The ultimate Ultimate Fighting Champion
August 12, 2011 12:19 PM   Subscribe

So what is "the most dominant" fighting style? Many years ago, I read that one of the driving forces behind mixed martial arts/ultimate fighting was an interest in answering questions like, "Who is the better fighter? The boxer who just whales on his opponent, or the karate black belt who is adept at a broad range of attacks and defenses?" This question of course could be applied to any pair of different styles, and of course the ultimate question is, "Which is the best overall?"

I admit I've never watched MMA, and I don't even know if this question actually does interest fans, so this is just idle curiosity on my part. But to the extent MMA fans do care, has it ever been answered in any meaningful way? Are there any particular fighting styles that really do stand above others? Are there styles that tend to emerge victorious more often? Has anyone ever conducted anything like an analysis of these kinds of competitions over the years to see if any trends have emerged?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
My casual observer's understanding is that brazilian jujitsu is the basic platform for fighting in MMA.
posted by Marquis at 12:36 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The two most commonly employed martial arts in MMA appear to be Muy Thai kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu depending on whether the fighters are standing up or on the ground. Given the point is to either knock your opponent out or get them to submit, a lot of other martial arts aren't as useful.
posted by tommasz at 12:36 PM on August 12, 2011


The best style? It depends on the surroundings. MMA is almost certainly best in the octagon (able to fight standing up and sure to defeat a karate master if things go to the ground), but perhaps not in a bar fight.

Why not?

1 - A jiu jitsu ground fighter is exceedingly vulnerable if the person he's grappling brought a friend to the bar, and most people do. Having one opponent in the guard position does little good if another is free to wander around to kick you in the head. Here a karate master might have an advantage, being optimally trained to keep several opponents at bay.

2 - So you've got your opponent in a triangle lock, choking him out. Great! Then the police arrive. Even if you were attacked, you'll have a hard time in court arguing that strangling was self-defense. MMA trained fighters are not very good at looking innocent.

The most practical real life fighting style is parkour. Someone sucker punched you in the head? Quick, hop the bar, triangle jump up the wall and dive out that tiny little window way up near the ceiling. You stay safe, there's no trouble with the police and you're in another bar ten minutes later. Five if you go rooftop to rooftop.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:37 PM on August 12, 2011 [21 favorites]


From my view: Jiu Jitsu used to be the dominant MMA style, and there used to be more of a focus on martial arts, but those who have a wrestling/grappling background tend to be dominant within the last 5 years or so. There is also a strong belief -- or at least through smack talk and the like -- that wrestlers can more easily learn the skills of jiu jitsu/martial arts where the skills from a lifetime of wrestling are harder to pick up.

This is, of course, all fairly subjective... and my basis is sadly not because of my kickass fighting background but based on filtering others opinions as a fan of the sport and the reality show The Ultimate Fighter. and my opinion is probably tainted by my high opinion of wrestlers.

Also there's different sized guys to consider...
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:39 PM on August 12, 2011


It's a tricky question, because while MMA started as a "let's pit this fighter against that one and see who wins" (result: sumo wrestler crushes aikido artist), it rapidly evolved into a question of "what fighting skills succeed best in the context of the rules given?"

Most free fights rapidly developed weight classes, for example. In MMA you can win by knockout or submission: get inside someone's guard, get them on the ground, and you can lock someone up quickly, which is how most MMA fights end. But that's not the case for most street fights, which tend to be in more open environments, many-against-one, improvised weapons, and guys going for maximum damage, usually to the head.

So the answer is: Brazilian / Gracie jiu-jitsu in the clinch, muy-thai at a distance, for the octagon. But that says little about the relevance of the combat styles to the real world. (Which is not to say that MMA isn't worthwhile learning: the standup portions are the best cardio workout you'll ever have).
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:49 PM on August 12, 2011


No single martial art stands above the rest. Rather, a successful mixed martial artist today must be competent in three phases of combat:

- Standing and striking
- Wrestling and clinching (standing grappling)
- Ground fighting

A major hole in any of those three results in defeat. Various martial arts can supply techniques and training for those phases of combat. Most commonly, top-level MMA fighters get their striking from muay Thai or boxing, their standing grappling from wrestling or judo, and their ground fighting from Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

As for trends across history, Bloody Elbow had a good and very extensive series of posts on this that starts with UFC 1. There's a lot of discussion in them that go beyond just which styles dominated in various eras, so in case you want a glossy overview:

- Early on, Brazilian jiu-jitsu dominated because very few fighters had any takedown defense or any idea of what to do once on the ground.

- Eventually, fighters began to learn BJJ (or some other form of ground fighting) enough to defend themselves on the ground. Wrestlers especially adapted well.

