Ultimate Submissions: Breaking down the lack of grappling execution in MMA


So much focus is often put into the execution of submissions. We have spent countless weeks breaking down and dissecting submission techniques, praising the efforts of submission artists for their submission victories and somewhere in all that, we often forget the times where the execution just doesn't happen.

Without having hard numbers it is safe to assume that for each and every successful move, whether it is a takedown or a submission, there are dozens and dozens of failed ones.

The reasons vary in each situation. There are times where the technique isn’t refined, the opponent defends well or even just a bit of luck. But much more often it is that the attacker is very predictable and lacks any sort of set-up.

To help deconstruct the execution flaws, follow me after the jump.

Even the best fighters in the world make mistakes. Who would have thought?

At UFC 111, welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre would take on Dan Hardy in a match most knew from the gates was a clear mismatch favoring the champion. In a brutal five round demolishment of Hardy, St. Pierre displayed his world class takedowns and smothering pace en route to a five round decision.

However, it was two submission attempts that stood out to most fight fans. A kimura and an armbar, that seemingly would have made any "normal" man tap, were fended off and defended successfully by Hardy.

From St. Pierre post-fight:

"I forgot the technical element of it. Sometimes those technical details make the difference. I wanted to go 100 percent. I trained to break. I want to finish him."

And proper technique will go a long ways in this sport. Let's take a look at what he was talking about.


The kimura.

A submission hold that benefits greatly from tremendous strength, something St. Pierre has plenty of. "Rush" has used almost the same hold to transition into an armbar that saw him dethrone former champion Matt Hughes. It is clearly not the strength that was the issue.

Dan Hardy has a truly high level of pain tolerance. While we will discuss the technical aspects of the failed hold, do not stray from giving Hardy his due for sticking in there and surviving. Even with minimal pressure, the kimura produces pain quickly.

The first mistake St. Pierre made was not realizing he needed to tighten up the lock despite what appears to be an already tight kimura. St. Pierre should have realized the angle of the kimura wasn't ideal and should have tugged the elbow towards his chest which would have made the hold closer to a 90-degree angle. The kimura would have been tighter and would have made Hardy a lot easier to control.

In fact, you can actually see St. Pierre hesitate while adjusting to finish the hold. That sort of hesitation makes way for escapes and reversals. Even without correcting the angle, St. Pierre could have very well used his body by turning into the kimura which would have expunged more upper body strength but would have put much more torque on the hold.




The armbar.

Also, in the same fight, St. Pierre was in prime position to finish off Dan Hardy with an armbar. That submission just like the kimura was also fought off by Hardy leading to yet another escape from underneath the champion.

What is almost obvious right from the get-go is that Dan Hardy has far too much room to breathe and is allowed to be way too mobile. The legs and lower torso should be in complete control while finishing off the joint submission of the arm/elbow area.

With that much room, Hardy was able to roll out of the submission. He uses his legs and hips to muster enough power to roll his body which in turn loosens his arm and allows him to pull out of the submission. St. Pierre needed to enforce more control with his legs on top of Hardy but the arm placement was also ideally incorrect. He also needed to attempt to pinch his legs tighter to keep Hardy from rolling.

St. Pierre should have placed Hardy’s arm/elbow over his hip and use his groin/protective cup area to create a place to hyper-extend the arm. That alone would have made the arm at a danger to break and the pain would have been much more extreme.

Before we go further let me say that through St. Pierre’s mistakes, we would be able to see what a complete fighter he really is the next time he is in either position again. Should he make the same mistakes, it will show that his technique has not been refined, however, should he finish the move, it shows the passion towards progression St. Pierre truly has.

One of my biggest peeves is not failed submissions. It is failed takedowns due to lack of a set-up. This is one reason why I will always admire Rashad Evans (Check this article out for much more) for his mastery of setting up his ground game with his stand-up game.

Not all fighters share that attribute.


Jake Shields had one area where he was superior over Champion Georges St. Pierre. That area was grappling with emphasis on Jiu-Jitsu. Jake is one of the best Jiu-Jitsu fighters in the MMA world and he had a clear advantage if he were to be on top of St. Pierre.

Unfortunately, Shields did not have the wrestling technique to put St. Pierre on his back. Jake made his first mistake when he decided to start his takedown attempt at such a far distance from his target. Each inch that Shields is away from St. Pierre, the more time that St. Pierre has to react and sprawl, stuffing the shot.

It is much easier to stuff a shot with a good sprawl when your opponent changes levels so far away. It makes them predictable and takes away the speed that they may or may not have.

The second mistake made was the lazy attempt to throw a strike to push St. Pierre off balance. Not only was the strike thrown with little commitment, Jake himself was not on balance and couldn't utilize the technique properly. Had Jake sat down on the punch on balance he could have planted his lead foot much closer to St. Pierre putting him in a much better position to earn the takedown.


Unlike Jake Shields, who threw his strike stiff as a board, Rashad actually has fully commitment in his punches in the above GIF. He throws them at a short distance and fully sets himself into his strikes. By doing so, opponent Quinton Jackson has to be weary since the strikes are coming with power behind them. With "Rampage" guessing as to how to defend, Rashad effortlessly changes levels and exploding into a powerful takedown.

When Rashad drops levels he is almost already on top of Rampage, taking away Rampage’s ability to react or sprawl.

Grappling involves technique that comes from years of practice and hours and hours of repetitive drilling. However, with good habits come great results and reverse in the negative aspect. Not setting up a takedown will often lead to sprawls that will leave you face down in the mat being controlled. If you don't execute a submission properly you will leave your self in the high risk-high consequence position of possibly being reversed.

It all comes down to proper execution.

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.


You must be a member of to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at You should read them.


You must be a member of to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.