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| | MMA 101: An Overview of MMA
Mixed martial arts (MMA) is the combat sport in which two competitors attempt to achieve dominance over one another by utilizing three general tactics: striking, finishing holds, and grappling. The rules allow the combatants to use a variety of martial arts techniques, including punches, kicks, joint-locks, chokes, takedowns and throws. Victory is normally gained through knock-out, submission (one fighter concedes victory to the other by tapping the mat or his opponent with his hand), or stoppage by the referee, the fight doctor or a competitor's cornerman.
MMA is also used to describe any hybrid style of martial arts which incorporate techniques and theories from several different martial arts. This especially applies to MMA styles which incorporate a mixture of ground fighting, stand-up striking, and takedowns in their training. The main goal of this article is to provide information about MMA as a "realistic, few rules full contact fight sport" rather than to describe hybrid martial arts that are not typically used in minimal-rules sporting environments.
As a result of these sporting events, martial arts training and the understanding of the combat effectiveness of various strategies have changed dramatically over the last ten years. While the early years included the widest possible variety of styles (everything from Sumo to Karate), modern fighters often train in a mixture of only three styles: Amateur Wrestling (focusing on clinches and takedowns), Submission Wrestling (focusing on submissions and positioning on the ground), and Kickboxing (usually Muay Thai and Boxing) (focusing on striking). These three distinct styles coincide with the "phases of combat" theory, which suggests that fights can be broken into three distinct phases, each requiring completely different skill sets: stand-up fighting, clinch fighting, and ground fighting. According to the theory, a fighter's best strategy is to determine the phase in which he has the greatest advantage over his opponent and then to influence the fight to take place in that phase.
Well-known examples of MMA organizations are the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Pride Fighting Championships.
Evolution of fighting styles
Mixed-martial arts contests have a long history, dating back at least to the late 1800s when wrestlers representing a huge range of fighting styles including Jujitsu, Catch-as-catch-can, Collar-and-elbow, Graeco-Roman and many others met in tournaments and music-hall challenge matches throughout Europe. However, the vogue for professional wrestling died out after the First World War, only to be reborn in two major streams: "shoot", in which the fighters actually competed, and "show" which became increasingly dependent on choreography and theatrics and evolved into modern professional wrestling.
In the early 1990s, two styles stood out for their effectiveness: Wrestling and Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ). Jiu-Jitsu had the early advantage, since wrestlers were not equipped with a way to defeat them standing or on the ground. However, when wrestlers started training in striking, pure Jiu-Jitsu stylists ran into difficulties since they had a hard time taking the fight to the ground and away from their stand-up weaknesses. This represented the first step of evolution towards cross-training. Wrestling eventually branched into two styles described below: "Ground-and-Pound" (wrestlers who prefer fighting on the ground) and "Clinch-and-Pound" (wrestlers who prefer fighting standing up).
Kickboxers and boxers were next to evolve and added grappling skills to their arsenal. In the early days, they could not compete with the grapplers, since they could not avoid the takedowns and had no defense on the ground. After adding ground techniques to their training, they scored some major upsets, and showed that fighters specializing in striking could be effective in the sport.
Due to its early dominance, BJJ was the last to evolve. Eventually, Wrestling and Muay Thai were added to their training, and Jiu-Jitsu fighters have returned to being competitive again in the sport.
MMA is also considered an evolution of pankration, a combination of striking and grappling that was introduced in the Olympic games in 648 BC. The "Pancrase" fighting promotion in Japan has strong ties to modern MMA and actually predates the first UFC by a few months.
Modern fighting styles
The following is a breakdown of the different fighting styles of modern MMA. With essentially no exceptions, all successful fighters train with (and thus practice against) experts in all disciplines used today. Most fighters will base their overall strategy on one particular style and become associated with it.
A sprawl and brawler is a boxer, kickboxer or Muay Thai fighter who has trained wrestling to avoid takedowns and tries to keep the fight standing. Usually these fighters will study enough submission wrestling so that in the unfortunate event that they are taken down, they can tie their opponents up and survive long enough to get back to standing or until the referee restarts the fight. This style is deceptively different from regular kickboxing styles, since sprawl-and-brawlers must adapt their techniques to incorporate takedown defense. Maurice Smith is credited with introducing this style by becoming a successful kickboxer in a time when ground fighters were dominating the sport, including winning the heavyweight title of the Ultimate Fighting Championship by defeating Mark Coleman.
Examples: Maurice Smith, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipoviæ, Chuck Liddell, Pedro Rizzo, Wanderlei Silva
These are wrestlers that have added in components of the striking game (typically boxing). Although their base is in wrestling and ground control, they are rarely reluctant to throw some leather on the feet. Often, wrestlers that have added the striking game are partial to strikes from within the clinch (particularly wrestlers who have developed a strong clinch game already). In the case that an exchange on the feet does not go in their favor, they can bring the fight to the ground quickly as their true expertise lies in wrestling, so they are ultimately less timid about trading blows. Don Frye was among the first wrestlers to add versatile strikes to his arsenal, but it was Randy Couture’s fight against Vitor Belfort in which he used close range boxing to out-strike a reputedly superior boxer that was the true birth of this style of fighter. He was the first to demonstrate that standing and ground were not the only phases of combat. Through the use of Greco-Roman clinching techniques, he showed that a third phase, the clinch, was not well understood and could be used to devastate ill-prepared opponents.
Examples: Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Don Frye
This style is for wrestlers or other fighters well-versed in defending submissions and skilled at takedowns. They take every fight to the ground, maintain a solid top position, and hammer away until their opponent submits, is knocked out or is cut so badly that the fight can't continue. Although not traditionally considered a conventional method of striking, the effectiveness and reliability (as well as recently-developing science) of this style is proven. Originally, most fighters who relied on striking on the ground were wrestlers, but considering how many fights end up on the ground and how increasingly competitive today’s MMA is, strikes on the ground are becoming more essential to a fighter’s training. Dan Severn was the first proficient fighter using Ground-and-Pound with his takedowns and fists, forearm shots, elbows and knees on the ground. However, many modern MMA camps have developed intricate strategies for striking while on the ground.
Examples: Mark Coleman, Fedor Emelianenko, Matt Hughes, Takanori Gomi, Tito Ortiz
Typically associated with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but also encompassing a number of other styles, such as Olympic Judo, Sambo, evolutions of pre-1940's catch wrestling or even Hybrid styles such as shoot-fighting, Shooto and Pancrase. Submission wrestlers attempt to win on the ground using joint locks and chokes to secure a tapout. This style has evolved since the early days as submission wrestlers now usually crosstrain in amateur wrestling and kickboxing to complete their skills, but still focus on submissions as their primary weapons.
Examples: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Royce Gracie, Frank Shamrock, Kazushi Sakuraba, Genki Sudo, Frank Mir, Rumina Sato