Why Isn’t Wing Chun in the UFC?

“I’m going to show the world why the Rangers belong in the Octagon.”
Greg Stott, a former Airborne Ranger, prior to getting knocked out in 18 seconds.

“When the UFC was formed in 1993 there was one simple purpose: Determine which form of martial art was the most effective in a real fight.” Matt Saccaro in The Bleacher Report

{Revised version, 18 February, 2014}

If Wing Chun is so great, why isn’t somebody kicking ass with it in the UFC?

A friend of mine (a former professional boxer) gave a seminar on boxing to a bunch of Wing Chun guys (and a few other visitors). One of the things he had them do was to jab for half an hour, till their arms were falling off. By all reports, they were  dying!

That’s how professional boxers train. That’s how professional Muay Thai guys train.

They do it till they throw up, for hours and hours, day in and day out, for years.  They work on their skills and they condition their bodies.  It takes a lot to fight for three five minute rounds with another professional fighter.

It’s hard to do that sort of training and have a job and a life.   Some guys do it but most of us can’t do it.

So the first big reason should be obvious – training intensity.   It’s the difference between professional athletes and amateurs.

The fighters in the UFC train for a living and fight others who fight for a living.   They are genetically-gifted young men and women in their 20s and 30s, with the extremely rare fighter continuing into their 40s.

Most martial artists are amateur.   They train at night and on the weekends and have regular jobs.

So why isn’t someone doing Wing Chun in this manner?

Some do, but its very rare.

This is why Wong Shun Leung kicked everyone’s ass in the 1950s in Hong Hong.   He was someone who had trained in Western Boxing, then discovered Wing Chun.   He trained Wing Chun Western boxing style, that is, more like a professional.

He did one thing (kicks, punches) hundreds of times before fights.  He did hundreds of Tan Da’s with someone on his shoulders.   Thousands of hours of drill training.   Lots of pole and dummy and everything.   Then he blew through the competition, few of whom were training as hard as he was.

The style is great but as usual it was the unique practitioner who put it on the map.  The really hard worker.

So lets say we have a few hundred people in the world who are training Wing in this manner (I know I’m not).  Why aren’t any of these people showing how great our art is in the UFC?

In order for an art to be “represented” in the UFC, you have to have a gifted young athlete start in your style and then get the UFC bug.

Then they have to learn to fight in the other ranges.

Wing Chun specializes in a close mid-range – ¾ or an arm to half an arm away.  

Muay Thai and Tae Kwan Do are long range styles.  Judo, Jujitsu, Chin Na, and Greco-Roman are good for grappling standing up.  Jujitsu and wresting best on the ground.

Every fighting technology has their preferred range that they specialize in, even if they have ideas and techniques for handling the other ranges.

This was really how the UFC developed. It began as a showcase for the Gracies – they proved that BJJ could dominate in a ring with no time limit and few rules, fighting people from other styles who had little ground game.

As time went by, some wrestlers started giving them a run for their money.   Rules changed, because only a few fans wanted to watch a lengthy technical match between two ground specialists.

The Refs started standing fighters up who took too long to find a position of advantage.

More time went by and people started training “MMA.” Mixed martial arts is the idea of using the right tool for each job.  Think of Bruce Lee in Game of Death.  He fights Inosanto with a whip and nunchaku against escrima sticks.  He fights Kareem with jujitsu on the ground.  He uses different specialties for each situation.

In the UFC, people had to evolve and they started cross-training into other specialty ranges.

Now everyone has to have a ground component (BJJ, wrestling) and a stand-up game (usually boxing or Muay Thai with some karate and other stuff thrown in).  Is there anyone in the UFC who is just doing Muay Thai or BJJ with no other training?

Could Wing Chun be used for the stand-up game?

Absolutely (as long as its a lean, simple version of the system).

Why hasn’t anyone done it yet?

I think this question will be answered in the not-too-distant future, and I’ll tell you how it will play out.

Some strong genetically gifted guy or girl is going to have a talented Sifu with a simple, direct, efficient approach and they are going to be Wing Chun crazy.

Just as Judo has its Ronda Rousey and Karate has its Lyoto Machida, at some point, someone will come along.

Wing Chun’s specialty is the medium-range – this is Wing Chun’s bread and butter.   If we go to the ground, if we are pushed off in to kicking distance, we have tools but we are at a disadvantage against someone who is a specialist at those ranges.

This what Biu Gee is for – a set of tools for recovering from bad positions, often finding yourself in one of the ranges you haven’t specialized in.

This is why Sifu Gary Lam added Muay Thai tools to his version of Wing Chun – he gave us some long range tools and some conditioning drills.

Our Wing Chun crazy kid has to learn BJJ or wrestling to fight in the UFC – period. They have to get really good at it, while also training thousands of hours in their Wing Chun repertoire: wall bag, pole, dummy, drills, Chi Sao, Gwoh Sao.   Then they have to spar with fighters from other systems: MMA fighter, Thai boxers, UFC style, to find the holes and gaps in their game.

This is what is takes to fight professionally in the UFC.

Does this mean that Wing Chun is not a good street art – hell no!

How you will fare in a fight always comes down to the balance sheet between you and your opponent.

Picture the stats card before a UFC fight, with the weight and height and reach and age.   Let’s add sheer balls and mental toughness, how many hours trained in the last year, cardio, capacity in other ranges, specialty ranges, versatility, mastery of the system.

So you have two or more fighters in a conflict. How do their strengths and weaknesses play out in that moment under those conditions? Is anyone armed? Who has experience with weapons?

So that’s the pure math of it.  How does it translate into real life?

The fact is we need to make compromises in real life.  How much time do you have in a day?   Are you married?   You like to go see a movie now and then?   Are you getting paid to train?

Most of us will have to pick a specialty (hopefully a style of training we enjoy – I am not a fan of rolling around on the ground) and see how much skill they can pick up in the other ranges (to be more balanced), and just hope for the best when that street fight happens (if it ever happens), because who the hell knows?  Real fights are chaotic and random.  All you can do is prepare the best you can with the spare time you have, while still trying to have a full and rounded life.

For more on this, see: Wing Chun: A Gentleman’s Art

Another interesting take: How to Be a Great Mediocre BJJ Student