Old-School MMA: The Myth of Wrestlers Automatically Dominating

Discussion in 'Worldwide MMA Discussion' started by PolarBearPaulVarelans, Apr 8, 2019.

  1. PolarBearPaulVarelans

    PolarBearPaulVarelans Purple Belt

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    Well into the 2000's, you would hear people excitedly talk about some wrestler transitioning to MMA, with the understanding that any good amateur wrestler would dominate, or at least have considerable success in the sport. I found this to be absolutely loony, as not only was this wrong back in the 2000's...it wasn't even true in the 1990's!

    Now of course, wrestling was and still is the single most important skill in MMA, as well as the best base to have. The overwhelming majority of champions in MMA have at least decent wrestling.

    However, could a wrestling champion who competes in MMA have great success solely through his wrestling and no other skills? Not by a long shot! Even guys like Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, and yes, even Dan Severn needed to adapt their wrestling and learn new skills.

    Consider these examples of wrestlers who didn't, all from the 1990's, going from most to least successful;

    Kevin Jackson-

    Perhaps the greatest wrestler to ever compete in MMA for more than a one-off, wrestling legend Kevin Jackson was an Olympic gold medalist and 2-time world champion who was only 32 years old (two years removed from his last world championship) when he got into MMA.

    He had some limited success, winning the UFC 14 light-heavyweight tournament, beating a respectable opponent for the time in Tony Fryklund in the finals, even if Tony was a good 20 pounds lighter than him. And yet, the very next fight, he was subbed by Frank Shamrock, smaller than him by at least 10 pounds, in all of 16 seconds with an armbar.

    A learning experience, right? And yet, in his return to the UFC, Kevin Jackson ended up losing in a grueling 10+ minute match to Jerry Bohlander, also by armbar. In this fight, Jackson showed a complete lack of top control and ground-and-pound, as well as poor submission defense.

    Could Jackson, if he worked hard, have corrected these flaws and become one of the top fighters of his day? Maybe. But the point is, his WRESTLING ALONE was not enough. Instead of putting in the hard work, though, Kevin Jackson retired after a quick victory over Sam Adkins, going back to amateur wrestling and later becoming a coach.

    Royce Alger-

    There was a lot of hype surrounding Royce Alger when he debuted in the UFC. Training at Hammer House with Mark Coleman, he was a 2-time NCAA national champion, including going undefeated in his final 78 matches. Many thought he would have similar success to Coleman, only at light heavyweight.

    Instead, he was armbarred in a minute and a half by Enson Inoue at UFC 13, a huge upset at the time, and after 3 easy wins against bums in Iowa, was knocked out by Eugene Jackson at UFC 21. Similar to Jackson, he didn't have any skills other than his wrestling, and that turned out not to be enough. Inoue and Jackson are quite a step down from Frank Shamrock and Bohlander, too.

    Gary Myers-

    Gary Myers made a more concerted effort to make it in MMA than either Jackson or Alger, fighting 25 times from 1995 all the way to 2008, and working as a MMA promoter to this day. And yet, he had less success than either of them.

    Myers was a member of the US Army Wrestling team and very nearly missed making the Olympic team at the trials prior to competing at the first-ever Extreme Fighting 1, an organization founded by then UFC-matchmaker John Perretti.

    And yet, while he managed to beat bums, Myers would always lose to any skilled fighter of his day, including those massively smaller than his 220 pounds. He lost to Marcus Conan Silveira, he lost to Jeremy Horn, he lost to Yuki Kondo, and even the very limited Wallid Ismail.

    While Myers' takedowns were predictable and one-dimensional, he did mostly manage to get his opponents on their backs. However, once there, he had no clue what to do. His ground-and-pound was so poor he made Dan Severn's ground-and-pound look like prime Mark Coleman crossed with prime Tito Ortiz by comparison.

    Roger Neff-

    A giant brute of a wrestler at 270 pounds, Neff was an excellent Greco-Roman wrestler who almost made the 1988 Olympics as a 21 year-old but barely lost in the Olympic Trials finals.

    Not only did Neff have the same problems as the fighters above did, but he was very easy to hit and hurt standing up, a flaw that Petey Williams needed all of 6 seconds to exploit. Paul Buentello knocked him out in 3 minutes early on his career, too.

    Sadly, Neff passed away in 2013 at the age of just 46.

    Eric Heberstreit-

    While not successful, all the fighters we've looked at so far have had winning records, even if barely and thanks to 90's bums. Heberstreit, by contrast, stands at just 0-1.

