As the conventional wisdom states, styles make fights.
Each fighter possesses a unique style and by successfully imposing his will on his opponents, he has his hands raised at the end of the fights.
Over the past week, UFC 98 and DREAM 9 made the MMA headlines as the two biggest events in the MMA world.
While both events staged memorable fights, two fighters came out as the biggest winners of the bunch: Lyoto Machida and Joe Warren.
In addition to earning impressive wins, Machida and Warren became studies in contrast: precision in movement and attack for the former and the relentless, overpowering toughness for the latter.
While Machida opened many eyes with a novel, unorthodox style, Warren proved that the time-tested art of wrestling is here to stay in MMA.
At UFC 98, Lyoto Machida became the UFC light heavyweight champion and added the previously undefeated Rashad Evans to his victim’s list.
Once again, his offbeat, elusive fighting style led him to victory, while leaving his opponent battered and baffled.
His detractors have denounced his cerebral counterstriking style as boring. However, his technical prowess and the calculated aggression he demonstrated against Thiago Silva and Evans are turning critics into fans.
Steadfast in his commitment to Shotokan karate’s technical precision and economy of movement, Machida combines fast movement and power inflicting major damage with little or no damage to himself.
Having lived and breathed Shotokan Karate since age three, Machida has honed the techniques of his martial arts into efficient weapons: His lifelong pursuit of the art has led to the near perfect mastery of techniques that allows for their execution with accuracy, speed, and power.
While many have dismissed the efficacy of traditional styles of karate in combat situations, Machida’s seamless adaptation of Shotokan techniques have begun to open the eyes of the MMA world.
The linear and lateral mobility on his feet, the preternatural sense of timing and distance, and well-harnessed explosiveness speak to the effectiveness and Machida’s mastery of karate.
Augmenting his game with muay thai, boxing, sumo, and Brazilian jiu jitsu, Machida is a near consummate fighter: A perfect blend of technical precision, smart, and athleticism.
At DREAM 9, Joe Warren stepped into the ring at Yokohama Arena as a huge underdog.
In only his second professional bout, he faced one of the most successful fighters in the weight class on DREAM’s grand stage. Not only did his opponent, Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto have a huge advantage in experience and the overall skill set, but also had an arena full of adoring fans on his side.
Over-matched in nearly every department, Warren had only one weapon at his disposal: His pedigree as a Greco-Roman wrestling world champion.
The one weapon he had worked the miracle in the match.
Besides the extraordinary skills, the years of toiling on the wrestling mat en route to the sport’s apex has conferred Warren another valuable asset—one that transcends mere physical capabilities: the relentless, gritty toughness cultivated in the crucible of one of the most rigorous sports in existence.
Warren utilized his superior strength to bully Yamamoto, a free-style wrestler who has competed for an Olympic bid. He remained unfazed and relentless in his attack despite absorbing hard strikes from Yamamoto.
Granted, Warren’s inexperience and the vulnerabilities in his game were visible.
Besides getting tagged on the feet, he left openings in the otherwise stifling top control that could have been exploited by fighters with decent submission skills.
Also, perhaps due to inactivity and bouts with injuries, his opponent was far from the wrecking machine that he was before the long layoff.
Despite his sole reliance on his wrestling prowess and raw, physical aggression, Warren’s brash, unbreakable spirit ultimately prevailed. His performance certainly was not the most aesthetically pleasing. In fact, it was a far cry from the seamless blend of athleticism and finesse displayed by Machida and other top level fighters.
Nevertheless, in grinding out his opponent with dirty boxing and knee strikes from clinch and ground-and-pound, he has displayed the courage and intensity that cannot be taught by even the most acclaimed of trainers.
His triumph is also an immovable testament to the wrestlers’ dominance.
The evolution and the proliferation of MMA give rise to fighters like Machida who deftly adapts a style of martial arts outside the wrestling/BJJ/muay thai/boxing mold. Nonetheless, Warren has emerged as the latest in the long line of wrestlers-turned-mixed martial artists.
Besides the ability to dictate where the fight takes place, wrestlers, especially those who have competed in the highest echelon of the sports, benefit from the nose-to-the-grindstone work ethics and unparalleled strength and physical conditioning.
Warren has yet again proved that few slick submission specialists or technical strikers could match wrestlers in pure physical and mental toughness.
At UFC 98 and DREAM 9, Lyoto Machida and Joe Warren proved that there are many paths to victory.
Whether ones style is new or old in MMA, whether one relies on finesse or raw strength, in the end, one who imposes his will on his opponent has his hands raised.