Judo Chop: Breaking Down the Ground Work of Maia/Munoz at UFC 131

On June 11, 2011, Mark Munoz and Demian Maia fought a very close match at UFC 131 that featured two impressive grapplers with improving stand-up skills. I bring to you yet another one of Bloody Elbow’s famous Judo Chops on two of the fine ground-game moments this fight featured. My first breakdown will focus on Munoz’s failed brabo attempt in the second round and his subsequent escape from the back take attempt by Maia. My second breakdown will analyze Maia’s crucifix-based neck crank in the third round and Munoz’s escape.

Both Maia and Munoz came into MMA as grapplers first and foremost. Munoz took to the striking game much faster, yet Maia worked his way to a title shot against Anderson Silva at UFC 112. Both men lost tough battles – Munoz to Yushin Okami and Maia to Anderson – but both soon picked up a brace of victories and faced off to determine who would get back into the title hunt again.

The match-up was an interesting proposition to consider as Maia built a reputation for magical submissions and Munoz had effectively dealt with the ground game of Kendall Grove. Would Munoz be able to avoid a submission and knock out Maia? Would Demian frustrate Munoz's takedowns? Who would win the striking battle? The battle proved to be very entertaining and came down to a decision. Fraser Coffeen and Kid Nate collaborated on a striking Judo Chop for this fight back in June.

Join me after the jump for many awesome gifs and technical analysis of the fun ground game moments of this UFC 131 fight before Munoz takes on Chris Leben at UFC 138 on November 5th.

First, some background on the fighters:

Munoz dedicated himself to wrestling full-time in high school after an injury that prevented him from playing football. As a 197 pound senior, he won a NCAA Division I championship at Oklahoma State University. As he moved into MMA, he cross-trained in submission grappling and is now working towards his black belt under the Nogueira brothers. Over the last four years, Munoz has developed a ground game that searches for opportunities to unload his unusually powerful ground strikes from the top position. Munoz has won the Fight of the Night bonus once for his knock-out of Kendall Grove.

Maia grew up as a judo player and once introduced to Brazilian jiu-jitsu at age 19, put in a truly inspiring amount of work to receive his black belt from Fabio Gurgel, the legendary Alliance trainer. His journey to black belt took him slightly over four years – and he won quite a few titles along the way. In 2007, he won the ADCC 88 kg title after placing second in the 2005 edition. His ground game within the cage has been based around his unique sense of takedown timing and constant re-adjustments to get the desired angles and openings. In the UFC, Maia’s nifty triangles and rear naked chokes have won him four Submission of the Night bonuses.

Second round – Munoz’s failed brabo and escape from S-mount:

(All Maia/Munoz gifs are credited to Grappo.)

After shooting one of his seven unsuccessful single leg attempts, Maia is underneath Munoz’s sprawl. Before this, Munoz’s response has generally been to block Maia’s leg on the same side and then throw punches to Maia’s opposite leg and ribs with his free hand. This time, Munoz chose to take a risk and try for a brabo/D’Arce choke.

Those of you who’ve paid attention to previous Judo Chops may recall some discussion about what’s a brabo/D’Arce and what’s an anaconda. KJ Gould did a great Chop on Carlos Prater’s brabo with the special twist of the sucuri roll at Strikeforce Challengers: Beerbohm/Healy. Luke Thomas, editor emeritus of Bloody Elbow and current MMA Nation talking head, wrote a solid Chop on Terry Etim’s brabo finish of Justin Buchholz at UFC 99.

Anaconda chokes look like what Phil Davis did to Alexander Gustaffson at UFC 112 in April of 2010. Anacondachoke_medium

via cdn0.sbnation.com

Note the gable grip on the far side of the head and the snake-like roll to the finish.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira made this anaconda submission famous in the MMA world when he submitted Hirotaka Yokoi at PRIDE: Total Elimination 2004.

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via cdn3.sbnation.com

Big Nog would win his next fight by anaconda (Heath Herring at PRIDE: Critical Countdown 2004) and the MMA world sat up and took full notice of this arm triangle variant.

To be clear, in an anaconda submission, the figure-four of the underside hand on the biceps of the topside arm is not next to the head. It is next to the farside arm. In a brabo/D’Arce, the figure-four is next to the head.

Paulo Thiago had one of my favorite examples of the brabo finish against Mike Swick at UFC 109. 33ojrj4_medium

via i47.tinypic.com

The top pressure caused by Thiago's weight helps to put Swick out very quickly and the trapped leg prevents any mobility for escape.

Now back to Maia/Munoz:

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Munoz senses the potential brabo and shifts to take advantage of the window of opportunity. It is a small adjustment for Munoz to move his left hand from blocking the leg to just under Maia’s right armpit and underneath Maia’s chin. Munoz then moves his right arm next to Maia’s head to get a gable grip and hurls himself to the side in order to better shoot his left arm even further up than it was.

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Munoz gets the left hand up past Maia’s left ear and next to the neck, which is good. He then tries to bring his right arm up in order to place his left hand on the biceps of his right arm. This would create the choke-applying figure-four position. However, as you can clearly see at 3:23 of the round, Munoz does not get his hand on the biceps. The left hand is instead on the right forearm. Why does this happen?

A closer look at what Maia is doing shows that the grappling wizard managed to make a few subtle adjustments to prevent the finish.

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When Munoz dives to get better arm positioning from 3:26 to 3:25, he does not keep sprawling as per the usual brabo set-ups and his legs are within reach of his opponent. Maia moves his left arm to grasp Munoz’s right leg and shuffles forwards a bit. As Munoz falls to his back, Maia presses his right shoulder to Munoz’s body – preventing Munoz from bringing Demian’s right arm across the body. With the shoulder pressed and the legs controlled, Munoz cannot create intense pressure upon Maia’s neck.