    Heberstreit was not a great wrestler, but surely, being a Division 1 college wrestler should have been enough to win an undercard bout on IFC 1 Kombat in Kiev, right?

    Unfortunately, he was matched against John Lober, a competent fighter whose final record doesn't do him justice, as he owns a victory over a young Frank Shamrock.

    Things started out well for Heberstreit in that fight, as he got a quick, nice takedown. But once there, Lober, who knew BJJ, tied him up, then performed a move that had never been done in MMA until then, to my knowledge. Namely, he put his feet against the cage and kicked off. In the process he swept Heberstreit. Like most pure wrestlers, Heberstreit was absolutely helpless off his own back. After being pounded on by Lober, he gave up his back and then tapped to a RNC.

    Realizing that success in MMA would be far from easy, and looking shellshocking after the beating he took on the bottom, Heberstreit would never compete in the sport again.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2019
  2. Mr_Hodge

    Mr_Hodge White Belt

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    Whilst I agree, tell that to Gregor Gillespie. Never seen someone grind for so long jheez
     
  3. dsdoubled

    dsdoubled Brown Belt

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    I think the reason people get so excited wrestlers coming over is the athletic potential. These guys are top notch athletes. There is also the conditioning and competitive experience they have. Its tremendous. Having said that, I don't disagree with your post. Or , I don't disagree with it strongly.

    However, if there ever was a single art that on its own could win fights for a fighter, its wrestling. Even into the 2000s look at a lot of the fights from guys like Koscheck, Fitch, Diego, Sherk, Frankie Edgar, Kurt Pellegrino, Nik Lentz, etc etc. These guys won a bunch of fights with wrestling. And that leads me to another problem with this exercise. In an open rule set like MMA, its gonna be hard to say if a fighter is using JUST wrestling. Sure, a fighters background can tell us a lot but what about the examples that occurred well into a fighters career? Is it just wrestling that's allowed X fighter to control, GnP, and dominate his foe from on top? Is it wrestling that allowed fighter X to dominate against the cage? Or is it stuff learned from a muay thai coach? Its hard to say.

    I think your post has the potential to spawn some real good debate. I anticipate your response.
     
  4. BisexualMMA

    BisexualMMA Don't Put My Name in the Name of Steroids!

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    Yeah, Townsend Saunders also came in with quite the wrestling pedigree but had mediocre results in MMA.
     
  5. PolarBearPaulVarelans

    PolarBearPaulVarelans Purple Belt

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    I didn't include him because he arguably beat a legendary champion Pat Miletich in their fight. (Certainly he would have by modern scoring standards) And his second fight was Mikey Burnett, an absolute beast back then.

    He actually had more success against better guys than either Jackson or Alger did.
     
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  6. To be fair, he fought Pat Militech and Mikey Burnett in his only two fights. Maybe if he was eased into the sport he would've found more success.

    Also really liked his name "Townsend Saunders" very quirky.
     
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  7. And also to note, while it wasn't exactly MMA, Matt Hume subbed two-time Olympic medallist Kenny Monday.
     
  8. Bluesbreaker

    Bluesbreaker Black Belt

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    Reading this made me think of all the times Jeff Blatnick creamed his jeans over wrestlers.
     
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  9. INTERL0PER

    INTERL0PER Brown Belt

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    Great thread... But it's Sherdog, so it'll probably die a sad, lonely death.
     
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  10. CorninginChristianburg

    CorninginChristianburg White Belt

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    The logic in this case is what's at fault here.

    First, there's a clear strawman. You argue against the argument "wrestlers can succeed without any other skills in MMA" in the 3rd paragraph. No one has ever argued that. Nobody clearly believes that, or wrestlers transitioning from wrestling to MMA wouldn't train anything but wrestling, and clearly they don't.

    Then you proceed to just list a small handful of anecdotes. "Here are a few prospects who busted" essentially. Ok? Not all top football prospects can make the transition from college to the NFL. Not all top basketball player draft picks become stars in the NBA. Not all top NHL draft picks become top players in the NHL. Is football a bad base for football, or basketball for basketball, or hockey for hockey? What about this alternative thesis. "Some prospects bust. That's normal. That's a part of every sport, every industry, every enterprise." It's clearly a better thesis. Wrestlers are still overwhelmingly dominant in MMA today, so it's not even clear what you believe is the status quo.
     
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  11. mkt

    mkt Silver Belt

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    Yeah, I discussed this on a threat not long ago. Starting your MMA career against Prime Militech and Burnett is one of the toughest 2-fight series anyone has faced. Burnett was a very good wrestler himself and had a strong boxing background. That allowed him to do one of the best early sprawl-n-brawl performances.

