Genetics and the future of MMA
Like many of you, I have been a fan of mixed martial arts since UFC 1. I still remember the atavistic thrill of watching a skinny Royce Gracie (who walks at 175lbs) face-off with muscled-up guys like Ken Shamrock (who weighted 245lbs at his peak), Kimo Leopoldo (235lbs and as scary-looking a guy as has ever fought), and Dan Severn (250lbs of world-class wrestling). To look at ordinary Royce standing across the cage from these monsters, it seemed patently obvious who would win.
But we didn't have a clue. Even those involved in traditional martial arts, point-fighting and kata-training until our little hearts were content; we were all clueless. Then, Royce rear-naked-choke'd Shamrock, armlock'd Kimo, and triangle'd Severn. There were other fights, of course, but these contrasted the "ordinary guy" with "the beasts."
Over the next few years, the martial-arts community got a education in real fighting. Not pretend fighting. Not make-believe fighting. Real fighting.
The result of this was the sudden ascension of a few martial arts (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai kickboxing, and American wrestling) and a general discounting of the rest. My favorite example of this is a friend of mine who moved to Brazil as a purple-belt to train Jiu-jitsu full-time. After living there some months he ended up in a relationship with a woman; only to be later given two important points of information: 1.) She was married. 2.) Her husband was a brown belt. My friend's first thought was that he was going to be called out in an "honor" fight. After all, smokers (unregulated full-contact fights within an academy) and street-fights are far more common in Brazil than in the United States (since people are unable or unwilling to sue each other over everything). The punch-line of this story comes next, when we learn that the "husband" was not a BJJ brown-belt, but a brown-belt in a traditional martial-art that shall remain unnamed. Now, this story is most often told to guys who "train", since outsiders do not get it. Suffice it to say, at this moment, the guys listening burst into relief laughter. As if to say, a brown-belt in a traditional martial art is no cause for lost sleep to a BJJ purple-belt.
My point is not to advocate adultery or disrespect traditional martial arts. My point is that MMA showed us what worked. Period. Skills mattered. Muscles could be misleading. Size could be second-guessed. It was the fighter's skill-set that mattered.
The rise of Jon Jones epitomizes the change that has been slowly happening in mma: Genetics are back. Genetics are the future.
Jon Jones is a genius at fighting. He dominates a weight class that is historically very difficult to dominate. But no single part of his game stands out as phenomenal. Some of you are shouting: The-man-has-never-been-taken-down! True. He is a great wrestler. But mention JUCO wrestling in the Cornell or Oklahoma St wrestling-rooms and listen to the faint-praise. So what is the catch?
Jon Jones is a genetic freak: 6' 4" 205 pounder with 84.5" reach. Yes, he is great at creatively mixing his attacks up. Yes, he is an intelligent guy who works hard. Yes, he is coachable. Yes, he has incredible poise under pressure. Yes, his skills are substantial. But take away his genetic "gifts" and he is just another talented guy with dreams.
The days where you could look at two guys and ignore the one who seemed the most physically impressive are gone. Two things...