The sport of Mixed Martial Arts (also known as MMA) is experiencing explosive growth around the globe. Live fights can be viewed on pay-per-view, cable, and even on network television.
A lot has changed since the first MMA event held in the USA back in November of 1993. The original event, the Ultimate Fighting Championships (later known as UFC 1) was originally promoted as a contest to determine which martial art was most effective.
The 8 man tournament featured representatives from different fighting styles including Kickboxing, 町田 ダンススクール Karate, Sumo, Shootfighting, Boxing, Savate, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, & Wrestling. There was no weight limit and very few rules.
The winner of the tournament was a small man named Royce Gracie. He fought with a unique ground-fighting style that emphasized submissions through chokes and joint locks that few outside of Brazil had seen. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) experienced a surge in popularity as Americans who traditionally trained in martial arts focused on stand-up striking techniques quickly realized that they need to learn ground-fighting techniques in order to stay relevant with the rapidly evolving martial arts scene.
Modern MMA fights rarely pit one style against another. Although fighters may be stronger in one fighting style, all serious competitors cross train in the 3 main aspects of MMA:
Striking – Over the years many martial arts have faded away from MMA competition while others have strengthened. Notably karate, kung fu, and taekwando all have proven to be ineffective in the cage against other striking styles. American boxing, kickboxing, and especially Muay Thai with its emphasis on elbows, kicks, and knees have proven to be the most effective striking art in MMA.
Wrestling – The ability to take an opponent down to the mat, and the ability to defend against takedowns is crucial in MMA. Fighters with a dominant wrestling background often take their opponents down and punish them with strikes while keeping them from getting back up. This style is known as Ground ‘N Pound.
Submissions – The early success of BJJ in MMA was in large part due to the fact that most of the opponents had zero submission defense knowledge. Now strikers & wrestlers all train basic submission defense to keep themselves from getting choked or arm-barred.
While many traditional martial arts have been demonstrated to not be effective in cage fights, there are a few exceptions. Former Light Heavyweight UFC Champion, Lyoto Machida, baffles opponents with his unorthodox stance heavily influenced by karate. However his striking style is not pure karate, and incorporates some range, footwork, and striking theory from boxing.
The best fighters in the world are well-rounded in all 3 aspects of MMA. BJ Penn, the top Lightweight MMA fighter in the world is known for his advanced submission skills, but also has incredible takedown defense, an amazing jab and some of the best boxing in the UFC. Former Light Heavyweight Champion and Hall of Famer, Chuck Lidell, was know for his amazing knockout power. Although primarily known as a striker, his extensive wrestling background helped earn him his reputation as a takedown defense expert. Even the best wrestlers in UFC had a very difficult time taking him down and keeping him down.
Any athlete interested in Mixed Martial Arts training or competition should make sure their MMA gym offers instruction on all three of the styles mentioned above.
Sterling Okura is an avid MMA fan and has over 7 years of MMA training including Combat Submission Wrestling, Muay Thai, Boxing, & Walt Bayless Jiu-Jitsu.