Girls will usually play sports differently than boys. This is almost always rooted in physical differences - upper body strength, muscle/weight ratios, bone structure and so on. But - and this is an important but - the amazing thing about humans and sports is that athletes of both genders are capable of incredible feats in all manner of sports. Mixed martial arts is (or should be) no different in its distribution of fun moments across genders.
Ronda Rousey has electrified women's MMA with her phenomenal brand of "toss 'em, break 'em" fighting over the past two years and each outing is almost a guaranteed Judo Chop. However, she is not alone in producing moments of excitement, skill and interesting technical happenings in women's MMA. The Invicta FC promotion has churned out several such moments in two shows and almost certainly will give us more this Saturday (October 6, 2012) when Jessica Penne and Naho Sugiyama headline the Invicta 3 card in Kansas City.
First, I have to narrow this down to grappling-specific moments, as that is my wheelhouse. There are good striking exchanges, but I do not know how to analyze them on a level worthy of a Judo Chop. Thus, I cast my eye towards the ground game and found more than enough to talk about.
Jessica Penne won her bout against Lisa Ellis at Invicta 1, and she did it by winning the ground game with attacks built upon her tactical knowledge, unyielding spirit and unusual flexibility.
Her insane flexibility gave her the edge in that match and the best moment to watch in the fight came when Penne decided to escape side control and go immediately on the attack. This is circus contortionist level stuff and the swiftness with which Penne moves into the crucifix is freakishly awesome. Most people escaping from side control are looking simply to create space and get out - not immediately attack the way Penne does. Davis does not actually do much wrong - other than stay too high up on Penne.
The trapping of the farside arm is usually done from attacking the turtle - which is what this situation kind of becomes once you factor in Penne's unusual flexibility.
GIF via Grappo at Fight-Linker.
Penne's refusal to accept side control as a passive, defensive position was lovely to behold (even if her trip defense was not similarly stellar). In yet another moment in the same fight, Penne is on the ground once more and dealing with Ellis threatening to drop on top of her in side control.
She uses her arms to push Ellis up off her just enough to wedge the knee in and threaten an armbar on the right arm of Ellis. Perhaps a smoother entry was possible, but MMA and grappling matches are usually much messier than practice sessions. Ellis smartly decides to get right out of there, gets the elbow free and defends the armbar well in general.
GIF via Grappo at Fight-Linker.
Penne kept using that flexibility throughout the fight. In this GIF, she is keeping a high guard (feet encircling Ellis at a point higher than the waist, where most people usually encircle). And this guard is extremely high. So high in fact that she's able to threaten things like a double armbar or work a triangle without adjusting her position much. As Ellis gets up to her feet to break the guard (it is easier to do so from the feet, despite most people learning knee-based guard breaks early in their grappling careers), Penne slides those feet up into a diamond/triangle guard.
GIFs from now on are all be done by Zombie Prophet.
And as this next GIF shows, Ellis has worked right into a triangle and then starts to defend, which pushes her into an omoplata. The three submissions chain so well together and it is both a function of Ellis's defense and the messy nature of MMA that no submission arises from this well conceived attack by Penne.
Ellis goes to circle around Penne and you can see Jessica push up the leg to prevent that and allow her the time and space to sit upwards to work the omoplata even more. Ideally, Penne could get her hips more active and do the "Marcelo Garcia" version of the omoplata and/or sit up while she's applying it, but hey, this is armchair quarterbacking.
Grappling things are a little different when you are a 105 lb woman and your opponent can defend armbars like Ellis does here.
Penne sets up a really nice armbar from the guard by swiveling her hips and getting her feet in the right position. However, she does not break the posture of Ellis during the armbar and that allows Ellis to muscle upwards and slam Penne down. This is MMA and powerbombs are beloved by fight fans everywhere. Penne stays in the game, lands well and off-GIF scrambles to a safe position.
Penne does not grapple here like anyone else I've seen in WMMA and perhaps her Ellis fight was a one-off, but the methodology that fighters like Liz Carmouche use is awesome to watch. I like the game of Megumi Fujii better, but watching Carmouche get better and better from fight to fight has been an absolute joy to watch. In her fight against Ashleigh Curry, Carmouche sliced right through the weak defenses of the pro boxer to get dominant position. A clinch against the fence saw a scoop double transform into an immediate threat of being mounted for Curry. This is simple, fundamental stuff that is very well executed by Carmouche.
