I had never seen anyone quite like Ken Shamrock, who at 6 feet 1 inch tall and 217 pounds handily dropped opponent after opponent in World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation) matches. An Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran, Ken Shamrock brought a unique style to the pro-wrestling milieu in 1997, combining wrestling with martial arts acumen to produce a new kind of gladiator—a combatant whose martial arts agility would launch a mini-revolution in the wrestling world. This crossbreeding has produced interesting results and a host of new fighting styles. Sure, the outcome of pro-wrestling matches may be fixed in advance, but to parrot an old aphorism, it’s the journey, not the destination. These days, the average mixed martial arts fight looks more like a traditional wrestling match than what you might see in a Jean-Claude Van Damme flick. And in pro-wrestling contests, you’re just as likely to see a spinning back kick as the more tried-and-true suplex and clothesline. Martial arts and traditional wrestling have more in common than you might guess. In both, the goal is to get your opponent to submit through physical restraint or to knock him to the ground. Both involve grappling and jostling for position to put your foe off-balance. In this way, judo and wrestling could be said to be first cousins. The relationship between wrestling and martial arts actually reaches back to ancient times. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob grappled with God’s angel; he was renamed “Israel,” Hebrew for he who “wrestles (or strives) with God.” And in antiquity, hand-to-hand combat—both wrestling and formalized martial arts—was popular in the Greek, Etruscan and Roman empires as mass entertainment. Fast-forward to 19th-century Europe. Boxers regularly clashed against more traditional wrestlers in fierce, no-holds-barred fights. The largely unsanctioned contests were as vicious and brutal as their historical counterparts, with the loser often winding up in the hospital or worse. In England, a style called bartitsu was founded; many consider it the first formalized mixed martial art because it incorporated elements of Japanese and European disciplines. In America, the first fight between a wrestler and boxer probably occurred in 1887 when heavyweight boxing champ John L. Sullivan was bested by his trainer, William Muldoon, a Greco-Roman wrestler, in less than three minutes. Around the same time in the Far East, MMA contests came to be known as merikan, a Japanese word that loosely translates to “American-style fighting.” MMA largely faded from view after World War I, with wrestling diverging into two categories—real or “shoot” matches, and “show” contests, the forefather of scripted bouts. It would take four decades, but eventually the divorce of martial arts and wrestling began to crumble. In 1986 WrestleMania 2 saw Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. T duke it out in a boxing match in New York. (Rowdy Roddy Piper lost by disqualification.) Later in the ’80s, Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling was founded in Japan to showcase more extreme combat, but in 2002, the organization ran into financial troubles and went bankrupt. Despite those false starts, MMA returned solidly with the debut of the UFC in 1993. Boxers, martial artists and wrestlers were all tossed into the ring, with no one style or discipline providing a clear advantage. It wasn’t about training but about how that training was applied against each opponent. As Royce Gracie trounced the competition to become the first champ, there was instant recognition that something very new (or very old) was happening. Since then, MMA has experienced a meteoric rise in the United States, where its popularity often comes close to that of pro wrestling. And for those who favor martial arts over traditional wrestling, take a look at the stats: Wrestlers won five of the first 10 UFCs, while Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters took three. Even former heavyweight champ Randy Couture competed in collegiate and Greco-Roman wrestling before coming into his own in MMA. As with Ken Shamrock, many MMA fighters eventually leave pro wrestling entirely. Former All-American Brock Lesnar shot to overnight WWE fame and was arguably Vince McMahon’s biggest star for a stretch in 2002 and 2003. After legal battles with the WWE, Brock Lesnar jumped to the UFC. (At the time of this writing, Brock Lesnar was scheduled to fight Randy Couture on November 15, 2008.) So, as in ancient times, wrestling and the martial arts have once again united. No less an authority than Bruce Lee said, “The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style.” Perhaps that’s why in 2004, UFC President Dana White called Bruce Lee the “father of mixed martial arts.” (Eric Althoff is a freelance writer with 20 years of martial arts experience. He holds a third-degree black belt in isshin-ryu karate and has studied modern arnis.)
