Ever since UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones burst into the consciousness of MMA fans by sending Stephan Bonnar flying over and over again at UFC 94, there has been a great deal of confusion as to how much of Jones' MMA take down game derives from his collegiate Greco-Roman wrestling background and how much he picked up "watching Judo on YouTube" as Jones claims.
We asked wrestling Coach Mike Riordan and Dan Pedersen aka JudoNerd, our community judo expert to look at some of Jones' fights and comment on the possible origins of his flashy throws and take downs.
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Admittedly it's impossible for even a fighter to know exactly where he picked up any given technique in a life time of training, watching fights, watching martial arts movies, reading books, and improvising in the cage. Keeping that in mind we asked our experts to limit their discussion of Jones' approach to how the various moves would be described by a practitioner of that discipline.
Dan and Mike take it away after the jump...
Dan Pedersen, aka JudoNerd shared his thoughts on Jones' use of Judo techniques:
With Jones you have a guy who has trained Greco-Roman (and therefore has a great base in upper body clinch throws without a gi). So he is obviously primed to learn Judo in the context of MMA, since the off-balancing techniques are so similar between the two sports.
On top of that, you have a guy with ridiculously long legs.
The throws he uses that look like Judo (e.g., his Osoto Gari on Matt Hamill, his Harai Goshi and De Ashi Barai on Stephan Bonner) are all basically foot sweeps and leg attacks. You never see Jones going for hip tosses like Ronda Rousey, or Seoi Nage like Karo Parisyan.
He uses leg techniques, which, in Judo, are the tall man's game. When you have that much of a reach advantage with your lead leg-your attacking leg-you can dispense with all that "lower your hips and get under them" stuff. No more hip tosses or dropping for doubles and singles... just keep the clinch, move them off balance, and use that attacking leg to sweep or throw.
With his Greco background, his long legs, and his creativity, I don't think it was very hard for Jones to incorporate these throws. The hardest part of Judo is the movement in the clinch, and he had been working that exclusively for years.
Now Coach Riordan goes in-depth on the uses of Jones style techniques in amateur wrestling. Take it away Mike:
The first techniques presented for analysis are the foot sweep and hip toss Jones hit in his fight with Stephan Bonnar. I invite the reader to keep the link open in a smaller window while reading the relevant section. My impression is that wrestling uses far less subtle terminology than judo when naming these types of techniques. In wrestling, any move where the foot extends to knock an opponent's foot of the mat is called a foot sweep. Most moves where a hip swivel displaces a leg and propels a throw are called hip tosses. This is true even with throws where the leg is displaced via a reaping motion with the thrower's leg. Applying wrestling nomenclature as best I can, I would call the two moves depicted in the link above a foot sweep and hip toss, perhaps there are better wrestling names available.
Footsweeps occur in wrestling, though they are far from a staple. Usually, they come as a result of some judo background or because it is something a wrestler may have simply "figured out" throughout years on a mat.
One of the most famous wrestling foot sweeps ever succesfully executed in wrestling is this gem in the 2003, 165 pound NCAA finals where Illinois' Matt Lackey secured his national title against Lehigh's Troy Letters (FUN FACT: Troy made a brief appearance on MTV's "True Life: I'm a College Wrestler").
Lackey performed this technique in other matches, but never with such dramatic effect. This is less a foot sweep and more kicking a guy's legs out from under him, however, this is no mean feat when dealing with an elite wrestler in a stance. Lackey somehow times this perfectly for a spectacular takedown.
More similar to the Jones footsweep is the technique demonstrated to the right. This is the Oklahoma State University wrestling room, and the intrepid sweeper pictured is current collegiate superstar, Jordan Oliver. Witnessing this move in high level practice rooms is not uncommon though you rarely see it in an actual match. The move is essentially a reverse lateral drop, where a throw is executed from over/unders toward the under-hook side. The thrower grabs the lat with his under-hook hand and pulls his opponent's leg over an outstretched foot, instigating a trip. Jones pulled Bonnar over his foot in a similar manner but his right hand up and pushes on the head. I don't often see this hand placement on this particular technique in wrestling which suggests that Jones' sweep here is more reflective of judo.
