Sometimes an individual performance pushes an entire sport forward. Describing mixed martial arts, which is not yet 17-years-old in America, as modern is a relative term, but the 2005 Bonnar-Griffin Boom brought more than viewers with it. More attention and money entered the sport after that instant classic, increasing the athletic and technical quality of the fighters. Year by year progress is made inside the cage. Here are the five best contributions to mixed martial arts over the last five years.
At WEC 47, Dominick Cruz did his best Muhammed Ali impression by adapting foot shuffles, slips and sharp angles in a world where knees and kicks deter that aspect of the Sweet Science. Speed kills and Cruz had it to spare against the undefeated bantamweight champ Brian Bowles. Bowles, who finished his first five WEC opponents—all of whom were top-10 at the time of the fight—en route to capturing the belt, seemed stuck in limbo, never on offense or defense because Cruz’s footwork controlled the fight.
(Diaz uses his length, timing, and volume to overwhelm Zaromskis.)
The days of winging, rushing punches in mixed martial arts are numbered thanks to Nick Diaz’s June 2009 pillar-to-post beating of Scott Smith. The Stockton, Calif.-native landed punches at a will with little wasted motion, keeping range and diminishing his opponent’s desire to fight with the consistent attack.
Diaz hit Smith with 125 of 221 punches thrown in round two. That’s a pace professional boxers generally don’t maintain per round and they don’t need to worry about knees, kicks and takedowns. It’s indicative of his excellent cardio, which also allows him to recover fast enough to avoid danger when he ends up on the wrong end of a power strike.
Diaz’s endurance and output is too overwhelming, and he’s proven it at every weight class between 160 through 185-pounds.
(GSP vs. Hughes III at UFC 79.)
Striking, clinching and grappling are the three basic components of mixed martial arts. A fighter can be good in every area, but he or she becomes a great fighter in linking each skill to the next without missing a beat. And that’s the strength of UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre.
Against Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, B.J Penn, Jon Fitch and most recently Thiago Alves, “Rush” kept opponents focused on his stand-up while scoring takedowns and feints takedowns to land strikes. There may be better pure striking, clinch, and ground games in MMA, but the connective tissue of GSP’s game is so advanced that it negates any minor advantages his opponents may have.
(Rua was the first to solve Machida’s riddle.)
Mixed martial arts legend Frank Shamrock defines the sport as trying to inflict the most damage on an adversary while incurring the least amount possible oneself. Lyoto Machida’s May 23, 2009 knockout of 205-pound champion Rashad Evans at UFC 98 illustrated that concept perfectly. Machida’s style earned him a 16-0 undefeated record with a light heavyweight title to match. The Brazilian was a ghost, using an unorthodox stance to attack at will without ever placing himself in real danger.
Arguably the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound, Anderson Silva has defined dominance for mixed martial artists. He’s seen success in three weight classes over multiple champions, tied the record for consecutive UFC title defenses and is on the UFC’s longest winning streak with 10 straight. There are numerous reasons for this, but Silva’s true brilliance lies in his timing, the ability to lay back (or in the case of the Leben fight, retreat) until his opponent’s aggression leaves him exposed. His August 8, 2009 win over former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin at UFC 101 was the Brazilian’s most brilliant fight to date. “The Spider” stylishly tangled the superstar in his web and disposed of him like they were in different leagues just 3:23 into the first round.