Mixed Martial Arts is a combination of many martial disciplines, all of which offer specific benefits. Due to the relatively new nature of MMA, a lot of fighters weren’t brought up cross training. This makes MMA, which is still in its infancy, a clash of styles as much as it is a clash of fighters. For this reason, it’s often beneficial to have a strong base style in which the fighter has trained from a young age. There are several popular ones, including wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Karate, and Tae Kwon Do. Wrestling is the most dominant of these for reasons that will be outlined below.
Wrestling bequeaths certain benefits that the other styles don’t; granted, the other styles also give benefits that wrestling doesn’t, but the ability to quickly adopt techniques in other disciplines is one of wrestling’s strengths. The main advantage that wrestling gives the fighter is the ability to dictate where the fight goes. Very few fighers are able to take an opponent to the ground as easily as a wrestler can. Since wrestlers have the best takedown offense and defense in MMA, they can effectively neutralize their opponent’s strengths by utilizing their own. An example of this is a wrestler who refuses to take down or be taken down by a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitoner. He forces the submission grappler to strike, effectively eliminating his greatest weapon.
Being able to choose where the fight goes might seem to be a useless ability if wrestler has no other skills. If his boxing is terrible, won’t he risk getting beat up by the BJJ guy with equally bad boxing? While anything can happen in an MMA fight, wrestlers are generally more well-prepared than other fighters. This is due to their fantastic strength and conditioning, a discipline that they learn from an early age and practice throughout their amateur wrestling career. Pound for pound, wrestlers are the strongest and most well-conditioned athletes in the sport. This gives them a significant advantage in picking up new techniques and just being all-around better than their opponent. Their great conditioning increases their punching power, ability to take a punch, and their ability to power out of submissions. With a fair amount of cross training, good wrestlers can crush even seasoned BJJ fighters on the ground.
On top of the obvious benefits, wrestling also makes it easier to learn other styles. One of the most important aspects of wrestling is having good balance, which is something that helps the fighters pick up boxing and kick boxing. While strong wrestlers aren’t often the best strikers in their division, the risk of a takedown, their strength, and their strong chins often allows them to dominate better strikers even in the stand up.
While wrestling is the best base for mixed martial arts, success in the sport still has a lot to do with the individual. Take Georges St. Pierre and Lyoto Machida, for example. They both come from karate, which is one of the least-used base styles. While GSP has essentially become a wrestler, Lyoto still sticks to his guns and puts on impressive performance after impressive performance. When looking at all of the champions in the UFC, you’ll find that only two are dominated by wrestlers: welterweight with GSP and heavyweight with Brock Lesnar. With that in mind, there are a disproportionate amount of wrestlers in the top 10 of any given division.