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MMA-rianas: The evolution of striking in MMA

The evolution of striking in MMA

THE two martial arts bases long considered to be the best foundations to have in mixed martial arts are western wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Yair Rodriguez is among the new generation of talent that continues to defy the norms and redefine standards with his “spinning s--t.  Photo credit UFC/Zuffa

This was especially true in the sport’s earliest days, primarily due to the fact that approximately 90 to 95-percent of MMA matches ended up on the mat at a certain point.

Therefore, fighters needed to have quality ground fighting skills or they wouldn’t last very long once taken down.

As a result, legendary grappling specialists like the Gracies, the Shamrocks and Kazushi Sakuraba were the most dominant champions for a period of time. It really didn’t matter how deadly their opponents were on the feet, because once taken down, those opponents were submitted quite effortlessly.

Eventually, fighters who came from striking foundations like Muay Thai, boxing and kickboxing smartened up and became so adept at both striking and grappling that the grapplers couldn’t dominate so easily.Soon after, more fighters with a striking Genesis started taking over the sport. Thus, legendary strikers with well-rounded MMA games and strong grappling defense like Bas Rutten, Mirko Cro Cop and Wanderlei Silva became the new dominant faces of MMA.

To counter this, fighters who came from grappling backgrounds were forced to adapt. More wrestlers and BJJfighters such as Dan Henderson, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and the Diaz brothers evolved to improve their boxing and kickboxing skills to level the playing field.

Over the course of time, changes like these happening on both sides gave rise to a new precedent. While grappling arts like wrestling and BJJ were still largely considered the top bases to start MMA careers off of, it didn’t mean fighters had to begin there. More and more MMA gyms developed regimens geared towards turning skilled strikers into skilled grapplers and vice versa.

The general consensus became that regardless of a fighter’s background, be it grappling based or striking based styles, the best thing to aspire to be is well rounded in every area with at least one or two core specialties. All time greats like Anderson “The Spider” Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, BJ Penn and Georges St. Pierre best exemplified this fact at the peaks of their careers.

Today, the most dominant rulers of the sport like Daniel Cormier, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, Jon “Bones” Jones, Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero and Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley are fighters who continue to carry on that evolved standard.

But let’s talk more specifically about the striking aspect of the game. A combination of boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai were once considered the only styles MMA fighters really needed to know in orderto be proficient in their striking.

However, when karate fighters like Lyoto Machida and Stephen Thompson burst on the scene with their unorthodox stance switching, tricky karate timing and blitzing counters, a lot of boxing and Muay Thai based fighters were thrown off guard.

It wasn’t that boxing and Muay Thai are inferior to karate, but more a case that many boxers and Muay Thai fighters weren’t sparring with enough karate specialists and thusvery unaccustomed to the karate style of attack.

In contrast, these high level karate-kas were sparring with boxers and Muay Thai guys in their gyms on a daily basis. Furthermore, fighters like Machida and Thompson also trained in Muay Thai techniques, BJJ and wrestling to be more well equipped to face such arts. They possessed many of the same skills their opponents had; while their opponents lacked karate skills.

It was only when exceptional athletes, such as Romero and Woodley, took their knowledge of countering striking to a whole new level and began sparring high level karate-kas. Interestingly enough, Romero and Woodley hold wins over Machida and Thompson respectively.

Which leads us to “spinning s**t.” The term was first coined by Nick Diaz to refer to fighterswho use a lot of spin kicking techniques. While arts like Muay Thai, kickboxing and karate have a significant amount of spinning techniques, such techniques are more commonly associated with arts like taekwondo, capoeira and hapkido.

For a long time, spinning attacks were largely shunned for their perceived impracticality and cynically mocked as simply, spinning s**t. That was of course, until fighters like Edson Barboza, Uriah Hall, Yair Rodriguez, Thiago Santos and Michael “Venum” Page proved they can be used to devastating effect. Even the aforementioned Silva and Thompson used quite a few at the heights of their careers.

The lesson learned from this is that standards in MMA, like any high level sport, continue to evolve and no style in particular should remain stagnant...lest it get swallowed up by the tides of change.