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(Maia is a BJJ true believer.)
As you know, BJJ practitioners dominated early MMA with their submission game. Today, I can’t think of a single UFC champ or even top contender other than Maia who even tries to submit an opponent unless they’re already rocked by strikes on the feet or from ground and pound. Is the age of BJJ over? Has the submission game proven to be just a bag of tricks that fighters need to learn but that can’t really be used effectively against a skilled opponent?
There’s no question that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu dominated the early days of mixed martial arts with a degree of ease that we don’t see today. The age of a BJJ practitioner being able to pull guard and have a wrestler or striker tapping a minute later are, for the most part, gone. However, that is more a function of the growth of the sport than the age of BJJ being over. With everyone (except perhaps James Toney) realizing that submission defense is a minimum requirement for success in the cage, the playing field has been leveled quite a bit in comparison to the early days. But you can say that about almost any aspect of MMA. After BJJ dominated the early UFC’s, wrestling became the dominant style. Now, with strikers training takedown defense, the number of guys who can go in and immediately establish control with takedowns is a fraction of what it was in the late 90’s. The other factor at play here is that fighters are training numerous disciplines and undergoing strength and conditioning programs every day. If an athlete trains BJJ for five hours per day they will certainly be a better submission artist than if they training BJJ for one hour, striking for an hour, etc. But, in that latter scenario, he would be a better mixed martial artist.
I agree with you that many successful submissions come after an opponent has been softened up with strikes but many attempts occur early in a takedown as well. Again, I think that speaks to the evolution of fighters and their proficiency of defending subs when fresh, something early MMA fighters couldn’t do. Of course, that proficiency declines with each successive blow. There’s an old saying that goes something like, “Punch a BJJ black belt in the face and they turn into a brown belt.” While that depends on who’s doing the punching, we’ve seen that type of scenario play out many times in the cage.
(Seriously, does it even matter who he fights, and do you care?)
I know that BJ and Anderson are fighting on UFC 112 but I’m having a hard time getting excited about the event. I just don’t see any way that Frankie Edgar and Demian Maia can beat them and the fights just don’t look competitive. Who do you think has the better chance of winning…Edgar or Maia?
Sarasota Springs, FL
I’m actually excited for the event because I enjoy watching BJ and Anderson fight under any circumstances. And Renzo vs. Hughes should be interesting to see, especially with Hughes not being the dominant fighter he was when he beat Royce Gracie at UFC 60 in 2006. And Dos Anos vs. Etim has the makings of Fight of the Night.
All that said, a lot of fans share your feeling that the top of the card has some serious mismatches. The sports books agree with you as well with both BJ and Anderson coming in as -700 to -800 favorites. While I think both of them will prevail (not exactly stepping out on a ledge there, am I?), Demian has the greater chance of an upset. If Frankie has any edge in his fight with BJ it might be cardio, although I can’t say with any confidence that’s true. BJ has displayed no cardio issues whatsoever at 155 in utterly dominating Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez, two guys known for their cardio. Penn was clearly the fresher guy in the championship rounds. At 170 BJ has displayed cardio issues, but not at 155. Let’s call cardio a draw and give the striking and jits to BJ rather comfortably. While Frankie is a great wrestler, it’s been years, yes, years since anyone at 155 has taken BJ down.
While Anderson has a ridiculous striking advantage over Maia (and everyone else at 185), Maia has a clear submission advantage. Yes, I know that Anderson got the better of Travis Lutter on the ground, but Maia is light years ahead of Lutter. Remember that Lutter had full mount on Silva in the first round and gassed badly. I think the only way to beat Anderson is on the ground and Maia has the best ground submission game in the UFC’s Middleweight division. Do I think he’ll win? No. But at least there is a plausible path to victory for him.
My question is about the mythical pound for pound rankings. Couldn’t a strong case be made for Shane Carwin finding his way on to the list? And what about Lesnar? I don’t see either one of them at the top of the list yet, but shouldn’t they be in the top ten?
Let’s start with the guys we know occupy the top of the list and then we can compare whether Shane and/or Brock deserve to bump one of the remaining group off the rankings. The seven untouchables for me are as follows…
1. Anderson Silva
4. BJ Penn
That leaves three spots up for grabs. The fighters most often spoken about for those spots most often include Dan Henderson, Shogun Rua, Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber, Jon Fitch and Jake Shields. I think Faber has to beat Aldo to get back on, Fitch has to start winning more impressively against top competition and Shields has to either beat Hendo or take on top 170’s in the UFC. That leaves Hendo, Shogun and Cruz. Hendo holding world titles in two divisions and winning three straight puts him at number 8 for me.
So the final question becomes how you rank Carwin, Rua, Lesnar and Cruz. I put Cruz last of that group because four of his five WEC wins are decisions and weren’t bell-to-bell dominant performances that simply went the distance. This is a very subjective list, but that is part of the equation for me. Shogun takes eleventh on my list because he’s 2-2 in the UFC with his two wins over Mark Coleman (since released from the UFC) and Chuck Liddell for the Iceman’s fourth loss in five fights.
Now for the surprise. Ninth on my list is someone I haven’t even mentioned yet and you never see on P4P lists…Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos. She’s 9-1, losing her first ever MMA fight in 2005 and going undefeated since while ripping through the women’s division and becoming the first ever Women’s MMA World Champion. That leaves the ten spot to either Shane or Brock. The easy answer is that the winner of their July fight earns the ranking, but one of them should be there right now and I’d have to give the slightest edge to Shane. He’s 12-0, all by first round stoppage, and his fights last an average of 1:21. They have a common opponent in Frank Mir, who Brock split two fights with and Shane KO’d in round one.
Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio. Follow him on Twitter @LarryPepe.