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

Photo by Michael Bowen via Las Vegas Sun
Photo by Michael Bowen via Las Vegas Sun

In a combat sport that involves being struck in your face repeatedly. it is very important to be well versed both offensively and defensively.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) since the beginning has featured so many different disciplines being utilized and one of the earliest and most effective even in today's sport has been Jiu Jitsu. The discipline that allows a smaller, less imposing possibly (even weaker) grappler to defeat much larger foes. There has never been a better showing than the run Royce Gracie made in the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) open weight tournaments.

But just like any strength in a sporting environment, there will always be a counter.

Wrestling has become a staple in mixed martial arts because it can neutralize a striker with takedowns and can stifle grappling with superior control on the ground. From the early days of Mark Coleman and Mark Kerr to the current sport world that boasts fighters with incredible Jiu Jitsu stifling wrestling like Chad Mendes, Georges St. Pierre and Mark Munoz.

Jiu Jitsu has needed its fair share of evolution over the years. It won't be sufficient enough to just have an effective guard to submit from your back or to have a strong top game to control and submit from atop your opponent.

It simply is no longer that easy.

For more on what it takes to become an effective grappler, follow me into the extended entry for animated .gifs and breakdowns.

The Top Game

There are three components to being a successful top game grappler. Control, transitions and submissions make up the core of what a top game requires in order to be well rounded atop your opponent.

Control is the most crucial, the reason being that if you can't hold your opponent down comfortably then you will not be able to effectively set anything up. Control will allow you to fish for submissions or look to move into dominant positions. Without control of some sort then those things are just not possible.


Clay Guida has fought a very stiff line of dangerous grapplers in his UFC career. From the versatile Diego Sanchez to Rafael Dos Anjos, Guida has always made it his staple to be able to be on the ground with guys far superior on paper and find success.

Against Anthony Pettis it would be the same style that earned him another impressive victory. Dealing with a very active and dynamic guard, Guida establishes control very effectively on Pettis. Clutching the legs and stacking Pettis high on his shoulders takes away the slick mobility of the hips. It also makes the person very uncomfortable and in doing so takes away the space needed to get anything going.

Even though Pettis is clutching to the wrist, Guida lands some punches to help him get inside the guard of Pettis. As he comes down he evades a submission attempt by Pettis who is searching for an arm bar or possibly a triangle choke. Guida does this by staying very mobile with his limbs and torso while also keeping his posture very upright. In doing so, Guida doesn’t get sucked in too deep to get caught in those submissions.

After fighting through the submission attempts Guida now sits comfortably inside the guard. He reaches with both hands behind the neck of Pettis and squeezes which eliminates space and also once again attempts to make Pettis uncomfortable. In order for Pettis to really establish himself to set up a sweep or a submission he would need space. As soon as Guida got inside the guard he worked on posture and control to disallow any sort of movements from Pettis.

It is hard not to appreciate the knack for stifling Jiu Jitsu like Clay Guida.


After scoring a takedown, Penn immediately sucks in Jon Fitch’s legs with his own in a triangle variation. In doing so Penn shuts down the mobility of Fitch and chooses to calmly hold his position as he sets up his next move.

With his legs tied up and his ability to escape limited, Jon Fitch begins to rotate his body in hopes of shaking off the legs of B.J. Penn. Instead, Penn is able to see an opening and by posting his left leg out and using it to sit up and take the back of his opponent. As he does that he has already established his arm near the neck in hopes of setting up the rear naked choke.

Transitioning is a major part of the ground game as it allows you to keep your opponent off balance and weakening him defensively as he will be defending something different from each position. Penn is able to effectively move from a semi-mounted position as he sits atop the legs of Fitch to another dominant position by securing back position and trapping him with a body triangle.

Penn has nearly passed into dominant position in every fight where Penn has earned top position. Being able to dominate position by passing out of guard or passing into dominant positions in general allow you to comfortably unleash ground and pound, set up position and it makes a great case for the win on scorecards.

It is no wonder that Penn has accomplished so much in mixed martial arts.


Jon Jones showcases everything previously mentioned by gaining a dominant position and controlling an opponent thoroughly. Then he shows the most lethal of three more important aspects of top game grappling.


With a dominant position you can risk more and commit fully to a set up knowing that there is little room for offense to be made by an opponent. Comfort is one of the most overlooked aspects of combat sports in that being comfortable will take away hesitation and enable commitment and the ability to take an opportunity to the fullest.

With control Jones is able to pick his shots. Whether it is landing strikes or looks for possible another transition, he is able to pick and choose what works best for him. He finds an opening to slip his arm in Ryan Bader’s defense and snatches up his neck for a guillotine choke.

Jones remains heavy keeping overwhelming control of the mobility of Bader disallowing any sort of escape and also keeps his position which enables the choke to hit a certain angle with loads of leverage. It is no wonder as to why the Light Heavyweight Champion has found the success he has found in the sport.

Tune in next week Maniacs, as we conclude this breakdown when we look at what makes for an effective bottom game.

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