Written by Koy Kosek
In November of 1993, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was organized. The concept was brilliant in its simplicity: there were only two major rules regulating the fighters “no biting and no eye-gouging “and the rounds were 10 minutes each in length. Presumably to look good on television, fighters were put into an eight-sided cage dubbed “The Octagon” with no way out during the match. Each competitor would try to secure a victory, either by knocking out, choking out, or forcing the surrender of his opponent. As an example of how vicious the competition was, none of the matches in that first event even went the full length of the first round. Royce Gracie was crowned the original UFC Champion in what is now known as UFC 1.
Originally, the sport of mixed martial arts (abbreviated MMA) was billed as a mixture of sports more than as a sport unto itself. Early matches pitted jiu-jitsu experts against boxers, boxers against karate fighters, karate fighters against wrestlers, etc. In its early form, the MMA movement was a kind of mix-and-match of fighters with various backgrounds.
Fast forward to 2006.
As of this writing, the UFC series of tournaments “around which the world of MMA is still loosely centered “has not only become a pay-per-view phenomenon, it has signed a broadcasting deal with Spike TV, a male-focused cable television station. UFC competitions occur every month or two, and the next one, which will appear on August 27th, 2006 on pay-per-view, will be UFC 62.
As it has grown in popularity among both fighters and fans, the concept of “style vs. style” has fallen by the wayside. Fighters, in particular, have learned that they must not only know how to strike, they must know how to wrestle. This realization has turned the fiercest legal fighting league in North America into an increasingly wrestling-dominated one.
Don’t take my word for it. The following quote is taken from an article on ww.mmafighting.com about the UFC’s Forrest Petz, a 30 year-old fighter who carries a 17-2 record in MMA competition:
“Wrestling is the base upon which everything rests. Without it, you will surely lose.”
You might think Petz is just saying that because he’s a former wrestler “but you’d be wrong. Petz is a former boxer who still considers his left hook to be his most potent weapon. He was forced to learn wrestling so that he could compete effectively in the UFC.
The same could be said of Georges St. Pierre, a 25 year-old from Montreal. In his words, taken from www.ufc.com:
“I started martial arts when I was six, doing Kyokushin karate. When I started training for MMA, three years ago, I started wrestling with the national team and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Nova Uniao…”
That’s the Canadian National Wrestling Team that Georges is referring to. His 12-1 MMA record indicates that his training decisions have been good ones.
And those couldn’t have been tough decisions for St. Pierre “or for any other UFC fighter, for that matter. It’s difficult to find any elite MMA fighter who doesn’t list wrestling at the top of his training regimen. Muay Thai boxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are both extremely popular disciplines among MMA fighters as well, but it’s difficult to find fighters even from these disciplines (or any other) who don’t mention their wrestling skills and accomplishments early and often.
Looking beyond fighters of other styles who have incorporated wrestling into their training, the extent to which former wrestlers have taken over MMA is telling. About 20% of the 176 fighters that the UFC lists on its website have at least some wrestling experience beyond the high school level. When you factor in the fighters who wrestled in high school, that number goes up by double or triple. While it’s tough to get exact figures, it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that most American fighters in the UFC came from at least a high school-level wrestling background.
Most surprising, perhaps, is to see that it’s not just wrestling superstars who have successfully made the jump to UFC fighting. It’s revealing to see “State Champion” listed in on the short list of an MMA competitor’s accomplishments, or to hear it be mentioned by them in interviews. Olympic and NCAA accomplishments are always noted on any MMA fighter’s resume, and even junior college-level wrestling accomplishments are never excluded from a UFC fighter’s bio. In fact, a number of competitors list any college wrestling experience they have at all on their bio, even if they were career back-ups in college.
That’s not to say that elite former wrestlers haven’t made their mark in MMA. Randy Couture, Mark Hamill, Chael Sonnen, Mark Van Arsdale, and Josh Koschek are all current UFC fighters who were National Champions on at least the NCAA or University Nationals level. But these elite wrestlers are the exception among UFC fighters, not the norm. In an upcoming article, just for fun, we’ll take a look at dozens of wrestlers who now fight at the UFC level but did not have National Championship-caliber careers in wrestling.
As a concluding thought, the sport of wrestling has certainly left its mark on MMA competition.. Athletes from other disciplines have learned that they need to train in the sport of wrestling to become the best fighters in the world. Wrestlers who have taken up MMA, on the other hand, have learned in sport what many of us ex-wrestlers have learned in life: once you’ve been through wrestling “even if you weren’t very good at it “everything else seems manageable.