I’m getting a little tired of all the accusations that Houston Alexander hasn’t been training on the ground. How do any of us know for sure what Alexander has or hasn’t been doing? Just because someone doesn’t show fluent ground fighting skills in a full-on fight doesn’t necessarily mean it’s from a lack of effort. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I think more people need to go to their local MMA gym and take advantage of a free trial and take a few jiu-jitsu classes.
I realize not everyone has the time, money, or physical ability to train MMA on a regular basis but it can’t hurt to take a few classes just to get an idea of what becoming proficient in jiu-jitsu entails. I’m not saying the opinion of someone who doesn’t train doesn’t matter, but I do believe that if they made an effort to spend some time on the mat that they would have a completely different perspective. There are some people, such as B.J. Penn, who have a natural aptitude for grappling and pick it up with ease. And then there are the rest of us who feel dyslexic when being instructed how to perform ground-based fighting maneuvers.
Learning jiu-jitsu is not the same as trying to pick up a striking-based martial art. I’ve studied several different martial arts and can tell you that jiu-jitsu is by far the most challenging I have ever learned. But the challenge goes beyond that, as trying to improve in it is one of the most frustrating endeavors I have ever encountered in my life. My progress has not only been slow but there have been periods of time where I’ve experienced a regression. It’s not easy seeing people who have been training less than me advance quicker than me but the only thing I can do is not give into the frustration and just keep training harder. It sucks having done this for a couple of years and still being a novice but I know I’m not alone in finding jiu-jitsu a difficult martial art to pick up.
A lot of people are making an assumption by stating Alexander hasn’t worked hard enough to improve on the ground. Again, we don’t know how hard he’s been working. Yes, it is possible that Alexander hasn’t been applying himself properly or isn’t training with the right people. But it’s also possible to spend months drilling jiu-jitsu moves and show no real progress when it comes time to compete. Once adrenaline kicks in and you’re competing at full speed, it’s virtually impossible to display all the technique you’re able to execute in a practice environment. If we were to watch Alexander train on the ground, there’s a chance we might be surprised with what we saw. But as soon as a fight begins, a lot of technique goes out the window and instinct takes over. That’s why I am in awe of guys like Penn who not only can kick ass, but can also execute beautiful technique while doing so.
At 36, time is not on Alexander’s side. There is a huge learning curve for most people when it comes to jiu-jitsu. If you hear of a brown or black belt in their early-20s, it means they’ve been training since their early teens. The older you get and the more standup technique you learn, the harder jiu-jitsu is to pick up. Learning jiu-jitsu when you have a standup background is like trying to learn a second language. Even if you become fluent in the second language, you are still going to think in your first language and there will be a brief delay as you make a translation in your mind. In a combat situation, that split second it takes to process something could mean the difference between being able to take advantage of an obvious submission or giving up your back. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been on my back and tried to go for a Kimura after someone posts their arm out too far only to see the arm disappear and have the guy wind up on the other side of me as I bring my hips off the mat.
Another issue that Alexander could be dealing with is his conditioning. The man is built like a power lifter. I’ve found that you use a lot of muscles in jiu-jitsu and wrestling that you rarely ever use. I’ve seen overweight guys come in and roll and never get tired and then I’ve seen guys who look to be in incredible shape and halfway through they are toast. It didn’t make sense to me until I started rolling more but it’s clear that the overweight guys had been rolling a lot and the right muscles were the ones that were in the proper condition. I just don’t know if Alexander is conditioned properly to hang on the ground with a black belt for an extended period of time. Once your muscles turn to jello on the ground and they stop responding to your brain’s commands, you might as well tap.
Another conclusion people are jumping to is that Alexander has been cut by the UFC. While it appears there is some validity to rumblings that Dana White told Alexander’s camp that if he didn’t win last night he might need to get some wins outside of the organization, that doesn’t mean he’ll be dropped from his contract. After some losses, Melvin Guillard was told it might be in his best interest to fight on smaller shows. He followed the advice but was still under contract to the UFC the entire time.
Alexander might be coming off three consecutive losses but he remains an asset to the company. There are a lot of great fighters out there that nobody cares about. But Alexander has charisma and a look that has developed him a sizable fanbase over a short period of time. Say what you want about Alexander, but has he ever had a fight that has ever been boring? While he looked like a fish out of water once again on the ground, it looked in the early going as if he was going to steamroll Eric Schafer.
While most of the UFC’s competition on the national scene is down, they’re not out. If Alexander suddenly were to become a free agent then his manager, Monte Cox, would be flooded by phone calls from the likes of Affliction, EliteXC, Strikeforce, and the AFL. No one can deny that Alexander has lost a lot of steam following his shocking upset over Keith Jardine at UFC 71 but he’s also just one wrecking ball TKO away from getting his mojo back.
Alexander could certainly stand to gain by taking some fights on smaller shows but it would be a mistake for the UFC to give up on him so soon. He’s proven people wrong before and I believe he’ll do it again.