It’s another massive fight week in Vegas. A championship fight tops the card, and the next contender will be decided in the co-main event. I can’t help but think that regardless of who emerges as the champion and his next challenger, the real winner will be jiu-jitsu.
Several years ago, there were serious questions about jiu-jitsu’s declining impact in MMA. Pure BJJ fighters like Thales Leites, Damian Maia, and Javier Vasquez had fizzled out of the top tier. Promising prospects from the grappling world like Andre Galvao suffered key losses. Even the legendary Roger Gracie lost his UFC debut to Tim Kennedy.
Jiu-jitsu practitioners had a moment of panic. Not only could we not find “the next guy”, but it seemed like the gentle art was increasingly harder to find in the octagon. A few fighters began to confidently proclaim that “Jiu-jitsu doesn’t work.” Although we would never admit it, maybe we started to wonder ourselves. Where were the killer jiu-jitsu fighters in the UFC? The closed guard seemed out of date. Triangles and armbars were suddenly low percentage at the highest levels. The Gracie clan had failed to produce a champion in some time. All this while college wrestlers seemed to be getting by with a single skill-set.
The Art of Surviving. . .Survived.
But our fears were silly. After all, jiu-jitsu is about two things: survival and adaptation, and it’s done both in MMA. In 2018, despite the fact there are very few pure BJJ fighters in the UFC, the art is more relevant than ever. It’s popularity will always see spikes and dips. But it’s not going anywhere in combat sports.
In the last five or so years we’ve seen a new breed of grappler emerge. A well rounded one, who is using striking and grappling seamlessly. The time of the exclusive grappler, who drags people to the mat and engages in the long process of control and positioning, is over. Instead we have a new breed of submission snipers, who will drop you with strikes and dive into a submission in practically one motion.
Nowadays, we are seeing submissions come primarily from scrambles and split second openings. Fighters are more willing than ever to blend their striking and submission game. If a sub isn’t there, they won’t spend time forcing it. They’ll return to standing or striking on the ground. They have largely dispensed with traditional guard passing and methodical setups. Instead, they are opportunists.
The New Faces of Jiu-Jitsu in the UFC
We’ve seen it over and over in the recent past. Brian Ortega trades on the feet with Cub Swanson before jumping on a standing guillotine. Angela Lee alternating between an anaconda choke and standing knees against Istela Nunes. Rose Namajunas finishing half her fights by rear naked choke, yet still being able to out-strike Joanna Jędrzejczyk.
Hell, TJ Dillishaw is the poster boy for striking in MMA, and he truck rolled into a calf slicer against John Lineker.
Saturday night will see two incredible submission artists square off in Anthony Pettis and Tony Ferguson. Both are seen as complete fighters. Pettis has a highlight reel of knockouts and cage jumping ninja kicks. It’s easy to forget that his famous match with Benson Henderson was won largely because of his superior jiu-jitsu.
His opponent, Tony Ferguson, also flies under the radar as a jiu jitsu fighter. Six of his fourteen UFC victories have come by submission. He’s a flag bearer for the 10th Planet system in MMA. Tony’s striking is well developed, he has scored numerous knockouts in his career. Yet it’s been his submission game that has carried him this deep into the lightweight division.
Making the Gentle Art Deadly Again
Finally, it’s good to see jiu-jitsu more offensive than ever. There was a time when jiu-jitsu was like insurance: you needed it just in case. Closing guard, getting two on one, and hipping out was the jiu-jitsu starter kit for MMA. But the elite fighters in the UFC are showing the world how to attack with submissions again. There may not be many “pure BJJ fighters”, but you gotta wonder. . .do we even need them anymore?
So let’s enjoy the fights the weekend, with the knowledge that jiu jitsu in MMA is doing just fine.
If you enjoyed this article by me and are looking for a longer read, I wrote a book about modern cults in the martial arts on Amazon.
I also have other articles on youjiujitsu.com, like this one on adapting your game against larger opponents.