From Ryo Chonan’s flying scissor heel hook at Pride Shockwave 2004 to Chan-Sung Jung’s scintillating spine twister at UFC Fight Night 24, mixed martial arts history is filled with dazzling submission victories. However, in recent days, it seems that MMA may be losing one of its arts and jeopardizing its “mixed” appeal. More and more, fights are being fought on the feet in the interest of sensational knockouts, and noticeably fewer fights have been ending in a tapout. It begs the question, where have all the jiu-jitsu practitioners gone?

Maintaining a reasonable balance of stand-up and ground fighting minutes in the cage is vital to the health of the sport of MMA. The more different shapes a fight can take, the greater its potential entertainment value. Granted, there are still many fights being “ground out,” so to speak, but there’s a big difference between a wrestler smothering an opponent on the mat for 15 minutes and a fight that’s concluded early due to a display of well-honed submission technique. On present course, grappling in MMA is in danger of being reduced to the demonstrative “sweet submissions” act performed by the Bellator MMA ring girls. Can this sport afford to continue down such a path?

To be fair, Bellator has produced a reasonable number of submission stoppages over its last two events. In contrast, the UFC has produced a total of zero. This streak equals the number of submission-free events the UFC held in all of 2012. The promotion’s current submission drought dates back to February 23 when Ronda Rousey applied her supreme judo skills toward an armbar victory over Liz Carmouche. Since that date, the UFC has staged twenty-three consecutive fights without a tapout. The promotion has, however, seen eight stoppages from strikes over the past two events, yielding a disparity which has roused concern in MMA purists.

The UFC isn’t alone in its nascent stand-up leanings. Two weeks ago, the World Series of Fighting kicked off its sophomore event to the tune of a nice rear-naked choke victory by Bill Algeo in his bout with Frank Buenafuente. From there, WSOF 2 went on to log seven stoppages from strikes and four judges’ decisions. This isn’t to say there was no time spent on the canvas over those last 11 fights, but having watched the event, it was clearly an exhibition of striking technique, if not a kickboxer’s paradise.

Returning to Bellator, although the promotion appears to have found some balance between striking and grappling-oriented fights, most of its recent tapouts have occurred on the preliminary cards—cards with dubious match-ups and talent levels. Moreover, Bellator’s last couple of events have been something of an exception. In the five events prior to Bellator 93—the Jansen vs. Held card—striking-based stoppages outnumbered submissions nearly 2:1. While this isn’t as unsettling as the UFC’s current drought, it’s indicative of a trend over the past several months favoring stand-up over ground-based combat.

Perhaps the greatest thing about submission skills is their ability to shift the momentum of a fight in an instant. At Legacy Fighting Championships 14, Lucas Pimenta stormed out of the gates and dominated the stand-up against opponent Jeff Rexroad for almost two rounds. Toward the end of the second stanza, Rexroad found himself on his back and in trouble. Then, like a skilled craftsman, he assembled what has come to be known as the Rexangle, a modified triangle choke. It was one of the best submissions of 2012 and a thing of beauty that could be appreciated by even the biggest Pimenta fan.

It comes down to the element of surprise. As in a good suspense film, fans don’t want to know what’s going to happen next, where the fight will go or how it will end. And nothing gives MMA the potential for surprise quite like grappling. We need only think back to UFC 117 and the most shocking comeback of all, when Anderson Silva reached deep for a fifth-round triangle choke to tap out Chael Sonnen. In that moment, the magic and glory of MMA was revealed.

Add to this reminiscence the lingering thrill of Fabricio Werdum’s dramatic triangle armbar finish to fell the mighty Fedor Emelianenko in Strikeforce, or more recently, Charles Oliveira’s sublime calf slicer to end Eric Wisely’s night at UFC on Fox 2 and Demian Maia’s vicious neck crank to stop Rick Story at UFC 153. Anyone who truly appreciates the sport can reflect on these finishes with the same awe invoked by the most spectacular knockout.

In credit to the UFC, it recently signed Brazilian fighter Antonio Braga Neto, possibly the best grappler in MMA. The irony, of course, is that Neto has virtually no stand-up game. In an ideal world, every MMA fight would display a range of skills with the two combatants spending a measurable amount of time on the canvas as well as on their feet. However, this isn’t an ideal world. More important than every fighter being well-rounded and multi-dimensional is the capability of an event to deliver a complement of fights that includes every aspect of the sport.

Diversity is by and large the secret of MMA’s success. And that diversity stretches beyond the ethnic type and into the cage, where contrasting fight dynamics stand paramount. Everyone loves a good knockout, but the modern spectator demands the intrigue that comes with a variety of styles integrated into a single package. Such is what keeps the sport of MMA fresh and vital.

To put it simply, fights that go places sell. So let’s issue a battle cry in the name of the Frank Mirs and the Chan-Sung Jungs of the mixed martial arts world, and all the warriors who possess not only well-rounded games but the fighting spirit to use their skills to the fullest by taking a fight wherever necessary to get the job done and create a memorable experience.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Photo: Frank Mir submits “Big Nog” at UFC 140 (Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports)

About The Author

Robby Collins

Robby Collins considers himself a johnny-come-lately to the sport of MMA. He was introduced to it less than three years ago but has since delved into the sport at all levels. As an aspiring fiction writer, Robby adapted his skills to promote his latest passion and landed with The MMA Corner by way of personal initiative and auspicious timing. Robby has dabbled in karate and wrestling, and is currently learning to kickbox.