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Ultimate Submissions: Defining a well-rounded grappler (Part two)

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Royce Gracie once showcased a style of fighting that was previously thought to be unimaginable. The thought of fighting underneath a much larger opponent wasn't ideal and thinking you could actually win in this predicament was simply not a plausible conclusion.

In combat sports, when the fight isn't standing it's always been a common theme to assume the fighter on top would be in control and, eventually, the victor. From street fights all the way down to organized combat, that was the common belief.

Then the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) introduced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the world in the form of a scrawny 180-pound badass named Royce Gracie, who would end his career with 14 of his 16 career victories coming by way of submission, which including 11 in a row spanning from UFC 1 to UFC 4.

Gracie was the first person to showcase to a large audience that even when you are small and have a much larger opponent on top of you, it is still possible to come away victorious. With his success came the arrival of grappling into a much brighter spotlight and it has only boomed since then. Tournaments like Grappler's Quest and ADCC have become world famous, and several mixed martial arts champions have deep roots in what's become known as "the gentle art."

For the second part of Ultimate Submissions breakdown on what makes a grappler well-rounded, follow me after the jump. To read part one of the series click here.

The Bottom Game

Much like the "top game," in grappling the reverse is just as intricate. The bottom grappling position may be the most important, least utilized and often misunderstood aspect of mixed martial arts.

It's the most important because of the heavy influx of wrestlers who have entered the sport and created a situation in which the lack of a bottom game makes failure an almost certainty. All three major promotion -- UFC, Strikeforce and Bellator -- all have champions that come from wrestling backgrounds. Wrestling aims to take the fight to where those fighters are most comfortable, which happens to be on top, dominating position.

Wrestlers happen to be very dangerous in those dominating positions because unlike pure wrestling, they are able to use that control and position to land strikes or attempt submissions. And with a background in smothering and overwhelming people from above, those become very lethal weapons.

Least utilized is a personal opinion of mine that stems from the lack of great guards in mixed martial arts. As fans, we can point out a few fighters that have active guards or have utilized a sweep here and there but for the most part we have yet to witness a true elite grappler that has been able to utilize a bottom game consistently against the top fighters.

This is in my opinion where the best fighter on the planet will arise from next. With very good top fighters like Lightweight World Champions Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez, Welterweight World Champions Georges St. Pierre and Ben Askren, Bellator Champion Hector Lombard, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones and Bellator Heavyweight Champion Kole Conrad, the need for an effective bottom game has become a must in the sport.

Examples, like Dan Hardy's loss to St. Pierre, show that at the sports pinnacle if you aren't highly skilled on the ground then you will not find consistent success.

Misunderstood may be the most essential part of the bottom game I would like to focus on. I believe that the bottom game in a technical aspect is broken down into three categories just like the top game. Those three categories are escapes or sweeps, transitions to better position and submissions.

(Before we start with the .gifs, let me first give a thank you to Zombie Prophet. Check out his site ( -- he has .gifs and videos of fights up faster than anyone else on the net.)


When Nick Diaz fought B.J. Penn many were prepared for a war but not many were prepared for a "Fight of the Year" candidate. We all knew Penn had the ability to take Diaz down but the question was whether Penn could do anything once he got Diaz on his back.

In the clip above, Diaz, always confident in his hands, is upright in his stance, which almost forces Penn to snatch the takedown. Penn grabs a single leg and drives back into a takedown. Then Diaz begins to scramble.

When someone says "scramble," what they are often referring to is when a fighter attempts to create some sort of space to escape a bad position or a submission attempt. It is a risky maneuver to do so because often times you will end up in a worse position or in a submission hold even tighter than before.

As soon as Penn drives Diaz down to the mat, the crafty Cesar Gracie disciple grabs over the neck and shoulder and drops down on his own momentum angled off to the side clutching Penn on his own accord. He reaches under and grabs around the foot and ankle and rolls. As he does so, he almost latches onto a guillotine choke and while he fights with Penn’s legs, he almost gains top control.

