Opinion: Wrestling, Its Standouts and Its Role In MMA
By Jesse Heitz
Wrestling is an ancient sport. Perhaps more importantly, it’s an integral part of an ancient combat system. It can be traced in the Western World at least to Ancient Greece. It was a vital component of the ancient Greeks’ fighting system called Pankration, a system considered to be a forefather to modern Mixed Martial Arts. Pankration was fighting art so efficient and effective at disabling ones opponents that during an Olympic games, the Athenians invited their arch-rivals, the Spartans, to come and participate. The Athenians had the audacity to outlaw a few techniques, the Spartans balked and refused to partake in the games.
Now history lesson aside, MMA has progressed considerably in the intervening 2,500 years, but the imprint of wrestling on MMA has not faded since the days it fueled Pankration in the land of Pericles and Leonidas. It still has a tendency to dominate the MMA landscape.
In a recent post-fight interview published by the Bleacher Report, Bellator’s Ben Askren, commented on not only the state of wrestling within MMA, but his proficiency in said art, stating,
“I’m a wrestler, I’m the best wrestler in MMA. Wrestling is, was and always has been the most dominant mixed martial art on the planet. That’s all there is to it. We all know it, some people want to fight it, some people want to doubt it, but wrestlers rule the MMA world.”
Let’s focus on his last point first. In today’s MMA world it’s hard to argue against Askren’s position. Wrestlers overwhelmingly rule the top promotion’s weight classes. However, this statement is limited. Today, where the premier promotions essentially all feature a cage it can come as no surprise that wrestling often carries the day. Yet, a decade ago when Pride was going toe-to-toe with the UFC, it was more difficult to see the dominance of wrestling.
The ability to restrict movement and pin an opponent into a corner against the wall unquestionably gives wrestling a powerful edge. Without soccer kicks and stomps to the head, there’s a reduced ability to punish your opponent for each failed shot. No one can doubt the necessity of being proficient in a skill set that allows you to determine where the fight will go, but it also cannot be denied that the prevalent rules and cage format provide wrestlers with distinct advantages that don’t truly reflect its effectiveness in unadulterated combat.
In closing, we must examine Askren’s first point, which is highly debatable. Certainly we can’t fault a fighter for indulging in a little self-glorification, but we can examine the veracity of his statement. Sure, he’s a NCAA All-American, an NCAA National Champion, and Olympic competitor. However, is his brand of MMA wrestling superior than that of Georges St-Pierre, who has handled NCAA All-Americans as if they were child’s play? I think not.