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Historic MMA Rivalries, part 2: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu vs. Wrestling

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu vs. Wrestling
When Brock Lesnar faces the winner of UFC 92’s interim heavyweight championship bout between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria and Frank Mir, an age old question in MMA will be asked again.

Which martial art holds the bragging right of being called the best starting base for a mixed martial arts competition? This is a point that has been contested since as far back as fans can remember.

Royce Gracie made the case in the early UFC tournaments that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was the supreme discipline by showcasing BJJ’s superiority over traditional martial art techniques. Gracie’s ground display introduced the martial arts community to the importance of submissions and grappling.

However, traditional wrestlers also presented the case that wrestling should be considered in the discussion. Men like Dan Severn, Don Frye, Mark Coleman, Mark Kerr and Randy Couture captivated fans minds with impressive take downs, control and ground and pound.

Between the five great wrestlers are eight UFC tournament victories (open and heavyweight), two of them became UFC heavyweight champions,  one was a PRIDE FC 2000 Grand Prix champion and three are UFC Hall of Famers.

Fans first witness to the clash of styles occurred on December 16th 1994 at UFC 4. In the finals, a slim six foot one, hundred and seventy pound Royce Gracie took on six foot two, two hundred and forty plus pound Dan Severn.

The championship match lasted fifteen minutes and forty nine seconds. While Severn had been able to get the take down, he found himself in Gracie’s guard for the remainder of the fight. Against the fence Gracie had been able to apply a triangle choke and secured the submission win.

Gracie struck the first blow for BJJ in the quest to prove his technique reigned supreme over the rest. However, Gracie bowed out of UFC competition for eleven years following a super fight with Ken Shamrock at UFC 5.

Severn and his wrestling brethren would use their collegiate and international wrestling pedigrees to dominate the UFC for years to come.

The most decorated MMA champions tend to have a superb wrestling or BJJ background.

Couture, Matt Hughes and Dan Henderson all had great success in their amateur wrestling careers and would go onto become three of the most successful MMA champions of all time.

Nogueira became the first of only two men to ever hold the PRIDE FC heavyweight championship. “Minotauro” has been widely regarded as the best BJJ black belt the heavyweight division has or will ever see.

BJ Penn’s Jiu-Jitsu has become that of legend, while being the second man along with Randy Couture, to grab gold in two UFC weight classes.

For every Jake Rosholt or Muhammed Lawal that breaks out of wrestling, there will be a Robert Drysdale or Andre Galvao from the BJJ world making just as big as a case for their art.

Will either style be able to decisively declare one’s superiority over the other? Most likely, never. As long as there will be MMA competition the debate will never cease.

The evidence may never lean heavily in one’s favor and any answer will forever remain subjective and picked apart by fans and pundits.

(Editor’s Note:  Matt De La Rosa is doing a five part series on Historic MMA Rivalries. Here is a link to part one of this five part series which focused on Dream Stage Entertainment vs. Shukan Gendai and the fall of PRIDE FC.)

-Matt De La Rosa

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