After Curry decided she wanted to work a headlock from this mounted position, Carmouche spent some time chilling out, waiting for Curry to get tired or to let go. Then she got more proactive and gave up mount to pass to side control, which alleviates the headlock's discomfort and lets Carmouche work elbows, knees to the body and hammerfists to her heart's content. Watch as Carmouche ensures she keeps Curry's legs where she wants them with her hand and her knee. The shift of position opens up further offensive options for Liz and really embodies how MMA grappling can be different from regular submission grappling.
From side control, Carmouche forced her way to a true mount and kept bringing the pressure on Curry. Liz began working the same things that you'll see often from fighters Jon Jones in the crucifix - arm immobilization. In defense, Curry employs what I call the flashy defense - because it appears she's trying to get Carmouche to flash a boob or something.
Look at how tight Carmouche's feet are to the hips of Curry and how wide her knees are. This creates a connection to Curry, excellent base and lowers her pelvis even further - which ratchets up the pressure on poor Curry. A KO due to strikes would soon accumulate.
Liz Carmouche might be the best poster girl for MMA-specific top game/traditional grappling right now. She's fast, she's strong and she's smart in achieving what she wants - a KO from mount or perhaps a choke from the back. Rousey gets the arm, Carmouche gets the punches from mount. It's a tough choice between the two.
At Invicta 2, Raquel Pa'aluhi nearly got Amanda Nunes with a quick back take and choke (the link is to the fight video).
However, Nunes calmed herself and began to defend properly. Pa'aluhi tried to dish out as much damage as she could - as this GIF shows. I have a soft spot for those who use the rear mount as a platform to launch punches to the face. Darren Uyenoyama did it multiple times against Kid Yamamoto in their bantamweight clash and I wrote a Judo Chop about his tactics there. Here, Pa'aluhi is trying to make Nunes drop back to the ground as she is caught too high up on Nunes's body to be truly stable. Raquel eventually stabilizes herself and threatens a choke. However....
Nunes works out of it, aided by Pa'aluhi's odd insistence on retaining a grip on the farside arm after she's basically lost the back position. Instantly, Nunes goes on the offensive and passes up the possible armbar to work to rear mount. Within thirty seconds of this GIF, Pa'aluhi taps to a rear naked choke that is swiftly and mercilessly applied by Nunes. This GIF highlights how some grapplers can be glass cannons of a sort - very good at launching offense, but falling apart in defense. Others are the reverse - I call 'em "castles" - very good at defending submissions or positional improvements, but stunted on offense. Pa'aluhi looks to be the former and Nunes takes advantage of that.
Sarah D'alelio bounced back from a brutal loss to Ronda Rousey with two straight wins at both Invicta shows. Her fight against Vanessa Porto was rather nice to watch and featured an unusual armbar.
I really would like to direct your attention to how Alexis Davis dismantled Hitomi Akano in the second round of their Invicta 2 fight. The way Davis got to the back, forced Akano to fall backwards and then worked the choke is impeccable. It is slightly mean to the opponent in terms of technique choice and execution, but that's okay in a fight. Davis looked terrific that night and Akano is no slouch on the ground with 14 submission wins in her career.
Not every exchange on the Invicta mats is terrific. Quite a few of the Invicta fighters are new to the MMA game or focused strongly on striking, instead of grappling. Often a large disparity in skill can be found (e.g. Carmouche/Curry) and the fights can be kind of brutal that way. It's the fight game, though. Such things happen.
In one example, Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc had a particularly bad showing against Amy Davis at Invicta 1. She was often the aggressor when it came to the clinch and striving for takedowns, but once clinched and going for the takedown, she seemed to lose her way. One such moment saw her get a scoop double and then end up in perhaps the weirdest position I have ever seen a fighter get in post-takedown.
WHY IS SHE UPSIDE DOWN?!?! Davis would later capitalize on the discombombulation of Rivera-Calanoc with a kimura finish in the second round.
Sadly, I cannot find video of Naho Sugiyama winning by technical submission (armbar) at Jewel 17th Ring, so her moments of flash will have to wait until after that appears (or if she does something awesome tomorrow). Maybe a Megumi Fujii highlight or a compilation of photos and match video of Ryoko Tani, the best female judoka of all time, set to Darude's Sandstorm will make up for that.
For other women grapplers of note, look up Gabi Garcia, Luanna Alzuguir, Leticia Ribeiro, Bia Mesquita, Michelle Nicolini, Kyra Gracie, Penny Thomas, Mackenzie Dern, Megumi Fujii (who should still be undefeated in MMA) and a whole host of judoka (like the Ueno sisters, Tong Wen, Driulis Gonzalez, Ayumi Tanimoto and more).
These girls can grapple real good. Show these athletes your appreciation and support the ladies near and dear to you in their pursuit of athletic dreams as much as possible. Thank you and rock on.