Martial arts have been practiced for thousands of years. The word “martial” comes from the Latin Mars, referring to the Roman god of war (Ares in Greek mythology). The question “which style is the best?” has undoubtedly been asked since the beginning of time.
From Greek pankratiasts to Roman gladiators, from Chinese wuxia to Japanese samurai, and from chivalric knights to Shaolin monks, individual armed and unarmed combat has formed the backbone for the survival of countless cultures and societies, in addition to providing entertainment for townspeople and healthy competition for otherwise restless warriors.
It is no wonder that the early UFC events were marketed as style vs. style competitions. Back then, mixed martial arts may have been more of a spectacle than a sport, but curious spectators eagerly tuned in to see which combat art would reign supreme.
What better way to entice fans to buy a pay-per-view than to guarantee an answer to this age-old question?
MMA has evolved since the time of Royce Gracie, yet the original query remains, and the controversy has heated up over the last few years. So I asked for the opinion of my colleagues here on Bleacher Report, and this is what they had to say.
I would love to be creative here and say Shotokan Karate is the best base for MMA, but I’d be lying. The best base for MMA that has been proven over and over again is good ol’ fashioned wrestling. Granted, one-dimensional wrestlers are no longer having the success they once had without adding to their game, but wrestlers still make the easiest transition.
A great example would be Brock Lesnar. He will have shown the world that even in 2008, where guys have evolved their games so much; a high-level amateur wrestler can still compete in MMA against the best.
It seems that wrestlers end up having the least amount left to learn as well, as they usually learn just enough jiu-jitsu to not get submitted and work primarily on their striking.
Which discipline is the best? This may be one of the questions that is most open to interpretation. However, when one examines the facts he may only come to one conclusion: Judo. Judo is a relatively new sport in the world of martial arts, but is gaining popularity quickly. The reason for this is most likely its overall usefulness, especially in MMA.
When examined closely, Judo ties in elements of jiu-jitsu and wrestling (in particular Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling). These are the two most important ground skills in MMA.
This lets a good judo practitioner control his opponent and throw him around as he pleases. The slams of a judo throw are often known to dishearten an opponent, and this can be vital to victory. Not only this, but a slam could knock out an opponent!
As a wrestler who advocates judo, many people may question me as to why I do not stick with what I know. To be honest, I believe wrestling is hugely important in MMA, both mentally and physically (weight cutting, strength, and determination are hallmarks of wrestlers).
However, I believe that judo includes this and goes beyond it. That is why judo above all is the greatest martial art in MMA competition.
Choosing only one discipline rather than a combination is difficult, but I also think it's much more to the point and provides a more interesting discussion. There's wrestling, jiu-jitsu, judo, boxing, Muay Thai, and on and on.
High-level judo fighters propose unique problems for fighters that aren't prepared for it. Look at the Condit vs. Miura fight, for example. Lots of fighters whose main striking style is boxing are very successful, including Rampage, Rashad, Marcus Davis, just to name a few, plus a plethora of others.
Truly, you can find top fighters that use each discipline as their main threat in a fight. So what discipline separates itself from the rest of the pack?
Let's consider Randy Couture's greatest strength. No, not wrestling, but imposing his will. Imposing your will is something very important, and that is ultimately what wrestlers do best. B.J. Penn can keep a fight standing up against almost anyone if he desires to, because of his amazing takedown defense.
Georges St. Pierre has the ability to take a fight to the ground against any fighter if he doesn't want to try his hand at the stand-up game. Wrestling is the best combat discipline for MMA because it has the ability to decide where a fight takes place.
Liddell likes to fight on the feet, Tito likes to ground and pound. Randy likes to control from the clinch, and Frankie Edgar likes to hit the switch.
Any fighter can avoid their weakest spot in a fight if they are better wrestlers than their opponent. Jiu-jitsu fighters may be forced to have striking matches against fighters they can't take down. Boxers and Muay Thai fighters may be forced to fight off their back if they lack necessary wrestling, neutralizing their entire gameplan.
A wrestling background seems to be the best art to transition into MMA. If you have stand-up skills, you can be taken down and held there, resulting in a boring decision loss. Facing a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, you will be taken down and submitted, almost all of the time.
If your wrestling ability is top notch, you can defend a takedown and avoid being in a precarious position. Some of the top men in the sport are former wrestlers: Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Matt Lindland, Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Josh Koscheck, Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, and Brock Lesnar, just to name a few.
In martial arts, one of the first things you learn is balance. With a background in wrestling, the balance or base is already there. Afterwards, you can fine-tune your game with stand-up and Jiu-Jitsu, then put it all together.
Based on the previous fighters I mentioned, wrestling seems to be a great tool to start in MMA. With the success of former wrestlers in MMA, it may just prove to be the art that allows the easiest transition.
I will have to argue that Combat Sambo provides the most effective base for a transition to MMA. There are five distinct styles of Sambo: Sport, Combat, Self-defense, Special, and Freestyle. They all have differing rules, rituals, emphases, and skill-sets, yet retain a similar essence. Sport Sambo is the most popular variety and is akin to amateur wrestling and judo.
For our purposes, Combat Sambo is the subgroup that resembles MMA the closest, which is why I’ve given it special consideration. All types of Sambo focus on throwing your opponent and then using techniques to quickly submit him, while leg locks are especially favored.
Samboists have excellent clinch-work and like to use hip tosses, sweeps, and trips to take the fight to the mat.
Combat Sambo was developed for use by the Soviet military. It includes striking (only while standing) along with grappling, and competitors wear shin guards, head protection, and gloves. Points are not scored for striking (there are still plenty of knockouts); yet Combat Sambo rules more closely resemble MMA than any other style.
Every type of submission is allowed (chokes are banned in Sport Sambo), while kicks are not neglected. An elite Combat Sambo practitioner is ready to start a career in MMA; the only new kind of technique he will need to learn is ground and pound.
Combat Sambo is the primary style practiced by the greatest fighter in the world, Fedor Emelianenko. How can anybody argue against that!
There you have it folks: five writers, five opinions, and five well-supported arguments. So, I open the perennial question to the Bleacher Report MMA community: Which combat style is best suited for MMA?
And remember: Martial arts styles rise and fall, but true warriors are remembered forever.