UFC 149 Judo Chop: Urijah Faber and the Guillotine Choke

When learning a form of submission grappling like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, catch wrestling, or some other no gi submission wrestling, one of the first submissions a student will learn is the front head lock choke. Also known as the guillotine choke, it is an amazingly simple and devastating choke hold that can be quickly learned by a novice grappler.

At more advanced levels of grappling the guillotine becomes a versatile weapon, able to be used in hundreds of combinations and variations. Urijah Faber's Team Alpha Male makes excellent use of a front headlock series and are some of the premier guillotine chokers in MMA. Their preference for the front head lock series should not be surprising, as the team comes from a collegiate wrestling background. While connecting the hands in a headlock position is illegal in wrestling because of the choking potential it presents, but the front head lock is still a natural position for a wrestler.

Faber has used the guillotine choke his entire career, notching his first professional win with it and he continued to develop his front head lock series as he progressed in the sport.

SBN coverage of UFC 149

After the jump we will look at Faber's Guillotine...

The Guillotine choke works on a pretty simple principle. Encircling the arm around the neck gives the fighter applying the choke the ability to squeeze with his entire upper body, but often this alone isn't enough to finish the choke. What really adds the finishing touch is when the choker is able to arch his back and cause the person caught in the choke to bend their head forward, increasing the pressure on the neck. This pressure reduces the passage of both air and blood through the neck, thus creating a choke.

The traditional guillotine choke finish from the closed guard should look familiar to MMA fans, as it is a very common submission attempt. In no gi environments, the sweats causes both fighters to get very slippery, making it very easy to slid a hand in under the chin to set up the choke. Making it a favorite move when fighters are attempting to defend against takedowns.

An example that springs to mind is Tito Ortiz using a closed guard guillotine to finish Ryan Bader.

Bader has been hurt on the feet and is reverting back to his wrestling game while dazed and is shooting in for a sloppy takedown with his head low, ideal for a guillotine attempt. Ortiz quickly slides his left arm under the chin of Bader and shoots his right arm through Bader's arm pit to connect his hands. This variation is call an arm-in guillotine, as Bader's left arm is caught in the encirclement of Ortiz's arms. While this makes the choke more difficult to finish for Oritiz it also traps Bader's arm and limits his escape options. Ortiz drops back to his guard, closing his legs around Bader, limiting Bader's movement and then locking his ankles to push down on Bader's hips, which he would attempt to raise to lessen the pressure of the choke. Tito then squeezes and arches his back to force Bader to tap out.

Now lets look at a more advanced guillotine used by Faber. We will start at WEC 38, when Faber used an open guard guillotine to finish off former UFC Lightweight Champion Jens Pulver.

The video starts with Faber on top of Pulver, who he had hurt on the feet. Faber slips his right arm under and drops back to start working for the choke. Initially Faber's arm has not fully encircled Pulber's neck, so he leans to his right to allow his arm to slide all the way through the point where he can grip his right hand with his left.

Faber then slides his right knee under Pulver and throws his left leg up in a variation of the open guard guillotine finish. The knee under the body pushed the victim's body away, causing their neck to bend in the choke while the posted knee creates a wall to prevent the other fighter from jumping over and applying a Von Flue choke or escaping. From this position Faber's squeeze is so tight he is able to finish the choke.

Now we are going to look at one of Faber's favorite variations for when an opponent is defending against that choke set up, the mounted guillotine.

In Faber's first meeting with current UFC Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, Faber made excellent use of this technique. We start with Cruz hitting a knee tap takedown on Faber, who instinctively wraps Cruz in a head lock. Once on the ground Faber locks his hands in an arm-in guillotine position and then works his right knee under Cruz and throws his left leg over Cruz's back again using the open guard guillotine position. Faber then works his left hand under the shoulder of Cruz so he can lock on the guillotine without Cruz's arm being in the choke.

When Faber is able to slip his hand in Cruz, now desperate for an escape, tries to leap over Faber's left knee. However Faber was one move ahead and had already hooked his leg over Cruz's back, so when Cruz leapt all he achieved was rolling Faber over into mount. Faber hooks his legs under Cruz's and pushes his hips down, ratcheting up the pressure of the choke and finishing Cruz.


This position of the mounted guillotine is a very common one in competitive grappling. Many fans of grappling refer to the position as the Marcelo-tine, as it has become a favorite move of grappling guru Marcelo Garcia, who has stated that the pressure from the mounted guillotine is so intense he can finish the choke after connecting just two fingers of his grip.

It is becoming increasingly common in MMA as fighters have learned how to defend the more common guillotine attacks, there is almost no defense or escape once caught in a mounted guillotine. It is something Faber has used across his career, including his last fight with Brian Bowles.

Another detail that makes Faber's guillotine offense so successful is his timing. In modern MMA it is become more and more difficult to submit fully aware fighters as everyone is constantly drilling their submission prevention, defense and escapes. Faber's use of the guillotine is often after already hurting an opponent and flurrying on them, causing them to become dazed and desperate to escape being struck and that desperation opens up chances for submissions.

Here was can see the classic Urijah Faber approach, using a right hand to hurt Brian Bowles. Once Bowles is dazed Faber swarms on him. If you watch carefully while Faber continues to attack with strikes, he test Bowles' reaction to a guillotine attempt several times and when Bowels reacts by defending against the choke, Faber returns to striking. After a few attempts Bowels is slow to react and Faber locks on and rolls Bowles on to his back. From there it is a simple matter of finishing the choke.


So here is hoping Renan "Barao" Pegado has been working on protecting his neck or he just might end up another victim of a Guillotine choke.

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