Throughout the brief yet illustrative history of mixed martial arts, many styles and martial arts disciplines have caught the eyes of athletes, commentators and audiences alike. From the days of the one-gloved boxer stepping into the octagon, to ESPN fight nights showing the dominance of a Dagestani wrestler, one question has remained a constant; what is the most effective style of martial arts? From its inception, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was created to answer that very question.
Hailing from Brazil, the Gracie family claimed that they held the secret to beat any man in unarmed combat. Although most would describe the early days of mixed martial arts as more of a spectacle than a sport, viewers watched in awe as a slender man in pajamas would manage to climb his way onto the backs of men with Herculean physiques and strangle them unconscious with ease. This man was Royce Gracie, a now legend and pioneer of the growing sport. There was much debate amongst the Gracies as to which family member would be selected to display their grappling art to the world. Many wanted Royce’s older brother Rickson, but Royce was ultimately selected because of his smaller frame. Although unassuming in appearance, Royce shocked American audiences as he dominated fighters twice his size with his superior grappling abilities.
As the sport has continued to develop, we’ve seen different martial arts styles steal the limelight to be deemed the most effective. In each weight class, the belt has changed hands many times over, as hungry contenders study the styles of past champions and tailor their training to beat them. Although Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is still a necessary component of every modern martial artists game, we are long past the era of Brazilian dominance.
A couple of years after Royce’s debut, the martial arts world shifted its attention from Brazilian Jiu-Jistu to wrestling. US Olympic team member and former NCAA champion Mark Coleman showed off a style of grappling that was different from that of Royce. Coleman is credited to be amongst the first to use a “ground and pound” style. This consisted of him using his superior wrestling to take his opponents down to the ground and maintain top pressure as he rained down strikes on his adversary. Coleman’s dominance demanded a new level of respect for wrestlers in the growing world of mixed martial arts. He was amongst the first of many to establish wrestling as a dominant and necessary aspect of hand-to-hand combat.
As fans and fighters saw different styles of combat throughout the years, fighters had to continually update their training to keep up with the competition. People were no longer simply “kickboxers” or “wrestlers” or “judo players”. The true definition of the Mixed Martial Artist was coming to fruition. Wrestlers and strikers alike were spending more time training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to improve their abilities to finish fights from the ground and to ensure that they don’t get caught in chokes or armlocks if they get taken down.
Although grappling arts such as wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu had seemingly bested all other disciplines, there was a new era of strikers entering the mixed martial arts scene. As boxers, kickboxers, Thai boxers and karate specialists began to study wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the resulting style became known as “sprawl and brawl”. The “sprawl”; a defensive wrestling maneuver where the athlete shoots his hips backwards to avoid being taken down, allows strikers to stay on the feet where they can better implement their strengths. Made famous by kickboxer Maurice Smith, many of the most notorious names throughout mixed martial arts history have centered their striking style around the sprawl and brawl concept. Knockout artists such as Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva and Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell lived up to their nicknames by stuffing their opponents takedowns and firing back with brutal combinations of punches, kicks and knees.
Even karate specialists have had their time to shine. Although less common than boxing, kick boxing and Muay Thai, karate practitioners have been able to carve their own notch in the history of our beloved sport. It’s widely understood by now that any successful mixed martial artist must familiarize themselves with wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jistu, boxing and Muay Thai. Although these disciplines are considered to be the necessary building blocks of MMA, karate specialists have a rich history of successful and exciting performances inside the octagon. The previously mentioned former Light Heavyweight UFC Champion Chuck Liddell has been studying Koei-Kan Karate since the age of 12. Although heavily praised for his jab and explosive takedowns, the greatest welterweight of all time Georges St. Pierre has been a student of karate since childhood and has earned a black belt in both Shidokan and Kyokushin. Karate practitioners still hold respect in modern mixed martial arts. Warriors such as former Middleweight UFC Champion Robert Whittaker, and former welterweight title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson have integrated karate movements into their fighting styles with tremendous success.
Although necessary for success in the octagon, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jistu and karate struggle to generate the audience that mixed martial arts has. The one combat sport that seems to keep up in popularity is the sweet science of boxing. Boxing, one of the oldest combat sports, can be traced back to 3000 BC and still holds relevance today. For a period of time, boxing seemed to be on a decline. Some referred to it as a dying sport. However, it seems that boxing has been rising in popularity over the last ten years and is here to stay. Not only has the popularity of boxing been on the rise with crossover events such as Mayweather vs McGregor, but boxing-heavy striking has seemed to become a dominant style in mixed martial arts. “The Notorious” Conor McGregor experienced a meteoric rise to fame as fans gathered to watch him pull his head out of the way just in time and come back with a vicious left hand to put his opponents away. Other popular fighters like Cody “No Love” Garbrandt come into MMA with a very successful amateur boxing record (Garbrandt amassing a record of 32-0 before his MMA career). Recently, former featherweight champion Max Holloway put on arguably the best performance of his career, using his boxing to best top contender Calvin Kattar. Although both Kattar and Holloway are highly respected for their boxing ability, Holloway put on an absolute clinic showing off his superior hands, head movement and nonstop pace. Slipping and weaving away from Kattar’s power punches, he defiantly shouted, “I’m the best boxer in the UFC!”.
As fighters and coaches find solutions to dominant styles, different trends in martial arts will come and go. Boxing style head movement, footwork and counter punching seem to be a staple in any modern mixed martial artist’s game. More children and teens are interested in boxing than ever before, largely due to Youtube stars trying their hands in the ring. Former champions “Iron” Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. also stepped in the ring for an exciting exhibition, inviting discussions of a “legends league” for retired boxers. Whatever changes the mixed martial arts world goes through in the future, it seems that boxing is here to stay.
About the Author
A lifelong Hudson Valley resident, Oliver Swanson has been studying boxing, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Precision Boxing and MMA for the last five years. Interested in boxing and mixed martial arts in Dutchess County? Come check out Poughkeepsie’s premiere martial arts academy! Call Precision Boxing and MMA at (845)392-8495 or click HERE to get started today!