Over the course of nearly a century, the grappling art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has proven to be one of the most effective techniques in all of combat sports. That was never more apparent than when the Ultimate Fighting Championship was formed in 1993 and Royce Gracie dominated the competition, despite being one of the smallest participants in the field.
As the UFC evolved into a regulated, publicly recognized sport, BJJ remained one of the most popular grappling bases for athletes.
Nearly 20 years after the first UFC event, a recent downward trend in the number of submissions has raised concerns over the effectiveness of the grappling base in today’s mixed martial arts landscape.
This past year has featured the most events (and fights) in UFC history, and while the promotion has historically exhibited a submission rate of roughly one in every four fights (25 percent), the 24 events (to date) have had a rate of less than one in every five fights (19 percent).
So what do these numbers mean? Could this year be an anomaly? Certainly, but if you extend the statistics back over the last three years, the number of submissions has been closer to the current year's (21 percent).
Since BJJ is based on overcoming opponents using submissions (chokes and joint manipulations), this reduction in finishes at the highest level may give the wrong impression about the art.
Further compounding the issue is that world-class practitioners such as the UFC's Demain Maia and Strikeforce's Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (both are five-time World Champions) have focused heavily on improving their striking to compete in MMA and have largely abandoned their submission games.
Maia started his UFC career with five straight submission victories, but since then has gone just 4-3 with no finishes. Souza, similarly, has chosen to strike with a number of opponents, losing his middleweight championship to Luke Rockhold in a bout that largely took place on the feet.
Is the current trend of fewer submissions going to continue?
Without diving any deeper into the subject, it would be easy to think that BJJ is losing its utility in the sport. However, doing that wouldn't be giving a major component of the sport its proper justice.
The biggest reason that BJJ is no longer as dominant as it once was is simply that everyone is training it. You'd be hard-pressed to find any fighter that competes in MMA that doesn't drill the art at least once or twice a week. With this growth, even athletes who don't consider BJJ their base are learning to defend against the once lethal attacks of the seasoned veterans. Wrestlers are no longer a fish out of water off their backs, and strikers don't panic when the fight hits the ground.
It's just the natural progression of the sport. Unfortunately for BJJ (and its practitioners), the art will have to grow as well. It's not that the techniques have become less meaningful, but more people have begun to master them. There have been plenty on instances in the past where certain disciplines have dominated MMA, and it would come as no shock if BJJ again makes that claim in the future.