Wrestling still isn't getting enough respect in MMA.

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AchillesHeel
9/8/10 1:27:30PM
So I was reading the thread about Dan Hardy complaining about wrestling in the UFC, and every time I tried to write a response I had to delete it because it had too much bile in it. I also just read that Kenny Florian has hired a wrestling coach after his loss to Gray Maynard. Does that mean he didn't have a wrestling coach all this time? Imagine the peals of laughter if an aspiring MMA fighter asked his mates, "Do I really need to start working with a jiu-jitsu coach? Can't I just figure that out as I go?"

I have to wonder if the MMA fighters who don't have wrestling backgrounds even know what top-level wrestling is like. Honestly, it's possible that some of them really don't, and that's no knock on them. A little while ago, the English MMA commentator on ESPN said that British MMA fighters need to take a "wrestling sabbatical in the [United] States." In his estimation, British fighters don't merely need to work on their wrestling, they need to leave the UK to do it. I'm reminded of Marcus Jones' comments during TUF, when he said that until he started training for MMA, he thought NFL workouts were grueling.

In many cases, the skill of top-level athletes is almost beyond the comprehension of "average Joes", people who played the sport for fun, or at a low level of organized competition. In "Fever Pitch", Nick Hornby mentioned a school-mate who was in his estimation "a [soccer] god", who subsequently progressed as far as the bench of a 4th-division professional team. When I was 19 or so, I saw the Seattle Mariners' Erik Hanson warming up his curveball in the bullpen - at Fenway Park, you can stand about 10 feet from where they throw - and its break and velocity were simply shocking. Having played baseball since I was 6, having watched countless games on television and a few dozen live at the ballpark, I still didn't understand what a major-league curveball was until I saw one up close.

Jiu-jitsu has a handy guide for roughly evaluating a student's progress and the level of skill they've achieved; the belt system, and it seems like a BJJ Purple Belt is sort of a minimum level of skill for a UFC-caliber MMA fighter (not all UFC grapplers - Matt Hughes, for example - actually have a belt though), and if BJJ is your primary discipline, you basically need a Black Belt to hang in the UFC.

How long does it take to earn a "legit" Purple Belt in BJJ? Four years, is my understanding (I don't study BJJ). Why should wrestling be any different? That would mean that a UFC fighter who wrestled competitively - say, on their high school varsity team - for three or four years has a Purple Belt in wrestling. That is, he's got a minimal level of wrestling skill, and if he's got some game in one of the other disciplines, he can get by.

Being a member of a Div-I or -II varsity team means you have a Brown Belt in wrestling, and guys like Chael Sonnen, Gray Maynard, Josh Koscheck and Brock Lesnar have Black Belts. Rashad Evans is a double-Black Belt, having recently been awarded his BJJ Black by one of the Gracies.

And let's not even talk about the Olympics and other international competitions, where Dan Henderson in his prime was nothing more than proficient, and Chael Sonnen, Randy Couture and Georges St. Pierre didn't even make the cut. Many of the MMA fighters who are commonly regarded as "wrestlers" would probably get eaten alive in international competition. If you're ever considering startin' some [stuff] with an Olympic-caliber wrestler, you'd probably be better off fighting an alligator.*

Hardy and others make some good points about the North American "scoring system" for MMA**, but to say that they need to work on their wrestling might be an understatement of colossal proportions. I can't help but wonder how many of them have ever studied wrestling in the same way that they've studied Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai or boxing. I think it's not uncommon for guys to travel to - surprise! - Thailand to study Muay Thai. To think that you could compete with the wrestlers I named above, that you could just pick up some wrestling through osmosis, is just as ridiculous as thinking that you can figure out jiu-jitsu by yourself. Yeah, maybe in ten years you could, if you're some kind of savant.

If you want to become a competent UFC wrestler in, say, two years, you need to go to Russia, Turkey, or the United States and find yourself a coach who has a "black belt." Kenny Florian hired an assistant coach from Boston University, a Div-I program where the guys are "Brown Belts in wrestling", and plans to take 5 months off from fighting to get worked on the mat. Since he's already a skilled grappler and a professional athlete, he can probably have his "wrestling Purple Belt" in a year. Paul Daley probably needs two years of work with an American college team (or an equivalent Eastern European or Scandinavian team) just to avoid being humiliated by Jake Shields or Josh Koscheck again.





