UFC 100 Bloody Elbow Judo Chop: Brock Lesnar's One-Armed Full Nelson

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Much of the discussion of Brock Lesnar's utter domination of Frank Mir at UFC 100 has focused on Lesnar's size and strength as if there was no technique involved in his performance.

I've got beg to differ here. Lesnar's years on the mat as a top flight competitor in amateur wrestling clearly paid dividends in the fight.

He also showed both strategic and tactical acumen in the fight. Strategic by restraining himself from bull-rushing Mir. More importantly, he kept the fight where he wanted it -- in Mir's half-guard.

Mike Goldberg pointed out during the fight that the only time one of Lesnar's takedowns landed him in Mir's full guard, he backed right up to his feet. Clearly Lesnar's camp emphasized staying out of Mir's full guard.

Tactically, Lesnar's control of Mir from inside his half-guard was a study in utter dominance. Of course Lesnar's huge mass, incredible strength and insanely long arms allowed him to do things many other competitors couldn't do, but his application of grappling technique made him an irresistible force.

As Luke Thomas told me when we were reviewing the fight:

Lesnar completely won the positional battle. Mir's head and hips are totally controlled. That's pretty damn dominant.

Head and hip control = BJJ 101. If you can block the ability of an opponent to move both their head and their hips, that's a wrap.

Lesnar used his mass and balance to pin Mir's hips to the floor, removing any possibility of Mir escaping out the side or improving position to gain full guard. With his arms, Lesnar controlled Mir's head: check and mate.

Join me in the full entry and we'll talk about the specifics of the hold Lesnar used to control sometimes one and sometimes both of Mir's arms while leaving the other arm free to batter Frank's face. I'm calling it a one-armed full nelson.

UFC 100 coverage

O03waw_mediumFirst, on the right we see Lesnar apply the hold. He's using his left hand to control Mir's left wrist. At various points he seems to be flirting with both a gift-wrap and a keylock or Americana. The gift wrap would entail Lesnar wrapping Mir's left arm around his own neck, then reaching his right arm under Mir's head and switching the hand that is controlling Mir's left wrist from his left to his right. From there Lesnar could have reared up and battered Mir's face with his left hand.

That would have involved some risks though. The main one being that Mir could have gotten his wrist free during the hand switch. Also from Mir's half-guard, Lesnar's ability to rear up for maximum leverage on his strikes is limited and Mir's right arm would have been left free to defend. I also believe that Brock prefers using his right hand to strike.

The Americana keylock would have required maintaining wrist control while getting his left elbow on the left side of Mir's head. From there Lesnar would have needed to thread his right arm between Mir's bicep and forearm and grabbed his own left wrist. This is called a figure four. I think Lesnar could probably have gotten the tap due to his enormous strength, but his leverage would have been limited by virtue of being in Mir's half-guard rather than being fully mounted.

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Instead of trying either of those options, Lesnar releases Mir's wrist and snakes his left arm behind Mir's head and in front of Mir's left shoulder: Voila, what we see on the left is the One-armed Full Nelson. His prodigious reach allows Lesnar to wind his left arm all the way around to grasp Mir's left bicep. At this point Mir can attempt to block punches with his left hand, but only his forearm is free. As we can see, that's not enough to stop Lesnar's powerful right hand.

Note the time on the clock, 2:51 left in the first round. Lesnar would maintain the hold and continue the batter for the better part of the next two minutes. That is an eternity to be semi-helpless and absorbing punishment from an opponent as powerful as Lesnar.

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In fact, as our next gif shows, at 1:10 Lesnar has, if anything gotten the hold even better established. Lesnar's huge left arm is forcing both of Mir's shoulders back, rendering Mir's arms useless and leaving Frank helpless to defend his face.

The battery Lesnar inflicted in the first made Mir that much easier to finish in the second. Lesnar didn't apply the one-armed Full Nelson again, but his tactics were very similar -- inside Mir's half-guard, controlling Mir with his hips and left arm, and using a powerful right hand to strike.

Now a little bit about the Nelson hold. It's believed to be named after British Admiral Nelson who was famous for surrounding his opponents at the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Trafalgar.

Here's Wikipeida on the Nelson family of holds, this should make it clear why I chose to call Lesnar's hold a one-armed Full Nelson rather than a Half Nelson:

Half Nelson

The half nelson is done using only one hand, by passing it under the arm of the opponent and locking the hand at the opponent's neck. Half nelsons are commonly used in amateur wrestling. In addition, the hand not being used should be holding the opponent's other wrist in so that they can not post the hand or peel the half nelson off.

A power half nelson is a type of half nelson. The hand not performing the nelson is placed on the opponent's head to increase the overall power of the half nelson.

Full Nelson

The full nelson (sometimes called a double nelson) is done by performing half nelsons with both arms. In collegiate, high school, middle school/junior high school, and other forms of amateur wrestling, the move is illegal. The holder is on the back side of the opponent, and has his or her hands extended upwards under the opponents armpits, holding the neck with a palm-to-palm grip or with interlaced fingers. By cranking the hands forward, pressure can be applied to the neck of the opponent. The usage of the full nelson in combat sports is very limited. It is a secure hold which can be used to control the opponent, but does not allow for finishing action, such as pinning the opponent, executing a reliable submission hold, or allowing for effective striking.[2] Because it can be used as a limited neck crank, it is considered dangerous in some grappling arts, and is banned, for instance, in amateur wrestling.

UPDATE: BE reader Steve4192 points us to this very informative video by Stephan Kesting of GrappleArts that goes through several more of the techniques that Lesnar used to shut down Mir's half-guard in the fight.

Here's more from a GrappleArts piece Stephan wrote that breaks down the whole half-guard battle:

Let's first take a look at two strategies that form the foundation of most successful half guard attacks:

  1. Being on your side, facing your opponent, and
  2. Getting your body under his center of gravity

Now in the fight Frank Mir was basically never able to apply either strategy, and it wasn't only Brock's physical attributes that shut down Frank Mir's half guard game. There was a lot of deliberate technique there too!

Brock deliberately kept Frank on his back and/or facing away from him, and also didn't let him get under his center of gravity.

How did he do this? At various times in the fight Brock used the following techniques and tactics:

  • He stiff armed his neck (keeping Frank away),
  • He pinned the head and moved his body back
  • He turned the head away with his forearm
  • He secured the far underhook and applied chest pressure
  • He used his head to grind into Frank's jaw, and drive into the chest and armpit
  • He grabbed the far armpit to turn Frank's face away and place it directly in the line of fire

Finally, when Frank tried again to turn in at the very end of the fight, Brock let him turn, and secured the far wrist. The brutal flurry of unanswered blows that ended the fight came right after that.

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