Josh Barnett is going to get criticism no matter how well he performs for the rest of his career. Some of his performances from here on out can no doubt be critiqued legitimately; there are always things fighters can do better and there's never going to be a shortage of armchair quarterbacks. But with Barnett -- who will forever polarise an audience with his 3 drug test failures and complete lack of personal accountability or remorse -- some of his performance criticism will be thinly veiled assaults by an MMA fan-base that rightly feels angered and betrayed by his words and actions.
However other aspects of his performance a couple of weeks ago at Strikeforce Overeem vs Werdum are being criticised because of subtleties that were easily missed. This is an inherent problem with grappling as a spectator sport and also a reason why legitimate submission grappling such as Catch Wrestling in the early 1900's became worked exhibition Pro Wrestling with more exaggerated moves and sequences. Corruption and money played a part as I have mentioned in previous articles and matches going on for hours at a time was a problem as well. But a big problem that often cropped up was a match ending and the majority of an audience having no idea why because quite simply they couldn't see what had happened. This was an era when the audience didn't benefit from the presence of a big screen in the arena not to mention slow motion multi-angle replays. At least with Boxing even if a laymen didn't understand the nuances of what they were watching, they could still see two men standing upright throwing their fists even if they were a hundred rows back. When a grappling match ended on the mat and the audience couldn't see why, the crowd could turn ugly and throw out accusations of fight fixing among other things.
Two weeks ago everyone saw Barnett's double-leg slam, his lateral drop and his arm-triangle finish. Everyone saw him work from side control to mount, scramble to a go behind and work his way out of Half-Guard. What a lot of people didn't see, even with the benefit of broadcast cameras capturing the action up close, were all the little details in between and what I'm dubbing 'Invisible Grappling'
After the jump I'll be breaking down these details illustrated with photos and animated gifs in an attempt to show why they played an important role in not only Barnett remaining in control at all times, but in getting the finish as well.
For many this was one of the few highlights of the fight where Josh Barnett was able to partially catch a kick from Rogers and drive him into the fence before eventually picking him up and slamming him onto the mat. What you may have missed -- Barnett executes this Double-Leg pick up almost perfectly from a technical standpoint. To begin with Rogers has widened his base and turned his hips to make it a lot harder for Barnett to lift and he's also trying to pummel his arms inside to bring Barnett back up to his level. Barnett adjusts his base by rotating slightly clockwise while switching to a Single-Leg grip on Rogers right leg. Once he has the grip and hugs Rogers' leg close to his body he rotates anti-clockwise pulling Rogers into him and causing him to withdraw his arms to defend while becoming more upright. Barnett then drives Rogers back into the fence and switches back to a Double-Leg grip that's now free of Rogers' arms. Barnett locks his hands just beneath Rogers butt keeping his base narrow and square. Barnett is able to step in and penetrate Rogers' base to get his hips below and parallel to Rogers' hips. Keeping his back straight Barnett is able to lift Rogers fairly efficiently before driving him to the mat while turning his right shoulder into Rogers' body which allows him to protect his own head from impact as well as land him in side control. By problem solving the situation to attain better grip and positioning Barnett wastes less energy than if he just tried to power through with a takedown that might have landed him in Guard or Half-Guard, potentially giving him more work to do on the mat later on. In the diagram below I've highlighted in green Rogers' actions and highlighted in blue Barnett's actions. You will need to click the diagram to get it to animate in a new tab / window.
