Welcome Mike Riordan to the Bloody Elbow grappling team.
I like mixed martial arts in cages. I've heard critics dismiss the cage as a mere trinket of showmanship cooked up by the Gracies. No matter the rationale for its creation, I believe the cage is a boon to MMA, distinguishing it from any other sport and delineating it as an altogether new and unique product. Other detractors claim the cage results in a less realistic simulation of real combat, diminishing the fulfillment of MMA's central mission. I fail to understand this viewpoint as most actual fights I have seen have not taken place in empty meadows far from civilization; rather, they usually take place confined in areas in close proximity to rigid or at least semi-rigid barriers.
The cage serves as a reasonable representation of these barriers. Not only does the cage function as a realistic environmental barrier it also possesses untapped potential to be used as a propulsion mechanism for many exciting fighting techniques. This entry looks at Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza's last fight against Bristol Marunde at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey and how Souza uses the cage in exciting new ways.
Before a returning to discussing Jacare, first a little bit of foundational stuff that isn't as tangential as it may appear on first blush.
Any practicioner of the grappling arts is aware of the fact that it is generally much easier to work a grounded opponent than one who is on their feet. By extension, once you ground an opponent, if you believe you can accomplish something meaningful while atop your opponent, you would prefer to keep him grounded.
Therefore, when a grounded opponent seeks to stand up and escape your control, it is helpful to be able to return the opponent to the ground in a controlled manner. The discipline of American folkstyle wrestling (I prefer to call it scholastic wrestling and will do so from here on out) excels at teaching its practitioners controlled "mat-returns" when and opponent stands from bottom with his back to his opponent. In Freestyle and Greco wrestling stand-ups are comparatively rare as they leave one open to a high amplitude/exposure big point scoring move such as a suplex. In scholastic, the stress is on control rather than exposure, wrestlers receive no points for simply returning an opponent to the mat and therefore a move such as a suplex, even if it were legal in scholastic, would be less desirable as it could easily result in the loss of control. For this reason, a fighter intent on finishing a contest on the ground is best served executing a mat return which maintains control throughout. It makes sense to say that the same could be said for mat return situations in fights. Supplexes are flashy but will inflict an unpredictable amount of damage and can squander a position of control. Kevin Randleman learned this the hard way against Fedor.
At higher levels of scholastic wrestling, the primary option for returning an opponent to a mat is to lock at the waist, step around the opponent, pop the hips to lift then pull him over your knee and onto his face. Two time NCAA champ Matt Valenti demonstrates below:
Notice his hands are locked to the same side he steps to, this torgues the opponent away from him when he lifts and returns. Were the bottom man facing him he could potentially engage in a variety of funky shenanigans. Matt also steps around to the right side which will put him on his opponents off side. Most wrestlers are slightly worse at working from bottom when their opponent is on their right side. He also, upon landing, immediately reaches beneath the arm of his partner and grabs the wrist.
The other move we are starting to see used more as a mat return on the college is this snazzy look-away whip over trip. Here demonstrated by Jordan Olliver on Illinois' B.J. Futrell.
On lower level of wrestling, you most commonly see simple trips used as mat returns. Some coaches will instruct their pupils to trip their opponent backward if their weight is coming back, and to trip them forward if their "nose is in front of their toes." Here is the closest thing I could come to a gif of the latter scenario as Dustin Schlatter front trips some Kyrgystani guy after getting behind him on a nice outside step single leg.
See how he pushes off his left leg while displacing his opponents right leg with his right leg. It doesn't get any simpler when bringing a guy to the mat.
In Jacare Souza's last fight versus Bristol Marunde, Jacare uses a similar technique to bring his opponent to the ground, only he does so with an inventive twist.
First off Jacare goes underneath Marunde's arms with a body lock. I won't call it a bear hug as I usually reserve that term for the technique that collapses the opponent's lumbar inward and sends his shoulder falling to the mat. Souza drives forward with the lock and starts to hip in. At this point Marunde really needs to be tougher with the whizzer and try increase the leverage on it by angling his right hip up and away from Jacare, as this is the only thing keeping Jacare from taking his back.
