The following question was submitted by a subscriber of the Grapplearts newsletter.
Q: Why did grappling dominate early NHB / MMA events, but now striking seems to have the edge”
A: I think that the increased emphasis on striking is due to several factors.
Crosstraining: every successful striker in high-level MMA also has a background in some sort of grappling art. There was a time when the details of, and defenses to, the bread and butter submissions of Brazilian jiu-jitsu were closely guarded secrets. Techniques like the triangle, armbar, and rear naked choke are still very effective against ‘untrained’ attackers in a self defense situation, but you have to work to apply them at a high level in MMA. They are no longer ‘surprise’ attacks.
Takedown Defense: Fighters like Chuck Liddell and Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic are known for their spectacular knockouts, BUT they use pummel, sprawl and whizzer to avoid going to the ground, use top ground positions to punish their opponents, and use the guard to avoid punishment on the bottom and stand back up to their feet. Their grappling skills allow them to keep the fight on the feet, where they are most dangerous.
Gloves and Handwraps: trying to knock someone out by punching them in the head barehanded is a risky proposition, as the small bones in the hand break relatively easily. Gloves and handwraps protect the hand of the puncher, not the head of the punchee, and make it possible to punch harder. Gloves also interfere with grappling: sinking the rear naked choke while wearing MMA gloves, for example, is significantly more difficult than with the bare hand.
Rules: the introduction of rounds was a boon to strikers. They were guaranteed a fresh start at their preferred range at the beginning of each round, provided they could stall on the ground until the end of the round. Now the rules mandate standing fighters back up to their feet if the action on the ground slows down, and we are even beginning to see referees break clinches. Personally I’d like to see some symmetry in the rules: if two fighters are on their feet and nothing is happening then stop the match and put them both on the ground,,,
Selection: for the majority of the North American audience MMA is a glorified tough man contest. The average viewer wants to see two guys standing in front of each other swinging for the fences. This armchair quarterback starts boo’ing as soon as the fighters hit the ground. The promoters know this, and to some extent select and promote strikers over grapplers. This is also why you are beginning to see fighters apologize for winning by submission rather than knocking an opponent out – the first time I heard of this happening I was completely flabbergasted.