As mixed martial arts grows as a sport, so does the skill level of the fighters that dominate it. Long gone are the days when a fighter can dominate without being well-rounded.
The top fighters in the world are ones that can keep the fight in the realm in which they have the advantage, whether it be through takedowns or takedown defense. Perhaps the best example of that is UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre.
The top of the rankings are filled with well-rounded fighters with strong wrestling in every weight class—Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, Georges St. Pierre, Jon Fitch, Yushin Okami, Chael Sonnen, Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, Chad Mendes, Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber. And those that aren’t strong wrestlers have strong elements of grappling in their game, whether it be takedown defense or Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
It’s very rare to see fighters that aren’t well-rounded succeed in MMA. Shinya Aoki is probably the only example of someone who can compete at a high level with a very limited skill set, but the beating he received at the hands of Gilbert Melendez shows that it’s unwise to take that path.
While Nick Diaz is a top welterweight, he is a huge underdog to GSP in their upcoming bout because of his lack of wrestling. Perhaps his recent success can be attributed to the fact that he hasn't fought a strong wrestler in quite some time.
Either way, wrestling is often an element lacking in many mixed martial artists, but its importance was on display at the Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson event.
In the only bout of the evening that was contested entirely standing up, Tarec Saffiedine beat down Scott Smith for three rounds. While both of these fighters are stronger strikers than grapplers, it was Scott Smith’s inability to take the fight to ground when he was getting battered on the feet that sealed his fate.
Saffiedine showed that he was easily able to shrug off Smith’s half-hearted takedown attempts and continue to light him up.
While Saffiedine was coming off of a loss to strong wrestler Tyron Woodley, he proved himself to be a new contender in Strikeforce’s welterweight division.
Certainly in the “grappler versus striker” category, Paul Daley and Tyron Woodley put together an excellent back-and-forth bout that ultimately saw Woodley's superior wrestling earn him the win.
Daley is known for his vicious knockout power, but Woodley was able to avoid that because of his ability to keep Daley pinned against the cage and on his back.
“Semtex” showed a significant improvement off of his back however, rolling for an omoplata and nearly locking up a triangle late in the third round. Daley has come a long way, but his bout with Josh Koscheck and now this match with Tyron Woodley shows that his wrestling will have to continue to improve and match his excellent striking if he wants to contend for a belt again.
Woodley, on the other hand, has built off of his wrestling foundation and added some excellent striking. Being able to hang with Paul Daley is no easy task, and the fact that he never allowed the British slugger to land heavy shots is impressive in and of itself. This was a big win for the American Top Team product and he has established himself as a top contender with his perfect 9-0 record.
Going into Saturday night, it was no secret that Tim Kennedy wanted to get this fight to the ground while Robbie Lawler was going to do everything in his power to keep it standing.
Robbie Lawler showed some good takedown defense early on and managed to get back to his feet even after being mounted at one point, but ultimately Kennedy’s tenacious wrestling won him the fight. In every round, Lawler found himself fighting off his back and taking shots, losing a clear 30-27 decision.
Kennedy wasn’t able to finish the fight, but he was able to do damage from the guard and pass when he had the opportunity, likely earning himself another shot at Strikeforce Middleweight Champ “Jacare” Souza.
The Women’s Bantamweight Championship was on the line, featuring two strong grapplers in Marloes Coenen and Miesha Tate. There were several back-and-forth grappling exchanges—Coenen even taking Tate’s back at one point—but it was ultimately Miesha “Takedown” Tate that proved her nickname was earned for a reason.
Tate was able to bring the fight to the ground in every round, and while Coenen threatened with submissions, it was ultimately Tate who worked to side control and locked up an arm triangle, forcing the now former-Bantamweight Champion to tap for the first time in her career.
Dan Henderson was an Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler, and originally got into MMA as a way to fund his wrestling training. That strong foundation is still evident.
Although this fight barely hit the ground, as soon as it did, Fedor Emelianenko was dropped face-first into the canvas. It didn't seem to have much to do with Hendo's grappling ability, but as soon as he fell to his back, he was able to grab a single leg, pull Emelianenko into a deep half-guard, and begin taking the back while getting back to his feet.
In the process, Henderson threw a vicious right uppercut that handed Fedor his third straight loss.