The Roger Gracie vs Kennedy fight was an eye-opener. The best BJJ guy ever was consistently out-grappled by the most average guy in MMA. To his credit, Kennedy is a solid fighter with few weaknesses, but he is a high level gatekeeper at best. Recall that Kennedy got severely out grappled by Mayhem when he still had knees. If Tim had out struck Gracie on the feet, that would have made more sense but he out grappled Gracie. He even reversed the back mount in the first round which was shocking from a jiujitsu perspective.
How did this happen. I blame the gi. Roger famously said that 80% of bjj is useless in MMA and I think gi jiujitsu is implied here. Obviously no one expects to see berimbolos and spider guard in MMA but there are many other mundane positions that do not translate as well. Roger is a perfect example since he excelled at closed guard, judo, mount and collar chokes. All of these positions drastically loose effectiveness without the gi and I think we need to rethink training and bjj credentials as MMA grappling evolves. It’s scary to say this but Eddy Bravo was dead on right in diagnosing the problem with the gi and mma.
The sport bjj landscape is still dominated by the Gi. Most of large tournaments are gi tournaments and the very top no gi guys only care about ADCC every other year. Most gyms still have a large majority of gi classes. I think this is all because the no gi grappling game is still in its infancy. Instructors know more in the gi so they teach more in the gi. Many top level competitors have a no gi game that’s just a watered down version of what they do in the gi (Mendes, Cobrina, Lo). No gi popularity has grown over the last 5 years but it will have to continue to grow before we can expect a high level of ground technique in the UFC and I think Maia is currently showing one path of techniques.
Demian Maia is a very interesting case to follow. In his early career, he dominated everyone with a more classic jiujitsu. He played submissions from his back and caught a lot of good people in triangles. Then he famously tried to win fights with a "more open MMA game" and racked up some losses. His last 3 fights at WW have been a return to his roots but the jiijitsu of Maia3.0 is very different than his first UFC fights. He doesn’t play guard any more and he really doesn’t try to shoot much. His new game is all about the clinch, the cage, body locks, singles and back mount. His success of doing the same thing 5 rounds in a row against wrestlers and a judo guys speaks for itself. Pat Healy plays a similar game and his Miller fight shows the effectiveness of the clinch to cage style of MMA grappling. Guys like Jim Miller and Lauzon have great submissions (and are so fun to watch) but these guys play a high risk submission game. Guys like Phil Davis and Weidman have good submission games but they to lack the positional control and prefer to hit transitional submissions. Right now, I see only Maia, Jacare and maybe Healy winning with offensive bjj at the highest level. (We can debate the flaws of other guys like Werdum and Magalhaes later).
Maia is a bright spot in this narrative because he has seemingly found a group of techniques that lets him control a fight at his pace and look for the finish. I hope that he continues to have success and that other bjj transitioners like Jacare and Drysdale can show adapted techniques to pave the way, but I think sport BJJ scene has to change if we want to see a higher stander of bjj in the cage.