* Actually, I think it would be totally awesome to get on the mat with a high-level wrestler, like that episode of "Pros vs. Joes" that Randy was in. When I was in high school, a local television show had a "sports dream sweepstakes" contest, and the winner was given an afternoon with a local athlete. You could play some one-on-one with one of the Celtics, have a Bruin or a Patriot teach you some moves, or whatever. I wanted to take a few at-bats against Roger Clemens.

** I put that in quotes because even calling it a scoring system is giving it too much credit, in my opinion.
Chael_Sonnen
9/8/10 1:39:30PM
Wrestling is the greatest aspect of MMA.
grappler0000
9/8/10 1:42:08PM
Good read!
Rush
9/8/10 1:46:04PM
It`s an interesting perspective and your analogy between BJJ and wrestling is spot on I would say.

The only reasons I can give for certain MMA fighters not training wrestling are:

1) They are just too damn stubborn and still think that they are good enough to win a title with the skills they already have

2) They are training in a camp where they are one of the better fighters and are convinced their wrestling is better than it really is.

3) They don`t have the money to hire another coach. Though this should not be an excuse. I am sure there are tons of high level wrestling teams that would allow a legit fighter to train with them just for the opportunity to get some fresh meat on the mats.




Something I want to add why I think wrestlers have a lot of success in the UFC is this. Most UFC fighters are in their prime around their mid-late 20s and maybe into their early 30s. Out of BJJ, wrestling and striking, I would say that wrestling is the one style most likely to have been built up as a skill set the most prior to hitting 20 years old. i.e. most good wrestlers start when they are kids or at the least in high school. Whereas (at least this generation of fighters) probably started BJJ or striking later on in their teens. This then allows wrestlers to have a more solid base around 20 years old whereas equivalent bases in BJJ or striking are rare at that age (IMO)

Also, wrestling alone (to a degree) cannot win a fight. That is, wrestling is usually not associated with submission or knocking someone out (I know there are exceptions, but this is pretty much the case) and I think wrestlers recognize the fact that they need to learn more finishing skills. Strikers and BJJ fighters have lots of finishing tools and maybe feel less inclined to worry about the control aspect of MMA.

Strikers might also believe that because a fight is always started in the standing position that they have the first opportunity to end it.
Jackelope
9/8/10 2:07:02PM
I've been to many different MMA schools. You know what they seem to think? They seem to think hitting a few takedowns and going over the sprawl in BJJ class teaches you wrestling. Folks, wrestling is not BJJ!!!!

This is going to come out in the very near future thanks to guys like GSP and Brock Lesnar. Having a good double leg, and knowing how to really blast through someone when you take them down is great. It's something you want to see from a wrestler. But it's not the whole game.

Guys like Cain Velasquez will show what being a great wrestler is all about. Relentless work ethic, tireless pursuit of the takedown, and constantly fighting for position is what it's really all about IMO. That's not to say he's the best there is, but it is to say that IMO he has adapted the complete wrestling game to MMA better than some other athletes who might be more well known for their wrestling. (GSP for example) Jon Fitch is another example of this. You're talking about guys who can not only take you down by shooting a double, but who can also take you down when you thought you scrambled enough to get away. Guys who know when to reach down and pick an ankle, or who know when to run through and tap the knee, or a myriad of other options that the complete wrestler has available to him.

Again, I don't want to make it sound like somehow GSP isn't the most successful at wrestling in MMA today (clearly he is) but I think as time goes on in this sport we will see a better adaptation of the truly complete wrestling game. Wrestling isn't going away any time soon and I think the OP makes great points.