Munoz might have been able to sweep or finish the choke if every element of technique had been right otherwise, but the hand is not on the biceps and the blade of his forearm is not quite in position to choke Maia. Munoz wanted the blade of his forearm vertical in this case, to press against Maia’s carotid, and because of the adjustments Maia made, the forearm is horizontal. At 3:19, the brabo has failed and Munoz bails on it to fend off Maia as he looks to move into mount.

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After breaking loose from the brabo, Maia has kept Munoz down and ended up in a modified S-mount, with Munoz lying down on his side. Maia’s right foot is in place for a hook between Munoz’s thighs and his left leg is next to Munoz’s back. While aware of a possible armbar, Demian wants rear mount and threads his left arm over Munoz’s left shoulder at 3:11. Munoz already knows this and has chosen to control Maia’s right arm with his own right, preventing the seatbelt grip that many back takers prefer. Munoz starts to get up in a conventional way, basing out his left arm and seemingly working to his knees.

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Maia lets Munoz work that route back to the feet, thinking to seize the rear naked choke or at least a seat belt grip on the rising Munoz. That particular gamble failed here, as Munoz turns back into Maia at exactly the right time, escapes Maia's hand control and ends up in a very low single leg position popularized by John Smith, the legendary NCAA, Worlds and Olympic champion wrestler. I note Smith in particular because Munoz patterned quite a bit of his wrestling game after that style and was coached by Smith at Oklahoma State University. Interestingly, Maia chooses to go with the momentum and moves behind Munoz. Perhaps Maia was hunting a possible armbar or looking to see if Munoz would let go of the leg, but Munoz chooses to stand and shuck Maia forwards.

Third round – Maia’s crucifix crank.

A crucifix in Brazilian jiu-jitsu usually denotes having a position where you are behind your opponent, perpendicular to the opponent and you have control of both arms. One arm is controlled by your legs and the other arm is usually controlled by your arms or by your upper torso. It is an advantageous position that provides gi chokes, potential armbars, neck cranks and if you’re Gary Goodridge, one of the most violent elbow strikes-based finishes in mixed martial arts history.

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via i39.tinypic.com

Just before the following gif took place, Munoz tried to work a single leg on Maia, and Demian chose to hug Munoz and look for a kimura on Munoz’s right arm. Maia did not get the kimura, but he did get an arm in between Munoz’s arms and Munoz resting on his heels in a seiza position.

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As the gif kicks in at 3:28 of the third round, Maia knows he has a potential crucifix position awaiting him – if he can pull it off. Munoz is trying to keep his hands together and prevent Demian from controlling his neck. Maia starts to turn his hips into Munoz and to slip behind Munoz’s back, while retaining control of Munoz’s right arm with his hands and control of Munoz’s left arm with his legs. Demian keeps his right hand underneath Munoz’s right armpit and looks to lasso Munoz’s head with his left arm. The head lasso fails as Munoz ducks under and to the left. Maia lets his right knee sag to the mat and Munoz lifts the left leg upwards and out. Maia actually loses control of Munoz's left arm for a brief moment, but the previously sagging right leg comes up and regains control of Munoz’s left arm.

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Munoz brings the foot down and joins his hands to prevent whatever Maia is doing. This is alright for Demian, as he wants to work into slightly better position. The legs can be extended to control Munoz’s left arm, but Maia is not quite in position to really control Munoz’s right arm or attack the head. Maia wants to move his own torso closer to Munoz’s head, so he reaches up to grab ahold of Munoz’s head. Mark takes this opportunity to try and elbow Demian in the head. Maia slides his right hand to the crook of Munoz’s right arm to foul the strikes and gain better control of Munoz’s body.

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You can see that Munoz knows the danger of his position. His expression changes to one of determination and desperation throughout this gif. Munoz wants to use his upper body strength to link hands. This will prevent Maia from extending the arms and getting a possible finish in some manner. Munoz reaches with his right hand over to his more immobile left hand – and leaves his neck open. Maia moves to take advantage. The left hand slides under the neck and turns Munoz’s head towards Maia’s own face as the right hand disengages and moves up for the gable grip.

This looks dangerous and impressive, but this is not a choke. It’s more of a neck/spine crank than anything else – working from the pain and potential injuries that may result from compression of the neck and spine - and it may not finish a tough or strong opponent right away. It’s a risky move and very visually impressive, but generally not an immediate finish type of submission. Note that Munoz’s right arm is now free.

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Since Maia has control of Munoz only at the left arm and with the crank, Munoz gets his feet back out in front of him. He is now more mobile and waiting for Demian to make a further move. Maia has set up the neck crank wants to finish the fight by twisting Munoz’s head even further to the right. This would involve getting back and to the left, underneath Munoz, and he starts to move that way. Mark chooses this moment of motion to explode downwards and to his right – turning into the crank – and sliding his left elbow out of Maia’s leg control. Sweat may have aided this escape, but this particular neck crank works better in gi-based jiu-jitsu – Maia’s specialty.

The lack of a kimono and the not-quite-perfect technique prevents Maia from gaining the needed friction to keep Munoz within the neck crank. As the gif ends, Munoz is in a single leg position that Maia eventually fends off with a cagewalk/clinch mix.

This was one of the cooler moments in MMA grappling yet this year and Maia’s combination of skills and unorthodox angles gave him the opportunity for one of the rarer submissions in the sport. However, his instincts and technique were not tight enough to keep Munoz from escaping and eventually winning the controversial decision*.

* (I still think the fight was either a draw or a razor thin Maia victory.)

As an end of Judo Chop treat, I leave you a video of John Smith teaching the low single.


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