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

If Wing Chun is so great, why isn’t somebody kicking ass with it 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 – about half an arm away.  

Muay Thai and Tae Kwan Do are long range styles (kicking distance).  Judo, Jujitsu, Chin Na, and Greco-Roman are good for grappling standing up while Jujitsu and wresting are best on the ground — both are as close as you can get to the opponent.

Every fighting technology has a range, a fighting distance, 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 Brazilian Jujitsu 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.  Referees 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 Dan 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, and very aggressive 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 go Wing Chun crazy.

Just as Judo has its Ronda Rousey and Karate has its Lyoto Machida, at some point, someone will come along and put Wing Chun on the UFC map.

Wing Chun’s specialty is the close-medium-range – this is Wing Chun’s bread and butter fighting distance.   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 is why Sifu Gary Lam added Muay Thai tools to his version of Wing Chun – he gave us some more 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 the ground, while also training thousands of hours in their Wing Chun repertoire.   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 as the number one factor needed.  Then add how many hours trained in the last year, cardio capacity, capacity in other fighting 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 training?  How do you prepare for the street?

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 big 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

And my riff on that idea:  How to be a Great Mediocre Wing Chun Fighter