AchillesHeel
9/8/10 5:30:46PM

Posted by Rush

Something I want to add why I think wrestlers have a lot of success in the UFC is this. Most UFC fighters are in their prime around their mid-late 20s and maybe into their early 30s. Out of BJJ, wrestling and striking, I would say that wrestling is the one style most likely to have been built up as a skill set the most prior to hitting 20 years old. i.e. most good wrestlers start when they are kids or at the least in high school. Whereas (at least this generation of fighters) probably started BJJ or striking later on in their teens. This then allows wrestlers to have a more solid base around 20 years old whereas equivalent bases in BJJ or striking are rare at that age (IMO)


That's certainly true in this country (the U.S.). I think organized wrestling teams exist in most high schools. I walked on to my high school team when I was 14 and didn't know jack about it (I was just fulfilling a phys ed requirement, and wrestling looked more interesting than friggin' volleyball - and I met one or two cute volleyball girls later anyway... ).
AchillesHeel
9/8/10 5:31:33PM

Posted by Jackelope

I've been to many different MMA schools. You know what they seem to think? They seem to think hitting a few takedowns and going over the sprawl in BJJ class teaches you wrestling.


I guess that doesn't surprise me.
SmileR
9/8/10 9:19:28PM
"British fighters don't merely need to work on their wrestling, they need to leave the UK to do it"

BINGO! I'm sick and tired of English and most European fighters complaining about the amount of wrestling used in the UFC or complaining about fights not being stood up.

The cream of the U.K and European fighters need to realize that to become elite MMA fighters their wrestling or their lack of wrestling needs to be addressed and the only way to get the type of training they need is to move.

Until British fighters learn to use wrestling they should stop complaining about it and start practicing.
seanfu
9/8/10 11:32:23PM
I really do agree, I think wrestling is by far the most important fundamental to have, but I think it does get unfair when someone can score a takedown and it means something. I think takedown damage should mean something and control should make a difference. I do think that Japan has it right in their basis of judging though.

Damage over control, agression over footwork.

You wanna know why american MMA has declined so much in action? the slightest mistake and loss of control = a lost round. Even if no damage is accomplished by the controlling fighter.

Basically what you get is control and scoring as first priority, damage and action as second priority, In japan they throw down because they know it means more than being held down.

I am a true believer in wrestling, it is my favorite, but it is abused. People are so cautious to throw down nowdays because of the scoring.

EDIT- GSP would be throwing a lot more GnP out there if scoring control was lesser than damage.
Pookie
9/8/10 11:55:31PM
Right now Wrestling is the most important tool to have in MMA, but that is also indicative of a broken system. Until the judging criteria is made sense of or changed in some manner, Wrestling is going to continue to be the X factor.
AchillesHeel
9/10/10 2:45:10PM
Watching this week's "MMA Live" and Gareth Davies, the above-mentioned English MMA reporter, said that Dan Hardy has been in the U.S. for 3½ months, working on his wrestling (he didn't mention where or with whom). So, good on Hardy for taking that challenge on, even as he continues to flap his gums about it. Maybe Carlos Condit, Hardy's next opponent, will have a surprise in store.
cowcatcher
9/10/10 3:06:27PM
aside form technique, i think the biggest assets someone gets from wrestling are things like cardio, learning to cut weight from a (relatively)young age, and weight distribution when on top.

there is nothing at the high school level that equals a wrestling practice, it is the hardest and most intense cardio workout most kids that wrestle in school will see in their lives. the guys that continue on through the sport and into mma after HS already know how hard they have to work to keep their cardio up and their weight down. thats a huge advantage later on in the fight game and its why the guys like fitch, rashad, etc. can go 5 rounds without looking completely gassed.

cutting weight must come as a shock to fighters that never wrestled, its grueling and can crush you mentally. if someone has done this since they were a teen then they know about where they have to be going into the cut and that "i just want to quit" feeling doesnt beat at your brain nearly as hard after doing it for years.

distributing your weight from the top is second nature to a wrestler, its not something that has to be thought about. after countless hours in the gym working from the top in a sport that emphasizes control you just dont have to worry as much about being sloppy and getting reversed, the feeling comes as natural as a jedi using the force.

great read as usual achilles, spot on!
AchillesHeel
9/10/10 3:10:52PM

Posted by Rush

Something I want to add why I think wrestlers have a lot of success in the UFC is this. Most UFC fighters are in their prime around their mid-late 20s and maybe into their early 30s. Out of BJJ, wrestling and striking, I would say that wrestling is the one style most likely to have been built up as a skill set the most prior to hitting 20 years old. i.e. most good wrestlers start when they are kids or at the least in high school. Whereas (at least this generation of fighters) probably started BJJ or striking later on in their teens. This then allows wrestlers to have a more solid base around 20 years old whereas equivalent bases in BJJ or striking are rare at that age (IMO)


