Back when the UFC was first created we all learned how powerful BJJ was from a lanky little underdog named Royce Gracie. When I first saw him enter the octagon I thought the little Brazilian was going to get destroyed. What happened stunned me. It became clear to me then that my ideas about fighting were vastly wrong.
I grew up in a rough area (same exact neighborhood as Chris Leben) and street fought a fair amount. I lifted weights, took some Kenpo, dabbled in a few other martial arts, and also did some boxing and some wrestling. I never stuck with any of them long enough to become really any good at any of them, but compared to the average street thug I was an animal.
At the time I though being big and strong was the most important part and maybe it was, from a psychological stand point, as it got into my opponents heads, but against a pro it meant nothing, that's what I learned watching Royce.
So I started taking BBJ and JKD for about six months till I got injured rolling with a famous wrestler who is now an even more famous MMA legend, a blessing I'll never forget. It derailed my training for a long time as I was out for about a year with rotator cuff injuries and got really involved in my career.
Fast-forward 10 years and I've started training again and something has become clearer and clearer to me. The dominant style of MMA has changed. I see it with my own training, with the others I train with and in the pro fighters as well.
We like to say that MMA fighters are well rounded now and for a few of them that's true. For the vast majority however they are great in one style and desperately trying to catch up in most other styles.
The reason why they can get away with that and still be competitive is because everyone else is in the same boat. The only true mixed martial artists, where they started their training with all relevant styles at the same time are 10 years old and under. Once these kids make it to pro fighters we'll really see a changing of the guard.
For now the fighters are still based in one discipline or another. Where Jitz used to be the dominant style I now feel that it has been replaced by Wrestling. I'll tell you why I feel it's more dominant and then I'll back up my reasoning.
1. BJJ is great because it's not about physical power; it's about technique and leverage. It gives the advantage to the more knowledgeable fighter. It's one of the few true equalizers I've found in combat sports where a smaller weaker person can actually defeat and even hospitalize a bigger, stronger, meaner person.
The fact that it's based on knowledge however and not athleticism or strength makes it something that anyone can become pretty good at. While this is its strength this can also be a weakness of BJJ as well. This is because someone who is very athletic can learn BJJ just as easily as anyone else, but anyone else can't just become as athletic as a naturally athletic person.
2. Wrestling is also a very skillful discipline but it also requires a lot of physical ability. Of all the different sports I've participated in it was by far the physically hardest. To be a good wrestler you learned to handle a lot of extremes. I feel it requires a lot more innate ability and natural talent. The kind you just can't teach or learn.
Wrestlers have the ability to decide where a fight takes place. If their opponent is a great Jitz guy then they just don't let it go to the ground. If their opponent is a great striker then they just take them down. Either way this is crucial.
3. Strikers have shown to be the most entertaining to watch but without having a decent knowledge of wrestling AND BJJ they never advance very far without being defeated by someone better at either.
The reason I feel that wrestling is the most dominant style is because a wrestler can learn the basics of BJJ and have a good enough guard to not get submitted by anyone but the best grapplers.
In contrast, the good Jitz guys seem to have a hard time even getting the wrestler down let alone getting the submission. It's much harder for someone with no real wrestling background to become decent at wrestling.
A perfect example of this was the TUF finale. I think Nover and Vinny were the favorites to win. Both are BJJ black belts with Vinny is a very good black belt and their opponents are basically just wrestlers. This is very true in the case of Bader and Vinny.
Escudero has won a lot of fights by RNC but all accounts say he's not really a submission expert just a wrestler who knows some subs decently and uses his wrestling to set it up. But look at the outcome. Both wrestlers prevailed and both BJJ black belts lost.
Other notable recent champions, popular fighters and high ranked fighters that have a strong wrestling background are:
Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Matt Lindland, Quinton Jackson, Dan Henderson, Uriah Faber, Rashad Evans, Matt Hughes, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Kevin Randlman, Renatu Soberal, Sean Sherk, Frankie Edgar, Tyson Griffin, Mike Brown, and Chris Leben.
I don't think just being a wrestler will get you far on its own but I think It's the hardest aspect to add to your arsenal of weapons. I also think it's the best cornerstone style a fighter can have and then build around that. A wrestler can add decent Jitz and standup easier than a Jitz guy or striker can learn wrestling and that is where the fight control comes in.
I will concede that to be a champ you must be well rounded and this is evidenced by the champs in the UFC. Of the five, only one is what I'd call a wrestling-based fighter (Lesnar) where as two I'd say are primarily jitz guys (Penn, Griffen) then lastly the other two are probably best described as strikers (Silva, GSP).
All of these fighters are very well rounded though and have become decent wrestlers along the way; with some saying that GSP's raw athleticism has allowed him to become one of the most dominant (for MMA purposes) wrestlers.
This is, of course, still just my opinion so feel free to disagree with me. I love to hear the other side of the opinions and enjoy a good debate/discussion.
Thanks for reading my article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed dreaming it up and writing it.