Soon after Barnett takes Rogers down he maintains side control and pressure. Nothing out of the ordinary there. What you may have missed -- Many people look down on Rogers' grappling ability and call him a fish on his back and I think this is unfair. While he's not a high level black belt in Jiu-Jitsu he does show he has some idea of what to do but the problem is Barnett has spent so much time on the mat he has an acute sense of what an opponent is doing underneath him. Rogers actually gets his left arm under Barnett and uses it as a wedge before trying to shrimp and get his left leg in as an attempt to regain guard. Barnett feels this as its happening and reacts instantly using a Hip Cut. I've not tended to see this used in BJJ though maybe I've not been looking in the right places, but I've definitely seen it in Catch Wrestling and it's one of the moves Barnett teaches in his 'Punishing Rides' instructional. The idea is it allows you to remain heavy while closing the gap the opponent can slide a leg into from underneath side control. With this movement Barnett is also able to use his body to push out the arm Rogers had been using as a wedge, and Barnett throughout has his right arm under Rogers head as you would with a Reverse Half-Nelson to limit Rogers' ability to bridge and move. Again click the below diagram to see it animate in a new tab / window.
Barnett stays on top of Rogers but doesn't appear to do much else? What you may have missed -- Barnett uses his right forearm to crossface Rogers in what he calls a Power-Half Ride because of its similarity in mechanics to a Power Half-Nelson. Barnett adjusts his base so he's still blocking Rogers' hip to avoid him regaining guard while staying on his toes to anchor his leg in place. Barnett then brings all his weight over his forearm to grind Rogers' head that is still turned to the side making it as miserable for him on bottom as possible. It feels even worse as Barnett drives with his right leg to make himself feel even heavier with the goal to make Rogers think of nothing else but to get the hell out of there. Rogers uses the cage to wall walk in an attempt to escape position and possibly end up on top of Barnett or back to his feet, but again Barnett is sensitive to his movements and under-hooks the head as before to kill Rogers' movement, pulling him back to the mat where he can resume riding heavy. Again Rogers shows he has some idea of things to do off of his back, but Barnett uses little energy while Rogers expends a lot. Click the below diagram to animate in a new tab / window.
Barnett attempts an 'Americana' or known in Catch as a Top Wrist Lock, and from Shooto influenced Catch a V-Arm Lock because of the shape the arm makes when it's in the correct position to crank the shoulder and twist the elbow joint. Barnett figure-fours his arms to frame the lock up but is unable to maintain a grip. I'd personally grab further up to get more leverage, and grip with the thumb around the hand. The trouble with this is there's a rule in the Unified Rules of MMA that says you can not grab the glove but it's not been clarified whether this means you're not allowed to grab the inside of the glove or not allowed to grab the glove at all. The former makes sense as you end up with an unfair handle but the latter means it becomes more difficult than necessary to apply an armlock because of the shortened leverage. What you may have missed -- Barnett actually thinks of setting up a submission before this. You can just about hear his corner call for him to step over Rogers head as he has Rogers right arm isolated. This could be to step-over for a spinning armbar and Barnett looks as if he's thinking about it but due to the lack of space between the mat and the cage wall on that side Barnett decides against it and resumes side control before attempting the mentioned Top Wrist Lock. Part of the reason Barnett has difficulty with the TWL is Rogers is in strong position to defend keeping his arms in and tight, and also again because of the wall proximity Barnett is too far over Rogers' center line to be heavy and try to keep his hips below Rogers center of mass.
Something else that might have been missed is Rogers doing a good job getting his arms inside again as a wedge and inches his way across the mat placing Barnett's mass above his head to allow him to pop and roll as an escape from side control. Rogers actually does this well and ends up showing some technique to go along with his power and also benefits from Barnett not having room to sprawl his hips back and being more like a ball that can easily roll off as a result. Barnett is able to ride Rogers' movement and stay on top in the Head-to-Head position and immediately goes on the Short Offense using a front headlock to a go behind and then drives Rogers back to the mat as Rogers tries to turn into him. Click the below diagram to animate in a new tab / window.
Barnett was soon able to pass from Rogers' Half-Guard to Mount as Rogers body-locked Barnett causing the announce team of Mauro Renallo and Frank Shamrock to say Rogers was holding on for dear life. What you may have missed -- Barnett lowers his hips into a low mount, and while this isn't unusual this position becomes more of a pin than a ride due to trying to hold the bottom man in place. Barnett doesn't get double grapevines and this could be down to preference or reach, but keeping your feet together as he does is a good alternative as it makes it harder for the bottom man to bring his feet into his own butt to make his position for bridging stronger. It's odd that a lot of the criticism towards Barnett is for wearing out Rogers on the mat by driving pressure through Rogers stomach and under his diaphragm making it difficult to breathe. This is essentially like applying a choke to the body but apparently only a choke to the throat is sophisticated enough for some fans. Barnett can potentially measure Rogers breathing and time his hip pressure to cut an inhalation or exhalation short, disrupting this natural automatic process which in turn means decreasing the efficiency in which Rogers is able to take in Oxygen and get rid of Carbon Dioxide leading to increased fatigue. Roger holding on to Barnett seems more a case of resting before trying to explode with his movement such as trying to wall walk again but Barnett is able to keep his hips low and his knees pinched tight as well as use his arms to base out as Rogers tries to buck him forward. At one point again Barnett tries to attack an arm but due to the camera angle it's difficult to tell whether it's a TWL or a straight armbar. Barnett is mixing in some ground strikes more likely to open Rogers up than looking to finish with punches as there's no need to try and punch himself out especially if he's only going to be hitting Rogers' arms. Coupled with effecting Rogers' breathing and letting him expend the energy while thrashing around on the ground there's little criticism to be made towards Barnett by those who appreciate good grappling. Unfortunately the less informed may feel 'good grappling' consists of mad scrambles when the reality often is one or both fighters losing control of each other through sloppy technique. Click the below diagram to animate in a new tab / window.
In parts of Round 1 and 2 you can see Barnett holding Rogers head while in mount, and you hear Frank Shamrock comment that Barnett is smothering him. What you may have missed -- Barnett was actually trying a neck crank that Erik Paulson has nicknamed a 'Lemon Crusher'. It's a move worth trying as it's easy to apply from Low Mount especially if you have grapevines and can really drive down and forward and you don't otherwise have a Half-Nelson / Guillotine Choke wrapped up. The blade of Barnett's forearm is underneath Rogers head and he locks a grip that's not dissimilar to that of a 'Rear Naked Choke' or an Arm Triangle, only without one of Rogers' arms present. For it to be most effective though Barnett needed to be able to turn Rogers head before driving forward and bending his neck which would effect one muscle in the neck instead of two. Alternatively it wouldn't take much to transition to a 'Fist Choke' aka a No Gi Ezekiel choke though I'm unsure if MMA gloves would make this more difficult to apply due to getting a padded fist under the chin and on top of the windpipe. Click the below diagram to animate in a new tab / window.
I've decided not to cover the Lateral Drop or Arm Triangle finish as they were more obvious in their application, and previous Judo Chops and even Gracie Breakdowns via Youtube have covered Arm Triangle finishes before particularly the one used by Brock Lesnar (who is also coached by Erik Paulson) to defeat Shane Carwin.
Below are a selection of videos that can give you some more details on using the mount, getting a 'Lemon Crusher' neck crank or fist choke as well as a trailer for Josh Barnett's Punishing Rides. Hopefully this Judo Chop has shown a lot more was going on than first meets the eye and while clearly over-matched Rogers showed signs he wasn't completely clueless on the ground similar to Dan Hardy in his fight with Georges St. Pierre. In that fight though GSP took some more risks going for submissions and as a result Hardy was able to escape and get back to his feet on occasion where comparatively Barnett stayed in control, wore Rogers out and got the finish with a choke that met little resistance. And in the case of Rogers as well as the nature of the Heavyweight class, his KO power was a real threat where one punch could really end the fight.
Providing Barnett doesn't screw up with his PED test, he's ready to take on Sergei Kharitonov hopefully in just a few months time and it's largely because of taking no damage through fighting a smart fight that was still finished.