Since the dawn of the sport of MMA, there has been a clash between strikers and grapplers. This stylistic battle has gone through many progressions as the sport has evolved. In the recent past, there was an era of dominant strikers. Outside of the anomalies like Georges St-Pierre, the likes of BJ Penn, Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, and Conor Mcgregor all dominated the Octagon. However, now it seems there is a new era of grappling dominance.
Grappling Dominance at UFC 272
The latest expo of grappling dominance occurred last Saturday night at UFC 272. There were two exhibits. The first occurred in a featherweight matchup between Edson Barboza and Bryce Mitchell. Barboza entered the contest with just three wins opposed to seven losses since his 2017 matchup with Khabib Nurmagomedov. In that fight, Barboza was utterly dominated on the canvas throughout the 15-minute contest. Prior to the loss, Barboza had earned highlight reel finishes over Beneil Dariush, Evan Dunham, and Terry Etim.
Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell entered the Octagon on Saturday night undefeated. In his last three fights, Mitchell had earned two unanimous decision victories and a submission victory via twister.
Mitchell completely neutralized Barboza’s distance attacks and scored a perfect 4 for 4 on takedown attempts. In every round, Mitchell out struck the incredibly skilled striker, landing more significant strikes and more total strikes throughout the contest. After the final bell, Mitchell landed 182 total strikes, landing at an 87% clip, and had accumulated nearly eleven and a half minutes of control time. Needless to say, Mitchell earned his third consecutive unanimous decision victory. Judge Derek Cleary even scored the contest 30-25 in favor of the now #9 ranked featherweight.
Grappling Dominance Decides the Main Event
The main event pitted Colby Covington against Jorge Masvidal in a fight of bad blood. Once teammates, the pair of welterweight contenders entered the Octagon to settle a bitter score.
The fight itself was, for lack of a better term, one sided. Despite perhaps the fourth-round rock Masvidal was able to generate, “Gamebred” simply did not have an answer for Covington’s wrestling. The credentialed Covington secured more than three rounds worth of control time in their 25-minute contest. This control time was created by scoring six takedowns off fifteen attempts. “Chaos” would end the night by out striking Masvidal, a man with sixteen knockout finishes to his name, by more than 2:1.
Are Strikers Doomed to Failure?
Covington similarly dismantled Tyron Woodley in their September 2020 matchup. Woodley was unable to find that one big shot he was looking for, all the while Covington continued to pressure, land takedowns, secure control time, and land strikes.
One must consider, in terms of Jorge Masvidal, where he might be if he did not land the knee that has now been recorded as the fastest knockout in UFC history. One could argue that his fight with Ben Askren would have played out similarly to that of his fight with Covington.
So, is there hope for strikers when facing a skilled grappler or are strikers doomed to failure and grappler will continue to dominate inside the cage? The answer is simple and has been the same since the dawn of the sport. Mixed martial arts require competitors to be well rounded. Elite strikers cannot only rely on striking. They will be dominated on the mat by a superior grappler. Grapplers cannot neglect the standup, or they are doomed to failure as well.
There will always be the shockers—the anomalies. Masvidal knockout Askren. Derrick Lewis sleeps Curtis Blaydes. These events are too far infrequent to rely upon. There always has and always will be a sense of the question, ‘which style is better’, but that answer at its core is relatively unimportant when winning fights is what matters.
How else does grappling dominance show its face in 2022?
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