WAY BACK AT the beginning, the UFC was born out of a desire to answer a question, which martial art was the greatest?
While the early shows were more freak-show than sports-show, one common theme did seem to be prominent that still resonates in the sport today, that being the biggest means you are the best.
An incarnation of that argument has recently risen and fallen in the form of one-time WWE superstar and former UFC heavyweight champion, Brock Lesnar.
He called time on his UFC career last week after back-to-back loses against Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem and has inadvertently shown how far the sport has come since its somewhat disorganised beginnings.
At UFC 1, there were no weight classes and it was generally thought that the advantage lay with the largest competitor.
Teila Tuli, a 430lb sumo wrestler who participated in the first show, lasted only twenty six seconds of his bout against Gerard Gordeau, despite being favourite to win because of his size.
It was in-fact the lightest of the eight competitors in that original show, BJJ legend Royce Gracie, who went on to win the inaugural event, as he utilized his jiu- jitsu skills and submitted everyone he faced.
When Brock Lesnar entered the UFC in 2008, there were echoes of the Tuli situation as he was branded the biggest heavyweight on the roster and he too suffered an early set-back when he submitted in his debut by Frank Mir.
He then went on to shock the MMA world when he beat Randy Couture and gained the UFC heavyweight championship belt in only his fourth professional MMA bout. The way he relied on brute strength and absolute force to win his fights silently threatened to upset the apple-cart of insider thinking in MMA.
Growth of the sport
The attitude of training in MMA always leaned towards the improvement of an individual skill set rather than strength and power training. That is not to say fighters didn’t do strength and conditioning in the gym, just that they focused more on improving their technique as it was seen as a greater weapon than sheer size.
There is no doubt that this all stemmed from Royce Gracie’s performances in the early years and this has helped enhance and evolve the sport into a modern-day spectacle. As we watched Lesnar come in and bully highly skilled MMA practitioners such as Shane Carwin and Frank Mir (at the second time of asking), it appeared that size could be used as an effective weapon once again.
This old-style way of approaching the sport didn’t last however as Lesnar finally bowed out last weekend. There is no doubt that his two bouts of diverticulitis certainly contributed to his decision but I think he just wasn’t up to scratch in his stand-up and ground games to compete with the best.
In a way this has shown what a complex and highly skilled sport MMA now is. As the sport continues to grow, I think 2012 will prove to be a landmark year as it moves more into the mainstream. Even Vitor Belfort predicts that MMA will be even more popular than soccer, at least in his home country of Brazil.
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