Judo Chop: Darren Uyenoyama's Back Control and What Kid Yamamoto Did Wrong

In a preliminary fight to the UFC on Fox card, Darren "Bone Crusher" Uyenoyama out-grappled the favored Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto to win a rather exciting decision. In this Judo Chop, I examine the Ralph Gracie black belt’s inventive ways to reach the rear mount position and secure that position.

Kid Yamamoto came into this bout as a heavy favorite due to his background as a higher level freestyle wrestler and several explosive knockouts in Japan. Kid has had a high profile for years in MMA and even reached a level of stardom that few people in sports enjoy in Japan. Unfortunately, due to a combination of significant injuries, sub-par outings against tough opponents and perhaps an unwillingness to adjust his training methods, he hit a rough patch in his fighting career in the last couple years. His recent loss to DJ Johnson showed a game and powerful bantamweight who experienced problems with a smaller, faster wrestling-based attack and this bout with Uyenoyama would test his improvements.

Uyenoyama is a Japanese-American from San Francisco and a Ralph Gracie black belt. He started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 1999 with the Bay Area crew that belonged to various Ralph Gracie gyms. That crowd at one time or another has included the likes of Kurt Osiander, Dave Camarillo, Luke Stewart and BJ Penn and is still churning out great grapplers known for their top game. In efforts to improve his grappling proficiency, he wrestled for years with the Skyline juco wrestling team. An uneven streak saw Uyenoyama win three Strikeforce fights and put on some good, but non-winning performances in Japan. He bounced back with a win in Shooto by knockout in late 2010 and then waited until the time was ripe to take the UFC bout with Kid Yamamoto on November 12, 2011.

In this fight, we see Uyenoyama, the smaller grappling specialist, drag the fight to his comfort zone and dominate Yamamoto, the larger wrestler. Join me after the jump for many gifs and breakdowns of how Uyenoyama managed to do that and come out with the win.

All gifs are courtesy of Grappo and I thank him enormously for swiftly dealing with this week's demands.

The fight did not go Uyenoyama's way at first. Kid had one of the cooler tosses seen in an octagon yet, with this modified harai goshi.

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It’s reminiscent of Karo’s early days and lands him in a perfect side control position. The tie-up that Uyenoyama is attempting and his forwards momentum make this a fantastic time for Kid to switch hips, pull up and get below Darren. Bam! Watch Uyenoyama’s legs after the throw – he is already scrambling to improve his position to half guard, which is a hint of things to come.

In the first round, Uyenoyama had one of the strangest back takes I have ever seen.

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Kid is trying to finish a single leg and score points, while leaving an opening for him to throw punches or moveinto side control. Darren has his arms wrapped around Yamamoto’s body in a classic wrestling takedown defense position. Sensing the weight distribution of Uyenoyama, Kid decides to go for the pass into side control and kicks his left leg out and back to bring his hips around. Darren shifts his grip, as Yamamoto moves, to the seat belt position (with his right hand angling down from Yamamoto’s right shoulder and his left hand angling up from the left ribcage area). Both hands meet below Yamamoto’s chin and lock in an s-grip.

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Kid realizes that he’s moved himself into a danger zone and bases the arm out to prevent Uyenoyama from tossing him to his back and attempt to achieve mount or side control. Kid wants to roll to his right and work his way out of the danger zone, so he goes for it. However, Darren has the over-under grip, a hook in and Yamamoto’s right arm is stuck on the other side of Darren’s body. When Kid rolls, Darren stays glued to his back and now the space for the left hook to be placed is wide open.

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After some maneuvering to keep the position, Uyenoyama ends up with the classic rear mount body lock position. His left leg is placed horizontally across Kid’s belly and the back of the right leg is placed across his left leg’s shin to complete the body lock in a triangle-like fashion. This is usually not a submission in and of itself, but it compresses the abdomen in such a way that is uncomfortable and energy-draining. After being so swiftly maneuvered from a position of advantage to a sinking pit of danger, Kid needs to get out of this as soon as he can manufacture an escape. Unfortunately, Yamamoto would not construct a real mount escape during this bout.