Something Kenny Florian brought up on "MMA Live" is maybe related to what you said here: American wrestlers, after 3-4 years of high school and 4 years of college, have hundreds of competitive matches under their belt. I don't know how many competitive matches an amateur boxer or a jiu-jitsu or judo player can expect to rack up from age 15 to 22.
AchillesHeel
9/10/10 3:21:37PM

Posted by cowcatcher

there is nothing at the high school level that equals a wrestling practice, it is the hardest and most intense cardio workout most kids that wrestle in school will see in their lives. the guys that continue on through the sport and into mma after HS already know how hard they have to work to keep their cardio up and their weight down. thats a huge advantage later on in the fight game and its why the guys like fitch, rashad, etc. can go 5 rounds without looking completely gassed.


I agree. I think it was in one of those UFC preview shows that Matt Hughes mentioned that his morning run - I don't remember how many miles it was - was not part of his cardio training. It was just how he warmed up his day, like drinking a cup of coffee or reading the paper.

And there was a moment in Brock Lesnar's win over Shane Carwin when Brock used a kind of pinwheel move to take Carwin's back that gave me a bad acid flashback to my high school wrestling practices. Our coach would make us do those spinning drills until we puked.
Rush
9/10/10 9:51:00PM

Something Kenny Florian brought up on "MMA Live" is maybe related to what you said here



He must be reading my posts.




I think it was in one of those UFC preview shows that Matt Hughes mentioned that his morning run - I don't remember how many miles it was - was not part of his cardio training



I recall it was 30-45 min. which depending on the pace is not that much. As a runner I wouldn't consider a run of that length a cardio workout unless I was going hard.


AchillesHeel
9/11/10 1:12:12PM

Posted by Rush

I recall it was 30-45 min. which depending on the pace is not that much. As a runner I wouldn't consider a run of that length a cardio workout unless I was going hard.


Oh, okay. I've never been a runner myself, except when I've had to.
Rush
9/11/10 5:35:08PM
Just to keep the conversation going I thought I would add in a couple things.

1) People saying that "knees to a downed opponent will fix the issue with wresters lay and pray."


First off, knees to a downed opponent are legal in the UFC, you just can't knee them in the head. That being said, IMO, knees to the head will only fix the lay and pray issues to an extent. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that allowing knees to the head will be a danger to a fighter going for a double. However, I think this will primarily be a danger to the novice or intermediate wrestlers and not make any difference with the elite wrestlers. The elite wrestlers usually have their takedowns timed so well or are so fast and explosive, the opponent is usually on their back before they know what happened. If that weren't the case, elite wrestlers would be getting knocked out by well timed knees to the head already, but they aren't. Also, a fighter needs to be able to sprawl against a shot in order to implement knees to a downed opponent's head. How many times have you seen a fighter sprawl successfully against a top wrestler?


In summary, I think the knees to the head of a downed opponent will result in some quick finishes involving fighters with poor wrestling, but have no effect on the matches involving an elite wrestler. In fact, for the former, it may actually decrease the frequency of takedown attempts and result in boring stand up jab trading.


2) The second issue is that of the scoring.

I do believe, and I think many agree, that a change in the scoring system in MMA will result in fewer boring fights. IT will not eliminate them, but I feel that it will make an obvious reduction.

Without getting into too much detail, I think the scoring system has to be implemented in such a way that a fighter can still lose the fight after winning two close rounds. For example, a three point system could be implemented where a the three points must be divided up between the two fighters each round. A point is awarded to the fighter for being most dominant on the ground, one point for the stand up dominance and a third point for overall dominance (i.e. a fighter may lose stand up, but win the ground game, but because 80% of the fight is on the ground, then he gets the third point.). In this system, a fighter can win the first two rounds by 2-1, and still win the fight by dominating the third round.

