Sunday, September 5, 2010
Wrestlers come full circle inside the Octagon
This past Thursday night, Bellator's first and original featherweight (145-lbs.) champion Joe Soto, lost his title via a surprising and devastating KO loss. His opponent was Bellator's season two tournament winner Joe Warren (pictured at left). Warren, a former decorated amateur wrestler, is just the latest to show that wrestlers have come full circle when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts.
While Warren's exceptional wrestling skills never fully came into play in this bout, it was obvious that his wrestling played a major part. It was because of those skills that Soto chose to keep the fight standing, a strategy that seemed to be working to perfection as he was beating Warren to the punch in Round One and looked like he may finish him.
Alas, that was not to be the case as Warren, with that "never say die" wrestler's mentality came back in Round Two and caught Soto with a punch that dropped him. When a dazed Soto valiantly got up to fight back, Warren showed the total evolution of his game as he finished Soto with a devastating knee to the jaw, followed by a fury of punches on the ground before the referee stopped it.
To truly understand the impact of wrestlers in MMA history and how far their evolution has come, just take a look back to the beginning and see where they're at today. Nearly 16 years ago in December 1994, at UFC 4, the first pure wrestler that ever stepped into the Octagon, Dan 'The Beast' Severn, ran through his first two opponents winning by submission in less than three minutes total. He nearly won the title in his first tournament as he took the legend Royce Gracie to the edge with over fifteen minutes of ground and pound before getting caught in a triangle choke.
Severn came back and won the UFC 5 tournament along with the 'Ultimate Ultimate 1995' tournament title, eventually becoming a UFC Hall of Famer. More importantly though, he opened the door for other wrestlers to come in and show they had a place in MMA, which is exactly what they did.
Over time, some of MMA's greatest fighters and champions have come from wrestling backgrounds. Just look at the names and their accomplishments, Randy Couture, five times UFC Champion in two weight classes and a UFC Hall of Famer. Matt Hughes, two-time welterweight champion, a UFC Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest welterweight to date; relax GSP fans, I said to date. Dan Henderson, former Pride middleweight and light heavyweights champion.
Those great former champions walked through the door for wrestlers that Severn had opened and created their own room. Now that room is filled with numerous young fighters and current champions that too have come from that tight inner circle of wrestling, but now they bring with them the understanding that wrestling alone won't get it done in MMA.
When fighters became weary of how to defend and develop strategies against wrestlers in the cage, these young grapplers evolved their games to include striking and submission and have become the dominant force in MMA once again. The proof is in the pudding.
Frankie Edgar, UFC lightweight champion and fresh off two wins against the legend BJ Penn, is a former All-American Wrestler from Clarion University. Brock Lesnar, who inevitably won the UFC heavyweight title from Randy Couture, is a former national champion from Minnesota. Chael Sonnen, former All-American at University of Oregon and Olympic team alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling, just took the previously invincible Anderson Silva to the brink of defeat over five rounds before getting caught in a submission. Even Georges St. Pierre, whose background isn't even wrestling, has become so proficient at it he uses it more than any other skill.
In other promotions as well, wrestling has shown to be a dominant force with its champions and contenders. Muhammed Lawal, the recent former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, was an All-American from Oklahoma State and a Division II national champion. Jake Shields, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, was a two-time All-American wrestler at Cuesta College before becoming a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt.
In the WEC, Scott Jorgensen, former All-American from Boise State, is the #1 contender for the bantamweight title. As is Ben Askren, former two-time national champion and 2008 Olympic team member, who'll be challenging Lyman Good next month for the Bellator welterweight title.
This brings us back to Warren and his big win. With a total of only seven MMA fights, (6-1, 2 KO's) in a year and a half, Warren not only has won a major world title, but more importantly he has showed that he is much more than a wrestler in the cage. He along with the aforementioned champions above and many others in the various organizations have shown that wrestlers are not only here in MMA, but they've come full circle inside the Octagon.
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