UFC 153: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's Go To Techniques

Esther Lin / MMA Fighting

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's career has been carved out of the same crafty techniques being used against every opponent he meets. Today we take a look at three of the most commonly recurring.

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Everyone loves signature moves; things that make certain fighters unique such as Shinya Aoki's gogoplatas or Kazushi Sakuraba's kimura. Signature moves and go to techniques aren't always the same however - Aoki's game doesn't revolve around the gogoplata - but "go to" moves often fly under the radar. Today we're going to focus on some of the go to techniques of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.


One of the factors that made Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira so fun to watch was that he didn't have great takedowns or great stand up, so he was forced to pull guard frequently. Guard is a dangerous place to be in MMA and Nogueira still made it work. It's the techniques that he used to achieve this regularly that we'll be looking at today. These won't be techniques such as the Anaconda Choke which is almost synonymous with Nogueira but which he only used on two occasions, we'll be looking instead at techniques which you can see in a great number of Nogueira's matches and for today's article I thought we'd focus on three:
  • The Sit Out
  • The Wrist Trap Half Guard Sweep
  • The Dipping Jab

The Sit Out
The sit out is a basic wrestling and jiu jitsu technique which Nogueira has truly mastered. While Nogueira has a great many pure sweeps, many of his best sweeps have come from getting in position to drive for what seems like a hopeless takedown, and then hitting the sit out. Against Fabricio Werdum - a far superior pure jiu jitsu player - Nogueira was able to move from his half guard to what seemed like a hopeless attempt to bulldoze Werdum over, only to hit an unexpected sit out and force Werdum into bottom position. Nogueira's takedowns have always been at best mediocre, but his follow up chains of movements are a thing to behold and he is always forcing the opponent to play catch up even from a traditionally disadvantageous position like the underside of his opponent's sprawl.

For those of you unfamiliar with the sit out, here is a pretty neat video that was the first to come up on youtube:

The occasions on which Nogueira has used the sit out are beyond counting. Because Nogueira's wrestling has always been so poor he has always chosen to shoot on his opponents and then attack their base once they sprawl on him. The sit out is a beautiful technique based on leverage and rarely works out perfectly as in the above video. Most times opponents will actively choose to roll to their back when Nogueira gets midway through his sit out. Take a look at this highlight of Nogueira's legendary bout with Bob Sapp:

Notice at 2:10 and 7:03 Nogueira hits the sit out and Sapp chooses to roll to his back rather than give Nogueira the chance to get back control. One man who managed to take advantage of Nogueira's fondness for the sit out was Frank Mir, who was able to grab his famous kimura as Nogueira left one arm trailing during the sit out. There is little doubt in my mind that Mir trained specifically for Nogueira's sit out and this is a good example of a "go to" move becoming too well known.

Wrist Trap Half Guard Sweep

If you can sweep Fedor Emelianenko and Tim Sylvia with the same move - it is legitimately a brilliant technique. Nogueira's half guard has become the stuff of legend because he was one of the first to use it extensively in MMA and remains one of the few great half guard players in the sport to this day. One of Nogueira's go to sweeps is to control his opponent's wrist on the side on which he is trapping their leg in half guard, then underhook their other leg with his free arm and simply tip them over while their trapped hand can't post to stop them rolling.

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1. Against Fedor, Nogueira has his knees on Fedor's chest to prevent the Russian from battering him as he has been all match. Fedor is wrapping Nogueira's legs with his arms and Nogueira is controlling Fedor's wrists.

2. Nogueira kicks his right leg through between Fedor's legs and traps Fedor's right leg in half guard.

3. Nogueira sits up (camera angle changes) and underhooks Fedor's free leg with his right hand.

4. Nogueira falls back and rolls Fedor over. Fedor's right leg and hand are trapped and he is unable to stop the sweep.

Nogueira's only reliable offense in his first meeting with Fedor was this sweep, yet he used it only twice to roll the Russian. In the second meeting between the two Nogueira attempted the sweep three times in the opening minutes of the bout and almost caught the Russian in a kneebar as he attempted to stay upright. The success that Nogueira had with this sweep in the short lived second bout undoubtedly affected Fedor's decision to fight the majority of the third fight on the feet.

Here is Nog doing the same thing to Tim Sylvia (G):

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1. Nog is in half guard with his left knee and shin keeping Sylvia's considerable weight off of him. He has control of Tim's right hand and leg.

2. As Tim attempts to stand - posting out his left leg - Nogueira underhooks it.

3. Nog rolls back over his left side.

4. Nog takes top position and from here quickly finishes the fight.

Dipping Jab

It was very fashionable at one time to put other MMA fans in line on how elite Big Nog's boxing was and to use his fight with Sergei Kharitanov as a reference. In truth Nogueira has always been a punching bag on the feet - he has little head movement and had shambling, slow feet even in his best days. Additionally Nogueira had little punching power even when he sat down on his punches for the majority of his career. One thing that Nogueira has always done pretty well, however, is jab. The dipping jab is the be all and end all of Nogueira's boxing - if he is against an opponent who is too tactically deficient to adapt - such as Brendan Schaub or Sergei Kharitanov - then he looks fantastic. If he is against an opponent against whom it isn't working, Nog tends to look terrible on the feet and then people question what happened to his stand up offence rather than questioning the striking defence of his opponents.

The dipping jab is a pretty simple technique but you'll see it used masterfully by B. J. Penn, Anderson Silva, Joe Louis and any number of other great strikers. As the opponent jabs you simply dip your head to the elbow side of their punch and counter with a jab of your own. Here is Anderson Silva demonstrating one of his variations - wherein Yushin Okami's jab sails over Silva's shoulder and Silva connects his own.

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Here is Nogueira's less beautiful but still effective variation against Schaub:

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Notice that Nog dips very deep and doesn't guard his face as he does so - this is why Schaub was able to hurt him with uppercuts throughout the fight. Schaub not being a gifted striker so much as he is a gifted puncher however failed to recognise which punches were working and proceeded to allow the heavyweight division's weakest puncher to stifle his game and knock him out.

Should the fight get past the opening seconds, I can as good as guarantee you that at least one of these techniques (probably the dipping jab) will make an appearance against Dave Herman at UFC 153.

Jack Slack breaks down over 70 striking tactics employed by 20 elite strikers including Sugar Ray Robinson in his ebook, Advanced Striking.

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Look out for news on Jack Slack's new kindle book, Elementary Striking which will teach the basic techniques and strategies of striking in detail.

Jack can be found on Twitter, Facebook and at his blog; Fights Gone By.

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