The sport of MMA, through the advent of cross-disciplinary training, has fundamentally and forever changed the martial arts as we know them.
Before MMA, there were strikers, wrestlers and submission stylists. Each of these disciplines had specific goals. Strikers looked to end the fight by beating opponents with a variety of knees, kicks and punches; submission artists entwined their opponents to finish the fight, snaking their limbs around them and twisting or constricting like a python.
Wrestling alone, while holding the key skill in MMA, controlling where the fight takes place, had no built-in method to finish the fight. Wrestlers excel in taking the fight to the ground—no discipline is better for this skill. Wrestlers are used to having fights go to ground, then stand up, then go to ground again; all very useful in MMA.
The Couturian work ethic is borne of wrestling training and the conditioning of the sport's elite wrestlers is peerless.
Then early pioneers like Mark Coleman began developing and using a technique known today as ground-and-pound. This technique, which has become the bane of many strikers in the sport, combines wrestling with striking to horrifying and oft-gruesome effect, while immobilizing the victim.
Let’s peruse some of the more fearsome ground-and-pounders in the sport today.
Kongo is a French striker who has been training martial arts since age five. He has studied striking styles from Japan, Thailand and Indonesia amongst others.
The 36-year-old fighter has earned frequent championships in the kickboxing arena, though MMA gold has eluded him.
Cheick Kongo (17-6-2) currently sits at No. 12 on the Fight Matrix heavyweight ranking. The man may not have a wrestling background, but his ground-and-pound is furious—he has one of the most destructive ground-and-pound victories ever captured on film, presented here in the clip. Many are critical of referee Steve Mazzagatti for not stopping the fight much earlier in this brutal beating.
Mark “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Munoz (12-2-0) is making a case for title contention in the middleweight division. Munoz is an NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion and holds Big 12 wrestling titles out of Oklahoma State University.
Munoz pummeled Chris Leben into a corner stoppage today. Following that, he called out middleweight champion Anderson Silva, saying he felt like he deserved a title shot.
Though he started his career as a light heavyweight, since moving to middleweight, he has enjoyed much success, his only loss coming Yushin Okami, recent title contender and consensus No. 3 middleweight.
Munoz is definitely on track for a title and, though I do not think beating Chris Leben is a title-fight credential, I am confident we will see him competing for the strap in the next 12 months.
Chael Sonnen (26-11-1) is an American wrestler, holding a silver medal from the 2000 Greco-Roman World University Championships, who fights out of Portland Oregon. Sonnen is the consensus No. 2 middleweight in the world.
Known as much for his quick, if offensive wit, outside the cage as much as his prowess in it, Sonnen maintains a frenetic pace inside the Octagon, pushing his opponents to the breaking point with constant takedowns and one of the most active top games in the business.
Though suffering a loss, he gave pound-for-pound great Anderson Silva the toughest fight of his career, nearly capturing the championship.
Sonnen has been very vocal in his desire for a rematch and has been taunting the middleweight champion publicly, attempting to goad him into the Octagon.
Many have long considered Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko (31-4-0) the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. Fedor does not use American wrestling, hailing from Russia; he uses the Sambo style of his homeland.
The son of a welder and teacher, Fedor began his MMA journey at Russian Top Team. He has won numerous gold medals at the Combat Sambo Russian, European and World Championships. He has also medaled in elite Judo competitions.
In MMA, he went on an incredible 27-fight undefeated run, though he has lost his last three fights.
Emelianenko’s striking game is so violent that he often ends in the top position by knocking his opponents down rather than taking them down. Once there, he employs a swarming, brutal style that has put away many of the world's best.
What do you get when to take one of America’s elite wrestlers, teach him to strike and discover that he has knuckles of C4? At 41 years of age, Dan Henderson (28-8-0) continues to defy the clock and find success at the sport’s highest level.
Henderson has been winning medals in wrestling since the late 80s. The Southern California native wrestled for Arizona State University, a school known for producing great grapplers.
Representing the United States, Dan has medaled three times at the Pan American Championships, twice at the World Cup, and once at the Pan American Games. He is a two-time Olympian who competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games.
In MMA, Henderson has held the Pride middleweight and light heavyweight belts and is the reigning StrikeForce light heavyweight champion. He has also competed for the UFC middleweight and light heavyweight title, but fell short against Anderson Silva and Quinton Jackson.
Henderson makes his return to the UFC on November 19 against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and is in line for a shot at the UFC light heavyweight strap, currently held by Jon “Bones” Jones.
Canadian superstar Georges “Rush” St. Pierre (22-2-0) is the most athletic, well-rounded fighter in the world.
Though having no wrestling background prior to joining the UFC, he is now recognized as one of the best wrestlers in the sport, possessing a shot so good it shuts down his opponents' striking game for fear of being taken to the mat. Once there, he pounds them relentlessly.
He is by far the best welterweight in the world, and, in my opinion, there is not a single credible threat to his title at the time of this writing. He holds victories over every top welterweight in the world save Nick Diaz, and that victory is scheduled for early next year.
The youngest champion in UFC history, Jon “Bones” Jones (14-1-0) stormed the organization by wowing fans, the media and owners alike with his unorthodox striking, grappling and savage ground-and-pound.
Skyrocketing through the ranks to capture the light heavyweight strap from Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Jones began his UFC career by winning a short-notice fight for the organization. He would go undefeated, save for a disqualification for illegal elbows from the top position against Matt Hamill.
Jones possesses an 84.5-inch reach, the longest in the organization. As you can see from the video, the torque he generates in his elbow strikes from the top position is the definition of shock and awe.
Fighting as a representative of his Mexican heritage, Cain Velazquez (9-0-0) is the most dangerous man on the planet.
An NCAA Division 1 All-American wrestler for Arizona State University, Cain won the PAC-10 Conference championship back to back in 2005 and 2006 and was the PAC-10 Wrestler of the Year for 2005.
His work ethic is legendary; he famously outworks lightweights in the gym. This allows him to push a pace that most heavyweights are not equipped to deal with.
Cain’s takedowns are very difficult to stop. Fight Metric lists his takedown accuracy at 72 percent. Once there, his ground-and-pound is second to none.
He is undefeated in his MMA career with only one fight going the distance. He won the heavyweight championship by putting a lopsided one-round beating on Brock Lesnar, despite an almost 40-pound weight disadvantage.
Cain has the honor of bringing MMA into the mainstream seven days from today, when he faces undefeated Junior Dos Santos for the heavyweight title live and free on Fox.