I'm sure we have all seen the competitor that makes the same move, throws the same punch or relies on the "go to" trick that has made him/her successful. These competitors exist in every sport. Some of them make a career out of it and some of them just hang on until a much more skilled athlete comes along and takes their place or reviles them as a "one trick pony". This is the difference of someone who has mastered a number of tricks and someone who has a skill set or skill sets. Although these differences exist in every sport, we are going to examine those differences in the striking game (stand up fighting).
A simple example of a fighter that only possesses a 'bag of tricks' is someone who always; throws that over hand right, attempts the superman punch over and over, constantly throwing the crazy loopy hooks hoping that one will land. The fighter may do a mix of those or just one or two. Those are just some examples so that you can picture what I am sure you have seen many times. This fighter doesn't dance with his/her opponent, meaning they don't react off of what their opponent is doing or control them. Rather, they just do only the moves that are in their 'bag of tricks'. There are a few examples of strikers who have made it to the biggest stages in the world working with only a bag of tricks but most of them have never won the fights that mattered against the fighters that possessed a deep skill set. Sure the fighters that rely on their bag of tricks have upset some great fighters but its typically done with one punch, one kick or a single flurry. The "bag of tricks" fighters wont flat out beat the fighters who boast a deep skill set. Its one thing to win by a single strike or combo and its another to beat your opponent throughout the fight because you own a superior set of skills. Competitors that rely on a bag of tricks are not fighters in my opinion, they have not learned the ins and outs of fighting. Instead, they have become good at a hand full of movements and rely on chance to help them win. There is always chance in striking but there are many things a fighter can practice to improve the odds and even tilt the odds to such a degree that its almost a guarantee they will win.
"Skill set", thats the term I learned from Maurice Smith. He uses this term when speaking about learning and getting better at technique and tactics. Its a simple term that reflects a building of skills to become a better fighter. Its not about improving on a few movements or "tricks" to fight. I teach striking as any world class coach or instructor would teach any other athlete; from the ground up. Fundamentals is key to building a strong and deep skill set and working up from there will only make a practitioner better over time. Time is the thing that sets the elite apart from the mediocre. Most people don't want to spend the time needed to build a strong skill set so they tend to grasp onto a few things/tricks they do well, then they improve on using those tricks to win. Does it work? It does work until they meet the opponent with a strong and deep skill set. Thats when the smoke and mirrors fade and the skilled fighter stands head and shoulders above the one with a bag of tricks. Thats when all the hours of learning how to throw a simple jab and how to throw it for a 100 different reasons and situations come in. The years it took to master distance and timing prevail over the years of doing the same, tired tricks over and over again. Building a skill set is an approach used in other sports by top athletes but for some reason is skipped in the combat sports by many athletes. The greatest tennis players in the world don't rely on a bag of tricks to win, they have a solution for almost every problem and when there is not a solution they somehow make an amazing shot or save using the skills they have mastered throughout the years. Taking the time to learn a set of skills as perfect as you can will only set you up for success. My opinion is that there are many skill sets to learn and you can make those sets deeper and deeper as you work on them. You may learn a certain set and you should try to perfect that set, then move on to another set and perfect that one as well. While perfecting sets you will build on them to enlarge them or add to them. Thats the way I teach and its a slow process that only the strong minded can pursue. A set of tricks is not the same as a set of skills.
My fighters usually don't do well early in their careers against wild or "bag of tricks" type fighters because they don't train like that. They may lose a few fights to those types of opponents. I tell them all that they should lose to those guy/girls because they are learning how to fight for the long run, not to win now by only relying on a bag of tricks or because they are sloppy and wild. A fighter must learn over time how to handle a wild or one trick pony fighter. The fighters that take the time to build the strong skill sets will have a longer and more illustrious career then those who won on a bag of tricks.
In the end, at the elite level, it takes real skill and time to be a champion. A bag of tricks will only help you win until you face the truly skilled and proficient fighters.