Judo Chop: Phil Davis Adjusts His Approach to Take Downs

UFC light heavyweight Phil Davis took a fair bit of criticism for his relatively underwhelming performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC Fight Night 24. After seeing Jon Jones tear through the UFC light heavyweight division like a killer whale eating baby sea lions, fans expected Davis to put on a more dramatic performance against Nogueira. 

Most disappointing was Davis' 36% take down completion rate. He tried to take Nogueira down 11 times and only succeeded in 4 of those attempts. This is not what fans expect from a former NCAA national champion wrestler.

But the stats tell a different story if you look at the fight round-by-round rather than as a whole. It was only in the first round, when he went 0-for-5 in take down attempts where Davis' wrestling was stymied, in both rounds 2 and 3, Davis went 2-for-3 for a 67% success rate. 

The most obvious adjustment Davis made was switching from attempting double legs to single legs which seemed to catch Nogueira off his guard. 

I asked Earl Smith of the Division 1 College Wrestling web site about this and here is his response:

In wrestling, like MMA, takedowns are almost always the result of a good setup more so than a great shot. Recently, Light-Heavyweight prospect Phil Davis defeated the veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Early on the fight "Little Nog" was able to thwart the many takedown attempts of Davis. Nogueira likely did not respect the punching power of Davis, so when Phil tried to use various punches as set ups, Nogueira was more focused on stuffing the takedowns than getting hurt with a punch. "Mr. Wonderful" also was farther away from Nogueira than I would prefer in shooting a double leg. Typically a double leg takedown is most effective when shot in close quarters. Credit should also be given to Little Nog. While he did not use a full-fledged sprawl, he was effective in getting his hips away from Davis in those failed double leg attempts. In general, the wrestler who has higher hips and controls his opponents hips scores, or prevents a score. Nogueira's defense also uses version of a crossface. While the crossface isn't as important in MMA as it is in wrestling, it was effective in this instance because Little Nog used it to create separation from Davis and keep the fight standing.

Davis' single leg takedown worked partly because it was a new attack, after the series of double legs, and partly because of Nogueira's movement. Little Nog took a big step in attempting his left hand, leaving his right leg directly in front of Davis. Phil is able to finish the takedown by "turning the corner" which helps drop the defenders hips to the mat.

In the full entry we'll look at some animated gifs and hear from BE grappling editor K.J. Gould and BE reader psuwrestler99 who have slightly different and more in-depth explanations for Davis' failures and successes against Little Nog.

More SBN Coverage of UFC Fight Night 24

Gifs by BE reader Grappo.

Here's K.J. Gould talking about Davis' difficulties taking down Nogueira and the adjustments he made to make it work:

With the double legs, Davis was either telegraphing, not getting in deep enough, or he was over-reaching trying to grab at Nogueira's legs.

For successful penetration in shots you want to visualize there is a line between the opponents heels and you want either a foot or knee to cross that line to know you've got in deep enough either to drive them over their heels and making them fall or to be able to pick them off of their feet and slam them.

Basically with this concept in mind, your hips are below and parallel with their hips and their legs are perpendicular to the ground. When their legs aren't perpendicular but your hips are still directly underneath theirs (or near enough) that's when adjustment on or along the ground such as turning the corner or sweeping around come into play to compensate.

Nogueira doesn't actually show the greatest sprawl in the fight but he shows good footwork likely from all his time Boxing. What I mean by this is he's never flat footed with his weight distribution. While he's not on the balls of his feet I can tell looking at him that his weight is forward onto them which allows him to spring his feet backwards.

How you distribute your weight is fundamentally important in both striking and grappling. By comparison Dan Hardy fights far too upright, a stance that's fine for going forward and angling to the side but no good if you're on the backfoot - or defending a takedown.

As mentioned Nogueira didn't show a super sprawl with hips driving down, but he got his feet back enough, and he was able to use underhooks, overhooks (sometimes as whizzers) as crossfaces to redirect Davis energy upwards stopping him driving forwards.

Davis single legs were successful because it allowed him to penetrate deep enough to be under Nogueira's hips as well as prevent one foot from getting back, and while the other leg can go back to brace Davis choosing to either turn the corner or 'run the pipe' (their leg between yours and you pulling back and circling into them) to complete the takedowns takes care of it.

Here's BE reader psuwrestler99 to break down each take down attempt:

One thing you should know about Phil Davis is he's a late bloomer. He's not a natural like Jon Jones is. Phil was never even a state champ in high school. But yet he was a 4 time d-1 all American. Phil has an incredible ability to absorb knowledge and improve to unbelievable heights. But it takes him longer than a freak natural athlete like bones. 

What was really wrong with Phil in the 1st and early 2nd round was nerves. I've seen that look in his face before. He was very jittery at first as well. Normally Phil is very calm and relaxed. He looked extremely anxious. The main adjustment he made was not from the double to the single, but he started committing to his shot. At first he was just lowering his level and grabbing nogs legs without driving through. It mainly had to do with his nerves. Not sure why he was so nervous, but being someone who knows Phil I could see how nervous he was.

rd 1 

double leg shot stuffed 
Look at how Phil had no drive in his legs. He just simply lowered his level and touched Lil Nog's legs with zero commitment to finish the shot.

Notice again how Davis isn't committed. He doesn't lower his level properly, he just bends over and reaches. He just pushes into Lil Nog instead of getting low and driving through. All signs shown by a wrestler suffering from nervousness.
Once again no commitment for the take down. This time Davis lowers his level but doesn't drive through. It's like if he felt any resistance he would back out instead of driving through.

Nerves are really getting to Phil. Notice on this shot how he lowers his level with his back which is just horrible instead of with his legs and hips. Hate to keep saying it, but just no commitment to this take down at all.


Now this shot is one of the worst. Just a pure desperation dive. No set up no follow through. He was really starting to look desperate. This is obviously mental, Phil is suffering from the jitters bad here and not sure why. I know Phil and I know that look that was on his face before the fight even started.

rd 2

Unreal right? This is probably hands down the best pure wrestler in the division. What is this? No set up, and a dive for the legs. And if he feels any resistance at all, he bails.


Wow, is he back? It would appear he's getting over those jitters. He lowers his level properly, and drive through with his legs. Notice this is the first time he does this.

rd 3

It seems he has his swag back. Notice how close he gets, no diving from distance. He takes the leg like it belongs to him with drive, technique and commitment to the shot.


Regression? Notice how he didn't lower his level and finish with his legs. Word of the day, commitment. Makes me wonder if his back was injured.


Once again he does everything right and it worked. He gets nice and close and then he strikes. Notice how he lowers his level properly. And instead of using all arms he drives through with his legs. Phil was successful every time he committed to his take down.

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