- Still later, fighters that focused on striking became competent in grappling and were able to often neutralize other fighters' grappling so that they could strike. People like Chuck Liddell used wrestling in an entirely defensive way and used a 90%-striking offense.

So, at this point, no one can rely on their style winning for them.
posted by ignignokt at 12:52 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


A lot of places teach mma as a system so my boring answer is 'mma'
posted by Not Supplied at 12:55 PM on August 12, 2011


There's also stuff like Krav Maga which is designed to be used in situations where attackers are armed.
posted by empath at 12:56 PM on August 12, 2011


A jiu jitsu ground fighter is exceedingly vulnerable if the person he's grappling brought a friend to the bar, and most people do. Having one opponent in the guard position does little good if another is free to wander around to kick you in the head.

This is a popular fallacy about jiu-jitsu: That a jiu-jitsu practitioner will drop straight to guard or that they favor guard. That may be the case if they are fighting another grappler, but mostly likely in this tuff guy bar fight situation that weighs so heavily on people's minds, they will be on top, either as a result of a takedown or as a result of sweeping from guard.
posted by ignignokt at 12:58 PM on August 12, 2011


If you're on top, you're still immobile and vulnerable to a third party attacker.
posted by empath at 12:59 PM on August 12, 2011


I think that in a bar-fight situation, stuff like straight-up boxing or muay thai strikes would be better than jujitsu. You just want to inflict the maximum amount of pain in the shortest amount of time, while remaining as mobile as possible. Unless you're a bar bouncer and can be guaranteed backup in a few minutes if you need to take someone down and subdue him.
posted by empath at 1:02 PM on August 12, 2011


No, you're not. You can stand up and leave. You don't even have to follow your opponent to the ground.
posted by ignignokt at 1:03 PM on August 12, 2011


For a long answer to your question, have a look at this nice series of posts on the history of MMA by Kid Nate at Bloodyelbow.com (link goes to the first installment, the subsequent 21 are listed at the end of the post, before the comments).

XXII: Catch Wrestling and Kazushi Sakuraba's Early PRIDE Run
XXI: The Amazing UFC Championship Run of Frank Shamrock
XX: Kazushi Sakuraba and Frank Shamrock Emerge at Ultimate Japan
XIX: The Humbled PRIDE of Nobuhiko Takada
XVIII: The Losses of Luta Livre
XVII: The Lion's Den Roars
XVI: Rico Chiapparelli and the RAW Team
XV: Pancrase, RINGS, and Shooto 1996
XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil
XIII: Coleman Gets His Kicks
XII: End of the UFC Glory Days
XI: Carlson Gracie's Mighty Camp
X: The Reign of the Wrestlers
IX: Strikers Attack
VIII: From Russia With Leglocks
VII: A New Phase in the UFC
VI: A Dutch Detour
V: The Reign of Royce
IV: Rickson Brings Jiu Jitsu Back to Japan
III: Proto MMA Evolves Out of Worked Pro Wrestling in Japan
II: The Ur-Brazilian MMA Feud: BJJ vs Luta Livre and the Style They Never Saw Coming
I: UFC 1 Pancrase meets BJJ

The short answer to your question is "it depends upon the era." The early history of the MMA (I-V above) is marked by the ascendance of Brazilian jiu-jitsu as the dominant style, as Royce Gracie and others submitted big brawler after big brawler. As other styles learned to defend jiu-jitsu submission attempts, strikers (VI-IX) and then wrestlers achieved more success (X, XIII). Basically, one style may dominate for a certain period of time, but opponents generally figure it out and either incorporate it or learn to defend against it.
posted by googly at 1:26 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The most dominant fighting style is the one that wins. In my experience, this has rarely been the style of a martial arts expert. It has been the style of a strong, dirty, angry, aggressive, street-fighting rat bastard who just does not care. YMMV.
posted by Decani at 1:31 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


- Standing and striking
- Wrestling and clinching (standing grappling)
- Ground fighting

- Evasion and escape

If the goal is escaping a fight, Aikido shouldn't be ruled out as a practical style. Any fight you walk away from is a win?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:35 PM on August 12, 2011


Or, this. It's comedy. And yet, like the best comedy, it's true.
posted by Decani at 1:35 PM on August 12, 2011


Well, the question says "most dominant," so even though in some random violent situation, the smartest move may be to walk away, I'm guessing that's not a valid option.

