Bloody Elbow Judo Chop: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira Drops Randy Couture and Can't Get the Gator Roll at UFC 102

At the close of his live blog of UFC 102: Couture vs Nogueira our own Brent Brookhouse wrote:

I'll say it one more time, that was a special fight featuring two special fighters.  I don't like to get too emotional on these liveblogs, but I feel honored to be writing about THIS fight on a site like Bloody Elbow.

Going into the event, fickle MMA fans pooed pooed Saturday's bout as a meaningless fight between two men who are too old, too slow and too battered to ever reattain the highest levels of the sport. That may be true, nonetheless, the UFC 102 headliner between Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira and Randy Couture was one of the best matches I've ever seen in any sporting venue. As Ed Keller put it at MMA Torch:

I thought the announcers, who are prone to overstatement and overhype by nature (especially Goldberg), undersold how good the Couture-Nogueira fight was. I had it at easily four stars and a Fight of the Year candidate, all things considered. I was about as sure as sure gets that Couture was seconds away from losing three times (twice on submissions, once on punches). I was very happy with how that fight played out. You couldn't have scripted that to be better and more dramatic for a 30-27 fight in the sense that Couture almost lost several times, but looked totally respectable in the process because his escapes were Houdini-worthy, and then he ends up on top at the end. Plus, for those who have dreamed about this fight for years, it delivered both the stand-up and the ground fighting that you'd have wanted to see from both men. A dream match that absolutely lived up to its billing.

The fight was so great I had to break it up into multiple Judo Chops. In the full entry we'll talk about the highlights from round 1, including Nogueira's powerful combinations standing and Couture's incredible escape from fully locked on D'arce Choke, plus we'll go into the difference between a D'arce (or Brabo) choke and an anaconda choke.


Nog1_mediumFirst up, we've got one of the many great punching exchanges of the first round. This is one of the few exchanges of the fight where Couture didn't score with his initial 1-2. According to CompuStrike, Couture landed 34 punches  out of 62 thrown for a 53% accuracy rate. Nogueira went 24/59 for a 37% rate. Unfortunately for Couture, when Big Nog did connect it tended to be in powerful combinations like the one we see here.

Couture opens the exchange with a jab that Nog slips by moving his head to his right. As Couture follows up with a right uppercut to Nog's chin, Nogueira lands with a four punch combination. Throwing short hooks, Nog catches mostly shoulder with his lefts but tags Randy with two hard right hooks to the temple that drop him. This is a great display of punching in the pocket punching from Nogueira. All it takes is a considerable amount of skill, a little bit of balls and a whole lot of chin.

Nog2_mediumHere we have Nogueira's follow up. Like any top level fighter, Nogueira has killer instinct and when he sees his opponent stunned, he goes in for the kill. In this instance, he looks to apply a D'arce choke. (More info on the D'arce choke at the bottom of this entry).He gets his body at a 90 degree angle from Couture's and drives his right arm under Couture's left armpit and up under his throat. He locks his hands in a "Gable Grip" as he works to pull his right arm through.


Nog3_mediumWhat he's wanting to do is get his right arm in deep enough that he can grab the crook of his left arm in a figure four grip like we see in the gif on the right. Here's Luke Thomas talking about the move:

Nogueira has the choke locked up like that with the grasp fully sunk in, grabbing his own bicep and driving his chest or shoulder down on top of Couture. It's tight but not tight enough to tap a good opponent like Couture. So to finish Nogueira wants to roll into the choke (onto his back) to get on his hip to the point where the opposite hip is on the ground so he can then walk into the Couture to finish.

Couture spreads his base out and lowers his hips which makes it harder for Nog to twist. This comes from wrestling where guys drill being on their hands and knees and maintaining a very low center of gravity to make it hard for their opponent to roll them over for the pin.

Nog4_medium To the left we see the death struggle. Nogueira with the choke locked in tight -- his right forearm is cutting off Couture's right carotid artery and his chest is pressing Couture's left arm into the artery on the other side. As Luke said, against a determined and skilled opponent like Couture, Nogueira has to roll over to tighten the choke enough to force the tap. It's called a Gator Roll after the behavior of alligators who roll over and over in the water with prey locked in their jaws.

But Couture just will not go over. The magnitude of this feat really needs to be understood. This isn't just anyone's D'arce Choke to Gator Roll that Couture is resisting here, it's Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira the most successful submission artist in MMA history. And Nogueira may have indeed lost some speed and reaction time, but I guarantee you his choke is as tight and powerful as ever. Not to mention that Randy got in this position as a result of eating two right hooks to the temple.

Nog5_mediumHere's more from Luke:

Note that Couture is putting his left hand on his ear. This changes the position of his left arm (which is being used to cut off one of his arteries) and helps keep the blood flowing to his brain.

This is where Nogueira realizes he isn't going to be able to budge Couture and gives up the choke. He immediately tries to reassert head control of Couture, but nothing doing and Randy sprang to his feet where he went on to close the round with some fine dirty boxing that battered Nogueira in the clinch.

Here's Joe D'Arce talking about the choke that bears his name:

Here's Michael David Smith talking to Joe D'arce about the move:

But when people speak of the D'Arce choke, they usually don't pronounce it the way Joe D'Arce pronounces his name. Joe's surname is pronounced "dee-R-see," but almost everyone -- including Joe D'Arce himself -- pronounces the choke like it rhymes with "farce."

"The person who really made that choke popular on the West Coast was a jiu jitsu coach named Marc Laimon," D'Arce said.
The choke (which you can see illustrated here or in an instructional video here) is also referred to as the Brabo choke, but Joe D'Arce doesn't use either name.


The D'Arce choke is sort of a reverse of the anaconda choke.

Laimon has also added his own first name to D'Arce's surname to provide the name for a less common variation of the D'Arce choke, called the M'Arce choke.

"A M'Arce choke is actually a transition that Marc Laimon came up with," Joe D'Arce said. "It's a way to end up in the same finishing position, but Marc put his own little touch on it. I really like it. It's a good set-up."

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