Posted by George Do on March 3rd, 2011
Both fighters and fans largely treat modern MMA as a sport. Today’s MMA has all the trappings of a sport – there are rules and regulations to protect the athletes. There are rounds, and time limits to make the sport viewer friendly. But our sport is different from others, because underneath all the structure, it is derived from a concept that is very natural – combat.
For a moment, let’s imagine we are back in the Stone Age. It’s more or less every man for himself – if you’re attacked by an enemy who wants to steal your food, you either give up all that you own and flee, or you stand and fight. So what if your attacker is Brock Lesnar-esque? What if he is bigger, stronger, and more athletic than you? If you run, you’re forced to give up all your food, your shelter. If you have a family, your attacker may kill your best hope for genetic survival. As far as I can see, there are two options if you want to fight. You can find/make a weapon to overcome your opponent’s advantage. Or you can learn how to use leverage, and find weaknesses that exist in every human body, and use these to your advantage.
And thus is an extremely truncated history of how martial arts came to be. Martial Arts are essentially a set of tools that you can apply to overcome a more physically gifted opponent. In MMA today, it is all too easy to forget this fact – the skill disparity between high level fighters nowadays is far smaller than when Royce Gracie won the first UFC in 1993. ‘True’ martial artists – physically weaker/smaller/slower fighters who use a combination of technique and strategy to beat their opponents – are few and far between these days. Guys near the top of their divisions are mostly freakishly athletic. Alistair Overeem for instance seems to have been born with perfect genes - he has dynamite power, massive strength and the body of a Greek god.
This brings me to my main point. Shinya Aoki is one of my favourite fighters because despite the crying, cross-dressing, and bizarre temper tantrums, in some ways he represents the very essence of the martial arts. He utilizes phenomenal technique and strategy to overcome opponents who are stronger, who hit harder and move faster than him. Imagine for a second that you weren’t an MMA fan. Would you really pick this guy
Over any of these dangerous looking fellas?
Aoki also fights very intelligently – charging headfirst into a knee on NYE notwithstanding. Everyone thought that his fight with Shaolin was going to be a no-gi grappling contest with punches. Instead Aoki used a carefully thought out strategy that exploited his one major advantage over Shaolin – his longer limbs. People always say that Aoki is one dimensional, but (to me) this too is strategy. The return that someone like him (no power, average speed and a mediocre chin) can get from training his striking is substantially lower than the return he gets from improving his ground game. He lacks the explosive athleticism to shoot for the double well, so he uses only shoots in when ducking under a punch. Instead of the shot, he gets the fight to the ground by using a mix of trips, guard pulls and (fantastic) flying submissions.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Frankie Edgar or Cain Velasquez lack technique or aren’t ‘martial artists’ - I love watching those guys fight. Indeed, some of the points I’ve made have been somewhat superfluous – for example, Shinya Aoki is bigger than Hansen and Ribeiro, so the whole ‘small guys beats big guy’ martial arts idea doesn’t pan out. But there’s something amazing about this glasses wearing, tantrum throwing-crybaby beating top ten guys like Eddie Alvarez and JZ. It’s like Karate Kid all over again – except that in this case the Karate Kid is mostly hated and has an attitude problem.
So take a second and forget about all of Aoki’s weird antics. Think about how awesome it is that skinny, funny looking manchild wearing multicolored pants can make a beast like Kawajiri give up. Martial arts were created so that regular people with regular genetics could overcome size and athleticism – and however deranged his personality, that’s what Aoki represents.
And that’s why I love watching him fight.
How isn’t this awesome?