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The Evolution of Grappling

On the 6th of July 2013 at UFC 162 the perspective of grappling heavy fighters was not only challenged but also changed. That night was remembered for the upset which saw the end to the legendary title reign of Anderson Silva at the hands of Chris Weidman, however, there was something else that happened that night, arguably more important than the title reign ending based on how fighting was able to grow from it.


From UFC in the early days which saw Royce Gracie changed the perspective on martial arts by highlighting the issue of combat without a versatile game. He would use a kick off of the lead leg and then shoot a takedown before dominating his clueless opponents on the ground. The blueprint was now evident, to be successful one must learn to grapple with submissions. Fast forward a few years to Pride FC 2000 Grand Prix, Royce Gracie tasted defeat at the hands of Kazushi Sakuraba. Sakuraba. Sakuraba showed a versatile game of wrestling knowledge, chaining submissions and tight defence. On this night Catch Wrestling was on display in a 90-minute battle which for the majority saw Sakuraba defend the takedowns, attack his own submissions, use Gracie’s Gi against himself and continuously batter Gracie into quitting in between rounds. This meant that on this night it was evident that cross training was the future, to feel confident on the feet with wrestling and knowledge of submissions.

Now one could argue that from competitive grappling background credentials Royce Gracie was outmatched and although a revolutionary figure, he doesn’t qualify as a world-class grappler, past nostalgia. In 2013 though, this changed. The greatest BJJ fighter of all time Roger Gracie made his UFC debut against Strikeforce contender Tim Kennedy. Having the most successful run in ADCC history which saw every opponent in Gracie’s division and the absolute division get submitted by him, including  Jacare Souza and Fabricio Werdum. On this night there was an awakening, Gracie managed to have some success against the special forces operative, taking his back in the process. The shock came throughout the rest of the fight, Kennedy, who did not have elite wrestling or BJJ background (but trained it all through his MMA training) was able to take Gracie down and batter him on the ground, as well as passing Gracie’s guard on numerous occasions. The lesson here was that being a world level grappler in this day and age doesn’t guarantee success in the ground in MMA nowadays