Does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu still “work” in MMA?

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer


Following his victory over Jon Olav Einemo at UFC 131 two weeks ago, heavyweight prospect Dave Herman made a bold statement that has the MMA community abuzz.

He said Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu “doesn’t work.” The statement came after he beat the BJJ master Einemo with strikes. Herman elaborated to say that it more specifically doesn’t work on a wrestler like him, that it’s mere “trickery” and that it worked better on opponents  who knew nothing about it, as it did when Royce Gracie baffled guys in the early UFC days.

Wow. Talk about Controversial. Do you agree?

I wouldn’t say I fully agree or disagree, but that there is some merit to what Herman says. Do I think BJJ is ineffective? Absolutely not. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t see so many guys finishing fights via submission every week and we wouldn’t see so many non-BJJ fighters adding it to their repertoire.

I do, however, agree that the pure BJJ practitioner can no longer dominate in MMA. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has been beaten down by superior strikers; Royce Gracie returned to the sport only to get ragdolled by Matt Hughes’ wrestling a few years ago; and Demian Maia has been forced to learn boxing after his lack of versatility caused him to hit a roadblock in the middleweight division.

The problem with BJJ as a pure offensive technique is that it’s a form of grappling and it inherently requires strength. In the early days, it was so new and deceptive that the technique could conquer a wrestler or striker’s girth. Now, every fighter has at least some understanding of BJJ and submission defense. As a result, BJJ guys have more and more trouble bringing the fight to their comfort zone.

Look at this past weekend’s Alistair Overeem/Fabricio Werdum fight. The BJJ black belt Werdum wanted to get Overeem to the ground and submit him, so he kept pulling guard, but Overeem was just too strong for him. Werdum couldn’t control his opponent.

Wrestling is a much more effective base in MMA today largely because it goes hand-in-hand with strength and conditioning. Dominant wrestlers tend to also be dominant physical specimens who can impose their will on their opponents.

To me, there is still absolutely a place for BJJ in mixed martial arts today, but I no longer see it as an effective base skill. It works far better as a complementary skill, used to finish off weakened opponents (like Kenny Florian does with his chokes) or as a defense (like Anderson Silva used against Travis Lutter and Chael Sonnen).

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