Analyzing The Ground Game Of Lyoto Machida: The Rolling Dragon (Pre UFC)

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Analyzing The Ground Game of Lyoto Machida: The Rolling Dragon (pre UFC)

Ric Fogel/

Lyoto ‘The Dragon’ Machida most commonly known as the man who put Karate on the map in the MMA world, and former UFC Light heavyweight champion, is not a one trick pony. Machida may have incredibly accurate, fast, and precise striking, but he also has a versatile ground game to accompany it. Over the years fans have seemingly forgotten, the trips, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu of ‘The Dragon’. Machida even has a pretty snazzy shot. Many competitors have stated him as being very unorthodox, and hard to deal with in every aspect of MMA, but his confidence and variability make him incredibly dangerous. One of the most common problems strikers have with getting off their punches and kicks with technique and power, is feeling comfortable or safe in their take down defense, and overall ground game. When a proficient striker is not comfortable with their ground game their become very conservative. Machida being a former amateur Sumo wrestling champion, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt grants him an edge on most opponents. While he is not belted, Machida has very obviously trained in Judo, complimenting the foot sweeps he already implements directly from Karate.

On Machida’s Journey to the biggest organization in MMA he would go undefeated never losing a single round. Fighting such names as: Stephan Bonnar, Rich Franklin, Vernon White, BJ Penn, Sam Greco, and Michael McDonald. All without so much as a hint of danger.

In this article we will discuss the grappling tools Machida used in his pre-UFC career to defeat his competition.

The techniques we will discuss:

  • Trips/Take Downs
  • Passing
  • Ground & Pound
  • Forearm Choke

More after the jump

Trips/Take Downs

Back in 2004 Machida faced professional kickboxer, and former professional soccer player Sam Greco at K1 MMA Romanex. This would be Greco’s sole loss in his entire short lived MMA career. While the striking exchanges between the two men were relatively even, the grappling advantage was heavily in Machida’s favor. No one can deny the athleticism and will of Greco who went into MMA without a strong grappling base. Still, Greco went on to finish his fighting career with a record of three wins, one loss, and one draw, not bad considering who he fought.

In the fight Machida counters Greco’s right inside leg kick with his classic left straight. Machida immediately ducks under Greco’s guard and shoots for a double leg. Greco knowing there is no ability to sprawl with Machida so deep in on the legs, quickly rolls through following Machida’s momentum. As Greco nearly escapes Machida holds on to Greco’s left leg. Notice as the roll comes full circle Machida posts out his left arm to allow him to advance right into top position denying Greco the escape or sweep.

Khabib Nurmagomedov here displays a similar technique.

Here against Kengo Watanabe in Machida’s MMA debut, he had no intentions of striking. As soon as the bell rang, Machida clinches and then worked for a body lock ending in a over-under position against the ring corner. Machida drives into the the shoulder of Watanabe causing his upper body to backwards, while he used an outside trip on Watanabe’s left leg causing his lower body to rise. This essentially put Watanabe on his back, which is exactly what Machida has intended. The key to Machida’s trip is that he stays tight the whole time, he barely allows any gaps between himself and Watanabe. His posture is very straight, the only time the two men separate is for Machida to hook the leg, even then Machida keeps Watanabe very tight to his body. This is not a very traditional trip as far as judo, and wrestling are concerned, but his technique is solid, and Machida adapted the motions quite well for use in MMA’s cages and rings. Ugly maybe, but very effective in putting the opponent where desired.

In Machida’s last fight before being contracted by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, he would take on a journeyman in Vernon White who has fought quite the laundry list of fighters himself. Towards the end of the second round which Machida for the most part dominated with his damage in the striking exchanges, went for the take down to secure the round for himself. Rarely seen in MMA are misdirection trips and sweeps. They require far less energy than most take downs, and do not leave the aggressor vulnerable to many(the one attempting the take down) knees, and less counters. The integral parts of the technique are first how Machida enters the clinch game, and secondly the sweep of the leg. With his hands Machida pushes White to the left the opposite direction of the sweep creating a ‘steering wheel’ motion of White’s body. Machida is moving horizontally from left to right in front White. As hes gliding to the right Machida blasts inside of his left leg into White’s right leg, in a golf club motion. Notice how Machida’s leg is in a semi-locked out position hitting with the inside similar to a judo foot sweep. The combination of what he does with his hands, and what he does with his leg sweeping causes the misdirection. If done properly the technique requires very little effort, and presents very few targets for enemy combatants.

via deashi harai

While there is no gi in the above MMA fight, one can see the direct influences of Machida’s Judo training in the trip. In the traditional Deashi Harai the hands are in a gi-collar tie. Since Machida is coming at a horizontal angle, rather than advancing straight at White, he adjusts his hand position to increase the power of the throw. To simplify the motion imagine a pole balanced on one end. Now have two men with base ball bats hit the poles simultaneously. One hitting the very top, and the other hitting the bottom. In a scissor motion the pole will go horizontal. That is the essence of the sweep.

Three fights in and Machida was on a roll. Previously defeating Stephan Bonnar, and Rich Franklin respectfully in his second and third fights. He would take on another crafty striker in McDonald, a three time K1 Las Vegas Gran Prix Champion. Again Machida would take this to the ground where he clearly had the advantage, he used his striking to set it up beautifully. Notice his foot work in the beginning. Machida bobs back a step to create space, then pops forward again to close the distance and shoots the jab followed by the straight left. As historically fans have come to find out, when a great striker fears the take down his striking becomes more reserved and incredibly less deadly. Realistically though Machida caught him with his speed avoiding the counter and shooting for the double under-hook position. As Machida comes forward he postures, each step has purpose. There is very little wasted energy in the motions. Machida points his head where he wants his opponent, using it as a guide (McDonald lands exactly where Machida is looking). Look at the steps Machida makes each is critical to causing his momentum to never cease. The first step closes the distance after the strikes, and the second sets his hips behind McDonalds, allowing Machida to drive his right knee in Mcdonalds left leg. The sweep it self is not very clean, but the momentum and positions are classic technique employed beautifully.

