Jiu-Jitsu is Dead (And We Killed It)
That title may seem a little harsh at first glance, and to be honest it is a bit sensationalized, even for me. Jiu-Jitsu is far from dead, but the way it’s used in MMA is changing, and its become far less of a factor in a fighter’s success (so let’s say Jiu-Jitsu is dying, instead). Sure you’ll still run across the occasional submission specialist at high levels in the sport (Shinya Aoki and Demian Maia, for example), but for the most part, the new generation of “complete” fighters avoid playing a Jiu-Jitsu game at all costs. The penalty for ending up on your back in any sort of grappling exchange is far too severe. Just ask Miguel Torres.
There was a time when it was possible to win a fight from your back in MMA without submitting your opponent, but clearly that doesn’t exist anymore. The majority of fighters have realized this, and instead of choosing to play the guard game, they scoot their hips away until they get to the cage wall, and then stand up. That means we see less grappling from the bottom, and it seems like when a fighter is willing to go to his back (as Torres was against Demetrious Johnson), he is penalized for doing so. This in turn causes fighters to move further and further away from a guard-based grappling game. As a fan of grappling more than striking in MMA, that saddens me.
The blame for this shift can be laid almost anywhere. Athletic commissions have still made no attempt to fully educate judges that specialize in MMA, and can understand all the nuances of the sport. Sure, monitors for the judges are great, but if they can’t interpret what they’re watching, what’s the use? The trickle down effect begins there, moves through the fighters who have adapted their games due to what the judges have decided MMA should look like, and ends with fans, many of whom seem to forget they were the ones who kept this sport alive and helped it develop into what it is today. I say that, because even though you’ll still get the occasional fan, like myself, who truly gets upset when a decision like Johnson/Torres is rendered, the majority of fans have a reaction of “Well, it was close” or “I can see the judges were thinking”. They don’t realize that there are very few precedent setting moments in MMA these days, and one was set Saturday night that essentially said a fighter can’t possibly win from his back if his fight goes to the judges.
The fact that more fans get riled up about Joe Rogan’s commentary, or Octagon Girls being bitchy to each other, than one of the most important aspects of MMA being cast aside like a used tissue is a sad commentary on the state of fans in our sport. In the end, the fans still decide what goes and what doesn’t in this sport. What other professional sport lets their fans have a say in the games that are scheduled every weekend? What other sport was kept alive without TV or PPV, simply on the strength of the fans and the communities they’d built. MMA is a rare breed in the world of the NFL, NBA and MLB, and fans should recognize that it won’t always be this way. So in the time we still get our say, why don’t we push to mold the sport how we want it, rather than what the athletic commissions shove down our throats.
Jiu-Jitsu is slowly disappearing in MMA, and I, for one, think that apathetic fans are to blame. We’ve seen that promotions and athletic commissions are going to do nothing to curb some of the emerging negative trends in MMA, so at this point fans need to go back to their roots. If that means throwing a hissy fit when a fighter gets screwed out of a decision, so be it, but doing nothing will accomplish exactly that. The sense I get from my circle of MMA friends is that some of the patterns developing in MMA are hurting the enjoyability of the sport, and there’s no reason that should be allowed to happen. This sport has grown, but it’s not bigger than the fans and it never will be.
That said, Jiu-Jitsu – or at least the guard – is currently on life support in MMA, how about we do something about it?