OP, are you talking about an MMA-style fight in which there's only two unarmed participants that are prepared to fight?
posted by ignignokt at 1:56 PM on August 12, 2011


Really interesting answers. I guess my ignorance is showing because I was not aware that there was a style known as "MMA" - I thought the idea of "mixed martial arts" meant throwing a jiu-jitsu guy up against a krav maga guy and letting them go at it. It hadn't occurred to me (though this is sort of a "duh!" moment) that someone might be trained in more than one style and use them all together.

Basically, one style may dominate for a certain period of time, but opponents generally figure it out and either incorporate it or learn to defend against it.

This makes a lot of sense. But per my (lame-ass) observation just above, does dominance tend to move from specific style to specific style, or is it more about one style adopting elements from another?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:57 PM on August 12, 2011


OP, are you talking about an MMA-style fight in which there's only two unarmed participants that are prepared to fight?

Good question. I'll initially say yes, that's what I had in mind, but the other variants are interesting, too. The problem, as I think this thread identifies, is that the variants can quickly grow fast in number. What if it's one versus two? One versus many? Unarmed versus armed? Even, "You're in a bar but you only want to stop the guy, not hurt him, because you don't want him to press charges"?

So if we don't limit it to the MMA-style scenario you identify, how else can you limit the possible scenarios? I also think it's harder to test those other scenarios, since as far as MMA goes, we have the actual results of the actual fights.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:01 PM on August 12, 2011


Does dominance tend to move from specific style to specific style, or is it more about one style adopting elements from another?

More the latter. Remember that each "style" is constantly evolving as well, including borrowing from other styles. For one recent example, check out this post on the fight between Chan Sung Jung and Leonard Garcia. Jung submitted Garcia with a move called "the twister," which he credits to Eddie Bravo, a renowned Jiu Jitsu guy. But that doesn't make it a jiu jitsu move per se:

The twister of the title is a neck crank submission Bravo brought to jiu jitsu from wrestling (video) where it's known as the guillotine. As a beginning jiu jitsu student under Jean Jacques Machado, Bravo built his entire game around this submission since he'd mastered it as a wrestler and few of his jiu jitsu opponents were aware of it.

So, in many ways, the idea of one "style" dominating over others is quickly losing validity, as the boundaries between styles begin to break down.
posted by googly at 2:05 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


So if we don't limit it to the MMA-style scenario you identify, how else can you limit the possible scenarios? I also think it's harder to test those other scenarios, since as far as MMA goes, we have the actual results of the actual fights.

This is true. So, my answer stands. But if we were going into the wild world of limitless hypotheticals, I'd endorse whatever style Bas Rutten is explaining here in hilarious fashion.
posted by ignignokt at 2:22 PM on August 12, 2011


In MMA today, things are changing. Nearly everyone is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or close to it, or trains with black belts regularly. Nearly everyone has extensive training in muay-thai or at least MMA-tailored Western boxing (tailored to deal with kicks and takedowns). Nearly everyone has at least a decent wrestling base.

The Bloody Elbow list is cool, but if it stops at Sakuraba then it is painfully out of date.

In short, everyone today is so good at the basics that crazy showtime shit is now what is slaying the most ass in the sport.

In the last several events, there have been KOs (full, unconscious knockouts) by a sneak front kick to the chin (Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort) a fucking CRANE KICK, no joke, (Lyoto Machida Vs. Randy Couture) and Chan Sung Jung's crazy twister submission, the first ever to be landed (or attempted!) in the UFC which was amazing to see.

Also flying knee KOs, spinning back elbow KO's, a near-flying triangle choke. There is video of (featherweight) fighter Anthony Pettis jumping off of the cage and flying-kicking a guy in the head to unconscious.

This sport is entering what will probably be it's golden age. Jon Jones seems like he will be the Michael Jordan of the sport, he has such a relaxed and powerful and dangerous style.

In short, if you are curious, watch it!. You won't be disappointed, and if you are then now you know you don't like it.

Tomorrow night there is UFC Live on Versus, with several great matchups (Dan Hardy vs. Chris Lytle, Amir Sadollah Vs. Duane Ludwig). You can watch free on Versus, or for $15 or so you can watch through ufc.tv.

Also for free, they will show several prelim fights on Facebook, which have been pretty good so far.

It's the most exciting sport there is and it is at a peak of awesomeness right now. Watch some serious athletes test their styles against one another, that's the best way to find out. Then make your own decision.

Jon Jones (LHW champion) and Cain Velazquez (HW champion) are basically, at the highest level of competetion, just running through people. And inventing totally new styles as they do it. MMA is a baby sport, and we are JUST beginning to see the first generation of fighters who grew up watching the sport, and they are scary.
posted by TheRedArmy at 2:42 PM on August 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


And, in more direct answer to your question:

Western boxing, muay thai kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling.