Via kosoto gake Via kosoto gari

As with the above Judo derivative, Machida uses the gentle art again to take the fight to the ground. Here with Kosoto Gake, at the very least a modified form. Machida drives forward increasing the force, and velocity of the technique. This could very well be argued as a combination of Kosoto Gake and Kosoto Gari due to the motions and the modification for the lack of a gi. Either way to simply its a outside trip that effectively works.

Later in the fight against Vernon White, the third round to be exact Machida lands another solid trip. Machida throws his straight left, and shoots for the double under-hooks. White’s initial reaction is being stunned. One because he tries to duck under the punch and still clips him just a bit. Two, because Machida has his momentum coming forward, while White is stationary and late to react. Machida’s forward motion along with the outside trip of of White’s right leg with Machida’s left is really takes white of balance. Just like in the above take down of McDonald, Machida does not waste his energy. Each step has a purpose. There is no ‘buffer’ step to create motion in this trip, instead Machida immediately steps into the trip with his left leg following the punches. While it may be hard to see since the back camera angle is presented, Machida’s head still points to where he is aiming to put White.


After some grappling exchanges between Wanatabe, and Machida Wanatabe starts to wilt. His cardio seems sapped, and Machida starts to take complete control of the fight. The example above is of Machida hitting a classic knee on belly pass from side control to mount. Most bottom guys would cross their legs to attempt to block, and trap the passing top fighters leg. Wanatabe attempts this defensive technique earlier in the round, but it only led to a scramble where Machida landed in the opposing side control. While there is nothing flashy about this technique, Machida executes is perfectly. On top Machida stays tight, and creates tons of surface area, and when he goes to slide his leg over he does not lift it over he glides the leg on the belly. Notice how he swims it over Wanatabe’s stomach. A lot of guys will simply lift the leg over, creating space that leaves an opening to be caught in half-guard.

When passing from outside the guard there is a lot of potential for the bottom man to regain the guard when the top guy comes in. The error is in not controlling the legs, if the bottom man’s legs are allowed to be spread wide, he can catch the top man with a up kick or even a submission if they are crafty enough. Greco being the less experienced grappler of the two, does not keep his legs on Machida. Instead Greco keeps his legs off Machida’s body, and in a sort of semi-butterfly position. Machida keeps his head back and his posture tight, and straight up as he comes in. This is to avoid the up kick attempts, and to allow Machida to pop over the guard of Greco. As Machida comes in he throws his body over, and shoots Greco’s feet between his legs. Greco’s only response to Machida coming in and passing is to sit up instead he should have ‘shrimped’ backwards, and kept his legs on Machida’s hips and legs. This is hindsight and one can not dock Greco for not being a great grappler after coming from a heavy kickboxing background.

There is not a whole lot to be said about this pass from side control to mount by Machida, but there are some resemblances with how Chris Weidman passes many of his opponents guardshere. The main point is how Machida holds the leg, and maintains control until he is in position. Many will just attempt to throw their leg over, and in this current landscape of dangerous half-guards one can never be too cautious. This pass is different than the knee on belly shown earlier, but with Machida’s control of the leg it allows him a short cut in this elevated pass. With out control of the bottom mans legs this pass should be avoided unless someone likes to be in half guard.

Ground & Pound

Machida finishes the round strong against Kengo Wanatabe in his debut. This is being analyzed more for the balance, and violent strikes of Machida rather than any particular technique. Notice how Machida initiates the ground and pound with a half can opener (watch Machida’s right hands early). The can opener causes Wanatabe to let go of Machida and forces him work the hands off his head. This allows Machida to posture and rain down his strikes. This is a tip for anyone in top position, when the bottom man is being ‘defensive’ or ‘stalling’.

Forearm Choke

Last but not least, the infamous forearm choke Machida finished Michael McDonald with. This is usually easy to defend, but Machida uses his weight, isolating McDonalds right arm, and nullifying the left arm via the lack of space to push up and resist. Machida is in a high half-guard on McDonald posting with his left leg, and is on his right knee. This allows Machida not only to have a strong base, but grants him a large amount of downward force when implementing the choke. Machida lines up the thin part of his forearm instead of the thick part. A big part of this has to do with the same logic behind guillotines. If you manage to even get the a guillotine with the large part of the forearm it is very easy to push up to the chin. Same concept is portrayed here. Machida can use the same amount of force but lower his chances of counter with the thin part. After lining up, look how Machida locks his hands (he actually fakes a punch to make McDonald defend, allowing him to shoot his arm into position). This allows more pressure distributed evenly across the neck, further speeding up the finish.

As UFC on FOX nears Machida will be able to test out his grappling abilities on UFC contender, and two time division one NCAA wrestling all-american Ryan Bader. Will Machida defend Baders take downs and risk the power of Bader to implement his own striking game, or will Machida take him down and use his superior Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to submit The Ultimate Fighter eight winner. No one quite knows, but one can always be assured Machida is waiting and ready to use his skills to end his opponent at any time.

Thanks for reading. Recs are always appreciated, as well as rude comments and kind words!

Check my out here this is where I store all of them.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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