    One thing worth considering is big-name wrestlers often get thrown to the wolves early on (as Saunders did). Lesnar is another example. After one tune-up fight in Japan, he was fighting strong gatekeepers or Top 10 guys by his second MMA match and never looked back.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2019 at 11:42 AM
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  12. PolarBearPaulVarelans

    PolarBearPaulVarelans Purple Belt

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    Wrong. I don't know how long you've been following MMA, but people absolutely did argue this as late as 2005, let alone 1998.

    Wrong again. Most of the early wrestlers, including everyone included on my list, didn't cross-train and did little except wrestling training. Even Dan Severn, who I didn't include, did very, very little outside of wrestling when he trained.

    It's not so "small" when one considers how small the number of guys even competing in MMA to any serious degree was back then, a tiny fraction of the number of fighters active today. And there were other examples, I simply didn't want to bore my readers when I had effectively conveyed my point.

    Wrong a third time. Wrestling is still the single best skill to have in MMA, but wrestlers are not "overwhelmingly dominant" on anything except the low-level regional circuit.
     
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  13. PolarBearPaulVarelans

    PolarBearPaulVarelans Purple Belt

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    Burnett is such a case of "what could have been". Incredibly physically strong and athletic. Very good wrestler. Very good takedown defense. Damn near impossible to submit in his heyday. Good striking for his time. Still very young.

    Unfortunately, he trained at the Lion's Den, which meant he had shit cardio. Unfortunately, he got a girl pregnant and since there wasn't much money in MMA, raised his kid instead.

    In an alternate MMA timeline, Burnett is a legendary champion, one of the greatest welterweights/lightweights of all time.
     
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  14. mkt

    mkt Silver Belt

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    Yep. And then there was his attempt to resurrect his career on TUF years later, where he drunkenly rammed himself into a wall and wrecked his neck before his first fight, which he not surprisingly lost.

    He was a bit like a young Don Frye in a lighter weight class--so he didn't have face roided Coleman, Goodridge, Tank and other oversized beasts whom Frye fought. (Frye had a similar background in boxing, wrestling and even a little judo.) I never saw Burnett's fight with Militech, but I know it was a hotly contested SD, just like Saunders-Militech. He definitely had the makings of an elite 90s and early 2000s WW. The only point I'd disagree with a bit is Lion's Den and cardio. Most of those guys did super intense training and calisthenics and sometimes won by cardio more than anything else (Shamrock vs. Tito, Mo Smith vs. Coleman). Getting Ken's relative pregnant was Burnett's downfall, though--no question on that.
     
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  15. PolarBearPaulVarelans

    PolarBearPaulVarelans Purple Belt

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    Neither Frank Shamrock nor Mo Smith trained at the Lion's Den back then. In fact, they had split apart from the Lion's Den to form their own team with Kohsaka called The Alliance, which predates Miletich as the first quality MMA team ever.

    Frank Shamrock wasn't even particularly good back when he trained at the Lion's Den, and according to many guys there (Bohlander for instance, who has no stake in this discussion), was far from the most talented guy.

    Then he splits off from Lion's Den, stops training like a retard, and becomes one of the greatest ever...which proves my point.

    I could write pages on all the potentially legendary careers the Lion's Den ruined. Burnett, Guy Mezger, Petey Williams, and Jerry Bohlander should have been so much more. (Incidentally, 4 guys who suffered from poor cardio)
     
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  16. CorninginChristianburg

    CorninginChristianburg White Belt

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    What you're not comprehending is the idea that some beliefs might have warrant attached to them. You bring up a few anecdotes, you could bring up a few more, that doesn't actually convey your point. What you are attacking is an expectation. What would be necessary to convey your point that their expectations were unwarranted is to prove that they should not have believed that certain athletes based on their past credentials would be successful in MMA, and that would require, in this case, proving that wrestlers were not successful in MMA, generally speaking. Not just that a handful of people were not successful in MMA.

    Your argument is based on the strawman claim you make here, your opening statement: "Well into the 2000's, you would hear people excitedly talk about some wrestler transitioning to MMA, with the understanding that any good amateur wrestler would dominate, or at least have considerable success in the sport. I found this to be absolutely loony, as not only was this wrong back in the 2000's...it wasn't even true in the 1990's! "

    This is trivially false. If there are 16 wrestlers in a division, it is a fact about mathematics, and not MMA, that at least one of them will be unranked (given that the top 15 are ranked). Therefore, the position is untenable without even reaching the grounds of martial arts, so to give assign someone that position is another misguided argument.

