Sunday, 22 January 2012

MMA fighters are athletes

As fight night approaches, it is common enough for fans to want to predict results, I myself do this religiously. But how does one determine the outcome of something as fickle in nature as a fight? The winner is usually chosen based on the fighters’ history, more often than not their last fights, or greater yet, a subconscious bias towards a favoured athlete. What other information do we have to base our decisions on, we have not been through the fighters camp with them, we do not know how hungry they are for victory... or do we? 

The weigh-ins are always a great opportunity for fans to gauge whether the athlete is both physically and mentally fit. The two are mutually inclusive. There is more to it than bulging muscles and a ripped six pack (though this is a common enough side effect), a good training camp should yield a powerful, comfortable, confident athlete at the weigh in, a poor one - very much the opposite. A fighter invariably knows when he is ready to step into the cage, when he has left everything in the gym, and this is easily perceived.

In the current era of MMA, most of the top fighters have an amazing all round technical game, and conditioning can be the decisive factor, separating otherwise even combatants. This is where the weigh-in proves invaluable in picking winners, as added to their experience and history, we now have a glimpse into what sort of shape they are in. In my opinion there is never an excuse for a professional athlete competing periodically throughout the year to be out of shape come fight time, regardless of the division.

For too long conditioning has been a secondary consideration for fighters. Fighting superstars of the past have been made and broken on conditioning alone. BJ Penn, one of the most talented fighters of our era, who stood atop the lightweight and welterweight divisions for many years often came into the Octagon looking less than impressive. As the sport evolved, Penn would lose more and more of the latter rounds and consequently fights due to poor conditioning. Conversely, current UFC Welterweight champion Georges St Pierre, seemed to build a career on conditioning alone. GSP began his career as a decent striker with an solid ground game, but brought such an impressive athletic package to the ring, that he just steamrolled his competition. GSP, who has since evolved into one of the top Pound for pound MMA fighters in the world, still maintains that which got him to the top - an athleticism second to none. This, coupled with his every increasing skills repertoire make him arguably the most well rounded MMA fighter in the world.

Fighter athleticism in South Africa
South Africa fortunately seems to have learnt from the mistakes of our predecessors and even in its infancy, our MMA community is producing some of the finest athletes in the country. It is indeed rare to see a top level fighter entering the cage in anything less than spectacular shape. This impressive conditioning practise by the elite raises the bar for the fighters attempting to catch and surpass them and will ultimately ensure that in the future being an athlete will continue to be a pre-requisite to being a great fighter.   


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