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With 31 seconds left in the round, Darren decides to try and punch Kid in the face, looking both to deal damage and to annoy/bait Kid into yielding a submission opportunity. Note that the body lock is on Kid’s right side and he rolls towards that side. Uyenoyama wants to keep the body lock, but Kid manages to create a situation where it is better for Uyenoyama to let it go and move to a more conventional rear mount position. Now is the best time for Kid to escape. However, he does not block Uyenoyama from regripping the seatbelt position and even opens himself up to a short choke attempt; instead of trying for the classic mata leo choke, Uyenoyama decides to gable grip the hand across the neck and pulls backwards. Anderson Silva finished Dan Henderson with this style of rear naked choke back at UFC 82. Yamamoto is lucky that time is short and rides out the round without tapping.

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At 3:31 of the second round, Uyenoyama has worked a double leg takedown successfully. The years of juco wrestling and the legendary Ralph-style top game show themselves here and he is now in top half guard. Kid does not want to be here and decides to link his arms behind Uyenoyama’s back and explode to his right. In the world of MMA, this escape might work a decent chunk of the time, but Uyenoyama is able to base his left foot just as Kid explodes – which allows him to slide his hips to Kid’s back, while keeping one hook in.

As Kid finishes the explosion, Darren abandons the head grip and gets his center of mass low enough on Kid’s back that the single hook stays in. As Kid turns to finish the escape, Uyenoyama is already behind him, centered on his back and gets the body lock again. Note that Darren slides his right leg in behind Kid’s right leg – this helps him control Kid further. The exploding escape attempt was a good impulse, but the specific technique of it was very open to be exploited by Uyenoyama. Kid should have realized that Darren was already adapting to his technique and looked to come back the other way in an x-guard or pushoff scramble position. 3:25

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From 2:51 to 2:45, you can see Kid defending his neck against rear naked chokes and potentially his arm against an armbar. However, he has completely failed to deal with the body lock at all – which only helps Darren control him and tire him out. The defenses to the body lock are varied, but most rely upon the breaking of the triangle. The Gracies love teaching the footlock counter, which relies upon having the flexibility to put a sneaky footlock on the body-locking opponent – which forces a "leggo or I’ll break your foot" choice upon them. Cesar Gracie demonstrates the technique in this video:


This is a nice technique because it leaves both hands free to defend from chokes and Darren’s foot placement seems to encourage this specific counter. However, Kid has to know this particular counter and execute it correctly – which is hard to do. In MMA, where chokes from the back are harder (due to gloves, poorer technique and general slipperiness), simply breaking the body lock with a one handed shove may be a better idea.

It should be possible for Kid to roll over to the side of the body lock (to Kid’s right) and use his hand or elbow to shove Darren’s right knee down and out. If done right, this can loosen or break the body lock and allow for more opportunities to escape. Once broken free of the body lock, a shrimp outwards and turning into the opponent with a butterfly hook at the ready keeps the opponent from mounting you immediately and dealing further damage. Often times a scramble ensues and since Kid is a wrestler, he'll usually end up in a decent position.

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The above image shows the kind of position is what Kid should be striving for. Kid’s right leg is underneath Darren’s foot and his right arm can shoot down and dislodge the knee. However, he has let his left arm drift upwards and cannot defend against the choke quite right – which distracts him from breaking the body triangle. Granted, it is easier to break a body lock that is hinging upon the opponent’s foot, rather than the shin, but to never try is to doom yourself to a very long and uncomfortable round.

And this could happen, too.

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Another workable back take defense is to slump. I do not mean to simply give up and let the opponent work you over, I mean to physically slouch your body downwards and look to escape out the back door. As Cane Prevost, a black belt over at SBGi Portland demonstrates, you want to be slumping way low, protecting your neck and preventing the seatbelt grip.

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via caneprevost.files.wordpress.com

Uyenoyama did his non-stop best to continue dealing damage and work for the finish, yet Yamamoto did a passable job of protecting his neck for most of the bout. It can be hard to submit tough opponents from the back within MMA rounds and rules. Both fighters should be credited for their willing spirit and great energy. And Kid should get some credit for some really fly fight shorts. Those things are super-awesome - and likely super-pricey too.

Although his submission defense remains good, Yamamoto needs to refine the techniques of his escapes from the bottom and get back to his feet in order to drag the fight into the Liddell-style wrestlebox style that gave him so much success in Japan. As for Uyenoyama, I look forwards to seeing him against the higher echelon bantamweights in the division and how he acquits himself against this particular sharkpit.

Judo Chops are some of my favorite things here on Bloody Elbow and I am truly glad I can contribute my own knowledge here in this way. Hope you readers like it and as always, you can follow me on Twitter for my random musings and updates on the grappling world, or leave comments here.

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