Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Continuous Evolution of MMA

When you have a sport that is barely over 17 years old, it's safe to assume that the ascension and evolution of that sport will grow at a rapid pace. However, when the sport is mixed martial arts, with so many different facets involved, it's even safer to assume that growth will be even faster. Yet, when you take a look at the continuous evolution of MMA, I don't think even the most hardcore fans could have imagined what we've witnessed in the last few months alone.

In November, 1993 when we first saw a tall lanky Brazilian named Royce Gracie disable and wrap up much larger opponents with an art form we were unfamiliar with, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we were amazed. At the time, everyone figured after 65 years of the Gracie family practicing and perfecting their art, it could not get much better. Well, last weekend's MMA action, which produced two different submission of the year candidates in one night, proved that even now over 80 years old, BJJ is ever-evolving; such is the case with MMA.

After those early days of the UFC, when the sport was much more referred to as NHB or 'No Holds Barred', we knew changes were inevitable if the sport was going to survive. There was no way open hand tournaments with at least three fights in one night was going to last. So, just eight years later in 2001, Zuffa Entertainment takes over a fledgling sport and legitimizes it with rules and regulations recognized by the New Jersey State Athletic Commission.

Now equipped with weight classes, gloves and governing bodies across the U.S., MMA as we know it had finally reached its potential; or so we thought. Just four years later, the sport hits mainstream television with its own reality show, 'The Ultimate Fighter'. However, no one could have expected that the finalists of that first season, Forrest Griffin and Stephen Bonner, would put on arguably the greatest fight in the sports history and change the face of the sport. After this, there's no way things can get any better, or could they?

Forget the last five plus years, the last few months alone have shown that MMA and its athletes are far from reaching their full potential. Take the last World Extreme Cagefighting Lightweight (155 lbs.) champion, Anthony 'Showtime' Pettis. Just three and a half months ago, in the final fight in WEC history, 'Showtime' lived up to his name by pulling off a move in the fifth and final round of his championship winning fight against former champ Ben Henderson.

(Pictured above) Pettis, right in line with the heat of the action, in one fell swoop, jumped off the cage and threw a round kick with the same leg he used to jump off the cage with. His target, Henderson's face, was reached with precise accuracy; Henderson was dropped, while Pettis with the grace of a Ballerina pounced on his opponent. We as fans were left screaming because we had never seen anything like it. There's no way another kick could be as astounding; or could it?

Less than two months later, Anderson 'The Spider' Silva throws and knocks out Vitor Belfort with the front kick heard round the world. After a lackluster and cautious first three minutes of their fight, Silva surprised Belfort, who was weary of 'the Spider's hands', with a pinpoint front kick delivered directly to Belfort's Jaw. The result, a KO and our unified reaction of wow! Front kicks in MMA aren't necessarily a weapon of choice, unless you're a 'Spider' of course.

However, as mentioned above, the advancements have not been made in striking alone. Jiu-Jitsu is a science unto itself and its seemingly limitless potential was superbly displayed last week in both Bellator and the UFC respectively. 205 lb. Rich Hale pulled off the second inverted triangle choke we've seen in the last two years and 'The Korean Zombie' Chang Sung Jung won his fight with the first ever 'twister' submission in MMA competition. These fantastic finishes are all just part of the continuous evolution of MMA.

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