I am far from an expert, but I always imagine throwing techniques that involve a leg "reaping" out another leg as paradigmatically judo throws. These sorts of throws do pop-up in wrestling, though somewhat rarely.
This sweet throw is Minnesota's Dylan Ness throwing Iowa's Mike Kelly. The situation starts off with Ness in trouble as Mike Kelly seems to have a snake throw locked in. Kelly is going to attempt to yank up on Ness's chin while hipping in, putting Dylan on his back. Unfortunately for Kelly, Ness incredibly resourceful; he maintains the whizzer, pushes Kelly's hips away and steps across to reap Kelly's leg. This results in a visually appealing throw.
Throws like this in wrestling are the exception rather than the rule and I beleive that Jones' hip tosses above and below are more the products of Judo. My opinion is based, once again on hand placement. In the Bonnar throw, he rests his hand almost lightly on Bonnar's right arm before throwing him. This is distinctly unwrestler-ish. Wrestlers, at least American wrestlers, are taught to always place their hand heavily on an opponent and if they are touching an arm they are usually pulling it in by hooking around the tricep or pushing it away with their arm extended.
Jones is doing neither here, and this is fairly alien to someone used to watching wrestling.
To the right is another hip toss from Jones's pre-UFC days. In my mind, the telltale sign of this hip toss being more of a pure judo throw is that Jones pulls his opponent tight using the wrist. Wrestling, for the most part, teaches that throwing handles should be as close to an opponent's trunk as possible and thus you see most wrestling throws involve grabbing the tricep or latissimus dorsi in attempts to anchor the throw.
The following link shows Jones's attempted arm spin, and supplex against Bonnar. The arm spin is a wrestling move and one I feel is greatly underutilized in the sport of scholastic wrestling though it is far more common in freestyle and in Greco. This gif depicts what may be the finest arm spin ever hit.
This is Eldar Kurtanidze of Georgia throwing Iran's Ali Reza Heidari in the world finals. The name of the game when hitting this move is a quick and complete body rotation by the thrower with the opponents arm pulled extremely tightly around the body. Notice that when Eldar relinquishes the body lock his right hand quickly slides to Heidari's tricep and begins pulling it tight before his left arm comes underneath and finishes the job. Jones' attempt, above, fails, but I am pretty sure this is how he envisioned the move playing out in his head.
The supplex, as performed by Jones on Bonnar is, as far as I know, a pure wrestling move and practiced by all Greco wrestlers. The most impressive part is that Jones was able to get the necessary hip pop to arch him over almost instantaneously. This is aided by his grip slipping up to the chest in a sort of "high-gut" position. Hitting the move instantly is a key in an MMA match and I'll explain why.
To the right is Garrett Lowney supplexing his Russian opponent, former world champ Gogi Koguashvili. Notice that Lowney first lifts Gogi off the mat and loads him up on his hips by taking some small backsteps; this ensures the high amplitude of the throw. Gogi could simply stick his foot back and hook Lowney's calf with his toe to defuse the move, but this is illegal in Greco where leg to leg contact is outlawed, therefore Lowney is free to lift away. Jones does not have this luxury, however, as Bonnar could conceivably hook his leg, therefore a more spontaneous throw is required.
The salto from double overhooks is primarily a Greco move. Throwing from double overs favors a taller man as it requires the thrower to both have his arms over his opponent's arms while loading his hips under his opponents hips. Jones hits this move nicely, keeping the arms tight under the armpits and getting great hip pop. His opponent does him a favor by pressuring hard into him and providing all the momentum needed to complete the technique.
In high level Greco matches, wrestlers are mindful not to push in recklessly and therefore momentum must be manufactured by the thrower. In this GIF, Olympic champion, and one time K-1 competitor, Karen Gaber does just that while back arching American R.C. Johnson by taking tiny backsteps mid-throw.
Mike Riordan is a high school wrestling coach, unsuccessful division one collegiate wrestler, and student of the sport of wrestling. He is a part time contributor to Bloody Elbow on matters of collegiate and Olympic wrestling.