Wrestling Is The Future Of MMA and That Is Not Neccesarily a Good Thing
Dominant wrestlers are nothing new to the sport of MMA.
Two of the highest profile fighters MMA has known in Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz are world class wrestlers.
Before Randy and Tito, came the first high level wrestler MMA had seen in Dan Severn. Known as the beast, Severn dominated his opponents physically, and dished out brutal ground and pound (before anyone really knew what G n' P was) on his way to winning UFC 5.
While this was the first example of superior wrestling on display in MMA, it was not until the arrival of Don Frye and Mark Coleman that fans started to understand just how dominant a top notch wrestler can be.
From UFC 8 through UFC 11, Frye and Coleman reigned supreme, and while Frye was considered one of the first fighters to cross train in other disciplines, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman was a pure wrestler whose style was so brutal that he earned the unofficial title as "The godfather of ground and pound."
While monsters like Coleman and Severn were the first practitioners of ground and pound type tactics, it was Randy "The Natural" Couture who took things to another level.
With an impressive resume in both Greco Roman and Catch Wrestling, and underrated boxing ability, the natural was a perfect fit for MMA.
In his debut at UFC 13, Couture made short work of two far larger opponents on his way to winning the heavyweight tournament. In his next appearance at UFC 15, Couture produced a massive upset with a master display of G n' P against the 19-year-old "Phenom" Vitor Belfort.
At the same tournament Couture made his debut, another superstar wrestler and potential Hall of Famer in Tito Ortiz, arrived with a bang.
Ortiz won his MMA debut at UFC 13, in an undercard fight against Wes Albritton in 30 seconds. While he would go on to lose (as a replacement for the injured Enson Inoue) in the LHW final against Guy Mezger; Tito instantly made a name for himself with fans, due to his brash nature and aggressive attitude.
It was these pioneers of the sport who proved how successful wrestling can be in MMA, especially when combined with high level striking ability.
Since the dawn of MMA as an organized sport, the battle for supremacy has raged between Brazilians and Americans. Originally it was the Brazilians who were known as the master grapplers with their slick BJJ submissions, and the American Boxers and Kickboxers who were usually known as the superior strikers.
These days we have had something of an about-face, with most of the elite Brazilian fighters specializing in Boxing and/or Muay Thai and their American counterparts being mostly world class wrestlers.
While there are still many expert Brazilian grapplers (Almeida, Maia) and devastating American strikers (Velasquez, Carwin), clearly there has been a fundamental shift in the evolution of the sport.
Lately the wrestlers of MMA have been particularly dominant, and whether or not this is a good thing for the sport depends on your point of view.
There are two major schools of thought when watching a champion wrestler dominating a fight and keeping it on the ground.
The first school of thought is that of the casual fan, action junkie, and those in the nosebleed section who can't see what’s going on inside the cage. This fan wants action, and action means stand up striking wars. They abhor fighters who practice "lay and pray" in an attempt to grind out a win.
The second school of thought is that of the MMA purist, including older MMA fans and fighters and wrestlers themselves. This type of fan does not believe in the concept of "lay and pray" and is more likely to appreciate the subtleties as a world class wrestler works to transition from half guard to side control or perhaps full mount.
There are also two basic types of MMA fighters.
Regardless of the amount of cross training in various striking and grappling disciplines; most fighters are either looking to keep the fight on their feet (strikers) or take it to the ground (grapplers).
While a dominant striker with solid takedown defence will always enjoy some level of success; a dominant wrestler with better takedowns will inevitably win the fight, barring the KO threat that a fighter wearing 4oz gloves always threatens.
The best current example of wrestling excellence in MMA comes from the bulldozing Brock Lesnar.
According to Joe Rogan, Lesnar is a descendant from Viking warriors. He is so big, so strong, and most importantly, so fast, that if Brock decides he wants to get his hands on you, it's happening.
In his most recent fight against heavy handed Shane Carwin, Lesnar absorbed four minutes of punishment before he forced his way back to his feet and ground out the remainder of the first round.
Once the second round began, Lesnar easily took Carwin down, worked some G n' P in the half guard, then quickly transitioned into full mount, before locking in an arm triangle choke to end the fight.
What makes this so impressive is that Carwin's wrestling pedigree is unquestioned, yet once Lesnar took him down it was obvious Carwin was in big trouble.
On the recent UFC 117 card, four of the five Americans fighters on the main card were noted wrestlers; while four of the five Brazilians on the main card were noted strikers. In every one of the American wrestler vs. Brazilian striker bouts, the wrestler won.
That is except for the Silva-Sonnen fight, and although Silva won this fight, he was beaten down badly for four and a half rounds, and had no answer for Sonnen's wrestling ability.
This is the supposed pound for pound king we are talking about who was manhandled by a lowly wrestler for the entire fight?
On the same card, Jon Fitch ground out a boring, yet utterly convincing win over the violent striker Thiago Alves, by completely controlling him on the ground for all three rounds.
Despite Alves losing in their only previous encounter, he entered this fight as a considerable favorite, yet Fitch took him down and controlled him with ease.
If an excellent wrestler can develop the skill and timing to evade a dangerous striker's hitting zone, while closing the gap to execute a takedown, he can more often than not win the fight. Whether or not this is good for MMA as a sport, depends on the method in which the fight was actually won after the wrestler has taken his opponent down.
If all wrestlers bought the enthusiasm of a Clay Guida or a Chael Sonnen to their ground game, even the action junkies would probably appreciate these fights.
Sadly, too many high level wrestlers are adept at taking their opponents down, and then employing the conservative and low risk strategy of simply controlling them from the guard, in an effort to grind out a decision victory.
While this enrages many fans who shell out top dollar to witness these fights, at the end of the day it is about winning, and most wrestlers care not about the means, but simply about the result itself.
With the plethora of high level wrestlers currently plying their trade in MMA, there is every chance more and more fights will spend a lot of time on the ground, and depending on whom you ask this is not necessarily a good thing.
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