It should come as no surprise to those who follow the combat arts that a new generation of fighters is on the rise.
Some fans and writers cite age, lack of fire, or even just plain bad luck in explaining the multitude of losses suffered by once-great UFC stars in the last two years.
Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin have both lost twice. Matt Hughes is no longer a champion. Even Royce Gracie, one of the sport's biggest legends, was pounded senseless by Hughes at UFC 60 last year.
So what gives?
The answer is deceptively simple yet often overlooked: It all comes down to training.
Not the kind of day-to-day fight preparation that all fighters engage in—but rather the initial training that the UFC's new warriors received when they first took up martial arts in their youth.
In the early days of the UFC—before there were rounds, time limits, gloves, or even a referee—it was all about style-versus-style. More often than not, pure strikers were dismantled by grapplers like Gracie—because once on the ground, they were essentially helpless.
This led to the initial wave of Brazilian jiujitsu hysteria, and the first major evolution in the sport.
Strikers realized that they'd better learn some grappling, or at least develop a solid takedown defense. Grapplers, for their part, quickly learned that they needed at least some rudimentary boxing skills in order to finish downed opponents.
The first fighter to successfully employ this approach was Ken Shamrock. He was followed by the likes of Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Frank Shamrock, Tito Ortiz, and Don Frye—grapplers who'd developed their boxing skills and used what has since become known as the "ground-and-pound" technique.
That second generation of UFC superstars remained on top for the better part of the last decade, but things have begun to shift again.
It's not that the new fighters are using a different skill set than their predecessors—it's that many of them have trained the majority of their lives as well-rounded MMA fighters.
Think about it: A fighter like 24-year-old Georges St. Pierre has been watching the evolution of the UFC since he was 10 years old. Even fighters like Matt Serra and Anderson Silva—both in their early 30s—have grown up with the sport.
The new breed of fighters could see, as fans, what worked and what didn't—without having to endure the physical punishment of learning it in the ring.
Granted, a great fighter is still a great fighter, and it will be a few years before the Chuck Liddells and Randy Coutures of the world have stepped aside for the newcomers. But the planets are aligned for the next great MMA evolution.
In another five years, nearly every active fighter will have grown up knowing what the sport was and what it wasn't—and precisely what skill set it would take to be competitive in it.
It's only a matter of time.
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