This has been an age-old question. We’ve seen it happen so many times, both successfully and unsuccessfully. So what is it that makes the difference? What is it that motivates someone to leave BJJ and is it usually a good idea? Let us look over some prime examples try to understand what it really takes.
Example 1: Marcelo Garcia
No one needs to sit and discuss the achievements of Marcelo Garcia. As one of the household names in jiu-jitsu, Garcia is a five-time world champion, pan-am champion, and a four-time ADCC champion.
Being a multi-time ADCC champion is a very prestigious achievement, and more importantly, it shows a type of specific grappling proficiency that would presumably make you more adept at picking up MMA. Undoubtedly, this is something that crossed Garcia’s mind, because in 2007, he had his one and only MMA fight in Korea with the K-1 Hero’s organization.
For the jiu-jitsu community, this was a big deal because Marcelo was easily, pound-for-pound, the best grappler in the world at the time. There was little doubt in most minds that he would have any difficulty against his opponent, Dae Won Kim, a local that no one had ever heard of before.
The fight had gone as expected with Marcelo taking Kim’s back and maintaining it up until the second round. Although things seemed to be going according to plan, the fight resulted in Marcelo taking strikes to the face that opened up an extremely large and deep wound on his forehead. The one moment where he didn’t have back control - he got seriously beaten.
It’s not like Marcelo took the fight on short notice and couldn’t prepare for any striking - he had time. It seemed that even after all the top level grappling he did, basic defending, and probably some discomfort from the MMA gloves, stopped the best in the world from submitting his opponent after more than one round of back control. The grappling community was indeed shocked, even if it was his first MMA fight.
After this fight, it was clear to Marcelo that MMA was not for him. Perhaps it was far too gruesome and a continued career in jiu-jitsu would be a far better option. But what was it that stopped Marcelo from translating his supreme jiu-jitsu to MMA, especially against an unknown opponent? The most obvious thing that people say is that he just didn’t have “it”. And what is “it”? As many already know, MMA requires a mix of skills – grappling is only a fraction of what you need to know. Marcelo just didn’t have a knack for feeling the striking, even if it was his first match ever. Would he have improved if he continued training? Of course. But would he have been a top competitor? That’s the big question.
The body type and level of athleticism Marcelo had seemed to be exclusive to jiu-jitsu and he managed to use it perfectly for that. But as we will see with other examples in the next few blog entries, the level of athleticism and natural animalistic drive for striking is one of the major forces to make the transition from BJJ to MMA a good idea.