For the better part of 20 years, upper-echelon wrestlers have tormented top-tier boxers in the realm of MMA.
Of course boxers have experienced their moments of glory, using the sweet science to render wrestlers unconscious on countless occasions. But since the UFC's embryonic stages in the early 1990s, mat wizards like Dan Severn, Don Frye and Mark Coleman have presented significant stylistic issues for strike-happy fighters.
Premiere boxers still stumble when facing the pressure-heavy styles of the sport's best functional wrestlers. Randy Couture illustrated this thought when he dispatched boxing legend James Toney in just 3:19 at UFC 118.
Because of Toney's rawness in wrestling, however, Couture's swift win explained little on the matter—except that pure boxers obviously struggle to stay on their feet for long periods of time with top-notch grapplers.
UFC champs Georges St-Pierre (welterweight), Jon Jones (light heavyweight) and Cain Velasquez (heavyweight), among others, have better proven this theory by consistently puzzling the sport's best knockout artists with basic but effective wrestling techniques.
St-Pierre, Jones and Velasquez each tailor their striking games to accentuate their wrestling chops on less grapple-savvy fighters. Success for these stars revolves heavily on both their aptitude to set up takedowns with strikes and on their ability to maintain top control.
Not only have they outstruck their last three opponents, St-Pierre, Jones and Velasquez have also scored a combined 35 takedowns and allowed none in the process. Not surprisingly, the trio has gone a combined 9-0 in that span.
But how much longer will elite functional wrestlers continue to mystify the sport's best boxers?
St-Pierre, Jones and Velasquez only make up a small percentage of fighters who use superior wrestling skills to baffle those with top-flight boxing chops.
Truth be told, MMA's grossly populated with talented functional wrestlers, primarily because they possess the ability to dictate where the bulk of their fights take place.
St-Pierre and other top functional wrestlers routinely flourish using just a few elementary offensive wrestling techniques. The best boxers, conversely, like Junior dos Santos, Nick Diaz and Anderson Silva, have shown that halting these basic attacks can prove a downright daunting task.
In an interview with MMA Fighting's Luke Thomas, three-time UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen explained how St-Pierre has prospered using such simple wrestling tools.
Georges St-Pierre has one wrestling technique. Georges St-Pierre could never push and pull and pummel and set a guy up. He has one technique, which is the double-leg (takedown). Now, off of that double-leg, he's got about three different set ups he uses to get to that position and he's got about six different finishes, depending on what his opponent does, when he gets there. Georges is, I would call him the best wrestler in MMA, but I would also go out and go, 'Georges knows extremely little about wrestling. If you want to go into a wrestling match, Georges isn't the guy you want to coach and train you.' But, he has learned and perfected one position—again he has about three setups and five finishes—and he's phenomenal. I watch him run over guys like Josh Koscheck, and I can just hardly even believe what I'm seeing. But again, that's just one position. But I would like to remind you, the really good ones, the greats, only have one or two things that they do well. Mike Tyson only had an uppercut. The greats only need one or two tools.
Sonnen also agreed with Thomas' suggestion that, in general, fighters invest much more time into improving takedown defense than they put into working on takedown offense.
If I got to a wrestling practice, and I go to wrestling practice all the time. I'm going to hit a hundred different moves, which is just part of a wrestling day. You're going to grab this position and then you're going to work out of this position. You're going to hit about 100 different moves. In MMA, there's only one or two that work. So from a defensive posture, you don't have to learn wrestling to stop wrestling. You only have to learn a quick sprawl to stop a double-leg, and maybe something else. Everything else gets thrown out, a lot like what Roger (Gracie) said.
With Sonnen's sentiments in mind, the sport's best boxers will eventually tweak their games and formulate better defensive styles to counter MMA's top wrestlers.
Fighters like Dos Santos, Diaz and Silva have each refined their defensive wrestling games radically since joining the UFC. But in order to get the most out of their boxing pedigrees, these same men must take a page out of St-Pierre's book and perfect the most rudimentary functional wrestling techniques to optimize their talents in MMA.
All stats were gathered via Fightmetric.com.