This system does not necessarily fix the lay and pray aspect if a fighter is able to dominate for three rounds, but I think it makes the scoring more transparent and also harder for a fighter to ride out the third round to a safe victory.


Another system I thought of, which may fix the lay and pray issue is a four point per round system, similar to the above except that

One point is awarded for each of the following: successful control standing, aggression standing; successful control on ground, aggression on ground.

This gives a fighter the opportunity to earn points for trying to finish the fight and not just ride out a decision. One con to this is that there will be more draws, but I guess the question, of whether people are happier with draws in a close fight or a winner in a close fight, needs to be answered.

One could also avoid the draws by making it a 5 point system with the fifth point being awarded to the fighter that won the overall round. However, then this system is starting to look more like the first one. The pro though would be that a 5 point system creates even more opportunity to win a clear decision after a close two rounds, rather than being a controversial win.
Pookie
9/11/10 5:44:18PM

Posted by Rush

Just to keep the conversation going I thought I would add in a couple things.

1) People saying that "knees to a downed opponent will fix the issue with wresters lay and pray."


First off, knees to a downed opponent are legal in the UFC, you just can't knee them in the head. That being said, IMO, knees to the head will only fix the lay and pray issues to an extent. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that allowing knees to the head will be a danger to a fighter going for a double. However, I think this will primarily be a danger to the novice or intermediate wrestlers and not make any difference with the elite wrestlers. The elite wrestlers usually have their takedowns timed so well or are so fast and explosive, the opponent is usually on their back before they know what happened. If that weren't the case, elite wrestlers would be getting knocked out by well timed knees to the head already, but they aren't. Also, a fighter needs to be able to sprawl against a shot in order to implement knees to a downed opponent's head. How many times have you seen a fighter sprawl successfully against a top wrestler?


In summary, I think the knees to the head of a downed opponent will result in some quick finishes involving fighters with poor wrestling, but have no effect on the matches involving an elite wrestler. In fact, for the former, it may actually decrease the frequency of takedown attempts and result in boring stand up jab trading.




I disagree, if the muay thai level of the fighter throwing the knee is just as high as the wrestlers wrestling skill its a 50/50 thing with the outcome being determined by whos better at that moment. Now if that guys wrestling isnt good enough to stop the takedown, he's getting taken down. That was the risk he took by swinging for the fences.
Ive seen fighters with top level sprawls sprawl out of top level shots. If the skill level is similar between the two then Knee's are still a viable option for helping to even the playing field.

AchillesHeel
9/11/10 7:41:20PM

Posted by Pookie

I disagree, if the muay thai level of the fighter throwing the knee is just as high as the wrestlers wrestling skill its a 50/50 thing with the outcome being determined by whos better at that moment.


That doesn't make any sense to me. Clearly, the problem faced by people like Kenny Florian and Dan Hardy is that their wrestling wasn't up to the job. It didn't look to me like it was their Muay Thai that was holding them back in their fights against GSP and Gray Maynard.


Posted by Pookie

Now if that guys wrestling isnt good enough to stop the takedown, he's getting taken down. That was the risk he took by swinging for the fences.
Ive seen fighters with top level sprawls sprawl out of top level shots. If the skill level is similar between the two then Knee's are still a viable option for helping to even the playing field.


I can't envision in my mind's eye what you're describing here. If you're throwing a knee, you're not sprawling. The two body positions are diametrically opposed. As we saw in Lesnar-Mir II, throwing a knee at a good wrestler from the standup position is fraught; if you don't time it right, you're just handing the wrestler a single-leg takedown. There are occasional instances of someone getting hit with a knee while shooting for a double, and that infrequently results in a KO, such as James Irvin v Terry Martin, but that's not what you're describing because the shooting fighter isn't a downed opponent (Irvin's KO or Martin was perfectly legal).