    In order for you to actually convey your point, you can't just assign your opponent the an untenable position. You have to contend with the warrant behind their beliefs. As a dissertation on history, your post can properly be titled "Famous Busts in MMA history from Wrestling Backgrounds", but it never addresses why one should not have held the belief that these individuals would be successful. It merely assigns to them the untenable belief that every single wrestler would be successful, and proves that false via reductio.

    Now, I'm getting the sense that I misread your piece initially as intending to have some commentary on the present, where I'm gathering now that it's intended to have no relevance to the present. That's fine, I'm rather indifferent to the historical discussion. But the structure of the argumentation is nevertheless problematic.


    This is quickly going to turn into a debate about the content of the phrase "overwhelming", but the eagerness with which you chimed that I was "wrong" according to your definition, presumably an objective one, amuses me and makes me want to hear your correct definition.

    I contend that the proper definition of "overwhelm" is to hold the majority of male titles, while there are no less than half a dozen disciplines whose practitioners might contend for a title. I await your more objective interpretation of the term.
     
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  17. mkt

    mkt Silver Belt

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    I realize Wikipedia isn't an infallible source, but it claims Smith trained for Coleman at the LD:
    "While training with the Lion's Den, Maurice Smith defeated Mark Coleman to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship, and became the first striker to survive the attack of a world class wrestler. Smith later joined forces with Lion's Den fighter Frank Shamrock to form their own team, called The Alliance. Coleman, after losing two fights in a row to Lion's Den fighters, went to train with the Lion's Den and was coached and cornered by Ken Shamrock at UFC 18."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion's_Den_(mixed_martial_arts)

    While I haven't seen any of those fights in years, I recall guys like Bohlander and Mezger winning a lot of 10-minute plus fights (no rounds), vs. Gurgel, Kevin Jackson, Christophe Leininger, etc. Seems like they had better cardio than most 90s fighters...not necesarily better than guys now of course.

    I also remember hearing that your namesake (Varelens) trained with Frank Shamrock at some point..that was when he lost about 50 pounds and looked a lot better.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2019 at 12:27 PM
  18. SevitriDevifanclub

    SevitriDevifanclub White Belt

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    Funny how all those wrestlers fought incredibly talented guys while being completely raw. It just shows the extent that wrestlers are perceived as being superior fighters. What kind of other athlete from another sport enter MMA and produce monstrous results. Wrestling is physically harder than MMA and the techniques translate better than any other art,. Wrestling is the ultimate sport for combat. If any of you wrestled once in your lives, you would understand.
    I was ranked 4th in my weight in France so I know what I am saying.
     
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  19. PolarBearPaulVarelans

    PolarBearPaulVarelans Purple Belt

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    Smith was already training exclusively with Frank Shamrock and Kohsaka as part of The Alliance when he beat Coleman at UFC 14, so yeah, Wikipedia is wrong there.

    It's interesting that another part of that paragraph supports my point, though. It's true that Coleman briefly trained at the Lion's Den for UFC 18...a close fight he lost to Pedro Rizzo (my favorite fighter back then) after, what else? Gassing late in the match.

    However, when Coleman went over to Japan and competed in the first ever Grand Prix, guess who he decided to train with? Pat Miletich. And miraculously, Coleman's cardio was massively improved, he looked better than ever, and his career was revived.

    I would definitely recommend rewatching a few of those fights again. Mezger vs. Leninger was extremely slow and dull, with very limited output from either fighter. Bohlander vs. Jackson kind of proves my point, too.

    It was a more high-paced affair, and Bohlander looked like he was about to die of exhaustion after he won 11 minutes into the match. Meanwhile, Jackson, who was much older and more muscular and heavier, looked like he barely broke a sweat.

    Mezger would lose fights again and again when his cardio betrayed him. The most painful one being to Chuck Liddell in PRIDE, as he utterly kicked the Iceman's ass for the first round.

    Part of the bad cardio has to do with the Lion's Den training philosophy. They were all heavily on steroids and loved having huge muscles while going for that bodybuilder look. (Recall that Ken Shamrock even had a bodybuilder as one of his 3 coaches on the 3rd season of TUF) As fighters all know today, those big muscles require tons of oxygen.

    Frank or Ken? I wasn't aware of either, though; neat. When did that happen?
     
  20. mkt

    mkt Silver Belt

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    Frank. One of his later fights that's on YouTube. I believe Paul won the fight, too. Can't remember if a commenter said that or it was in the comments or another site.
     
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