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The Rise or the Realization of the Effectiveness of mma/" target="_blank">Judo in MMA?
By Syl Peterkin, RCM Boxing, MMA & Jiujitsu Correspondent
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No Competitive Judo Fighter in the Beginning
With the 1990’s resurgence of Mixed Martial Arts many enthusiasts have flocked towards the martial arts styles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai. Many of the casual fans do not realize that the first few UFC’s were run by the Gracie family and filled with handpicked opponents. The vast majority of the opponents, near 90%, were highly inept in ground fighting. These fighters included those who specialized in striking and for the most part had very little grappling experience or little in the ways of submission defense. In fact it has been claimed that grapplers, who might have given the Gracie’s trouble, were avoided in the Gracie period of UFC.# In a ring situation, with rules that favor certain types of fights, (1) soft mats (2) no winning except for a knockout or submission (3) no “illegal” techniques such as biting, eye gouging or similar, grapplers typically reign supreme. The few exceptions to the lack of other grapplers included Remco Pardoel, Dan Severn (aged 34 and not highly skilled in submissions) and Ken Shamrock (who had a professional wrestling background#). The previously mentioned grapplers still did not the skillset to do well against other grapplers. Remco Pardoel was marketed to be a former junior Judo “national champ” in the Netherlands, though this is a stretch as it was when he was a child.# Royce Gracie though was in the prime of his career, with numerous Vale Tudo (grappling and striking) style fights by the age of 26. Skilled and in their prime Judo and Freestyle Wrestling were excluded due to their history of giving BJJ fighters enormous trouble. In fact, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has the most losses in Vale Tudo.# As a result of these factors and early wins, the dominance of BJJ as the go to martial art to learn for MMA was secured with the first few wins. The Gracie’s “gracefully” exited from fighting in the UFC stating they had proven the effectiveness of BJJ (after other grappling styles started to make an entrance). This though didn’t mean that BJJ was the best base martial art to use in MMA.
So why is it that after almost 20 years you rarely see Judoka entering into the world of mixed martial arts?
The fact remains MMA fighters have already utilized Judo and to become major stars in MMA. They include rising stars as well as legends like Hector Lombardi, Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, Shinya Aoki, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva, Frank Trigg, and Kayo Parisyan.#
We have seen wrestling make the transition into MMA, and that has helped wrestling have a major resurgence. A major reason is that the UFC is based and highly popular in the United States, where wrestling is huge. This has helped in creating a push of wrestling into the UFC in relatively large numbers. The United States though has a small elite Judo population especially when compared to wrestling. The background reason is that wrestling essentially is done at a scholastic environment (high school and college). So you will see many American youth either competing in or aware of wrestling. After a person finishes college, there aren’t many places to train unless you’re on your way to the Olympics. There are very few training academies or options for wrestlers outside of these environments. Many wrestlers as a result move on towards MMA or BJJ schools which allow them to continue at grappling events. Retired wrestlers may coach, but accolades that come from coaching does not necessarily increase as the years pass. Judo though is almost the exact opposite, where there does exist some scholastic training environments but far more non scholastic training environments. Judoka (someone who studies Judo), once they retire from competition also have the opportunity to instruct. Many times the longer they coach, there exists the higher opportunity to increase rank and consequently prestige. These factors serve to encourage the movement of wrestlers from wrestling into MMA, but Judoka towards continued Olympic training or teaching. Periodically you will see some Olympic level Judoka who enter into the world of MMA. This though has often been when they are done with their competitive career and are too old to pick up needed skills like striking.
Isn’t there more money to be made in MMA?
One of the top MMA fighters, Rashad Evans reportadely made about $710,000 in 2012. While 25 year old, Olympic Judoka Teddy Riner (6’8, 280lbs) made 1.1 million dollars in the same year. The culture of MMA is quite different from that of Judo, and many top Judoka do not even consider competing in MMA based on the alleged lack of a moral code in MMA. In many nations, Olympic athletes are either given a significant stipend to be a representative of their nation or have jobs within that nations sport federation. Fame, networking, and jobs, come about as a result of their being members of an Olympic team. There also exists the possibility of earning a pension in many nations. Now with all of this being offered, what is the incentive for athletes in their prime to leave a sport which is providing them with so many benefits? It is known that the best Judo athletes are not from the United States. In fact, the United States has only one Olympic Gold in the history of its Judo program with Kayla Harrison in 2012. Another point to understand is that Olympic athletes in the United States are not as well compensated (Lolo Jones received about $750.00 for a 7 month stipend. In less well known sports, the compensation might be even less with some families suffering financially.
So how does all of this information play into Judo in the MMA?
