MMA is a fascinating sport, it is constantly evolving and growing. To a point where just watching fighters from 5 years ago, they are missing key skills that make fighters successful today. Often old techniques from traditional martial arts creep their way back into MMA and they find their usefulness again. What was once deemed as useless because the striker couldn't get back up from the wrestler, is now very practical after the striker learns wrestling defence.
Because MMA is a blend of all martial arts, the intricacies of specific martial arts may be overlooked. The footwork patterns of Muay Thai are glossed over, or the guard passing of Jiu Jitsu, or the fluidity and sweet science of boxing are missed. Then every once in a while, we see a fighter bring in these skills and dominate. We have seen wrestling with the Dagestani fighters, kickboxing / muay thai with Israel Adesanya and Petr Yan, and Jiu Jitsu with guys like Ryan Hall.
For me, a lover of striking, Petr Yan stands out as an example of the mastery of the fundamentals of footwork. He is calculated and measured, he almost never crosses his feet unless he specifically wants to, and he does not move without a purpose.
You see in todays MMA, guys have fallen in love with fancy footwork. Shifting on strikes, Ali shuffles & L-steps have become common. It is beautiful to watch at times, while at other times incredibly frustrating. You see footwork is an aspect of defence, but it is not the totality of defence.
You saw this beautifully in Petr Yan vs Cory Sandhagen. Cory has incredibly complicated and fancy footwork where he is able to move in an out of range to confuse and capitalize on his opponents mistakes. The problem with this is once he is tired, or his legs have been chopped down and he can no longer use his movement to evade strikes, then his defence is almost non-existent. Because he relies on his footwork for defence.
This is why traditional Boxers and Muay Thai fighters are so elitist about their art, because a great boxer or thai fighter can literally stand directly in front of you and you cannot hit them. That is the skill and beauty behind the art forms. Then if you add movement patterns on top of these fundamental skills, a fighter reaches greatness in their skill level. This is what Petr Yan is, he has the ability to evade strikes while standing directly in front of his opponent. While using shifting in his attacks to create complicated angles of attack.
Petr is patient, he stands in a traditional thai stance for much of the first two rounds. Without using what MMA fighters would deem fancy footwork, he watches and makes reads on his opponents cadence, patterns and flow. Because his fundamentals are so strong, he largely does not get hit cleanly during this time. Once he understands his opponents tendencies, he can pull out his full bag of tricks.
This is where you will fully see the beauty of a master at work, the fundamentals keep the opponent trapped against the cage. While the expert level shifting create advantageous angles to out whit the opponent.
It is beautiful to watch a master technician like that at work, and when watching, it is easy to see why traditionalists sometimes criticize the sport. Without understanding that they are not seeing a finished product, they are still watching the beginning 30 years. Where the sport has not yet fully matured into what it is capable of being.
However, I for one am excited to see where it leads.