Mixed Martial Arts is very popular in New Mexico and has long been a “Mecca” of sorts for the sport as it houses very prominent elite level fighters and coaches. One of the most interesting aspects of that is the fact New Mexico is not notably renowned in any area of combat sports. That is why SWFight.com is digging a little deeper into the rich culture of martial arts inhabiting our area.
Despite the success of the Southwest Grapplefest series run by David Freidlander, the biggest and most prestigious Jiu Jitsu tournaments take place outside the state lines. While we do have rich culture in the art with several Gracie Barra’s in New Mexico including several world champions inhabiting them like Roberto “Tussa” Alencar and Rafael “Barata” de Freitas, we still aren’t considered an elite area for Jiu Jitsu development.
But that may be exactly why New Mexico is so special. While we aren’t the premier place for anyone, single discipline; New Mexico is in fact an area where all different types of Jiu Jitsu practitioners have come together to train. From the early days of Alberto Crane setting up the Santa Fe Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy to the current volume of elite level striking coaches at the Jackson’s-Winkeljohn’s camp. SWFight.com dug further in-depth, looking at each prominent discipline and pairing a local athlete with it. We will first take a look at one of MMA’s most early disciplines.
Jiu Jitsu was made prominent through the legendary Gracie family and more individually Royce Gracie when he competed in the first several UFC events. The tournament format in the old UFC days was built around a one night tournament that saw competitors fighting up to three times in one evening. When Gracie stepped into the Octagon a lot of the fighters had little clue of what was going on when the undersized Royce Gracie started tying up arms and locking in chokes. The art is leverage based and focuses on utilizing technique to trump size focusing on “sweeps” that reverse from bad to good position as well as fight ending submissions varying from limb locks, cranks and chokes.
In current times, there are several prominent Jiu Jitsu notables as pure grappling tournaments are held worldwide. Innovators like Robert Drysdale, “Jacare” Souza and Roger Gracie are amongst the world’s elite and have transitioned their craft into MMA. While there is not a UFC Champion who is strictly Jiu Jitsu based, UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones has won three of his six title fights by way of submission. Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva defeated Chael Sonnen, in their first fight, by submission in 2010 in what was one of the most spectacular come from behind victories in MMA history.
New Mexico hosts one particular UFC fighter who has a very respectable Jiu Jitsu background despite never gaining titles in the top tournaments. Quinn Mulhern of the Jackson’s-Winklejohn’s camp and formerly of Santa Fe Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy is one of the most respected Jiu Jitsu players in the state. Quinn holds a win over notable Black Belt Yuri Villefort in a contest where Mulhern would repeatedly win in grappling exchanges as well as several wins coming by way of submission.
Here is Quinn on his experience and opinions of Jiu Jitsu:
“I started training Jiu Jitsu when I was 17; just out of high school. I never imagined that I would compete in MMA. I was simply doing something I enjoyed. I do not have any elite accolades in sport BJJ, the best I ever did was double silver medals at the Pan Am’s when I was a purple (belt). After that my commitment to MMA made it hard to focus on both.
As far as how I feel about Jiu Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is obviously one of the necessary disciplines in MMA. People see MMA at a high level and sometimes don’t see Jiu Jitsu being represented as much there. But every one of those top athletes is versed in submission defense at the very least. At the UFC level, Jiu Jitsu is sort of like penalty shooting in professional soccer. It’s short and happens at the very end.
That being said, I think the most important discipline for overall success is wrestling. It is (to quote Greg Nelson) the “hinge” of the fight game. It determines where the fight goes, standing or on the ground.
I began with Jiu Jitsu, which I love as a sport unto itself, but at this point I don’t overvalue it. It is on the great continuum of martial arts. I leave a lot of sport Jiu Jitsu techniques behind that I believe won’t work for MMA. And above all else I respect other disciplines, and fighting styles. Wrestling is also on the continuum, but it is useful to sometimes train like a pure wrestler. Just like it is important to sometimes train in boxing like a pure boxer. As MMA athletes we just have to remember that it is all part of a bigger truth that is Martial Arts, and ultimately part of a bigger truth that is Physics.”
We will end with the wise words from Mulhern’s technical expertise but stay tuned for the next installment of “Disciplines” where we analyze another martial art.