This awareness and ability to sweep allows Diaz to avoid Penn at his most dangerous. He sweeps and eventually finds his way to his feet where he will batter and beat Penn for the rest of the fight.

Coincidentally, Diaz will next fight someone who is also very crafty from his back.


Facing a very powerful wrestler, Carlos Condit was able to showcase his craftiness from inside his guard. Condit was in a bit of a mess knowing that the longer he allowed Kim to stay on top, the less time he had to win the fight.

Condit had an unorthodox guard working with one leg in its traditional position and the other between the legs and high on the inner thigh. Allowing the Kim's weight to attack the high body of Condit, Kim's own leverage and weight is used by Condit against him. Condit uses the same "rolling" principle as he catapults Kim by bringing his weight down with his upper body and shooting his bottom half up with that leg that was inside the legs.

Doing that subtle sweep, Condit finds himself on top of and nearly mounting his opponent. Condit would go on to win as he once again established standing position and knocked Kim out with a knee.

But sweeps are only one part of the bottom game.


Transitions work in the same way they do from top position. They are designed to better position. In the top game, it is to advance; in the bottom game, it works the same except from bad positions, it is meant to get back to a guard position, whether it be full or half. Working out of the guard leaves several more opportunities then being stuck in bottom position of side control or mount.

Because of this, transitions and sweeps are classified as basically the same thing, with the difference being sweeps lead to an escape and transitions for the most part just improve the position you're in.

In the clip above, Clay Guida finds himself in position to use a guillotine to steal a win from contender Ben Henderson. Guida attempts to mount Henderson with the guillotine choke intact and it would be safe to say that if he was successful, this fight would have been over.

Instead, Henderson fights his way to half guard where Guida cannot use the optimal strength, leverage and angle necessary to torque on the choke. He transitions from a possible bad situation to a better one.


Henderson continues to fight out of the choke that Guida clutches so tightly and uses his half guard to try and create a scramble. He uses the half guard to extend Guida's legs in the hopes of loosening the hold and breaking his posture to relieve pressure. Henderson ends up being successful as he escapes and gets top position to end the fight.

Without that transition out of mount, it is very possible Henderson would not have had the opportunities to escape that choke.

Submitting an opponent from the bottom is just about as lethal as having one punch knockout power on the feet. When fighters like Chuck Liddell, Junior dos Santos and Dan Henderson step inside the Octagon their opponents will do what they can to stay outside the range of their fight stopping power punches.

The same goes for grappling and submissions.

Fighters like Demian Maia and Rousimar Palhares are recognized as guys you just do not want to go to the mat with. Fighters will do what they can to avoid ground positions and if they end up on the ground they will not be as aggressive as usual.

Submissions range from chokes to joint manipulation. From guillotines and triangle chokes to armbars and leglocks, the options are limitless. The execution, however, is far more difficult when you have very powerful fighters who are excellent at keeping good posture and position.


The pioneer himself, Royce Gracie, best demonstrated how effective submitting someone off your back can be. At UFC 4, the Gracie Jiu Jitsu ace would meet a very accomplished wrestler in Dan Severn. "The Beast" would take the Brazilian down and put him where he was most comfortable.

But also where Gracie was most dangerous.

From my breakdown on the triangle choke:

The triangle choke was made famous by jiu-jitsu pioneer Royce Gracie in the early days of the UFC when he choked out Dan Severn. It is traditionally set up from within the guard when you will want to trap an arm between the legs, while extending the leg of the side of the trapped arm up and across your opponent’s neck. It will slide all the way across and hang on the opposite side of the neck and shoulders of your opponent.

From there you take that other leg and go up and over the ankle, locking around that leg. The locked legs will formulate what appears to be a triangle and the choke comes from the pressure of the legs, as well as the position of the untrapped arm.

With the tap from Severn, Gracie wins another tournament and cements his name and Jiu Jitsu legacy inside the Octagon. Never again would anyone doubt the effectiveness of a dangerous grappling arsenal and gyms across the world for the next decade plus would isolate teachings to enhance that martial art.

That's all for this week, Maniacs. Until next time.

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