In MMA, when all else is equal, size matters. This is the very reason we have weight classes. So when the bigger, stronger athlete wins should we really be surprised? Are we coming to a point in the UFC where skill sets are getting close enough together that we can blindly pick the faster, stronger, bigger, more athletic guy and expect him to win? I think the answer is clear.
In the lead up to the UFC on Fox 5 there was much hype around BJ Penn being motivated and in shape. Mostly this was self professed but the media and fans ate it up with gusto. Why? Watching the “Road to the Octagon” we were given an opportunity to watch pudgy BJ lounging around his home, doing lunges in a field, and rolling at a slow pace on the mats. On the other hand, we saw a chiseled Rory doing strength and conditioning training with NHL players, and sparring with a markedly different speed and intensity. At the weigh-ins BJ did not look cut up, or in good shape, he looked like the pudge face we saw against Lyoto Machida many moons ago. In stark contrast we had a mean Rory looking much larger, bursting with well defined muscles. If you asked 10 lay persons who knew nothing about MMA which of these two would win in a fight, 10 of them would say Rory. Which is why it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me when Rory man handled a much smaller, slower BJ. Common sense tells us we shouldn’t have expected the lightning fast BJ of years gone by that ko’d Matt Hughes with a single punch.
And yet the story would repeat itself twice more on last nights card.
Shogun vs. Gustaffsson. Again in the pre fight hype, Ariel Helwani led the charge commenting on how Shogun looks to be in shape with some abs visible. To be fair Shogun has carried around a little extra around the waist since coming to the UFC but a quick glance at the weigh in’s was all one needed to say, that the Mauler was clearly the one in better shape. Add to that a massive height and reach discrepancy and again you’re looking at what in the eyes of most lay people would be an easy pick.
Ben Henderson vs. Nate Diaz. One of Ben Henderson’s thighs alone outweigh Nate Diaz. Nate Diaz may be a tri-athlete with cardio for days but tri-athletes are not fighters. While being a bean pole may help in a triathlon or in a marathon, it doesn’t give you the power necessary to smash and throw generally associated with combat sports. The build of an Olympic wrestler will never be confused with that of an Olympic marathon runner and for very obvious reason. The two bodies are built to do very different things. Again 10 out of 10 lay people would choose the dude with the body of an Adonis vs. the dude that looks like he’s never seen protein (or has been on a vegan/raw food diet for the last decade).
With the exception of Anderson Silva (who isn’t really human and therefore doesn’t count) vs. Bonnar, the last few main events show the bigger more athletic dude winning: GSP beats Condit, Bones beats Vitor, Henderson beats Edgar.
Athleticism will soon be the most important factor in the majority of the UFC’s bouts. That is simply part of the evolution of any sport.
1. In the early stages skills are what allow one to be successful.
2. As skill levels get closer together, athleticism becomes the main source of success.
3. Eventually only the most superior athletes will be competing against each other at which point skills will once again predominate.
I suspect the UFC is currently in the second phase of this evolution. Also I’m sure the cycle repeats itself which is why records are continuously being broken in every sport as athletes continue to get better and better.