In every sport in the world, athletes evaluate their strengths in addition to their weaknesses, constantly working to become the best they can be.
After all, no one is the complete package—there is always room for improvement. In the combative sports, the only real exception to this rule is probably Sugar Ray Robinson, who was just about as great as a fighter could hope to be.
But the exception is not the norm, and we should be thankful for that, especially in the fight game.
The theatre of combative sports is so great not only because of a fighter's advantages but also because of a fighter's flaws, no matter how pronounced or subtle.
That’s the real drama of fight sports—knowing that the man in command of one moment could see it all taken away from him if his opponent strikes deep into that aspect of his game that is weakest.
At UFC 160, if Mark Hunt begins to knock Junior dos Santos all over the ring, everyone is going to be watching one thing while waiting for another.
They’ll be watching the action and hoping for a knockout while waiting to see if dos Santos can score a takedown—because everyone knows that is the weakest link in Hunt’s chain.
Hunt is not alone, of course. Here’s a list of 10 men who could be really and truly great were it not for one nagging flaw.
Maybe one of the most aggressive and dangerous submission artists in the history of the lighter divisions of the sport, Shinya Aoki has always been a holy terror on the ground.
But when it comes to standing up, his game leaves much to be desired.
When he throws strikes, they are almost always thrown with just enough authority and conviction to mask his next takedown attempt.
Sadly, when one part of his game amounts to little more than subterfuge, no one is going to be all that worried about it.
Now, if Aoki had the same kind of attitude about striking as he did submissions?
That would be damn scary.
There is a lot to be said for the ability to render an opponent totally unconscious with just a few well-placed strikes (or a single blow), and if anyone would see his stock skyrocket from such an advantage, it would be Chael Sonnen.
He already has one of the very best takedown games in the sport; he’s aggressive, highly conditioned and damn near relentless from the top with his ground-and-pound.
If Sonnen had the same kind of power in his strikes like men such as Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson, Rampage Jackson and others, he’d have won the middleweight title at UFC 117.
Curly hair, elite-level wrestling and takedowns are what you think of when the name of Ben Askren is brought up.
The one thing you don’t think of is any kind of notable striking game, and it is going to be a while before Askren gets his punches, knees and kicks up to par.
Until that changes, he’s never going to be able to beat a man like GSP.
After all the titles, talk and controversy, we’ve learned one thing above all else about Alistair Overeem: He’s great at being the hammer but terrible at being the nail.
When Overeem is offensive and really in his groove, few can contend with him. But if the fight takes a turn and his opponent starts connecting, odds are he’s going to fall.
Overeem has been defeated via KO/TKO four times out of his last five losses, and submitting to punches accounts for the fifth.
Honestly, if it were not for the fragility of his chin, Overeem has the skills to be the best heavyweight in MMA.
But if there is one thing you can’t do, it’s fortify a chin. You can only train to protect it as best as you can.
Matt Brown has just about everything you could ask for in a fighter.
He has brutal KO power, an iron chin, good conditioning, aggression, heart and so on.
But if the fight hits the floor, he’s in serious jeopardy.
Out of 11 losses for Brown, two have come by decision and nine via submission. Ironically, all of his losses via submission in the UFC have occurred in the second round, which may speak to some change in Brown between Rounds 1 and 2 that his opponents notice and capitalize on.
Either way, Brown could be a serious contender if he ever decides to up his submissions IQ.
Michael Bisping has always been a fighter who seems to improve in every outing—save for his performance against Dan Henderson.
He has evolved into a slick boxer with ever-improving wrestling—a fighter able to dig deep and rally back when need be, as he did against Dennis Kang at UFC 105.
But the one thing he’s really been missing is one-shot KO power, and if he had it, given how often his punches land, he could be a serious threat to KO anyone in the division, even Anderson Silva.
Bisping hasn’t stopped improving, however, and fighters can learn how to deliver more force with their blows as they progress. Granted, they have to work hard at it, but few work harder than Bisping.
Easily one of the better strikers in the heavyweight division, Mark Hunt would probably be the UFC champion by now if he knew anything more than the basics of grappling.
Yes, he’s getting better, but he’s got such a long way to go that it would be silly to think he can strut around yet.
Thankfully for Hunt, strutting isn’t his thing—you could tell that the way he decked Stefan Struve and then simply turned and walked away, calm as a cup of water.
Odds are, when he faces off against Junior dos Santos, if the latter starts to feel the short end of the stick, a takedown attempt is coming, and it’s a coin flip as to whether Hunt can stop it or not.
While Jake Shields is one of the best grapplers in the sport, the one aspect of his game that has always been lacking is his striking.
If he had striking ability equal to his grappling ability, few could stop him, especially when you consider the grit and resolve Shields showed during the first round of his bout with Dan Henderson.
There seems to be a barrier to striking that Shields just can’t get around, much like the way it was for Matt Hughes, who struggled to become a proficient striker his entire career.
It’s not that Shields doesn’t know the mechanics behind striking. It’s just that he hasn’t been able to use any of those weapons comfortably or proficiently enough to give opponents reason to pause.
While both Nick and Nate Diaz are among the most exciting fighters in the sport today, the one thing that saw both men lose their first UFC title bids was the inability to defend the takedown.
It’s not that both men didn’t lose the stand-up battle in those fights, because they did—but that in turn was because they couldn’t fully commit to the stand-up battle. They had to divide their attention and energy toward trying to anticipate takedown attempts, and while they were doing so, they got hit.
Really, both men need a far better wrestling game than they have, but they could probably settle for just getting Chuck Liddell-like takedown defense.
If both men could let their hands go with full authority—unconcerned with the takedown game because they knew their ability to stuff those attempts was more than up to the task—they would be far more dangerous than they already are.
It wasn’t all that long ago that many fans and sportswriters were preaching the gospel about Junior dos Santos: the man they felt was the best heavyweight champion the UFC had ever seen.
After one successful title defense, dos Santos is no longer the champion, and there seems little doubt as to why.
Upon watching his second bout with current champion Cain Velasquez, dos Santos spoke openly about what happened (h/t MMAWeekly.com).
“When I watched the fight and saw that punch, (I realized) everything changed after that. It was almost like automatic reactions after that—just defending myself.”
Dos Santos had been doing very well up until the point that Velasquez landed a brutal shot that dropped him in the first round.
After that, dos Santos was never the same.
If dos Santos had the ability to adapt mid-fight, especially when the going was getting tough, he could readjust and fight to win, instead of just “defending” himself.