Jose Aldo (L) pushes off the fence to throw a punch (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)New Breed: Today’s MMA Fighters Show Evolution of the Sport Greg Byron March 28, 2014 Spotlight When you look at the current crop of Hall of Fame fighters in the UFC, you can clearly see that the early stages of the sport relied heavily upon fighters with one predominant skill set. Whether it be the man himself, Royce Gracie, or Dan Severn or Mark Coleman, it is fair to say that each of these men relied heavily upon one particular aspect of MMA and utilized this to its absolute maximum in order to win. Some may call this one-dimensional and others may call it absolute dominance in their primary art, but it was undisputedly intriguing all the same. This is, of course, back in the day whereby the whole premise of the sport of MMA was not so much about the best fighting athlete, but more so which style could be implemented to nullify all others. In those days, the intrigue was partially due to the “style versus style” aspect mixed with the inevitable interest that the “two men enter, one man leaves” angle created in the short term. Nowadays, MMA has moved away from this kind of spectacle and can legitimately say that when it comes to the majority of MMA fights, two true mixed martial artists will be taking part. No longer will we really get the chance to see the style vs. style match-up that garnered the intrigue that first developed the so-called “hardcore” fan base that have been interested in the sport from the beginning. Despite this, there remain the odd few that still compete in MMA that on the whole have entered with one particular skill, without really developing the other aspects of their game. As such, there still remains the odd throwback to the days of Gracie dominating with his grappling skills or Severn and Coleman with their wrestling abilities. Of the current crop of fighters who excel in one area alone, Ben Askren is perhaps the most successful. Throughout his career, Askren has chosen to disregard the skills that his opponents bring to the table on the basis that his wrestling ability is so dominant that he can completely nullify anything that can hurt him. Askren has had marked success with this method (albeit outside of the UFC), but he is very much the exception to the rule. For every Askren, you have countless other wrestlers who have had to make the choice to develop themselves in the other areas of MMA or fade into obscurity once they have reached the ceiling that their singular wrestling ability allows. Whereas Askren has seemingly adapted his wrestling to overcome pretty much all other styles in MMA, no other wrestler has been able to rely upon just wrestling to anything like the same extent. In his early career, Josh Koscheck struggled to overcome opponents who could handle his wrestling prowess. It was only once he had developed his striking game that Koscheck would be able to rise to the top, culminating in a losing title effort against Georges St-Pierre. Just like Askren with wrestling, Demian Maia relied upon his grappling ability to achieve success for a time. However, Maia soon realized that in order to make it to the top level in the top organization, he would need to diversify his skill set. This would seem to be a lesson that Maia learned in particular when up against then-champion Anderson Silva, and it’s a lesson which he seems to have taken note of ever since. In the grappling category, it is fair to say that Vinny Magalhaes entered the sport and the UFC with an immense grappling resume. However, his inability to take a punch and overall lack of skills across all other areas left the Brazilian unable to implement his style on his much more well-rounded opponents. From the striking perspective, Paul Daley would immediately spring to mind as a fighter that has relied pretty much solely on his striking ability, without much consideration for developing himself in all areas. This proved to be to his detriment against Koscheck, and so ensued a famously frustrating night for the Nottingham native. This kind of reliance on the striking game was seen even more recently with the decision made by UFC heavyweight Pat Barry to go back to his first love of kickboxing in order to evade the grappling aspect of MMA in search of success and personal fulfillment. It would seem that of the fighters that are currently heavily reliant upon one particular skill, few actually compete against the elite on a regular basis. This is because the UFC is undeniably the premier organization in the sport and the matchmaking model that it employs doesn’t cater to fighters as they climb the ladder. If Daley were in the UFC today, he would not be given the same kind of favorable match-ups that he currently enjoys outside of the UFC. Once a fighter is in the UFC, he or she is just another name on the roster and it is that fighter’s job to rise through the ranks, defeating all types of fighters by whatever means necessary. Outside of the UFC, organizations will be more inclined to pander to the better-known fighters and “feed” them opponents that will suit their style. For many years it has been thought that wrestling is the dominant base for MMA. However, the one common denominator shared across all wrestlers is their work ethic. Wrestling on the whole doesn’t produce fighters who are willing to rest on their laurels, but who instead embrace all aspects of the sport, which benefits them in the long run. If the question of which style were the best today, the answer would seemingly be much more difficult to answer. Among the current crop of champions, there is a notable mix of wrestlers dominating the higher weight classes (Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, Chris Weidman and Johny Hendricks), with a tendency for strikers to rise to the top in the lower weight classes (Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo, Renan Barao). One reason for this is that the heavier a fighter gets, the less agile they are (as a general rule). Therefore, as you go up in weight, the ability of the fighters to move out of the way of a takedown is decreased. Conversely, the lower in weight you go, the extra speed and movement makes it a much more difficult proposition for any wrestler to establish dominance. If you look at the likes of Daley, Magalhaes or Askren, it would seem these fighters are more of a throwback to the early days of the sport. Whilst they would undoubtedly have been successful back then, the success you can expect them to achieve at the elite level in today’s MMA is restricted. That is not to say that the fans who loved the original premise of the sport are left wondering what happened to their sport. We are currently seeing women’s MMA going through much of the same early processes as the men’s side. It is perhaps strange that in the modern world of MMA gyms all over the place, that one style can still dominate the sport just as Gracie did with his jiu-jitsu. However, this is undoubtedly what we are currently seeing with Ronda Rousey and her knack of catching her opponents with an armbar thanks to a combination of her own brilliance and her opponent’s naivete in the grappling department. The women’s roster in the UFC currently has many fighters besides Rousey that rely upon the one dominant art. Sara McMann and Jessica Rakoczy are two examples of this, with McMann being predominantly a wrestler and Rakozy a former boxing world champion. Both are still in their early stages of their MMA evolution. There is no doubt that the sport of MMA has come a long way since its beginnings as a style-vs.-style entity. Whilst there are still a few throwbacks to the original ideals of the sport, MMA has evolved past that and now requires a much more athletic base and provides immense benefits to those fighters who have a thirst for knowledge spread across all aspects of MMA.