There are many different aspects of a fighter's game that can make him successful in the cage. Most of these things are quite obvious, apparent, and must not be overlooked when shaping oneself as a fighter. Being able to have quick punching and powerful kicking, as well as takedowns and takedown defense, all the way to ground grappling skills are some of the more obvious (not less important) skills a fighter can have. Despite these, there are a few underrated tools for a fighter that i view as just as important to these basics.
1. Elasticity and Dexterity:
Because the sport of Mixed martial arts has so many disciplines within it, there are literally an unlimited amount of positions that one's body can be put through during the course of a fight. Whether it is being on one foot preventing a takedown, or working off one's back to look for a submission, or find a way out of one, having a wide range of motion is important in surviving the battle. Take B.J. Penn for example, a guy who has great hands, top level Jiu Jitsu, and probably the best takedown defense of anyone in the sport, but his flexiblity only adds to the frustration that he gives his opponents. Penn uses his legs, as if they were extra arms, and has a vicious rubber guard. Simply watching a guy trying to posture up in a guard like this is exhausting. Despite B.J.'s great balance, which is a very important weapon in any mma fighter's arsenal, his controlling guard, takedown defense, and submission defense is largely because of the dexterity, and must not be overlooked.
Every fighter in professional mixed martial arts is without a doubt an elite level athlete. Some fighters may be stronger than others, but all of them have top tier strength. When looking past the giant shoulders, and shredded stomachs, there is a strength that is difficult to see from a fighter when just looking at him. The ability to grip an opponents limbs with authority can significantly tire an opponent, prevent him from doing significant damage, and merely make him look weak. One of the greatest examples for this is Antonio "lil nog" Rogerio Noguiera. He is a great striker and of course is sound in BJJ, but when on his back, he has the amazing ability of wrist control, disallowing any type of posturing up from the opponent. It is mind-blowing to see one grown man control another just as freakishly athletic and strong man as if he were reprimanding a frantic child, and i dont think one could argue that dealing with this is easy.
Many different sports can be related to the idea of having a rhythm while playing. In baseball, a hitter can find a rhythm to time a pitch, or field a ground ball. In basketball, the team moves as one functioning rhythmic machine. Fighting is no different. In the beginning of some fights, fighters tend to throw test jabs, and kicks to "feel out" their opponent. These aren't intended to hurt the opponent but rather decode their style, and find a rhythm. When counter strikers like Anderson Silva are moving back, and yet landing shots on an opponent (lets use Forrest Griffin as an example) that look to be completely wide open and uncontested, it is his ability to sync with his opponent, and time his shots with rhythm that creates these openings. His precise accuracy leads to knock out power, as all it takes is a quick twist to the chin, and a guy is rocked. Most people think of rhythm as something only dancers have, but then again, there is no denying that "the Spider" has got some moves.
Sure, it is exhilarating to see a guy nearly pop a vein out of adrenaline gained from the packed arena, and the recent rehydration after weight cut, but this doesn't always win fights. For a guy to be collected and stay within himself in the midst of one of the biggest moments of their lives, is far from easy, and comes with experience. Guys like Georges st. Pierre, or Jose Aldo do a tremendous job of staying relaxed as they enter the octagon to begin a fight. An important scenario in which this can make or break a fighter's night is when taking punishment on the ground, and in order to prevent a stoppage, they must keep their composure and stay alive. I believe this to be one of the most underrated traits, because even the fans tend to go crazy when watching a fight, and they, in turn react well when fighters reciprocate. Rory MacDonald showed great poise in his most recent victory over Nate Diaz. Not showing a hint of emotion while being showered with love by more than double the amount of people of previous UFC attendance records. "The Waterboy" is 21. And I thought it took experience.
5. Delivering Successful Elbows:
You are probably thinking, what is this guy thinking, of course elbows do damage, and often lead to knockouts. But while many of us know that elbows do a scary amount of damage to anyone receiving them, they are simply harder than they look to execute successfully (somewhat pun intended). Why is Jon "Bones" Jones so dominant? Sure he's got a freakish reach, but his elbows are the most devastating part of his game, just ask Brandon Vera. Anybody can throw an elbow, but it is those who have a sense of how to generate the most damage through using it. There is a reason why some elbows look powerful to the audience, and yet a fighter will sometimes just shake them off, and others look to be cruel and unusual. I believe that a successful elbow falls between the cracks, because every elbow thrown doesn't always result in a KO or TKO. Only the spot on, and unexpectedly well-timed elbows are deadly. In Gilbert Melendez's most recent victory over Tatsuya Kawajiri, the flurry of elbows landed at the end of the fight made Melendez look superhuman, and Kawajiri powerless, and a technique that can make the other fighter look like they have no chance, is key.