In a barfight you mainly want to be a good boxer. If you are comfortable dodging the likely looping punches an angry person will through, and comfortable landing crisp jabs and 1-2's, you'll probably be fine against anyone (who doesn't have more training than you.)

If someone is kicking your ass, jiu-jitsu. But as has been said, jiu-jitsu doesn't leave any limbs free to deal with multiple assailants.
posted by TheRedArmy at 2:44 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


RedArmy, it sounds like the UFC fight you are referring to is on Sunday rather than tomorrow (Saturday). Is this the right one?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:53 PM on August 12, 2011


The first video on this page that googly linked to is a cool move-by-move breakdown of one of the greatest grappling fights there ever was, Kazushi Sakuraba Vs. Carlos Newton.

The two seemed to have a minimal-striking gentleman's agreement, but put on one of the most spectacular grappling exhibitions in the sport. It is good if you are curious about grappling but don't understand it.
posted by TheRedArmy at 2:59 PM on August 12, 2011


Oops. Yes.
posted by TheRedArmy at 3:01 PM on August 12, 2011


Some of the answers above are raising concerns about self-defense issues. In my mind, those concerns are somewhat tangential to the question of what are the best fighting styles. True self-defense is typically more than 90% situational awareness, mental preparedness, verbal de-escalation skills, sprinting ability, etc and less than 10% fighting skills.

Outside the context of an individual competition, the most effective style of combat involves superior weaponry and unit tactics - just ask the army. I'm going to assume that your question is more about one-on-one "duking it out".

A lot of people will talk about the effect of the rules on MMA competition. From my experience watching MMA competition as rules have changed over the last 18 years, watching Dog Brothers matches (think MMA with sticks), and watching sparring matches and street fights outside of MMA rules, I believe that rules may change some of the specific tactics and techniques that fighters choose to apply, but they don't change the fundamentals of what works.

(Note that the above only applies when the rules allow full contact striking and grappling. Once you adopt a truly restrictive ruleset that prohibits punching or grappling or hard contact, then you really have changed the nature of the game.)

With all that in mind, the answer is that a modern MMA fighter requires certain tools to be successful.

1) A system of striking which includes full-contact training and incorporates strikes to most body targets. Typically this will be western boxing and/or muay thai. Some fighters have been successful using karate, but only if they train with the same contact and intensity that boxers and muay thai practitioners use.

Popular striking arts which have not proven themselves so far in MMA competition are tae kwon do and kung fu, probably because of the training methods typically used in those systems.

2) A system for working in the clinch. Once again, this must be rooted in an art which includes freestyle sparring. Wrestling and muay thai are most commonly used, although some judo practitioners are learning to adjust to the MMA environment. You'll sometimes see a good sambo practitioner as well.

Systems of standup grappling which have not proven themselves include aikido, hapkido, taijutsu, and jujutsu systems that specialize in standing wristlocks and armlocks.

3) A system for fighting on the ground. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling are dominant here, although wrestlers have to learn enough BJJ to avoid submissions before they can be fully effective with their wrestling. Judo, sambo, and catch wrestling have been effective as well.


Once the fighter has all of these tools, they also need a unified framework for putting the pieces together and flowing smoothly from one area of combat to the next. In the early days of MMA, the BJJ guys dominated because they had a game plan to cover all the stages of combat. Against strikers, they would keep the distance with some low kicks, then shoot in for the clinch and get a quick takedown so they could destroy their opponents on the ground. Against wrestlers, they would allow their opponent to get the takedown, then use their superior submission skills to win once they were on the ground. As others have noted, this stopped working so well once the strikers learned enough wrestling to stay on their feet and the wrestlers learned enough about submissions to avoid getting armbarred. These days MMA is taught as almost an art in itself covering all the ranges of combat, although you'll typically have coaches who are expert in BJJ, muay thai, wrestling or boxing.

Some arts which have not been tried in the octagon, such as Krav Maga, place heavy emphasis on "dirty fighting" techniques such as groin kicks and eye pokes. These techniques can be very effective if the practitioner has trained with the foundational delivery systems as outlined above. If you can slip punches and hit hard and accurately like a boxer, then your groin slaps will make you that much more effective. If you can control your opponents body like a good grappler, then your eye gouges will be hard to stop. If not, your dirty fighting tricks will be unreliable at best against a tough opponent. (This is based on my observations of fights I have seen in person and some of the early MMA/ vale tudo fights when the rules were a lot looser.) From my understanding, there is a lot of variance in how well Krav Maga schools train those delivery systems.