That I recall from PRIDE, knees to the head of a downed opponent are typically delivered from a "North-South" top position, and the non-wrestler is unlikely to be the one on top (did Hardy or Florian ever have top position against GSP or Maynard?). In this case, allowing knees to the head might help end some fights by giving the wrestler a weapon he doesn't currently have. However, knees to the body of a grounded opponent are currently allowable, and UFC fighters rarely use them, I presume because taking one foot off the mat compromises your base and your control, and risks losing the position. GSP used knees against Matt Serra because Serra turtled up and GSP didn't have to exert control anymore.
Pookie
9/12/10 5:20:50AM
Niether Dan Hardy nor Kenny Florian are top level strikers, If you put Anderson or Shogun or Alistair in the mix then you do have fighters that are willing to throw that knee and take the chance of getting taken down. Not Hardy nor Florian even took that risk so how can that be used as an example of knee's not being effective.
AchillesHeel
9/12/10 10:13:04AM

Posted by Pookie

Niether Dan Hardy nor Kenny Florian are top level strikers, If you put Anderson or Shogun or Alistair in the mix then you do have fighters that are willing to throw that knee and take the chance of getting taken down. Not Hardy nor Florian even took that risk so how can that be used as an example of knee's not being effective.


I used Hardy and Florian as examples only because their fights against GSP and Maynard seem to be examples of fights that other people use to complain about wrestlers. I'm not using them as examples of knees not being effective, I'm trying to think of an example of a fight that would have gone differently if the fighters had been allowed to use knees to the head of a grounded opponent. If you'd prefer to use Silva, Shogun or Overeem to illustrate your idea, go ahead.

I don't recall Silva ever being in a position to use knees against any of his opponents, such as Chael Sonnen, while they were grounded. Shogun's fights against Machida was entirely standing, iirc. I didn't see Shogun's fight against Mark Coleman, and the only other wrestler I can remember him fighting was Kevin Randleman. Again, Shogun was never in any position to use knees to Randleman's head after the fight hit the mat, and it wasn't because he wasn't allowed to. Silva and Shogun found ways to win all of these fights anyway, and Silva-Sonnen is a candidate for Fight of the Year, so they're clearly not examples of fights that were "ruined by boring wrestling."

I see that Overeem defeated Fujita with a knee strike in K-1 last New Year's Eve, but I didn't see that fight, so I don't know if it was delivered while in a position that would have made it illegal in North America.

I suppose it's possible that Forrest Griffin could have finished Shogun sooner than he did if he'd been allowed to knee him in the head while they were grappling, but he beat him up and submitted him anyway. I never heard anyone say that that fight was "a boring wrestling match", so I don't think that's a good example for what you're suggesting, either.

Rush
9/12/10 2:05:10PM
To further support my knee theory, I'll provide an example from Pride.


The only fight I can think of that knees to the head were totally relevant was in Pride 13, Coleman vs. Goes.

Coleman sprawled Allan's shot and delivered devastating knees to the head. This example supports what I was saying exactly. Goes was a BJJ guy and Coleman was a high level wrestler. That was the only reason why the knees were able to be delivered. Had Coleman been shooting and Goes on the defense, Goes would have likely been on his back (not delivering knees from a sprawled position)


To think of a fight on the flip side, one could look back at Koscheck vs. Joslin. It's been a while since I watched the fight but I do remember that Joslin might have been in a position to deliver knees, but I would have to check to make sure.



As for a well timed knee to the head of a wrester I can only think of two fights.

1) Newton vs. Silva - though I would not consider Newton a high level wrestler
2) Franca vs. Sherk - Franca landed one or two knees, but still lost the fight quite convincingly.
AchillesHeel
9/12/10 3:08:54PM
I just thought of a fight that could support Pookie's knees-to-the-head theory: Josh Koscheck vs Paul Daley. Daley threw an illegal knee to Koscheck's head, but the question is, "What would have happened if that knee had been a legal strike?" As it happened, the knee missed and did nothing. However, it's plausible to think that it missed because Daley realized Kos was down mid-strike and pulled off it. Had the strike been allowable, therefore, perhaps Daley would have followed through and the strike would have landed with full force. And, if it had, Kos might well have been sent to La-La Land.

Because of Daley's dramatic loss of common sense, the story of that fight isn't "another case of a wrestler just holding his man down for 15 minutes", but if Daley hadn't lost his mind, that fight might be talked about in such terms. And if it were, it could serve as an example of a fight that didn't have to go that way, if only Daley were allowed to plant one on Koscheck's noggin when he had the chance.
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