US Judo athletes are more likely to leave Judo in an effort to make money during the prime of their career than Judo athletes from other nations. Please note that this does not mean they are likely to leave Judo for MMA, just more likely than that Judoka of other nations during the prime of their career. The fact remains that Judo is far more financially lucrative for the top Judo talent in the world (Europe and parts of Asia) than that of MMA. Ask yourself, would you leave a job that provided a pension, was something you loved, trained in for years, made you a local and national hero for a job in something where you would be starting over in a field that wasn’t as popular in your native nation, would provide for significantly less money, no pension, and didn’t know your prospects and presented a higher chance of injury. Would you go to that sport? Probably not! So why would most of the top Judo players in the world? That is why we see the top Judo players, who enter into MMA are already done with their competitive Judo career.# A current prime example is Hector Lombard who entered MMA after leaving his home nation of Cuba. This has also included Rick Hawn (age 32#), Hidehiko Yoshida (age 33#), Ferrid “Hurricane” Kheder (age 30#), Pawel Nastula (age 35#), US Olympic alternate# Christophe Leininger (age 32#) and Dr. Rhadi Ferguson (age 35#). By this time, the successful transition into MMA isn’t highly possible but can happen. The few exceptions to leave early include Ronda Rousey and Satoshi Ishii (entered at the age of 23 and currently holds a 12-2 record with his only losses coming to previously mentioned Hidehiko Yoshida and Fedor Emelianenko.)
So what makes Judo so effective in MMA?
First there is the obvious throwing and takedown techniques as offensive techniques. Secondly, the utilization of grip fighting which helps fighters effectively learn how to use their range against their opponents. The third is the relative ease in which they learn how to defend against takedowns and throws. The fourth is the ability to work from the clinch in both standup and takedown. The fifth is the quick transition from throws to various hold downs. The sixth is the ability to quickly attack and apply for a submission on the ground. # The seventh is the movement to and from the clinch to striking as well as defense against them. The Eighth is the underrated# but large amount of ground fighting techniques (remember Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came directly from Judo). # Another is based on the fact that a wrestler often changes levels to transition from an attack in grappling to that of striking. The changed lower level in order to attack the legs does leave wrestlers open to knee strikes and kicks; a Judoka does not do the same. In fact the Judoka often uses the same level for stand up throws as it would for striking.
A few considerations though must of course be understood. The first being the ability to understand how to move from GI grappling to no-GI grappling. Often this isn’t a major problem for many offensive techniques, just minor readjustments. The second is to move away from some Judo competition rules which may actually serve counter to MMA rules. This includes some “sacrifice” throws, as well as the shift away from double and single leg takedown defense. Now some of these disadvantages do not necessarily apply to all Judo programs in that not all Judo programs train for current International Judo Federation competition rules (Freestyle and Kodokan Judo schools).
What might bring about the rise of Judo in the MMA?
A major push that would help to bring about Judo and its many techniques into MMA could be done in many ways. A primary method could in fact be a grassroots push towards building Judo. This could be done via a push from consumers. Ronda Rousey can easily be seen as a vehicle to bring about the consumer push as she has utilized a large number of Judo techniques in her training and fights. She is the first American Judo practitioner and Olympic medalist to come to MMA during the prime of her career. MMA gyms interested in a good business decision and want to capitalize on her popularity could hire Judo instructors. This would allow for some of the techniques from Judo to further enter into MMA.
A push towards Kodokan Judo (Judo as it was originally developed) which included striking, complete ground techniques, and throws would help to bring about a trend towards Judo’s popularity. This is in opposition to the Sport Judo focus, which is currently controlled by the International Judo Federation.# Sport Judo was effectively limited when much of the major techniques were declared illegal# in an effort to please the International Olympic Committee (who wanted Judo to be more crowd pleasing).# An effort to move back towards the original Judo, as taught by Kano is being pushed via the Freestyle Judo movement. This allows for many of the currently illegal techniques to be implemented and used in a competitive basis.#
A third method could come from Judo federations from various nations towards MMA. Although this is a long shot, it could possibly be quite effective. This might bring some casual and hardcore MMA fans into taking the time to study Judo in order to either learn Judo for Judo or improve their overall MMA ability. Currently we do see USA Judo marketing/advertising in a number of UFC matches.#
With the past history of former champions such as Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, and the metamorphic rise of the now established star power of Ronda Rousey, Judo Is finally realized among the casual fan as being highly effective. The explosive grappling techniques and defenses provides a huge advantage to MMA fighters. Some fighters have already realized it, many in the industry realize it, many fans are amazed by it, but will it bring about a revolution in MMA? Time will tell, but until that happens enjoy what Judo has to offer.