Talk to someone who believes that the good ‘ole days of the UFC were so much better than the present, and they might tell you one reason for this was that in the past, it was all about style versus style. Judo versus wrestling. Karate versus Kung Fu. The allure to MMA was the answer to the question: Which Martial Art is the best? These people might tell you that today, MMA is just filled with a bunch of fighters who are clones of each other. Everyone can kick, punch, do jiujitsu, and wrestle, and everyone pretty much fights exactly the same. The days of style versus style are gone.
Well, guess what? Watch hockey, and everyone shoots, passes, and stick handles. Watch boxing, and everyone uses footwork, throws jabs, crosses, and uppercuts. Watch wrestling, and everyone goes for the takedown. If this is the level of nuance that your analysis takes, then of course you’re going to come to the conclusion that everyone is practically a clone of one another.
And yet, going in to the UFC’s twentieth year, not only is it still a sport of style versus style, there are more styles than ever. There are wrestlers, there are jiujitsu practitioners, and there are strikers. But these are not styles. These are umbrellas under which many styles exist.
Consider striking, you can pretty easily break that down into plenty of sub-styles. Nick Diaz and Junior Dos Santos are both primarily “boxers”, and yet their striking style contrasts heavily. Adlan Amagov and Lyoto Machida are both “Karate” practitioners, and yet Amagov favours more high kicks, whereas Machida emphasizes the reverse punch and step knee. Then consider other unorthodox strikers, like Cung Le, who’s style is nothing like anybody else’s in MMA.
And don’t fool yourself into thinking these differences only exist for strikers, consider the wrestlers too. Dominick Cruz heavily emphasizes knee tap takedowns. Ed Herman has a strong uchimata. Ronda Rousey attacks a lot of Ko Ouchi Gari. Dong Hyun Kim attacks a lot of single legs. Karo Parisyan was the master of shoulder throws. Nobody can time a double leg like Georges St. Pierre. Ben Askren’s chain wrestling is on a completely different level.
You see, to Rorion Gracie, the answer to the question of, “Which Style is Best?”, was a foregone conclusion. The answer was Gracie Jiujitsu, and the early UFC’s proved this. Unfortunately for Rorion, and fortunately for MMA fans, 20 years of UFC has given us the real answer.
The real answer is that there is no supreme style. If you are great on the ground, and you can take the fight there, you can be champion. If you are a great striker, and you can keep the fight standing, you can be the best in the world as well. Yes, fighters are getting more well rounded every year, but specialization still very much exists.
Today, the style versus style matchups in the UFC aren’t about what determining which style is best. That question has already been answered. The style versus style matchups that exist today are simply great representatives of different styles fighting each other, with no style having any inherent advantage over the others. A far more elegant answer exists, and one that means you’ll continue watching, to see how the strikers develop ways to stop the new ways wrestlers are trying to take them down, and vice versa.