Specialization the Key to MMA Success

Eddy DelSignoreContributor IIIJune 7, 2011

Bruce Lee once said: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” 

In this quote, Lee implies that a martial arts practitioner who holds a complete mastery of one technique is more dangerous than the practitioner who holds only a basic knowledge of many techniques.  Essentially, a puddle that stretches only a foot wide, but ten feet deep is more dangerous to a walker than a puddle that stretches ten feed wide, but only one foot deep. 

In the ever-expanding world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), fighters who embrace the “one kick 10,000 times” mentality are finding the most success.

It would be foolish to say that a fighter can become successful by being elite in only one aspect of MMA and being an amateur in every other aspect.  The sport has become too evolved for that type of fighter to thrive. 

However, in order to be in the upper tiers of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which is widely regarded as the most competitive MMA organization worldwide, a fighter must be extraordinary in one area of the sport.  Looking past outliers such as Georges St. Pierre and Jon Jones, who seem to have become truly special in more than a single aspect of MMA, the factor that separates title contenders from middle-tier fighters is one transcendent strength in their respective MMA games.

Examining some of the most recent UFC fights, the concept of “one kick 10,000 times” constantly prevails. 

Clay Guida, a grizzled veteran of the UFC, recently defeated rising star Anthony Pettis at The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale on June 4.  Pettis, a top prospect who arguably was the better-rounded fighter, found himself dominated by Guida because of Guida’s exceptional wrestling abilities, which, pre-fight, were seen as Guida’s only advantage over Pettis. 

Moreover, in the UFC 130 event on May 28, Rick Story dominated Thiago Alves in the same fashion.  Story, who is another elite wrestler, controlled Alves, who, pre-fight, was tabbed to have the advantages elsewhere.

Demian Maia is another example of why being dominant in one aspect of MMA seems to be the best road to success. 

On February 21, 2009, Maia fought Chael Sonnen at UFC 95.  Sonnen, another fighter who possesses a singular elite strength, used it to quickly take the fight to the ground.  However, in a battle of two elite strengths, Maia was perhaps more versed in his strength than Sonnen. 

Because of the uncertain nature of fighting—the chance of a flash knockout or submission, the advantages of one strength over another, and the role that physical attributes play—there is no one theory that can govern how a fight will be won or which fighters will be successful. 

However, if fighters who embody Bruce Lee’s theory continue to find success, they may lead to a new trend in MMA of specializing in one area and becoming elite over learning broad skill in many areas