Many MMA fans are very familiar with submission holds but to many sweeps remain something of a mystery. In recent years at the highest levels of competitive grappling submissions from the guard have become extremely rare as most elite grapplers are well school in submission prevention. As a result, the very best guard players in BJJ have switched to a sweep first approach to working from the bottom and we are seeing that trend carry over to MMA.
The term 'sweep' refers to any time a fighter can use the open, closed or half guard to roll the top fighter over and claim the top position. The concept behind a sweep is very simple, the bottom fighter needs to off-balance the top man somehow. Against very green grapplers this off-balancing move could be enough cause them to fall, but anyone with a few months of experience will catch themselves with a free arm or leg. The second step of the sweep is to trap the top man's ability to catch himself, and then apply a force to roll them over. When done properly a sweep feels effortless to the bottom man and unstoppable to the top man.
One of the most basic sweeps from the closed guard is the Pendulum Sweep, or sometimes called the Flower Sweep. For an excellent demonstration of the sweep in a no gi environment here is Hillary Williams, a multiple time BJJ world champion and arguably the best American born female grappler in the world.
Hillary Williams demonstrates the flower sweep from guard (via PanicPulse)
gifs after the jump...
The first step of any sweep is creating imbalance, and here we can see a young Georges St. Pierre hitting an excellent pendulum sweep against Pete Spratt. GSP starts out by disrupting Spratt's balance by breaking down his posture, using his left arm to hold down Spratt's head. GSP's left arm isn't just controlling Spratt's posture, but he is hugging the elbow to Spratt's arm, preventing Spratt being able to base out in the direction GSP is looking to sweep.
So with Spratt's posture broken down and his ability to base taken away, GSP goes into the actual sweep. He turns his hips dramatically 90 degrees and brings his leg high up Spratt's armpit. This throws Spratt's balance completely off to the point where he is ready to fall. Further throwing off his balance is the fact that GSP has also hooked his leg. At that point all GSP does is swing that bottom leg to create momentum and the sweep is completed.
Part of what makes this sweep such an effective weapon is that the set up looks very similar to an armbar and often one can be used to set up the other. That said proper posture and arm placement in guard can help prevent both the armbar and pendulum sweep.
So using this technique against experienced foes becomes a matter of waiting for the right opportunity. And timing is what made Karl Amoussou's sweep of Chris Lozano at Bellator 63 so impressive. It starts with Amoussou controlling Lozano's left arm and with Lozano's posture already broken down.
You can see Lozano's weight shift as he turns his shoulders and raises up slightly, likely to begin striking with his right arm. Amoussou detects the shift in weight and launches into the sweep like cobra striking prey.
While Amoussou doesn't get his leg as high in the armpit like Hillary or GSP did, it is unnecessary in this case because Lozano has already off-balanced himself. And with Amoussou already controlling the left arm, keeping it from being put out to base, two of the three sweeping elements are already in place and Amoussou just had to impart a little force for Lozano to go right over.
Now it is very possible to defend this sweep and in fact early that we saw a fighter defend against a Pendulum sweep quite well. During Carlos Alexandre Pereira's match with Bryan Baker, the Brazilian found himself in Baker's very aggressive guard. At one point Baker attempted an armbar and in his escape Pereira shows the ideal position to defend against the Pendulum Sweep.
Baker is on bottom his armbar attempt has failed and he is attempting to switch to either a triangle or a Pendulum Sweep. But Pereira is already on move ahead; his posture is excellent and Baker has no control over his body. Pereira has posted his leg giving him the balance and base in the direction that Baker wants to push him in, notice that Baker tries to use his legs to push the Brazilian off balance but is unable to do so because that posted leg gives him too much balance. Even hooking the near leg can't off balance Pereira, he is in the perfect position to defend.
And even if Baker was able to force him off balance, Pereira's right hand is free and he would be able to catch his balance, preventing the sweep from being finished. In short that is no way Baker can get the Pendulum sweep from here. So what does he do?
Instead of continuing to force the issue, Baker works with what Pereira is giving him. You can see that Pereira is driving his weight towards Baker, so Baker switches to an omoplata sweep to use that momentum.
Baker keeps the leg he has hooked, since the the left arm is still close he controls Pereira's left wrist. Baker throws his leg over to go for the omoplata throwing Pereira's balance off. Pereira detects the danger of submission and responds by attempting to jump over Baker. This is the correct defense, except Baker has Pereira's leg hooked which takes away both Pereira's leg and arm. With no ability to stop the roll, Pereira is force to roll over by Baker who comes up on top to finish the sweep.
These basic principles of sweeps are present in every sweeping technique in grappling, but they are so beautifully apparent the Pendulum sweep and other techniques you can chain with it.
Thanks to Grappo for the gifs