter wants to avoid being relegated to gatekeeper status.
The future UFC fighter will have a strong grasp of jiu-jitsu. When Chael Sonnen fought Anderson Silva at UFC 117, it was the wrestling of Sonnen that dictated where the fight went.
Silva, however, was able to capitalize on a small mistake and utilize his jiu-jitsu to end the fight in the final round. Some critics point to the fact that jiu-jitsu is not as effective as other martial arts disciplines, but countless UFC matches that have ended by submission prove otherwise.
Fighters with an excellent ground game will be commonplace with the next generation of fighters. This skill will be needed to offset the relentless pressure of high-level wrestlers and other jiu-jitsu practitioners.
Creativity with striking will be necessary for the future UFC fighter. Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is an example of this type of new age fighter that we will see more often.
He utilizes a wide variety of techniques to keep his opponent guessing, never letting them become too comfortable. The one-dimensional boxer will soon be a thing of the past, falling to the more experienced strikers that will utilize a dizzying array of leg kicks, elbows, knees and punches.
This isn’t a bad thing, as it means that we will begin to see more active and creative striking exchanges. We may even see fighters pull off spinning wheel kicks like it’s just another day at the gym.
As fun as it is to watch two fighters slug it out until one of them hits the canvas, it will not be a common approach for the future UFC fighter.
Knowing your opponents' strengths, weaknesses, what they eat for breakfast, etc. is all a part of the game. It allows a fighter to gain advantage over their opponent and utilize their own strengths to exploit the other’s weaknesses.
The skill level of the average fighter will continue to increase in the UFC, bringing droves of talented fighters to the roster. With the increase of highly skilled fighters, game planning will become necessary in order to survive and stay in the win column.
The new wave of UFC fighters will not only have experience in multiple martial arts and a focus on game planning, but they’ll be conditioned enough to compete for five full rounds.
Some of the competitors in the higher weight classes and those fighters with extra muscle mass will continue to struggle in this area.
Regardless, the increase of new talent will force veteran fighters to adapt to the new standard or fall behind. We will begin to see that the conditioning of fighters like Nick Diaz and Cain Velasquez will be much more common across all weight classes.
Youth makes the rest of these factors possible. The future UFC fighter will truly be a student of the sport. They will be educated in multiple disciplines at a very early age.
For the first time we will begin to see true mixed martial artists that have been training their entire life, competing at the very highest level.
Boxing, wrestling, Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu, karate etc., will be used interchangeably in fights by professionals who have been training since childhood. We already see young fighters like heavyweight Stefan Struve and light heavyweight Jon Jones competing at a young age.
We can expect to see this trend continue, as even younger fighters will join the ranks of the elite.