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The Evolution of MMA Relies on the American Wrestler

Jon Fitch batters Diego Sanchez from top control. Is American wrestling truly stifling the growth of MMA?
Jon Fitch batters Diego Sanchez from top control. Is American wrestling truly stifling the growth of MMA?

Over the past week or two, many major MMA media sites and blogs have been running opinion pieces in parallel with Michael Schiavello's piece at talking about the potential for American wrestling stifling the growth of mixed martial arts. Schiavello's opinion ultimately dwindles down to the point that the mixed martial artists must continue to evolve and learn:

Fighters like Anderson Silva, Georges St Pierre, Gegard Mousasi, Fedor Emelianenko and Lyoto Machida continue to put the martial arts into Mixed Martial Arts and showcase the type of amazing, all-round, multi-skilled and high-level athlete this sport can produce. And more than ever before, it is the likes of Silva, Fedor, Mousasi, and St Pierre who must not rest on their laurels (as perhaps Mousasi did in preparing for King Mo) and need to keep working hard to maintain that edge, knowing that America’s superb and powerful wrestlers are the next wave to hit MMA (just as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was the first wave) and they can either learn how to surf that wave to victory or be drowned beneath its force.

I completely agree with Schiavello's stance here, and it saddens me that a lot of MMA media is quick to point that the piece is basically saying Schiavello is anti-wrestling. I'd take the opposite view and state that Schiavello is pro-mixed martial arts.

There are plenty of fighters near the top of each weight class who don't call "wrestling" their primary offensive weapon to victory. B.J. Penn, Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, and Jose Aldo come to mind, but there are the wrestlers of the style mentioned in the piece like Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Georges St. Pierre, Brock Lesnar, and countless others who do encompass all the attributes of a wrestler who will completely neutralize and punish their opponents from the top.

The answer has either been to outwrestle these types of fighters and implement your own top control game, or in the case of fighters like Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Lyoto Machida, Fedor Emelianenko, or Anderson Silva -- be absolutely head and shoulders above those fighters in most areas of your skill-set while also possesses some skills to counter a wrestler.

While some of these fighters have yet to battle a positionally dominant wrestler, some in this group have evolved their repertoire for skills to counter these smothering competitors. Fedor's transition skills in combination with his submission ability took out Olympians like Matt Lindland and Mark Coleman while Anderson Silva's intimidating striking and underrated ground skills choked out Dan Henderson. Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Bibiano Fernandes was able to submit an Olympic gold-medal favorite in Joe Warren in Japan.

Sure, we could argue that many of these names never evolved or learned the other areas they needed to learn in order to be successful, but that's exactly the point I'm making. These other martial arts such as Judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Karate have caused many of these wrestlers to explore those areas in order to defend techniques against their own skill-set, but are the complete mixed martial artists evolving to account for their deficiency in wrestling?

Georges St. Pierre is probably one of the better examples of this as he's never been some sort of whiz on the ground in terms of submissions, nor has he ever been an Anderson Silva-esque striker. He added a powerful tool in wrestling, and his dedication has made him one of the best wrestlers in the UFC's welterweight division who doesn't possess national wrestling champion credentials.

I think the dominating top control style of American wrestlers is actually helping many of the athletes in this sport evolve considerably. Sure, wrestlers have an advantage in that they can move toward the top of their weight class using primarily a wrestling skill-set with some knowledge of how to strike from the top and basic submissions, but they do need to learn the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in order to avoid submissions. Eventually, they'll run into a complete fighter who has the strength and knowledge to stuff takedowns, and their failure will be imminent when said opponent happens to know how to strike effectively.

It's a fighter's job to evolve and add skills to their arsenal to neutralize those types of gameplans, and if they can't stop a NCAA Division I champion from pounding the life out of them -- They've got some work to do.

Some would say that this stance really isn't the issue, that the real issue is that these ground n' pound specialists create boredom in the fight game. The real dilemma is that straight wrestlers must evolve because there is an appeal factor that upper-tier promotions require from their fighters. Simply take a look at Yushin Okami's career path and style in the past. Luckily, he put on a dizzying display of boxing in his last fight, and now Dana White seems to be singing praises about him.

There is a two-front resistance when we talk about wrestling in MMA. They can win dominantly in boring fashion and progress their careers, but there is a level of career progression that they hit before being a dominating wrestler just doesn't cut it. Beating top competition in stale fashion from top control works, but evolving offers more benefits such as pay-per-view time, bonuses, more pay, and the chance to become a fan-favorite star. 

Some fighters will tell you that they simply don't care and want to win, and as much as I love Antonio McKee -- the guy falls into a category of fighter that will never progress a Strikeforce or UFC level. He's rather old, but if he were say... 25 years old and as dominant as he is from top control, he'd still be slugging it out in the minors. For this reason alone, wrestlers will evolve, at least at the upper levels. 

Just like Brazilian jiu-jitsu., wrestling will help evolve the sport. Fighters had to suddenly learn the art of BJJ in order to compete in mixed martial arts instead of being bar-room brawlers, and now we're at a new level. Not only has the sport evolved into what it is today, but now we're seeing the skills of wrestling evolve it even further. 

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