Talks About Being a Smaller Fighter in a Combat Sport Ruled by Giants
At first glance, most people — most martial artists, even — will zero in on the smaller person in any fight and deem him or her to be at a distinct disadvantage. It's a natural tendency to draw this conclusion based on obvious attributes such as height, weight and reach. However, that tendency does not always lead to accurate conclusions.
Fighting Style<p>Johnson attributes much of his success to his background in pankration and wrestling, a foundation he laid before he embarked on a career in <a href="https://blackbeltmag.com/arts/mixedmartialarts/" target="_blank">MMA</a>. Both styles emphasize the strategic use of leverage, which makes them ideal for smaller fighters."</p><p>I try to find my opponent's weakness and exploit that," Johnson said. "Being well-versed and competing in several types of martial arts in my amateur career allows me to find that weakness, take [my opponents] there and then put them in that realm where they can't survive — and beat them there!"</p><p>This strategy, inspired by the teachings of pankration and wrestling, has proved a viable solution for Johnson time after time. In fact, it's his proficiency in both systems that's enabled him to excel in MMA. Consider the following:</p><p>Any observer of the fight sport will tell you that plenty of practitioners are proficient in one discipline, which they often augment by cross-training in techniques extracted from other styles that are believed to help them round out their skill set. These fighters tend to lean on their adopted techniques for setups and fakes designed to engage their opponents. Unfortunately, when fatigue sets in, they frequently fall back on their primary skill set in an effort to gain the upper hand — or, in some cases, just to survive.</p><p>This isn't the case for Johnson. He represents a new breed of combat athlete who's gained extensive experience in a variety of fighting disciplines. Being well-versed at executing a mass of moves, fighters like him need not rely on their primary martial art, which winds up making them more adaptable and unpredictable in a match.</p><p>Johnson's record of 30-3-1 offers tangible proof of his ability to exploit his opponents' weaknesses. Those 30 wins consist of 12 submissions and five knockouts via punches, head kicks and knee strikes, a testament to his proficiency in all the ranges of combat.</p>
BODY JAB TO HOOK PUNCH TO HEAD KICK
TAKEDOWN TO ARMBAR
Technique Alteration<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTQ5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjgxMjcyOH0.4UkgOc1GZ7yTg669vPYYZyapzuJhaTJmn137mIW17z4/image.jpg?width=980" id="b07bf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5dd1006607f5c8bb7c069aa8adb2b1a7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Alteration With the right coaching, almost any basic martial arts move can be altered to make it work better for a shorter fighter, Johnson said. He brought his point to life as he walked through setups for his combinations and takedowns designed to fell taller opponents during his Black Belt photo shoot. He started his explanation with the simplest punch of all.</p><p>"When a jab is thrown from someone at a lower angle, you can fit it between [the opponent's] arms and into this wide-open gap to the body," Johnson said. "[The opening] just isn't there with guys the same height as you."</p><p>He went on to say that this observation can allow you to elicit reactions from your opponent as he defends himself. That, in turn, can open other areas for you to target.</p><p>The same logic, Johnson noted, applies to takedowns. Here's how: Against a taller opponent, the conventional double- and single-leg takedown normally do the job. A shorter fighter's size, however, enables him to shoot in at a lower level, which makes the techniques harder to defend against and the shooter harder to grab. Furthermore, the shorter person's often-superior speed permits him to transition to a follow-up grappling technique before the pair even hits the ground.</p><p>"By grabbing the right spot on the wrist during a single-leg or starting to climb up their body as they fall during a double-leg, you can put yourself in the right position," Johnson said. An expert at such tweaks, he noted that advanced concepts like this have allowed him to dominate in the cage despite disadvantages in height and reach.</p>
New Challenges<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTUwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjkwNjY3OH0.cdhkoclQKHqpeRWm3QDkeET7-uJIvVkkSXUkqPzxTaY/image.jpg?width=980" id="b7dc2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1c786eb156d34f93628ff1422aeaa94b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>New Challenges Johnson's decision to join <a href="https://www.onefc.com/" target="_blank">ONE Championship</a> in late 2018 means that his previous success as a flyweight in other fight franchises may be in jeopardy. </p><p>That's because the Singapore-based promotion touts a strict "no weight cutting" policy that will force the American to take on heavier opponents in his normal 135-pound weight class.</p><p>The new challenge is nothing he can't handle, Johnson said confidently, because he's well-versed in using his size to his advantage. On top of that, he has years of experience on the North American MMA circuit to back up his skill set.</p><p>Nevertheless, Johnson admitted that a fight is a fight and therefore unpredictable, and that his opponents from the Far East will not be easily conquered. In fact, because ONE is based in a part of the world where fighters tend to be smaller than in the West, he likely will have his work cut out for him.