During the early days of mixed martial arts (MMA), competitors tended to train in only one discipline, which would often be dictated by their geographical locations. Cross training was virtually non existent as boxers, kickboxers, karate 'experts' and Judoka were just thrust into the fray together.
It was a melting pot in which fighters quickly discovered what worked and, more often than not, what didn't. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) was, of course, devastatingly effective, a point which Royce and Rickson Gracie repeatedly proved. Igor Vovchanchyn showed that stand up specialists could also hold their own while fighters like Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn flew the flag for wrestling.
In the modern era of MMA, one dimensional fighters will only get so far. BJJ, wrestling and kickboxing alone are seldom enough to succeed and elite level mixed martial artists need to be accomplished at all three elements of the MMA equation.
Fedor Emelianenko showed that Sambo can be a pretty effective alternative to BJJ as a ground fighting base and there are successful MMA fighters using either Sanda, Muay Thai, boxing or kickboxing as the basis for their style of stand up fighting.
However, regardless of the combination of styles, a fighter elects to employ it is absolutely essential that they are well rounded and one martial art on its own is almost never enough to suffice. For this reason, elite fighters are starting to travel more than ever before in search of the type of training which they they need in order to continue to compete at the highest level.
Some members of the Evolve MMA fight team. From left to right. Zorobabel Moreira (BJJ world champion), (Leandro Issa BJJ world champion), Shinya Aoki (Dream FC champion), Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn (Muay Thai world champion), Orono Wor Petchpun (Muay Thai world champion), Yoddecha Sityodtong (Muay Thai world champion).
From the days when fighters who trained at their local gym and represented only one martial art would come together to compete, the sport has evolved to the extent that we have intriguing international match ups such as the one next month between Combat Sambo world champion Rustam Khabilov and BJJ champion Rodrigo Ribeiro.
This fight, which will be taking place at ONE Fighting Championship 'Battle of Heroes' in Jakarta, is remarkable because Ribeiro, a Brazilian, is now based in Singapore where he works with a team of trainers from Thailand, Brazil and the US whereas Khabilov, a Russian, trains under renowned American tactician Greg Jackson down in New Mexico.
Ribeiro is part of the fight team at Evolve MMA, a state of the art training facility which is also one of the most successful and rapidly growing businesses in Singapore. It is home to multiple Muay Thai champions from Thailand like Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, Anuwat Kaesamrit and Orono Wor Petchpun and a number of BJJ champions from Brazil such as Rafael "Gordinho" Correa de Lima, Leandro Issa and Zorobabel Moreira.
Evolve MMA also recently recruited two Americans, former Team Quest owner and US Olympian Heath Sims who will head the wrestling program and NCAA Division One wrestler Jake Butler and they also have a boxing world champion in Yodsanan Sityodtong. To find a team of trainers which encompasses the three key elements of MMA they have recruited in three different continents, a truly global approach.
Ribeiro, a third degree BJJ black belt, will be constantly taken out of his comfort zone by the team at Evolve MMA and forced to work on his wrestling and striking as well as his already world class ground fighting. Khabilov will probably be undergoing a similar experience at Jackson's Submission Fighting in Albuquerque as he works to improve on his Combat Sambo based style with one of the most renowned training teams in the world.
Whereas Evolve MMA scour the globe to find trainers in each discipline Jackson's Submission Fighting tends to recruit from a little closer to home with coaches who have long term experience of the MMA game. It also boasts an extremely impressive roster of fighters including UFC regulars Jon Jones, Brian Stann, Leonard Garcia and Donald Cerrone.
It is the perfect environment for a fighter like Khabilov, who has already acquired a 12-1 record fighting primarily in Russia, to take his skill set to the next level. He is almost ten years younger than his opponent but will never have faced anyone with a ground game as sophisticated as Ribeiros.
UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon "Bones" Jones poses for a photo with his trainers Greg Jackson (L) and Mike Winklejohn (R)
He will need to have his submission defense in order when he faces the Brazilian because even the slightest mistake is likely to be ruthlessly exploited. For his part, Ribeiro will be working hard with the world class wrestling coaches at Evolve MMA to prevent Khabilov from picking him up and slamming him to the ground.
Ribeiro will be rubbing shoulders in training with the likes of Shinya Aoki from Japan, Rafael Dos Anjos from Brazil Eddie Ng from Hong Kong and Yodsanan Sityodtong from Thailand, who together make up one of the most ethnically diverse fight teams on the planet. Khabilov's English might not be the best but working with such an array of UFC veterans at Jackson's Submission Fighting will only help him to improve as a fighter.
In total, these two fighters have traveled a cumulative 14,000 kilometers to leave their hometowns and join two of the most respected training teams in the whole MMA game. From Rio De Janeiro to Singapore and from Rostov to New Mexico, they have traversed the globe to become better mixed martial artists and on February 11th in Jakarta, their two worlds will collide.
In the old days, putting champions from different disciplines together didn't necessarily make for the most competitive or entertaining fights. Ribeiro is a BJJ champion and Khabilov is a Combat Sambo world champion, but both will enter the cage as truly well rounded fighters in a match up which encapsulates the modern era of MMA.