Why Wrestling is the Best Skill in MMA
A discipline giving young fighters a head-start on the competition.
When the UFC first began it was billed as a contest of martial arts, asking the question - which style is most effective?
From the very first event, the answer to that question was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and specifically Gracie Jiu JItsu - not surprising as the event was essentially created by the Gracies to promote their family style.
Over the years the meta has changed as competitors began to mix martial arts in their own training. Anderson Silva deployed the muay thai clinch to devastating effect, and George St Pierre showed the strength of a good jab and a karate background for example.
But right now? The best martial art is wrestling. And the evidence for it, pardon the pun, is striking.
Of the seven current male UFC champions, five have a background in wrestling. And one of those five is Henry Cejudo, an Olympic gold medal wrestler who has both the fly and bantamweight straps.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s wrestling pedigree is well known, wrestling bear cubs as a child is a story that can’t help but spread. And that single-minded pursuit of grappling excellence has lead to the most one-sided MMA record in history with 27 straight wins.
Welterweight Champ Kamaru Usman was an NCAA Division 2 champion and a University World Team member in freestyle wrestling. Usman wrestled alongside light heavyweight champ Jon Jones in high school. Jones wrestled for Iowa Central Community College where he picked up a Junior Collegiate title.
And heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic is a former NCAA Division I wrestler, the highest collegiate competition in the US. He most recently won the title back from former dual division champion Daniel Cormier, one of the most decorated wrestlers in the competition.
Other big names with wrestling bases in MMA include Tatiana Suarez, Colby Covington, Chris Weidman, Yoel Romero, Tyron Woodley, Aljamain Sterling, Kelvin Gastelum, and the recently departed Cain Velasquez and Brock Lesnar.
Although his UFC run has been less successful, Ben Askren used his top tier wrestling chops to dominate Bellator and One Championship on his 19 fight unbeaten streak.
A wrestling base allows a fighter to determine how, and when, a fight will go to ground, and to dictate terms when they get there.
Striking focused fighters like former champs Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Robert Whittaker only managed to reach the pinnacle of their divisions by training the wrestling technique required to get back up once the fight goes to ground.
The legendarily brutal training regime necessary to compete at a high level in wrestling also lends itself to MMA competition. With routine weight cuts and a celebration of the grind, young wrestlers come to professional fighting with a headstart on other disciplines.
The world of MMA is constantly evolving, but at this present moment, wrestling dominates every other skill in the martial arts mix.