In the last couple of years no sport in the world has undergone more radical change than mixed martial arts (MMA).
Think about it, Mixed Martial Arts is barely over a decade old in terms of being a worldwide recognized sport. So, it is extremely young with limitless potential for dominating the sports world.
When you examine the sport from the first major event in 1993 until today, you find the metamorphosis from the original bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred, tournament-style events is due to the addition of new rules and equipment along with the adoption of a single-fight-in-one-night format, weight classes, rounds, and now the team concept of the now extinct International Fight League (IFL). I would say that an even more powerful cause of the evolution of MMA is its athletes. Not to put down the fighters of the past, but today’s MMA competitor not only has a radically different body, but fights extremely different.
“Today’s Mixed Martial Arts fighter is also better prepared technically and physically.”
There have been mixed martial arts competitions dating back over one hundred years, but the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993 was the first glimpse of an emerging sport. This event set in motion large-scale competitions involving multiple styles with few rules.
Probably the most noticeable and unexpected result was that every fight was going to go to the ground.
In much of the martial arts world many people wondered which style (Boxing, Wrestling, Karate, Taekwondo, Muay Thai and Judo) would prevail. Which style had the fastest, hardest punches and kicks? Which secret training methods and techniques would emerge on top? To the surprise of martial artists everywhere, all of the striking arts were found wanting in the face of the undersized grappler. Fighters unfamiliar with the take-down and subsequent grappling were quickly finished. Specifically, one style of grappling seemed to have an exact methodology for how to finish fights.
The Emergence of BJJ
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) emerged as the premier style, and advanced practitioners of this art form such as Royce, Rickson, and Renzo Gracie enjoyed tremendous success and fame in the first few years. These events were tournament based, and the efficiency and methodical approach of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu reigned supreme over that of oftentimes bigger, yet less-technical and out-of-shape opponents.
After the ground game was established as a “must have” in the world of MMA, the game began to evolve.
Fighters began cross-training with ground work, submissions, and submission defense. This led to the next revolution: great submission fighters could be beaten. Superior athletes such as Ken Shamrock—with some knowledge of the ground and the ability to secure a take down, defend submissions, and deliver solid strikes from inside the opponents guard—could win the match.
Next Evolution of MMA
The next evolution in the sport was when fighters with wrestling backgrounds, such as Don Frye, started to dominate with high-level freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. These brutal victories that athletes such as Mark Kerr and Matt Lindland delivered were the birth of the art of “ground and pound.”
These ground-and-pound fighters were as successful as the early BJJ fighters. Their great take-downs and ability to control fighters without being submitted on the ground led to many victories.
“But soon fighters with good strikes such as Bas Rutten and Maurice Smith began to defend take-downs and get back to their feet unscathed. Fighters now had to develop superior striking skills in addition to their wrestling and submission game.”
Fighters who had previous wrestling skills started to dominate the UFC like:
- Frank Shamrock
- Pat Miletich
- Carlos Newton
- Tito Ortiz
The evolution that these fighters caused takes us right to the best fighters seen today.
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