Alas, Marunde isn't a strong enough wrestler to do this and his arm slips uselessly to Jacare's head. Souza now has Marunde's back, Marunde's nose is well in front of his toes, all Jacare has to do to bring him to the mat with a simple front trip, the same as shown above. However, Jacare decides to get inventive, he executes a front trip, but instead of pressuring forward with his rear leg planted on the mat, his back leg mule kicks off the cage like a swimmer in a turn. This looks really cool and it really increases the forward force as he trips Marunde. Unfortunately, it created so much force that I believe it causes Jacare to land on his left hip, far enough out of position to be unable to maintain control of Marunde's back.
This occurrence of pushing off the cage would be fairly unremarkable, but it is made interesting in light of the fact that Jacare employs another cage-propulsion based grappling technique later in the fight.
A control technique common to several grappling disciplines involves inserting legs underneath the legs of a grounded opponent, belly to back, while both facing the same direction. Joe Rogan calls it "putting the hooks in." I'm just a simple wrestling coach, the country rube of the martial arts world. I know nothing of this ornate and learned jiu-jitsu nomenclature. I call it throwing in legs. I always will.
In scholastic wrestling, the act of throwing legs in on opponent who stands from bottom so that the bottom man supports the entirety of the top man's weight, is almost always done as a means of forcing a stalemate. When a wrestler is in top position in scholastic, the end goal of any of his actions must be to work for a pin. Anything other than this is the illegal act of stalling. Throwing legs in when a guy is on his feet leaves the top wrestler with no recourse but to simply hold on, he is merely preventing his opponent from escaping control, this is not working for a pin, it therefore is a stall. Please view the clip below.
This is the Big Ten finals featuring Lance Palmer of The Ohio State and now of MMA, and Iowa great Brent Metcalf. Once Palmer is off the mat and hanging from Brent's back, there is really nothing Palmer can do t return him to the mat. He can't simply hang heavier to one side or the other, Metcalf is a world class wrestler and is too solid in the standing position. Palmer's use of this tactic can almost be described as cynical, he knows he is stalling, Metcalf knows and waves his arms out in frustration and the ref identifies it and raises his fist to call the infraction.
But what if this action took place adjacent to a rigid structure like a wall or even the side of a cage? Lance Palmer could ever so cleverly push off of the cage with his free foot causing both combatants to fall to the mat while maintaining control of his opponents back. This actually happens in Jacare's match with Marunde. Portrayed in the two gifs below.
Once again, Jacare gets the body lock, and once again, for reasons I do not understand, Marunde does not whizzer at all and simply obliges Souza by presenting his back. At least Marunde has the presence of mind to block Jacare's attempts to throw the leg in on the right side though Jacare looks perfectly content to simply step around and throw the leg in on the left side.
Here is where Souza tries something that is almost pretty darned sweet. While Marunde is supporting his weight, Jacare reaches his leg all the way behind him, plants his foot on the cage, and kicks. Once again the result is really cool looking. Both men spiral to the mat and were Jacare to maintain back control and finish the fight from there, then we would really have witnessed something truly notable. Unfortunately, Jacare lands out of position once again and losses his position.
I wonder if had Marunde been a truly dangerous opponent like, say, Melvin Guillard, would Jacare had initiated the choke immediately after throwing the leg and pulled Marunde back, ending the fight thusly?
I'm pretty certain he could have and this raises the possibility that Souza had little or no regard for Marunde and was simply hot-dogging. At least hot-dogging is usually fun to watch, and in this case resulted in some meaningful innovation.
Jacare's uses of the cage as a means bring his opponent to the ground from behind were probably superfluous and they definitely didn't work as well as they could have. They are still interesting. Fighters have only begun to exploit the cage as a constructive element in grappling and striking techniques, Jacare's cage use in his fight against Marunde is hopefully the harbinger of more ingenius cage based technique in the future.