Mired in the black hole that was MMA in the 1990s, there were several doubts -- some from people with serious financial interests in the sport -- whether grappling would ever be tolerated on a grand scale. Punching with tiny gloves is easily understood and respected; wrapping your legs around a man’s torso can meet with some resistance, for reasons relating to both homophobia and absolute boredom. Once fighters learned to avoid the traps of the closed guard, it turned into a stalemate.
After a stinker UFC 33 event in 2001, the Unified Rules were quickly altered to give referees the power to stand up athletes who were in a static position on the ground. That, more than anything, probably saved the UFC’s ass on a commercial level. Now, according to athletes like Jon Fitch and Shinya Aoki, the closed guard may be a thing of the past.
“The closed guard is dead,” Fitch told Fox Fight Game.”Strong wrestlers…will just pound you out all day long.”
But just as Fitch’s comments are grappler-dependent -- he says Aoki and Demian Maia are within their rights to work it effectively -- his argument for wrestlers is also reflective of which one he’s talking about. Matt Hughes is the last guy you’d want to be on the bottom of, since he can create enough space to deliver punishment and has the knowledge to stay out of problems; fresher, greener guys are more susceptible to attacks from the bottom.
Certain traits die off for a bit, only to come back stronger: MMA is a cyclical activity. If the guard is indeed dead, it’s only until someone figures out how to reanimate it.