</p><p>"I'm fighting guys who are a lot taller," Johnson said regarding his ONE Championship opponents. "In my last fight, I fought [Tatsumitsu Wada], who is 5 feet 9 inches tall, and when he took my back, he was able to get a triangle on my body so easily." That feat, he added, is rarely accomplished on a person who is equal in stature.</p><p>Johnson's solution? When preparing to take on a taller opponent, he likes to abandon the "fighting tall" mentality that's so common in his sport. It revolves around the urge to strike the taller person's face while squaring off. That tactic is simply not an option in such situations, Johnson said.</p><p>Instead, you need to focus on your strengths as a smaller fighter, he said. Get low and use your leverage for offense and defense. Take advantage of the gaps that exist in the taller person's stance. When you strike, do so with intent. Get in, execute and get out. Don't get caught in between, taking your time — because sooner or later that mistake will catch up with you</p>
Future Fights<p>Whenever you're the first person to gain fame for achieving something, it means you have to pave your own road to success. When Johnson entered the martial arts in 2007, he found no prominent examples of smaller fighters who consistently saw success in the cage. Consequently, there was no one he could turn to for inspiration.</p><p>"When I jumped into martial arts, there was no avenue for me to go," Johnson explained. "[I was] sitting there as a kid, watching these guys who were all heavyweights in boxing and MMA. With me weighing a buck twenty-five, I never thought those were the professional athletes I wanted to be like."</p><p>The fight sport is different now. As Johnson enters his 13th year as a professional mixed martial artist, he serves as an exemplary lightweight role model — precisely the kind of person he failed to find early in his career.</p><p>As scores of smaller martial artists scramble to follow in his footsteps, Johnson has inadvertently secured the future of his weight division on the global stage. For an athlete as disciplined as Johnson, the notion carries no added burden.</p><p>"I'm at a point in my career where I'm just focused on the grind of putting on great performances," he said. "That way, when I'm done with this sport, that's it. I'm good. I can be done with it and with no regrets."</p>
SIDE CONTROL TO MOUNT TO ARMBAR
2019 MMA Fighter of the Year<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTU2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTU2MjM3Mn0.LrW3wCdX6bc_Ago2X34P1EG87EwZP6pUhXwJbpZ-Iec/image.jpg?width=980" id="ffa02" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21aff8779f96ba47af9b40ef6aaedcb3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>When he hit the MMA circuit in 2007, Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson was a human tsunami. An immediate force to be reckoned with, he dominated the bantamweight and featherweight divisions of the sport thanks to his lightning-fast fists and his arsenal of grappling techniques. Like a true martial artist, he hasn't let his success go to his head.</p><p>"I am very happy with where I'm at in my career," Johnson stated. "The martial arts have given me and my family a wonderful life. If I were to stop fighting today, I'd be satisfied with the way everything has turned out."</p><p>That said, Johnson has no plans of bowing out of the ring anytime soon. In fact, he's gearing up for his next big fight, which will have taken place in Japan before this issue of Black Belt hits newsstands.</p><p>"I'm training for the World Grand Prix — ONE: CENTURY in October,2019" Johnson said. "It's a big event! This is the 100th time [it] has been held, and I'm very excited to be part of it. I grew up watching Japanese MMA, and now I get a chance to win one. It's awesome!"</p><p>From the moment Johnson first came to grips with an opponent in the cage, it was apparent that he was a rising star. Now, with a string of victories under his belt and numerous awards and honors bestowed on him, he's been dubbed one of the greatest mixed martial artists in the world. In a sport abundant with talent, Johnson has achieved rock-star status with legions of fans glued to his every move.</p><p>Why are they so devoted? A glimpse into Mighty Mouse's makeup comes from one of his most-talked-about fights in which he squared off against Miguel Torres. After breaking his fibula when he checked a leg kick in the second round, Johnson continued to wage war. He ignored the pain and concentrated on his grappling skills to survive. In the end, he won a unanimous decision.</p><p>"The key to winning, and sometimes the key to surviving in order to win, is having the ability to stay focused and take care of the task at hand," Johnson said. "That is how I approach my fights and my personal life. I know what I really want out of life, and I stay focused on that task — whether it's winning a fight or taking care of my family. My wife Destiny and my three children are the most important things in my life."</p><p>Because of his past accomplishments, his bright future and his pervasive martial mindset, Black Belt is pleased to make Demetrious Johnson its 2019 MMA Fighter of the Year. </p><p><em>— Terry L. Wilson<br>Photography By Patrick Sternkopf<br>Event photos Courtesy of ONE FC<br></em></p>
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The UFC's Fight Island "safe zone" located on Yas Island in Abu Dahbi debuts July 11th with UFC 251. Here are all the answer to your questions about this martial arts paradise.
Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing quarantine, UFC president Dana White had been planning on how he'd be able to continue having events despite growing concerns. As sports leagues across the world began to cancel seasons Dana White began work on a plan that would enable a safe zone for his fighters to continue events. Despite continued global restrictions. That dream will come true this weekend with the debut of Fight Island! Here are the answers to all the questions about the martial arts paradise you'll want to know!
The Hype Is Real<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="833f7d93d7c805a62d1201948c493aea"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b6vt0-nHMt8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>To top it off the arena debut will feature three championship fights with an epic late entry this week of <a href="https://blackbeltmag.com/ufc-251" target="_self">Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal</a> due to Gilbert Burns having to drop out of the originally planned match. </p>
Where is Fight Island?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzODQwOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODMyMzU3M30.OpTxRZSLsE68w_o87Hj8LpmTosZ9M9KLlUyrDpyGr9c/image.jpg?width=2000&coordinates=0%2C27%2C0%2C954&height=1500" id="c019f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d43f675809121680f1838c69ee1b01f0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="fan art of UFC Fight Island" />
Fan art by Deviant Art for Fight Island
How Will This Keep Fighters Safe?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzODUzNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzY2MDk2M30.O93lT8nNnGq5Ia2TOA8C6FZAZRu55hwj8FJC8nSAX6w/image.jpg?width=980" id="3b28d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1e79169735ebec2099a1ed62a65d0e86" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Yas Island in Abu Dhabi to feature UFC's Fight Island" />
Yas Island which will feature UFC's Fight Island
What About The Facilities?<div id="3f686" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f959519d085cc9601eba0144bbbfc54e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1278072316044423173" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The island preparations are underway! 🏝👀 #InAbuDhabi @VisitAbuDhabi #UFCFightIsland https://t.co/MJ0KWbNOJC</div> — UFC (@UFC)<a href="https://twitter.com/ufc/statuses/1278072316044423173">1593551160.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The facility has generated a rigorous plan for testing prior to the event. All people in attendance will have to travel from a designated hub airport. These will be primarily Las Vegas, Sao Poulo, London, and Moscow. Each person will have to complete a COVID test prior to leaving and quarantine overnight until test test results arrive. Upon arrival in Abu Dhabi they will again be tested for COVID and quarantined until their results come back negative. If they are positive they will be escorted to a designated hotel to await treatment or travel arrangements home.</p><blockquote style="margin-left: 20px;">This is going to be badass. It is going to be an incredible experience for all of us. <br>- Dana White</blockquote>
Map of Fight Island complex on Yas Island
More Venue Photos
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An epic match up has just been announced for UFC 251 pending COVID testing between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal as Gilbert Burns forced to pull out of previously set bout.
A long anticipated match up between Jorge Masvidal and kamaru Usman looks like it may finally happen.The announcement came after the holiday weekend that the two were willing to negotiate a match for upcoming UFC 251. This comes after the unexpected dropout
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In celebration of the 4th of July, check out these styles that are rooted in the USA
Happy 4 th of July! Today is a great day to celebrate all things American – hot dogs, apple pie, and a sheer love explosions (the bigger the fireworks, the better!). You know what else is American? Martial arts!
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