There has been a pretty lively debate about the role of the Closed Guard in modern MMA recently. Jon Fitch started itwith his comments after watching Nate Marquardt lose to Chael Sonnen at UFC 109:
"Nate didn't execute a game plan very well. I think the closed guard is dead in MMA right now, unless you are Demian Maia or Shinya Aoki forget about it. You are either getting up or getting on top, forget about pulling of submissions from your back nowadays. Strong wrestlers like Chael Sonnen will just pound you out all day long."
Shinya Aoki replied in a column he wrote in Japan (translation by Gryphon):
I heard Jon Fitch said "The closed guard is dead in MMA" oh,yes,yes,i agree! absolutely Yes!!
Long time closed guard means present my lose by decision to opponent. If I am closed position, I have to recover quickly.
Pressure of sweep & submission.....but it is prolog of stand.how can I stand again from guard? it is united technic of submission, sweep,and stand.....We need groud technic to stand again. Do you know it?..........Sorry I can not explain it perfectly,,,it....I want to say "MMA IS MMA."MMA is not "striking + Ground"...so , it is called as MMA!!
In modern MMA, it is best not to be on the bottom at all. The short rounds do not give the bottom man much time to work and if you aren't working fast enough, the referee will stand you up. Beyond that, high level athletes with varying degrees of slipperiness (depending on whether or not they train in New Mexico) can be vary hard to control. But there are times that you will be taken down, it is unavoidable. There are also times that being on the bottom might be preferable to standing up or being pinned against the cage.
In the times that you do end up on the bottom, the guard is the safest place to be. The closed guard gives you the most control over your opponent and by holding him close, you will not take significant damage. But you must attack from the closed guard. If you don't attack, your opponent will eventually find a way to open your legs and pass.
If you are on the bottom, at some point, your legs will come open. Whether they open while you attack, you open your legs because you can't control your opponent's posture, or your opponent breaks your legs open doesn't matter. What does matter is that you feel comfortable defending and attacking from the open guard.
For his part, going into a fight against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira -- the best heavyweight submission artist in MMA history -- at UFC 110, Cain Velasquez disagrees:
"I don't believe that (the bottom game is dead)," Velasquez said. "I believe everyone's dangerous, especially Nogueira on the ground."
Velasquez is very smart to respect the dangers of the guard going into his first headlining UFC fight against one of the legends of the sport. But he's telling Rumble.com that he has no intention of changing his ground and pound based game out of respect for Nogueira's jiu jitsu prowress:
CD: You like to ground and pound, but does the fact that Nogueira is one of the best jiu jitsu guys in the history of MMA change the strategy at all for you?
CV: Not really. I'm going to fight the same kind of fight that I've always been doing. I've seen what he's done. I'll fight a smart fight and really be aware of his strengths. In training for this fight I've put myself in a lot of bad positions on the ground and have really (become) comfortable with them.
CD: In the past he's been so offensive on the ground, how have you simulated that in training?
CV: I just brought in other guys that are black belts and I also watched a lot film. I watched a lot of his techniques, what he does, when he does it, how he sets it up. I've been working out with guys who are high-level jiu jitsu guys.