Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson was the UFC's new hot prospect after his head kick knockout win over Dan Stittgen. A highly touted kick boxer from a traditional karate background, Thompson is an exciting striker. Part of what had MMA fans so excited for Thompson was not just his striking but the fact that his brother-in-law is eighth degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Carlos Machado.
The Machado brothers are all legends in the BJJ community. The most famous of them, Jean Jacques Machado, has trained a few names MMA fans are familiar with, as he was the man to award both Eddie Bravo and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Ricco Rodriguez their black belts. He also trained UFC commentator Joe Rogan, who has a brown belt under Machado. Rigan is known for being a grappler almost on part with the icon Rickson Gracie back in the day and has continued to teach alongside his brothers all over the United States. Carlos is the oldest Machado brother and has taught many black belts of his own.
Thompson holds a blue belt under Carlos Machado, which despite the pedigree, is a beginner's belt a level above the white belt. Now, there are many accomplished fighters in MMA that hold low rank or no rank in BJJ at all and are competent grapplers by value of a wrestling background or just years of MMA training. Often instructors like JJ Machado will only award belts if a student does spend part of their time training in the gi, so often an MMA fighter's grappling ability is ahead of their belt rank.
But that didn't appear to be the case at UFC 145 against Matt Brown, Thompson looked like a true blue belt. He made mistakes classic to those still finding their game as a grappler and after the jump we are going to look at the series of mistakes that lead to Matt Brown's inverted triangle from side control.
breakdown after the jump...
It all starts from guard. Thompson had an active guard, very good hip mobility and was very good at using his legs to create space. Based on what I saw there Thompson has learned a good deal during his time under Machado and has the makings of a very able grappler.
What got Thompson in trouble was, due to his inexperience on the ground, he stopped reacting and started thinking. You can see several moments in the fight where Thompson freezes, thinking through his options. And in those moments Thompson would often forget to use his hands to control Brown's posture.
This became very problematic for Thompson has he clearly preferred to open his guard and attempt to create space to escape back to his feet. But when he didn't control Brown's posture that allowed Brown to stand in Thompson's guard.
Stephen Thompson playing open guard against Matt Brown
You can clearly see Thompson's hands are not gripping any part of Brown, who has stood in Thompson's guard.
It is a helpless feeling in no gi grappling to lose your grips and have someone stand out of your guard. At that point the guard player must do something or risk being at the mercy of the top man and Thompson found himself in this situation a few times during the fight. As Thompson gains more experience on the mat he will have a plan to use quickly to escape this situation, a leg lock, no gi De La Riva guard or another technique, but on Saturday night Thompson froze.
And Brown took full advantage of the hesitation, using a classic method of passing the guard.
This technique is refereed to as "stacking the guard". This involves Brown pushing Thompson's hips over his body, basically folding Thompson in half.
Brown stacks and looks to strike Thompson
You can see that Brown's left arm is hooking around Thompson's hips, picking them up and putting all of Thompson's weight on his own shoulders and neck.
This severely limits Thompson's mobility, making it easier for Brown to strike him and pass his guard. You can see that in this particular instance Brown is throwing a right hand through Thompson's legs towards his unprotected face.
Brown is eventually able to pass the guard and get to side control. And there again we see Thompson again making mistakes with his arms. But before we get into that, let's look at how you are supposed to position your arms from the bottom of side control.
Here is Pedro Sauer black belt Keith Owen teaching his students the basic defensive positioning for a grappling context.
(Surviving Side Control 101 : The Prayer Position via Submissions101)
Now it is slightly different in an MMA context as the prayer position defends against gi chokes - which isn't a concern for an MMA fighter. Instead the MMA fighter is concerned with stopping strikes, so they often place their hands on the top man's biceps to prevent strikes, but still keep their elbows tight to their body. Keeping your elbows tight protects against submissions, gives the bottom man more mobility and keeps the top man's weight from pinning him down.
The problem is that Thompson grabbed head and arm control from the bottom of side control several times.
Thompson Grabbing Brwon from side control Photo by Paul Abell - US PRESSWIRE
Now this is a legitimate way to protect yourself from strikes, but it severely limits your ability to escape and exposes your arms to submissions. This is is not a position that you want to remain in for an extended period of time.
But that is just what Thompson did and Brown knew the advantages the position offered him. You can see in the picture above Brown putting his forearm across Thompson's jaw in a classic 'cross face', a very uncomfortable way for the top man to apply pressure and control.
Brown slides his hips up the side of Thompson's body, pressing against Wonderboy's right arm.
Brown using his leg to separate Thompson's arm from his body
This takes away all the space for Thomspon to retract his arm, and traps the arm away from the body. This limits Thompson's ability to defend submissions and keep Brown's weight off of him as one arm has basically been taken out of the action.
For Brown, this is a fantastic position to work his offense from.
Brown's knee is resting next to Thompson's head and Brown's elbow is on the other side. This stops Thompson from being able to scoot away and keeps that right arm stuck away from his body.
Brown using side control to set up submissions
One benefit of this position is that Brown is able to use both his arms to work for a submission on Thompson's isolated left arm - like a kimura or straight arm lock. This position also creates an opening for a head and arm choke - either a D'arce or triangle - as Thompson's right arm and head are trapped together. Brown opts to attempt the inverted triangle from side control, similar to the one that Chris Lytle used on Brown at UFC 116. As that has already had a Judo Chop devoted to it, I will not go over that again.
So you can clearly see how a series of errors and moments of hesitation lead to Thomspon's fate on the mat. These mistakes were mistakes of a beginning grappler. As he continues to learn the ground game, Thompson will make better use of his arms in conjunction with his excellent hip mobility and his grappling will like take a big leap forward.
Thank You to K.J. for the pictures