The Ultimate Fight Collection 2012 Contest: Sweatpants Ninjas - The phantom black belts of the UFC



Alright, I'm going to preface this whole thing by saying, I mean no disrespect to any fighter I mention here. This is not meant to question their ability to fight, some of these are my favorite fighters to watch. My goal is only to talk about one of the more interesting backwaters of MMA and it's appearance in the UFC.

That being said, I recently decided to take a browse through the UFC's rosters and see who had black belts, and what those belts were in. The results were a little surprising. First and foremost, there are a lot of black belts in the UFC (around 100). Second of all, and this was something I really didn't expect to find, (but in retrospect makes a lot of sense) as you go down the weight classes you get fewer and fewer black belts. Part of this may be due to the shallowness of my research (wikipedia), but if I had to take a real guess at it I would say that it's probably because the lower weight fighters are better athletes, and as better athletes spent much of their younger years playing other sports (that they eventually became too small for) instead of studying martial arts and earning their black belts. Of the 100 or so black belts I ran across I would say close to 75% of them were at lightweight and above.

Any way, all that is beside the point. The real point here, and my reason for writing the article is that it surprised me to see how many fighters had black belts in areas that in no distinct way represented the way they fought. Here is my list of "phantom black belts" and the martial arts in which they hold those belts:

Frank Mir (Kenpo)
Gabriel Gonzaga (BJJ)
Minotauro Nogueira (Judo)
Fabricio Werdum (Muay Thai/Judo)
Antonio Silva (BJJ/Judo/Karate)
Vitor Belfort (BJJ/Judo)
Rashad Evans (BJJ/Gaidojutsu)
Forrest Griffin (BJJ)
Brandon Vera (BJJ)
Lyoto Machida (BJJ)
Thiago Silva (BJJ)
Mauricio Rua (BJJ)
Stanislav Nedkov (BJJ)
Anderson Silva (Judo)
Alessio Sakara (BJJ)
Wanderlei Silva (BJJ)
Tim Boetsch (Jeet Kune Do)
Tim Credeur (Judo)
Court McGee (Shin-Toshi)
Cezar Ferreira (BJJ)
Hector Lombard (BJJ)
Josh Koscheck (Guerilla Jiu Jitsu)
Georges St. Pierre (Gaido jutsu/Shidokan)
Amir Sadollah (Sambo)
Paulo Thiago (Judo)
Stephen Thompson (BJJ)
Diego Sanchez (Gaidojutsu)
Jeremy Stephens (BJJ)
Mark Bocek (Kempo)
Ross Pearson (Taekwondo)
Jose Aldo (BJJ)
Nam Phan (Quyen Dao)
Felipe Arantes (Muay Thai)
Rony Mariano Bezerra (Kickboxing)
John Dodson (Gaidojutsu)

Now obviously, some of these I knew about, fighters like Lyoto Machida, Shogun Rua, and Anderson Silva have had their various skills touted to hell and back. So I'm not arguing that everyone on here is surprising. But there are a lot of weird ones; black belts in kick boxing, muay thai, and sambo don't really exist, and the idea of Jeremy Stephens, Thiago Silva, or Alessio Sakara spending enough time not punching someone to get a BJJ black belt is the sort of thing I'll be chuckling about days from now. Of course there are a few on there that I've never heard of like gaidojutsu (Greg Jacksons patented martial arts system), quyen dao, and guerrilla jiu jitsu, and a bunch that feel underutilized more than fictitious.

All of this begs the question, why take the time to become very good at something that's supposed to help you be a good fighter, if you're not actually going to use it a lot to be a good fighter. I did a little more research (google) and was surprised to find that the time it should take to earn a black belt is somewhere between 3 and 5 years if you're taking classes twice a week. That seems like an incredibly short amount of time, especially considering the touted time it takes to become a master at something is 10000 hours (look it up it's not my idea). So that being said, it could be, and probably is the case that many black belts mean next to nothing, and that's a little sad. It's sort of re-experiencing the lie that the early days of MMA first taught us, that that 3rd degree black belt in Joe Son Do is probably not worth the cloth its printed on.

All told, it's fascinating to me that traditional martial arts are not uncommon within the MMA community, even at it's elite levels, but many of them are incredibly under utilized. And all of this isn't to say there isn't a real home in MMA for the traditional martial artist. Fighters like Lyoto Machida, Dong Hyun Kim, and Cung Le have all made decent careers out of exotic skills. What it really says is that somewhere along the way we're told that a black belt means something. Whether it's from kung fu movies, over zealous announcers, or handle-bar mustachioed, parachute-pant wearing, mini-mall masters, we are led to believe that black belts are the elite of martial arts, and they just aren't.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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