Note that a lot of my answer refers to the training methods used in the various arts. That's because the training methodology of an art can make more of a difference than the specific techniques which are taught. That said, as the training methodology becomes more realistic, the techniques from different arts start looking more like each other.
posted by tdismukes at 3:03 PM on August 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


I have a rather broader definition of "Martial Art" than you maybe do. For me, it's any kind of training that prepares you to fight someone else.

If so, then the most common martial art is military training. In the US alone there are millions of men who learned to fight in the Army or Marines who have never stepped foot into a dojo.

And they do learn hand-to-hand fighting, as well as fighting with knife, bayonet, and of course firearms of all kinds. (And tanks, and artillery, and...)

Of course, the big difference is that the military martial art is about fighting in the field, fighting for real, and not about fighting in front of an audience in a formal match. The goal is to kill, not to score points.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:09 PM on August 12, 2011


That's because the training methodology of an art can make more of a difference than the specific techniques which are taught. That said, as the training methodology becomes more realistic, the techniques from different arts start looking more like each other.

Really interesting. Can you elaborate on each of these two sentences - in particular, what do you mean by "training methodology" and "realism"?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 3:16 PM on August 12, 2011


Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell, if you do take the advice to watch some UFC fights, you may enjoy it more if you avail yourself of some tutelage to understand what's going on in the matches - otherwise a lot of it may just look like two sweaty dudes rolling around holding each other.* You can get some great explanations at the Gracie Breakdown channel, where Rener and Ryron Gracie explain the subtleties of the grappling being displayed in many of these fights.


*Not that there's anything wrong with that.
posted by tdismukes at 3:22 PM on August 12, 2011


RedArmy nails it: "Western boxing, muay thai kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling."

All the MMA guys study these 4. Some of them add in other things (judo, karate, etc.), but the 4 RedArmy mentioned are the biggies. Many MMA schools schools today don't even differentiate between the styles; they just teach them mixed together as "MMA".

There is no "most dominant" style -- that's why it's mixed martial arts.

posted by coolguymichael at 3:23 PM on August 12, 2011


Fighting 1v1 in an environment with rules: BJJ + MT

Fighting 1v1 for your life: Krav, Kempo, MT, BJJ

Fighting 1vMany for your life while also looking cool as hell: Wing Chun, Jeet Kun Do

These are just my impressions however...it still always depends on the fighter's skill. Martial artists such as Bruce Lee and Master Yip were phenominal real-situation fighters...their moves, many of which are illegal in a MMA tourney setting, were focused on excerting extreme force with minimal effort. Who's to say what is the best fighting technique? It's been up for debate since the early days of kung-fu and possibly even further...
posted by samsara at 3:23 PM on August 12, 2011


Really interesting. Can you elaborate on each of these two sentences - in particular, what do you mean by "training methodology" and "realism"?

In some martial arts, the primary training method involves memorized patterns of strikes and blocks performed in the air with no contact of another person. In other arts, the training method involves demonstrating the techniques on a compliant partner who makes no effort to counter the techniques. In other arts, practitioners train only to defend against attackers using highly stylized attacks that are either overcommitted or else stop short of contact. In other arts, practitioners spar competitively, but they aren't allowed to use hard contact, punch to the face, or strike below the belt. I won't say these methods are necessarily useless in their place, but as the primary focus of training they can be ... counterproductive.

In contrast, let's look at the training methodology you might see in a boxing or muay thai gym. Fighters will spend a lot of time working conditioning to develop their cardio, explosive speed and toughness. They'll spend a lot of time hitting the heavy bag - hard. They'll drill specific block & counterstrike combinations that their coach has seen work effectively in the ring and they'll do it with realistic distancing. Their coach will hold pads for them to strike specific combinations on command and will hit them with the pads when he sees them leave an opening. Finally they'll put it all together with hard contact sparring in which each sparring partner is doing his best to take advantage of any mistakes his opponent makes.

You see the difference?
posted by tdismukes at 3:43 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


The amount of preparation these guys put into a fight is probably comparable (in time and effort) to what chess grandmasters do. For each major match, the fighters have to stay 'current' with all the basics, as well as study specific opponents tapes and habits and holes and strengths and try and develop an unexpected approach to them that allows them to enforce a game plan.

As with chess, if you have a small hole in your game it will be exploited brutally. Not knowing a defense to a particular submission, being counter- or counter-counter-punched in a way you've never trained for, can mean instant doom.
posted by TheRedArmy at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2011


The most effective fighting styles are the ones banned in MMA and taught in women's self defense classes (e.g., Crotch Soccer).
posted by Sys Rq at 5:01 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the really interesting answers, everyone. This has been very informative. And thanks for your patience in explaining to someone with (before today) zero knowledge on the subject.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:15 PM on August 12, 2011


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