Raw Talent vs. The Rest of Us
I was inspired to make this thread after having a conversation today with a friend about "prodigy" fighters such as BJ Penn. My friend was amazed at how quickly Penn earned his BJJ blackbelt and couldn't figure out how he transitioned to MMA so easily. I think I can help make it easier to understand just how the very best fighters in the world can be so much better at beating people up than the vast majority of other humans.
For starters, meet Vernon White. He was the very first disciple of Ken Shamrock at the Lion's Den. Before training for MMA, White was heavily into Taekwondo and even worked as an instructor. He was very hard working, tremendously courageous, and always kept in excellent shape. He had his first fight after only a few months of grappling training:
White would amass an 8-17-1 record during his first three years of fighting.
Now let's meet Frank Shamrock. Frank never had an interest in martial arts before training with Ken and had a history of run-ins with the law. He didn't really take the early part of his career seriously and was a smoker for at least the first year of his Pancrase tenure. Like Vernon, he made his debut after a few months of training:
Frank would amass a 15-7-1 during his first three years of fighting (Including a victory over White) and won both the King of Pancrase and UFC Lightheavyweight title during that time.
Vernon White would display an awkwardness on the ground for much of his early career. Watching him grapple, you easily get a sense that he just felt like a fish out of water even against fighters who also had a paucity of skill. Frank Shamrock, on the other hand, was able to go to the ground with best in the business at the time and usually come out on top. What was at work there? Well, on one level there was hard work and natural athleticism, but on another level there was a specific natural talent for fighting. The ability to pick things up easily in training, the innate coordination to throw a one-punch knockout... Some genetic gifts are just specifically conducive to beating people up, and the "prodigy" fighters we marvel at are the ones who possess a combination of these abilities in addition to a tremendous drive to succeed.
It's obvious in the example I gave that Frank Shamrock was the fighter who had the raw talent, while White was more like the rest of us. Like many of us here I'm sure, White needed to spend more time in training before being able to develop a new skill. Although this didn't mean he lacked the chops to be fighter, he truthfully should not have been thrust into a career so early. For perspective, this is what White looked like after a few more years of hard work and dedication: