In the wake of the relatively easy victories by GSP and Koscheck over formidable British strikers, and the success of Jake Shields over Hendo, the MMA community is divided over how to assess these wins.
Quite a number of MMA fans complain that wrestling is boring, and that much of the excitement of MMA is being leeched away in grappling contests, which lack an exciting knock-out or submission.
Some peevish fans have even gone so far as to say that this oldest of combative techniques is not even a martial art!
Their disgruntlement is reminiscent of the initial reaction of MMA fans to the dominance of Gracie BJJ.
Brazilian Jui Jitsu Dominance
Brazilian Jui Jitsu had an enormous effect on the evolution of modern MMA for one primary reason—it worked.
One after another Royce Gracie would somehow, by what seemed almost magic, compel his well-muscled and skilled opponents to tap out. Before each submission, there was often a lot of rolling around, vying for position.
Of course, this created a stampede of students (and seasoned fighters) toward BJJ dojos until, after a time, it was not so easy to submit MMA fighters, since they had learned the secrets and counters to BJJ.
Striking Comes Back - With Takedown Defense
With Chuck Liddel, a new appreciation for striking emerged. Coupled with an excellent take-down defense, Liddel was a dominant champion for years.
Fans of every stripe were happy—this was easy to understand—striking fits everyone's idea of a martial art, and sudden knockouts are both impressive and final.
However, a number of fans did not realize how skilled Liddel was at wrestling, and how key this was to his successful striking. Because Chuck was so good at countering the ground-game, he could take risks standing up that someone less well-versed in wrestling could not.
Another dominant champion arose who also had a wrestling pedigree.
Wrestling Wins Fights
Matt Hughes proved over and over that wrestling wins fights—by either setting up submissions or controlling the pace and flow of a fight.
Many complained at his dominance, and could not understand his phenomenal success. Strikers had to change their stances and be very cautious throwing kicks, or they would be taken down and mauled.
Opponents taken down over and over were battered and exhausted by late rounds—if they survived that long. When Hughes finally handed off the Welterweight belt, it was to another champion, also excellent in wrestling—GSP.
GSP took the wrestling torch from Hughes and proved over and over again the value of wrestling in winning MMA fights (or any fight for that matter) John Fitch, who is often reviled by the brawler set of MMA, is another world-class wrestler who has proven with his impressive UFC record that wrestling wins fights.
The Heavyweight Wrestlers Arrive
When Brock Lesnar came on the scene, many purists were aghast that a WWE 'entertainer' could challenge for the belt with so little experience in MMA.
Wiser heads looked at Lesnar's resume and realized that he was more than just a 'face' or a 'heel' — this was a champion college wrestler who had an excellent base to add additional MMA skills.
Not surprisingly, Lesnar was caught by BJJ artist Mir when they first fought—but that lesson was taken to heart, and Lesnar learned. When he fought Mir again, it was no contest. Lesnar demolished Mir.
His amazing speed, balance, and positioning, not to mention a wrestler's strength, were too much for Mir. When Lesnar bulled forward into a double-leg—it was like a Mack truck rumbling forward—unstoppable.
Some less discerning fans saw Lesnar as just a Beast, strong, heavy and overpowering. This assessment did not do justice to the pure wrestling skill of Lesnar.
Once Lesnar was on top of Mir, his positioning stifled any attempts of Mir to escape or to craft a submission.
Mir and others put this down to Lesnar's brute strength and weight—but it was much more than that. Lesnar is a world-class wrestler—period. Add some striking and BJJ defense and you have a dominant heavy-weight champion.
The Evolution of MMA
The UFC commentator Joe Rogan, said that Martial Arts has evolved more in the last 10 years than in the last two thousand years. I think there is some truth to this statement.
Mixed Martial Arts is the proving ground for martial techniques that actually work in practice, not theory. Every style and technique is tested in the crucible of the cage.
As the sport has grown, each fighter has contributed to the general knowledge of martial techniques which are successful in real-life contests.
The Value of Wrestling
Wrestling has for years been under-appreciated for its effectiveness in MMA, even though it has proven time and time again its value in combat.
The reason for this, is that wrestling on its own rarely decisively ends a fight. What wrestling does is set up a submission or vicious ground and pound while preventing a submission from the bottom or it can control and gas an opponent, so that he is more easily knocked out in stand up.
Wrestling also helps the fighter escape from the bottom, providing the techniques and strength to reverse an inferior position. It is also thoroughly demoralizing from a psychological point of view to be controlled and dominated on the ground.
Wrestling In A Real Fight
In a real street-fight, if you get taken down to the pavement by a wrestler, that alone could end the fight as your head bounces off concrete.
If you are still awake, the proficient wrestler can take his time destroying you, without fear of being stood-up by the ref or the bell. With gravity and position on his side, he has little to fear from feeble up-strikes and as long as he can avoid a BJJ submission from guard—then he has all the time in the world to destroy the most accomplished striker in the world.
So what if it takes 30 minutes to pound his opponent into submission? Time and gravity are on his side. So, the next time you hear of someone complaining that MMA judges allot too many points for a take-down—remember real life fighting and the real consequences if you are taken down on the street. Octagon judging reflects the value of a take-down and being on top.
Is Wrestling Boring or Are Fans One-Dimensional?
The final point is the 'wrestling is boring' argument.
Personally, I do not find the wrestling part of MMA boring, but I recognize that others may.
I see no reasonable way to eliminate the boredom for those whose eyes can only see striking and submissions as exciting, except to say that those fans need to educate themselves and broaden their appreciation to include wrestling.
Current UFC officiating expects action on the ground and for the fighter on top to improve his position. Sometimes what some fans think is a boring stalemate, is in reality a wrestling and BJJ chess match.
The reason I like MMA so much is that it is as close to a "real fight" as possible in a humane world. MMA uses every tool available in order to win a fight. If you take wrestling away from MMA—then you take away any possibility that MMA approximates 'a real fight'.
So is wrestling killing MMA? No, certainly not. Wrestling is as much a part of MMA as striking or BJJ and makes MMA what it is. Some casual fans will complain about wrestling, but really—don't they always complain about something?
I recommend boxing or K1 for that kind of fan.