Note: I wrote most of this a couple of weeks back but didn't get a chance to finish, thought I'd go ahead and post since I figure alot of our readers are technique nerds too.
DREAM.12 featured Bellator champ (and #3 ranked lightweight in the world on the USAT/SBN Consensus MMA Rankings) Eddie Alvarez, a fighter who epitomizes the combination of boxing and wrestling that has become a mainstay of MMA. His opponent was the fast-rising Katsunori Kikuno whose success with Kyokushin karate, an eccentric Sanchin dachi stance and use of crescent kicks have made him a cult favorite with those of us who are fascinated with the successful use of "traditional martial art" styles that were long believed to be of extremely limited effectiveness in MMA.
But instead of the clash of contrasting striking styles fans had expected, the fight was decided in the grappling phase of the game. Sure Alvarez scored repeatedly with hard hooks, but he won the fight with an arm triangle and nearly lost it in the first round when he was caught in a rare standing crucifix.
I've done a judo chop on the crucifix neck crank before (not to be confused with the various crucifix positions of jiu jitsu or the position in which Matt Hughes finished B.J. Penn at UFC 63) but that was an instance when it was used on the ground, rather than standing as in Kikuno vs Alvarez.
Many fans watching assumed that Alvarez was in no danger as Kikuno held him in the hold. Alvarez, too, underestimated the danger of the hold, until it was released. Ray Hui scooped me with a write-up he did of the move last week and he wrote up Alvarez' comments at the post fight press conference:
"I originally thought that they were just going to break it, so I kind of just relaxed in there, but the ref just let it go and he kept cranking my neck," Alvarez told the press after the fight. "It didn't feel like it was a move that you would give up to. I just felt uncomfortable. That's all."
However upon release, Alvarez was in obvious discomfort and outright ran away from Kikuno for a momentary breather.
"And I didn't realize until I got out of it that it was stopping my blood flow to my brain I guess and it messed up my footing."
Let's look at some animated gifs in the full entry.
On the left we see Kikuno stuffing Alvarez' shot. He was clearly concerned about Alvarez' wrestling prowess and wanted to avoid getting put on his back. Impressively he is able to get double underhooks on Alvarez. He plants his left foot against the cage and uses the leverage to stand. At the same time, he is able to lock his two hands together. With Alvarez head pressed into the center of his chest, Kikuno has now established the crucifix neck crank.
On the right -- almost two minutes later -- we see Kikuno locking the hold in and dropping his weight down to put maximum pressure on Alvarez' neck. But then he decides to fire a knee to Alvarez' face. I hate to play Monday morning quarterback, especially since I have no idea what I'm talking about, but it seems to me that if Kikuno had on taking Alvarez to the ground here, he could have gotten a dominant enough position to finish the fight with the neck crank.
Here on the left we see Alvarez riding out the hold and finally escaping. The cross-face he gets on Kikuno had to help, but I am sure that Kikuno's arms were very tired after cranking the hold for more than two minutes.
GIFs by Chris Nelson. Photo via Sportsnavi.