MSN Sports yesterday named the top 'head coaches' of 2011 and the normal suspects were all there, Man Utd manager Alex Ferguson, Real Madrid head honcho Jose Mourinho, Barcelona's Pep Guardiola and a couple of names which will be more familiar to American fans in Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks and Scott Brooks of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There were also a couple of surprises as the Asian website named two mixed martial arts masterminds, Greg Jackson and Chatri Sityodtong. Seeing two names from the MMA world on such a prestigious list goes to show just how rapidly the sport is developing as well as the extent to which tactics and preparation are increasingly recognized as being essential to a fighter's success.
Fighters from Jackson's Submission Fighting enjoyed a stellar year in 2011. Under Jackson's astute guidance Donald Cerrone cemented his status as a top lightweight contender with four straight wins, Carlos Condit moved into title contention with a knock out of the night over Dong Hyun Kim and Jon Jones (below) became UFC light heavyweight champion while Georges St Pierre retained his welterweight strap.
The Evolve MMA team enjoyed similar success albeit on the other side of the world, most notably at ONE Fighting Championship which is increasingly regarded as the Asian equivalent of the UFC. DREAM Lightweight Champion Shinya Aoki posted three wins out of three, all with neck cranks while up and coming fighters like Eddie Ng, Zorobabel Moreira and Leandro Issa all contributed to a 90% plus win rate.
Evolve MMA fighters won five out of six fights at ONE Fighting Championship and four out of four at DARE Championship. Rafael Dos Anjos also made a triumphant return to the UFC and showed off some new found Muay Thai skills to stop Georges Sotiropolous on his comeback, thanking Chatri specifically in his post fight interview.
Recent TUF winners Diego Brandao and John Dodson are Jackson protegees and having secured UFC contracts big things are expected of them in 2012. There are also high hopes for former WBA Super Featherweight champion Yodsanan Sityodtong (below) who Chatri took to Evolve MMA from Thailand and has turned from a world class boxer into an explosive and exciting mixed martial artist.
It is interesting to note that neither Chatri nor Jackson have any professional MMA experience. Jackson founded his own martial art, Gaidojutsu, which combines rudimentary techniques from wrestling and kickboxing with basic Judo locks and then added techniques from other styles such as Wrestling, Grappling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing.
Chatri is an Thai entrepreneur and businessman who has an MBA from Harvard. He is also a blue belt under Renzo Gracie and a veteran of 20+ Muay Thai fights who trained under the legendary Kru Yodtong Senanan who appointed him as one of of only four students in the world designated as conservators of Sityodtong Muay Thai.
Having founded a highly successful martial arts school in Singapore, which is home to a number of Thai trainers from the Sityodtong camp, Chatri has become an expert MMA tactician who spends hours studying footage on opponents and developing effective fight strategies.
The Singapore based camp is eight years younger than Jackson's Submission Fighting and does not have as many established champions yet but the next few years will be interesting as Asian MMA continues to develop and some of the up and coming young Evolve MMA fighters start to realize their potential and showcase their abilities on high profile shows like ONE FC.
All the other head coaches on the MSN list are in charge of teams and face the challenge of organizing a large group of individuals. In MMA, unlike basketball or soccer, competitors are completely alone once they step inside the cage but it is good to see a mainstream sporting website recognizing the work which goes on behind the scenes and the success that top tacticians Chatri Sityodtong and Greg Jackson have enjoyed in 2011.