Out of the seven undisputed male champions six of them have an extensive background in wrestling, yes that includes Robert Whittaker, but why is wrestling so imperative in this modern era of MMA?
It’s simple, wrestling allows you to dictate the location of any fight. When you’re engaged in any kind of fight, as you already know it can go to the ground, clinch or fighters may stand and trade. Now from the get-go wrestling places you in at an advantage, the clinch work and groundwork are what make wrestling what it is, two of the three positions are already familiar to a wrestler. However, people tend to make a common mistake; they assume the wrestler wants to wrestle and maul people on the ground or drain them out in a clinch-fest, but the wrestler controls where you fight, even if that is on the feet.
The best example to use here to make my point is using former welterweight champion, Tyron Woodley. I’m going to analyse two extreme cases. His fight with Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and Demian Maia. Tyron Woodley was the superior wrestler in both these fights, but he’s not nearly as good a striker as Thompson or as a good a grappler as Maia. However, he was able to dictate where the fight took place in both cases. He kept the fight standing with Maia by defending 21 takedown attempts from the Brazilian and was able to out strike Maia on the feet on the way to a unanimous decision victory. With Wonderboy there was a similar narrative, albeit the Wonderboy fights were far more competitive, Woodleys ability to constantly threaten with grappling and through his domination when they would grapple, is evident by the dominant first round in their first meeting. He used the ‘Fear of wrestling’ and it allowed him to control the distance against the kickboxing king and through controlling the octagon he managed to score a win in their second fight.
Wrestling not only allows the fight location to be dictated, but the threat of wrestling opens up other aspects of a fight by dividing the opponent’s attention between strikes and takedowns. Let’s look at Khabib vs McGregor, Khabib’s takedown threat alone was so great that the well-known ‘wrestlers overhand right’ was the first ever shot to drop the Irishman, who is considered as one of the best strikers in MMA history. Even after boxing Floyd Mayweather for 30 minutes, Khabib’s overhand was the shot that dropped Conor. Wrestling does this because it drains you, it takes life away from you slowly; you’re responsible to stop it and to do so you need to divide your attention this allows for mediocre strikers to use wrestling as a way to keep up with better strikers.
I have only discussed the actual logistical implications of wrestling during a fight. I haven’t begun to discuss the inherit toughness and will power that a lifetime of wrestling brings and its implications on the outcome of a fight, as well as the insane athletic ability wrestling provides.