Why are BJJ Fighters Not Winning MMA Titles Anymore?

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Had you watched MMA a few decades ago, you would have noticed that a large number of MMA champions were of a BJJ background, in fact there were so many that it caused the true explosion of BJJ as the world’s most popular martial art as everyone wanted to practice the ultimate self defense artform.

In no way is this article to take away from the fact that BJJ is one of the best, if not the best martial art system for preparing one for a self defence situation but it will address some truths that are affecting pure BJJ from attaining the domination it once had.

Every MMA Fighter is Now Training BJJ

Due to its total domination in early MMA, Vale Tudo and NHB events, BJJ schools started popping up everywhere. Soon all fighters no matter what discipline they came from started to learn BJJ in order to fix up holes in their game – particularly their ground game as BJJ is the most effective ground fighting system with mixed martial arts.

Now add raw athleticism in the picture as well as changing rules and BJJ skills are now not being skills that dominate but skills that equalize fighters, only to leave them to strike it out. 

BJJ for the Masses

As BJJ hit the mass market, it started to change into a more sellable sport version which appealed to the mainstream market. This sport version’s rules evolved and as years went by, competitors found themselves more and more specializing in moves that worked with the rules set by organizations like the IBJJF. Competitions would see many competitors pulling guard, butt scooting, playing berimbolo, 50/50 guard, donkey guard and overall tactic of gaining a point and stalling being used to win matches.

Sport BJJ is much easier on the body and much better for business than running a school focused on creating BJJ fighters that compete in MMA.

“Start From Your Knees”

Most BJJ schools start their rolling sessions from the knees or sitting. This does have a great benefit as it will get a student focused fully on the ground aspect of combat. When preparing for MMA combat though, one must understand that starting on your knees creates a very bad false positive that the BJJ student thinks they can defeat anyone but in reality many times they cannot take an active person down to implement their game

Another negative of starting rolls on your knees is you never get to understand the transition and scramble aspect when taking someone down or when you are being taken down, so the fighter will never fully be prepared as they could be.

Winning BJJ Tournaments Does Not Mean You Will Win in MMA

No doubt that if you are winning high level BJJ tournaments that you will have a very good ground game but it does not necessarily equal to having a fantastic MMA BJJ game, in fact people are often confused with the fact they can tap people in competition off of berimbolo sweeps to triangle chokes but not in a real fight and we see it in MMA matches all the time. In the end of the day they are 2 different sports and must be treated that way, yes BJJ can have a huge impact on your chances of winning a MMA fight but it is not guaranteed, especially if you are training to grapple in an MMA environment.

Get in My Guard Bro

The guard is one of the best gems of BJJ, the fact you can effectively fight off your back is what truly separates this BJJ from the rest, it has so many different types of guards to create opportunities to sweep and submit an opponent.

The guard is a huge part of BJJ and many Jiujiteiros focus on their guard game, pulling guard, staying relaxed and looking for the submission with many finding much success in the sport BJJ world.

In MMA the guard should be a secondary position for most fighters and the main focus when on the ground is to get top position. In fact the #1 mission should be to always get on top or out of bottom position when they can. 

Being on top gives you many advantages – you make your opponent carry your weight, your striking is exponentially more dangerous when on top, you still have a large amount of submissions, you look dominant to the judges and you can always choose to stand up should you want in order to pursue a stand up game.

The Ability to Takedown is Not Strong Enough

Many BJJ schools teach some takedowns and yes, there are some BJJ fighters who have seriously great takedown skills but most BJJ schools do not have a proper enough curriculum in order to create true takedown mastery. This ultimately leads to fighters who have excellent ground games who simply cannot get the fight to the ground in order to implement.

No Focus on The Art of The Scramble

It is challenging to teach real scrambling in BJJ as the nature of BJJ is when in a bad scramble to grab hold and become tight like an anaconda and then work the position to better position in the positional hierarchy of BJJ. 

BJJ is naturally tight and allows for stalling, MMA does not allow for too much stalling, so this creates a problem with rhythm in the fight that a BJJ player will not be able to capitalize on with rounds and referees being able to make fighters stand up. This tightness is simply not good for developing proper scrambling ability.

No Focus on The Art of Striking

Headkick in MMA fight
Big head kick in an MMA fight

It is very common to see BJJ fighters not placing enough effort in learning proper striking for MMA, including clinch work, dirty boxing, muay thai and boxing. It truly hurts to see a world class groundfighter getting their face beaten in and not being able to fight properly back.

The MMA Submission Paradox

Grapplers love submissions and yes a properly placed submission can be a guarantee to victory but there is a downside. If a fighter keeps on going for submissions from a bottom position with no success and without too much active striking while the opponent is avoiding the submissions while actively striking, the judges will generally favor the fighter who was more actively striking. 

It simply is very difficult to win a decision when you were looking for submissions all fight long against a fighter that was actively ground and pounding and this unfortunately leads to many defeats for highly talented BJJ fighters in the cage.

Strikers are Training Wrestling

Top level strikers are training wrestling and are much harder to take down and keep down off of a scramble. If the BJJ fighter cannot take the opponent down then it will become a kickboxing match and the better striker will win. We have seen this countless number of times in the past decade and it is only becoming more common.

BJJ is Still in Its Infancy

Yes, BJJ is popular. Yes, BJJ may even be the most popular martial art in the world but it is still relatively new and developing in both a technical aspect and organizational aspect. There simply are not enough BJJ blackbelts around yet and not the level of organizations as other company sports have in order to produce the level of athlete that the sport truly can produce. 

A good example is that there are approximately 250,000 active competitive wrestlers in the USA wrestling organization, there are 300,000 active wrestlers in the Dagestan region of Russia…..all of these wrestlers are going through a structured program, training as athletes in their quest for a medal at their next competition. BJJ on the other hand although having many practitioners does not have the same athletic angle to it as other combat sports and this leads to very few world class competitors being primed to the absolute highest levels of athleticism possible.

We see this time and time again with wrestlers entering MMA, there is a finished product that constantly comes into the ring, a powerful, explosive and agile athlete, in BJJ we do not see this yet as it is still in its infancy in terms of organization.

The Rules of the Game

The Rules of MMA do not favor BJJ as BJJ really thrives on longer time limits, as well as the threat of a referee standing up fighters can affect a BJJ players game plan as each time the fight starts standing there is another chance to strike while taking down an opponent can be an exhausting and dangerous task especially against a “sprawl and brawl” type of opponent. 

Sadly, the current standard rules in MMA  are not in the BJJ fighters advantage and definitely more suited for a wrestler or striker.

In Conclusion

In no means was this article written to bash BJJ, it is to show the challenges as well as causes that BJJ fighters are facing when fighting MMA. 

BJJ is a truly amazing martial art, it is practiced by millions of people, it has laid the foundation for modern MMA and it is an art that everyone here at Grapplezilla truly loves to practice but make no mistake, when entering the MMA cage – make sure your BJJ is MMA based as if you do, your chances of victory are much stronger.

In the end the real question is not why are bjj fighters winning MMA titles anymore but Can an MMA title be won by a fighter who does not have any BJJ. Perhaps this is the ultimate victory of BJJ as a martial art in MMA.


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