It has become common for MMA commentators and journalists to say that all fighters in MMA need to be well-rounded. In their estimation the days of Royce Gracie dominating everyone with straight jiu jitsu are over and in many ways they are correct. Royce Gracie’s return to the Octagon at UFC 60 against Matt Hughes did not go very well. On top of that more and more fighters are benefiting from cross-training. Like most things in this still budding sport, if enough people say something it becomes a “truth”.
By now “you need to be well-rounded in MMA” is a commandment that holds about as much weight as “thou shall not steal,” but then this past weekend there was UFC 95. In one of the featured bouts of the evening Demian Maia stepped into the cage against Chael Sonnen. In his last bout, Sonnen was able to use his high caliber wrestling in reverse and outpoint the troubled Paulo Filho. Many thought that the Team Quest fighter would have a similar advantage against Maia.
Maia looked out of his element on the feet. He sort of ran at Sonnen with his hands above his face. Despite his amateurish stand up game Maia was able to get the fight to the ground and finish it quickly with a triangle choke. No one in their right mind would say that Maia is well-rounded, but then again he is also now the hot pick for a shot at Anderson Silva after Thales Leites.
How could Maia have won? He doesn’t have any muay thai or boxing. Instead of trying to use secondary skills, Maia stuck to his bread and butter style, jiu jitsu. On the very same card the exact opposite occurred in the first televised fight of the night. Josh Koscheck, the NCAA champion wrestler, showed faith in his new found stand up game, and was summarily knocked out for his efforts.
Demian Maia is not the only fighter in MMA today who succeeds using only their prowess in one discipline of fighting. Shinya Aoki is one of the top lightweights in the world, ranked number two on the official PRO MMA (promma.info) rankings and number one on WAMMA’s lightweight list. His ‘grappling only’ style has carried him to many wins over fighters considered more well-rounded. Where are all the calls for Aoki to start learning muay thai? There are none. In fact, if Aoki dedicated a lot of time to striking and came out wanting to bang, the result would probably not be too pretty.
So while those caught up in the prevailing current of MMA preach the well-rounded game, meaningful superiority in one discipline can still be extremely effective. Like Maia said in his post fight interview, “I want to show the jiu jitsu to the world and I want to show to the people that you can win the fight without hurting your opponent.” To MMA fans this shouldn’t be a new lesson. Actually the lesson is about as old as the UFC itself. If he is somehow able to win the UFC Middleweight title, who is going to tell him to work on his striking?
By: Richard Mann