Besides the hard work and dedication she’s showed to sport (which should never be understated), Ronda Rousey had one simple reason she was so dominant in women’s MMA on the way to the top. This isn’t meant to detract from her ability as a fighter but more to explain why she’s so successful and if anything, to praise her use of this system. It can be explained through game theory. This is the same way economists study people’s behaviour and how ecologists study animal behaviour. It can be applied to martial arts as well.
For those of you who understand game theory, she essentially played the defector in a slightly modified game of prisoner’s dilemma in being a specialised judo style grappler (and a good one at that) in a group full of mostly stand up strikers with some jiujitsu experience, allowing her to reap the rewards. Hopefully someone educated in game theory can stop reading here.
For those of you who aren’t versed in game theory, here’s how it works. In a group where most people are specialised strikers with a bit of jiujitsu, most people do quite well, no one is particularly standout and success is dependent on how good you are at striking (more or less, this is somewhat of a simplification). If you introduce one strong grappler, none of the strikers have experience in dealing with the grappler so they rise quickly and dominate the group. Introduce too many grapplers however and it becomes the same as before, everyone is good at fighting grapplers and introducing a strong striker will have the same effect.
Ronda Rousey’s continued success (aside from the qualities she possesses which are required of a champion) is because she has been able to consolidate her position and become a good striker as well, making challenging her a very difficult proposition. This however isn’t the takeaway message of this article.
What you should takeaway is that it is important to specialise somewhat in your sport but not too much. For instance, running isn’t the best cardio to do to build a strong mixed martial artist, however Nick Diaz is a frequent triathlon competitor and a good fighter. His niche is his good cardio and high volume boxing. He’s not the perfect fighter but he has occupied a niche which gives him a competitive edge. If he specialised too much in cardio he would lose all his power and make no impact with his punches whatsoever as well as take up valuable skills training time in cardio training, reducing his technical ability.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this bit of game theory at work was Royce Gracie in UFC 1. Examples for the strikers out there could be Machida with his karate influenced striking or Conor Mcgregor with his unconventional striking making them very difficult to prepare for.
The advice here is to find what you’re naturally good at and capitalise on it. If you’re strong, make that your competitive edge rather than becoming the same as anyone else.
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Photo credits to USA Today