Mixed Martial Arts History - Was BJJ Really the Best?

Mixed martial arts history starts with the first ultimate fighting championship that took place in Denver, Colorado, on November 12, 1993. Tournament ensued from the attempt to answer the question of what was the best martial art. Presently known by the famous acronyms of BJJ, Brazilian jiu-jitsu implemented by Royce Gracie won the championship and gained the status of the most effective martial art in the world. However, after looking at the modern UFC fights in which wrestlers tend to dominate the octagon and demolish many of the BJJ fighters, a question occurs: “Was BJJ really the best?”

First UFC Revealed – Unfair Advantage of BJJ

Royce Gracie

Royce Grace – The Winner of the First UFC

Royce Gracie won his fights fair and square – there is no question about that. From the moment the bell ringed up until the point where he submitted his opponents to surrender, loss of the conscious or broken limb, Royce had fought honorably and achieved a string of victories. In addition to this, the tournament assembled very strong fighters. His opponents weren’t like the ones he fought on streets and in garages – strong males from the neighborhood who did a lot of chest workout and, believing that bigger means stronger, wanted to test their abilities against a little guy who claimed he can beat everyone and offered money to the opponent that manages to defeat him. While all opponents on the tournament were featured by high fitness level they also were professional martial artists. True, there was no world or Olympic champion amongst them but all of them were highly ranked in their competitions.


Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil 1856-1949 (Choque: The History of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil Book 1)

Royce Gracie’s Most Prominent Opponents

In this eight-man tournament, Boxer Art Jimmerson, wrestler Ken Shamrock, and representative of karate Gerard Gordeau were all defeated in a very short amount of time. When entering this tournament, Royce Gracie was 80kg in weight and 185cm tall.

Art Jimmerson – Golden Gloves Middleweight Champion

Art Jimmerson In the Octagon

Art Jimmerson

Jimmerson was the 1983 National Golden Gloves Middleweight champion. He finished his boxing career in 2002, with a record of 33–18. Jimmerson entered the first UFC with 86kg and 1.80m. After taking Jimmerson down, Royce “choked him.” A later check of the first fight video revealed that there was no choke at all. Just a chest pressured over Jimmerson’s face. It seemed like he just gave up.

Ken Shamrock – The Second Victim

Ken Shamrock

Ken Shamrock

Ken was the hardest opponent to face. This professional wrestler with the title of Intercontinental Champion, a World Tag Team Champion and the 1998 King of the Ring was regarded as a beast. He had a knowledge of kickboxing and had a 15kg weight advantage as he was 95kg of raw muscle. 1.85m tall he had similar if not better reach than Royce. There were very few of those who could predict the fast outcome of the clash. In less than a single minute, Ken was choked and forced to tap.

The Toughest Man Who Ever Lived

Gerard Gordeau – The Grand Finale

Gerard - Karate Guy

Gerard – Karate Guy

It ended on Brazilian jiu-jitsu vs karate. During his lifetime he became the 1991 World Champion Savate and holder of the Dutch Champion Kyokushin Karate title for 8 consecutive years. Tall 1.96m and 98kg in weight he was almost 20kg heavier than Royce. However, that did not help. Royce quickly submitted him and became the first UFC champion proving that BJJ is the most efficient martial art that could be learned.

What Was The Unfair Advantage? Victories Were All Fair

After checking these video clips it might seem odd to say that anything was unfair. Yet, the explaining of that statement is capable of revealing why BJJ, while being very efficient, isn’t featured by absolute dominance over other martial arts.

Why BJJ Is Not The Best?

When Royce Gracie entered the tournament he was more than familiar with boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and karate. While he had no background in these sports, maybe some basics, he, like the rest of the world, was very aware of how those skills are applied. When engaging in a fight with Jimmerson, Gracie knew that boxer is going to try to hit him. Left and right directs, hooks, and uppercuts were possible attacks he was supposed to protect himself from. However, Jimmerson knew nothing of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He might have expected Royce to attempt to take him down, but that was it. He knew nothing of submissions or sweeps. The same applied to Ken and Gerard. Since this was a one-night tournament, information Ken and Gerard could gather about Royce’s skills, reduced to a 60 seconds fight with Jimmerson. It was far from enough time to get the sense of the BJJ martial art nature. As it was already stated, Gracie knew what to expect. Boxer, as well as the karate master, was going to throw punches and kicks while the wrestler was going to wrestle. Therefore, it wasn’t BJJ against other martial arts, it was BJJ and a surprise against boxing, wrestling and karate one at the time. In addition to this, if looking at the way Royce fought, you will notice that most of his attacks are BJJ basics which can rarely be applied in today’s competition.

Proving Claims

In the second fight Royce and Shamrock had in 1995, wrestling turned out to be superior. The fight that had lasted almost 40 minutes ended as a draw but Royce’s face was demolished and Ken was at the dominant position all the time. In modern days, according to records and statistics, UFC fighters with wrestling background have proven to be more dominant when compared to ones with BJJ as a base sport. However, these claims are not, in any way, intended to lower down the value of BJJ which is an absolute must for anyone with serious intentions regarding MMA competition.

Why BJJ Is Excellent Martial Art?

Royce had the advantage of surprise which helped him win. But he also had disadvantages. Both Shamrock and Gerard were almost 20kg heavier which means that he fought opponents who were three or four weight classes above. Something like that takes a lot of courage and heart. And what we have seen proved that BJJ is capable of allowing a weaker guy to submit bigger and stronger fighters. However, the question still remains, what is the best martial art?

What is the Dominant Martial Art?

Unfortunately, none is the answer to this question and draw is the result of their clash. When speaking of MMA in present times, a fighter must be skilled in punching, transition, and ground. In the game of chess, all figures are important and sometimes it is not the queen but the pawn that brings victory.

Why Are Wrestlers More Dominant Than BJJ Guys?

Since we have established that entering modern octagons on strong fighting championships requires all-round skills stating that wrestlers are better than BJJ guys is a clear misconception. If a wrestler manages to throw down the BJJ guy on his back and successfully continues to hold the position, throw punches and eventually pass his guard it is not because he is a wrestler. It is because he is either stronger, either more skillful or both. Without any knowledge of ground-game wrestler would get submitted easily. The mere fact that fighter is capable of the opening guard while avoiding submission is proof of skill. However, it is true that wrestling as a background provides a physical advantage. But it is not the universal rule as there are many BJJ fighters that have proven to be more than capable of resisting wrestlers in a matter of strength or being even stronger. Jacare Souza is a good example. He fought wrestlers on several occasions. Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost. That is the nature of every sport.

Evolution of MMA – Training and Food

Brock Lesnar Lifting Weights

Brock Lesnar

In present times, two training sessions on a daily basis is a must, but it is usually three when we add running and stretching. The food regime is calculated and determined on a blood analysis result. One week before the fight they eat five meals a day. But some of them, like Alistar Overeem, can eat from seven to nine times from morning to night. Physical preparations include both cardio and weight-lifting which makes every single MMA fighter fill his fitness potential to a full degree. 80kg guys are capable of being fast and at the same time pushing 150kg on a bench. Squats can even reach 200kg while deadlift can go up to 250kg. The important note is that we are still talking about guys weighting like Royce Gracie. In addition to all of this, they run up to 20 kilometers and succeed in keeping both force, and cardio. With such an approach, there is absolutely no way that Royce Gracie could, regardless of BJJ skill level, survive a whole minute with someone who is one weight class above him, let alone three or four like it was the case in the times of the first UFC tournament.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *