There’s a question and argument in the world of MMA that seems to be resolved: Is wrestling the most dominant martial art?
As striking goes, even the best of the best risk the chance of getting tagged and the lights going out. When you take the game to the ground and know how to control your opponent at an elite level, the better wrestler is going to take the win. Out of the seven male champions in the UFC, five have wrestling backgrounds: Stipe wrestled NCAA DI at Cleveland State, Jon Jones took a NJCAA individual title at Iowa Central Community College, Kamaru Usman was a NCAA DII national champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov wrestled bears since he was eight years old, and Henry Cejudo took a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.
Yeah, all these guys have incredible stand-up games as well, but you can’t deny the game built around grappling.
Another type of martial art comes to mind when talking grappling … Jiu-Jitsu. Not only has this become a staple in many MMA fighters’ arsenals, but it has become an extremely popular sport on its own. Huge tournaments are held all over the world and the sport is evolving like crazy. Eddie Bravo has brought us “Combat Jiu-Jitsu” where open palm strikes are allowed once the fight has been brought to the ground, schools have adopted wrestling into their programming, and the Gi has been dropped from many training methods.
So where is all the Jiu-Jitsu in MMA? Well, a lot of Jiu-Jitsu artists can’t get their opponents to the ground. They can pull guard and hope that their opponent might go to the ground with them, but a lot of the time they’re going to be forced to stand up. Fighters like Nate Diaz and Demian Maia have made names for themselves as submission artists, but neither have held a UFC championship belt.
Side note: Demian Maia recently beat Ben Askren who is a highly decorated wrestler. Fighters focus heavily on their takedown defense, and if you can’t take someone to the ground, Jiu-Jitsu just doesn’t work.
In steps John Danaher and his elite grapplers from Renzo Gracie Academy. Danaher is renowned in the Jiu-Jitsu community, but for those that haven’t heard of him, he attained his black belt from Renzo Gracie and has trained the likes of Georges St. Pierre. He’s a no-nonsense type of guy who’s very methodical. He’s big on learning the basics of Jiu-Jitsu and gaining a solid foundation, but in certain athletes, he’s able to see their strengths and push them to a new level; Athletes like Gordon Ryan, Nick Rodriguez, and Garry Tonon.
If you’re not paying attention to the Jiu-Jitsu circuit, the three aforementioned grapplers are taking over the scene by storm. Their style is more of a “mixed grappling art” than pure Jiu-Jitsu. They heavily incorporate wrestling take-downs and take-down defense into their training. Gordon Ryan is an explosive grappler who knows his Jiu-Jitsu second to very few. He won both the 99kg and the absolute divisions at the 2019 ADCC World Championship (Quite a big deal in Jiu-Jitsu), and those are a tiny fraction of all the titles he’s taken home since 2017. Nick Rodriguez, on the other hand, has only been training for a little over a year and took second in the 99kg+ division. He’s a giant of a man and extremely athletic; he never pulls guard and relies on his explosive top game.
These guys are strikingly entertaining to watch and have the attitudes to back it up.
Don’t blink when ushering in a new era of MMA, both of these athletes have hinted at making their way into the UFC.