Friday, 7 May 2010

Fresh Fighting Stances

When the Gracie family promoted their art at UFC 1 it was clear that most fighters had no idea how to compete against the Brazilian Jui Jitsu style.

The evolution of UFC fighters started as soon as it was realised there would be further shows. When interviewed at UFC 2, the kickboxer Pat Smith stated he had been learning submission defence in preparation for the tournament.
From that moment on fighters began to fill the holes in their game.

Fast forward to the present day, and all successful fighters have skills in the main proficiencies of MMA. Boxing, kick boxing, Muay Thai, Judo, wrestling and BJJ.
This group of disciplines has standardised the model of what is considered the ‘complete fighter.’

Many gyms (including the newly branded UFC gyms) can now offer training in MMA as one all encompassing discipline, containing the elements mentioned above. Whilst this gives a very broad skill base it could serve up a fighter who lacks the individualism found in one who has moved to MMA following many years in a specific martial art.

Very rarely there is a fighter such as welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, who presents such a problem for opponents, being so skilled in all areas. As one of the most ‘complete’ fighters in MMA, there is no easy way to take him ‘out of his game.’

I believe we are entering an age where being well rounded may not be enough anymore.
MMA as we know it is not becoming stale as such, but if all fighters are training in the same areas, the shock of the unknown is disappearing. Today an aspiring fighter knows which type of coaches to hire in order to train for competition, but perhaps they should be looking further a field?

Since the crowning of Light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, we could now be seeing a brand new species of predator in MMA.
Future champions will raise themselves above other elite not just by their completeness, but by their individuality.
Dinosaur fighters beware: Evolve or become extinct.

Lyoto Machida’s father Yoshizo, adapted Shotokan into his own style of Machida karate.
Lyoto’s style involves extremely fast attack and retreat style evolved from his father’s Martial Art, and his competition karate background. Now that he has matched this with an aggression fit for ending fights in the octagon, he is a devastating force as light heavyweight champion.

Regardless of your own view of the outcome of Shogun v Machida 1, it was evident that Shogun’s success came from his strict adherence to Muay Thai, and his refusal to be drawn into Lyoto’s game. Style vs Style again, but now specific striking styles, backed up with well rounded MMA skills.

On the Discovery Channel show ‘Fight Quest’ two American fighters Doug Anderson and Jimmy Smith tour the globe meeting masters of each country’s national martial art.
They learn Hapkido in South Korea, Kalarippayattu in India and Kyokushin karate in Japan.
After a week of intensive training they face off against skilled veterans of that style, in a full contact bout.
It is extremely difficult to bring newly learned moves to an intense full contact battle. When pressure hits, the stars of the show often revert to their subconscious comfort tactics of boxing and kick boxing, forgetting the intricacies of the moves it was so important they master in the previous days.
The local fighters capitalise on this, their own techniques having become ingrained through many dedicated years of practicing correct form.
The tourists rarely win a bout.

This skill retention of these local fighters helps to illustrate why Machida’s style is so difficult to counter without opponents having a similar background. Shogun will have the benefit of five rounds of experience when they next meet. Will that be enough for an undisputed victory?

One issue regarding new fighting styles coming to MMA is that expert single style fighters are by definition not generally interested in transitioning to another sport. Why would they be? MMA world expansion will change this at a grass roots level, helping to bring in young practitioners of more obscure martial arts. Fighters across the globe will have new headaches as they seek to prepare for opponents with unfamiliar skills.

So which other arts would contribute effectively to MMA?
Shogun Rua almost decapitated Ricardo Arona using an acrobatic Capoeira kick at the PRIDE Middleweight final, 2005. The Brazilian art can be very distracting to an unsuspecting opponent, check out Marcus Aurelio vs Keegan Marshall for a brutal KO.

Cheick Kongo learned his base striking skills from the Indonesian art of Penkcak Silat and the French art of Savate which will definitely be popular amongst his emerging countrymen as MMA legislation changes.

The success of Chinese promotion ‘Art of War’ will mean more Sanda fighters moving into MMA, watch out for Wu Hao Tian, aged 23 (6-0-1) whose style is also derived from Mongolian wrestling. The prowess of Cung Lee attends to the effectiveness of Sanda as a base, something Frank Shamrock’s broken arm would not dispute.

There is no denying that Muay Thai, BJJ et al are the main influences on modern MMA, however fighters can still look elsewhere for a fresh inspirational edge.
I’m not talking about Roy ‘Big Country’ Nelson pulling off a Daniel LaRusso Crane Kick against Brock Lesner, but there are some clever moves out there in the wide, wide, world of martial arts that may shake things up over the next few years.

Andrew McGuigan