clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ultimate Submissions: Heavyweight jits at UFC 143 featuring Roy Nelson vs Fabricio Werdum


Don't blink.

We all know that big punchers like Chuck Liddell, Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem can end a fight at any moment with the dynamite they carry in their hands. Knockouts are easy for everyone to understand and generally happen pretty quickly. While not quite as easy to understand to the budding mixed martial arts (MMA) fan, submissions can happen just as quickly as knockouts, and can be just as (if not more) exciting.

Watching an experienced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) player set up a submission is a lot like watching a spider weave its web. If one is not careful, one will wander right into their own demise.

Roy Nelson and Fabricio Werdum are two of the best web-spinners in the fight game today, and grappling fans have the pleasure of watching them square off this Sat., Feb. 4, at UFC 143: "Diaz vs. Condit." Just as if two well-known knockout artists were facing off, I suggest as little blinking as possible during this potential grapple-fest.

Here's why:

Nelson and Werdum both have a wealth of experience, both in grappling competitions and in cage fighting, and they both have well-documented submission skills. Let's take a look at the grappling of our favorite portly pugilist first.

To the new fan of MMA, Nelson may appear to be no more than a chubby dude who likes to throw hands. Recently engaging in stand-up wars with the likes of Mirko Filipovic, Frank Mir, and Junior dos Santos has done much to perpetuate this belief.

What we must not forget is that Nelson is a world-class BJJ player and a master of using his weight and proper positioning to control opponents from the top. He is also excellent at getting to the top position if he ends up on his back, which he showed in his grappling match against Frank Mir at Grappler's Quest back in 2003.

This is one of the most fluent, technical transition chains I have seen. The GIF below starts with Nelson (black shirt and shorts) working towards deep half-guard. Deep half-guard is when you are on your back, you have one of your opponent's legs trapped between your own and you have one arm hooking the other leg of your opponent. Nelson gets to deep half-guard about 2-3 seconds in.

Thanks to Zombie Prophet for the following .gif. Check out his work at


Deep half-guard is used primarily for sweeps and escapes, which is exactly what Nelson uses it for here. While keeping Mir's right leg trapped between his legs, Nelson dives his right arm under Mir's left leg and shifts his hips, forcing Mir off balance. Most likely, Roy's next move was going to be to open his guard and hook Mir's right leg with his left arm, which would allow Nelson to roll Mir onto his back using the "Rocker" sweep (click here to see how the "Rocker" sweep is executed). Mir knows a sweep is coming, so he locks up a kimura on Nelson's left arm, both attacking and preventing Nelson from hooking Mir's leg.

What happens next is nothing short of beautiful. Watch Nelson's legs as he sits up and presses his head and body close to Mir. This not only prevents Mir from stepping over Nelson's head and completing the kimura, it also forces Mir's weight to shift toward the right leg which is trapped in Nelson's half guard. Roy, keeping Frank's leg locked tight between his own, swings his legs out in an arc and effortlessly puts Frank on his back. Think of stacking heavy books on a table, right above one of the legs, and then chopping off that leg of the table.

While he is getting swept, Frank keeps a hold on Roy's left arm and immediately starts working for the kimura again. Roy keeps his left arm pinned to his side and jerks it slightly then rolls over his left shoulder and immediately switches his hips, going belly-down, pulling his left arm completely out of danger and using his right arm to control Mir's head.

Mir is often spoken of as one of the best submission grapplers in the UFC's heavyweight division and Nelson beat him at this Grappler's Quest tournament via decision. Long story short, Nelson loves to work from the top position and is very capable of getting there, even if he ends up on his back. And once he gets on top, he can be very, very hard to shake off.

Just ask Kimbo Slice.

Thanks to MMATKO for the .gif.


Fabricio Werdum is certainly no slouch when it comes to the submission game either. How could he be, when he's the man who pulled off the "Submission Heard 'Round the World," and is the only man to ever submit Fedor Emelianenko?

The GIF below begins right after Fedor (black shorts) throws a flurry of punches and Werdum (white shorts) falls to the ground. Some say Werdum was dazed by the punches Fedor threw, some say Werdum was playing possum and fell to the ground simply to draw Fedor into his guard. I am a believer of the latter, because that's just how good Werdum is off his back.

After Werdum hits the ground, Fedor immediately follows him, attempting to throw punches from Fabricio's guard. Werdum, like a spider at the center of its web, is ready and waiting. When Fedor falls into the Brazilian's guard, Werdum is immediately attacking. He grabs on to Fedor's left arm, attempting to isolate it while simultaneously wrapping his legs around the head and neck of the Russian, with the beginnings of a triangle choke in mind.


Fedor manages to scramble a little bit and temporarily pass Werdum's guard, getting his head on the outside of Werdum's legs. Fabricio wisely keeps control of Fedor's head with his left hand until he can re-position his left leg around Fedor's head and neck, while keeping Fedor's left arm on the inside of his right leg. Werdum then adjusts his legs, sliding his left leg across the back and shoulders of Fedor, and tucking his left foot under his right foot.


Finally, with a little more adjustment, Werdum has his left foot completely tucked under his right knee, with Fedor's left arm trapped between Werdum's right leg and Fedor's own head. Werdum's left leg is cutting off the blood flow through Fedors right carotid artery and Fedor's own left shoulder is cutting off the flow through his left carotid artery. Not only is this choke cutting off circulation to Emelianenko's brain, Werdum goes for a second attack: He grabs Fedor's left wrist and pushes it towards the leg that has the arm trapped, putting immense pressure on his elbow and adding an armbar to the already locked in triangle choke. The two combined submissions are too much, and Fedor admits defeat with a single, visibly frustrated tap to Werdum's leg.

Thanks to Zombie Prophet for the following .gif. Check out his .gif work at


That folks, is poetry in motion.

So how do you see Nelson vs. Werdum playing out this Saturday night at UFC 143? When you have two top-notch Jiu Jitsu players pitted against each other, one who is very dominant in the top position and one who is very dangerous from the bottom position, you are all but guaranteed Jiu Jitsu fireworks.

Don't blink!

More on their heavyweight battle here.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Mania Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Mania