Analyzing the Ground Game: Chael Sonnen

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Analyzing the Ground Game: Chael Sonnen


Nearly two years ago Chael Sonnen met Anderson Silva where he dominated the game, he landed on a man no ones been able to touch. Sonnen controlled a man thought invincible, and what did he use achieve this? His grappling abilities which are far underrated. Though we must all admit he has a weakness when it comes to triangles. One must not over look the many submissions he avoids, and the fact he is willing to jump into the most dangerous guards in the Middleweight division. Without fear this man will bring the fight to anyone and put them on their back. Whether you like his public persona or not you cannot deny his willingness to take the fight to every single opponent.

Chael has had stints in Pancrase, Bodog, and WEC before and between his UFC runs. Also fighting a large portion of his career at Light heavyweight. He has been in there with the best, and always has been game. With his long enduring training with the UG’s own Vinny Magalhaes a BJJ super star in his in his own right; Chael should be game for any submissions sent his way tomorrow night.

In this article we will discuss what makes Chael one of the best grinders in the UFC; his wrestling heavy grappling attack.

The tools we will review:


The Shot

G&P/top control

back control


Sonnen is known for his control; as are most high level wrestlers. Sonnen adds to this this his fast paced barrage of varying attacks. One being mat returns (essentially a back slam for you non wrestlers). Early on in any wrestling career this technique is learned to keep those really good scramblers on their toes. Sonnen makes great use of this technique to transition to the back and throw his hooks in. Also his use of punches to the head draws Okami’s hands away from his waist, this allows Sonnen to really set up his mat return rather than rush it. The distraction as simple as it is; is not used nearly enough to set up take downs/slams etc. Lastly notice Sonnen does not slam him flat he puts him on his side. Okami’s initial reaction is to regain his base. That allows Sonnen to throw his right leg in while Okami starts to base up.

This looks like a good old ’5 on 2′ from wrestling. Chael does a psuedo out side trip with his right leg digging his knee into Okami’s hips. Watch as Sonnen switches from a over under to sort of high crotch placement with his left arm. Then driving leftwards and driving with his hips shoot Okami’s legs right out from under him. As well as being an unorthadox take down it grants the aggressor a pass directly into side control or at the very least half guard.

Now this is more of a high crotch (name is self explanatory). Sonnen gets in deep cant get the double so he transitions to the high crotch (kind of). Then proceeds to muscle it akin to what Cormier did to Barnett in Strikeforce. A few nuances that really bring it all together are his left hands placement and posturing. Look at his hand he shoots it up to the sky while completing the move. It allows him to latch on to it easily if he chooses to and to drive his arm in deeper gaining leverage.

I have gone into great detail on trips Here. I’d like to point out the torque and power Chael creates going through his inside trip. Sonnen completely commits causing a powerful trip with zero resistance. Again watch his head where he points it is where his opponent travels.

The Shot

Also discussed in detail here.

The set up for this shot is awesome. A hopping front kick to create the momentum, and to make make Marquardt attack high causing him to overextend. This lets Chael duck right under Marquardt. The execution is a thing of beauty Sonnen gets quite deep, and if you notice Nate is caught completely off guard and can’t really get a sprawl off. Also at the end text book wrestling; Sonnen cuts the angle getting Nate off the cage to avoid the walk up.

Another great shot here. Sonnen originally attempts the double but immediately transitions to a sort of single leg with an ankle pick (some still consider it a double leg I honestly don’t) once he realizes Nate’s feet are very narrow. Sonnen yanks the left foot in causing Nate to land on his side allowing for a more varied of options when he went to pass.

This is about shot but the heaviness he creates with his hips is really nice at the end going for the side control pass.

Chael does it again with that double leg. Okami has great take down defense so this is quite a feat. Sonnen’s timing here is impeccable. He tosses out a jab hoping Okami would come over with a straight right or hook and indeed Okami throws the right. Sonnen glides right under the punch and gets nice and deep; pulling Okami’s right leg in so when he turns the corner its already off the ground and makes it that much easier for Sonnen to capitalize and work for the pass.

One small thing that is constantly used in wrestling but sadly isn’t really implemented much in mma is the wrist control from the take down. Chael immediately looks for Okami’s arm/wrist as soon as they hit the mat to avoid any ‘popping up’ and getting back to his feet. The technique is simple but underutilized.

This shot against Bisping is very similar, but knowing Bisping’s style he doesn’t have to force him to over extend him self. Bisping was back peddaling, but was throwing a lot of left hooks and jabs. This allowed Sonnen to pop right under Bispings guard and get in deep. Bisping’s over extension is really obvious; when Sonnen blasts into him one can see he bends over the top. A few things are different and ‘freestyled’. Bisping has relatively good take down defense and he backs up and works the head which is good, but Chael feels he wont be able to get Bisping going right so he cuts the angle. Using the cage Sonnen bumps Bisping off of it to create some momentum and turns him right on to his back. This really threw of Bisping and allowed Sonnen to Capitalize.

Sonnen makes great use of the cage again. Sonnen keeps his right shoulder driving into Bisping’s left hip and uses great head control (the head points where you want to put your opponent). Chael does a few things that really well here. Notice when Chael gets Bisping’s base to break down he rips his right leg across his body, and Sonnen throws his hips to the right completely tangling Bisping up. This allows Chael to work further up Bispings guard.

I will go into more detail about this later, but Chaels amazing use of leg control after the take down for Ground and pound as well as passing is second to none. Something anyone can implement.

Ground and Pound/top control

Against the cage Sonnen is a bit of an artist. Using his his Sonnen grinds his hips into the legs of Mardquardt pounding him effectively to pass the guard. Its actions like this that make Chael a ground specialist. Initially Chael its him with a beg left on the ground and quickly thrusts his hips into Marquardts legs bowing his legs out to eliminate space.The Sonnen drops his left knee than posts out his right to keep pressure against Marquardt and his body against the cage sideways. One of the more interesting ways to pass to side control.

This belongs to both top control, and Ground and pound, but the highlight of this is the basic but very applicable striking from top Chael uses. Sonnen buries head deep into Marquardts chest, keeping his right arm tucked against the hips. This allows Chael to throw barrages of pelting strikes at Nate’s head with out recourse. Honestly it isn’t going to get a KO in all likeliness, but it will wear them down and definitely is winning the match.

This isn’t a crazy move or spectacular in any way its just how Sonnen forces the transition on a guy who is weak by no means. Only thing to really point out here is how with his left arm Chael cups the back of Bisping’s head and attempts to crank while transitioning to the mount.

Chael is in trouble here, but only a grinder would he would do this. Sonnen starts hitting Miller in the face with hammerfists creating a bit of space. Once he opens that up he pushes Miller’s face further to distract him and thran gets head head out from under his leg eliminating the arm bar threat.

While his submission defense isn’t the best he will not give up and be as creative as he needs to be to survive.

Wrist control from top is rarely implemented and here Sonnen uses it to great effect. His top elbow is brutal to say the least and the circling of the wrist to free it from his opponents grasp as well to set up an elbow are not really used and this is a great use of it. Rather sitting on his knees Sonnen is posted out and only drops when he throws the strike to really get his weight into the strike.

This is a prime example of Chael’s wrist control, ground pound and his uses of them to get in on his opponent. Sonnen drives his hips into Millers legs, and controls his wrists and when Miller attempts to push him off he grabs his ankles and forces them down further compacting the BJJ black belt. Allowing for more Ground and pound. The main point about his wrist control is how he forces the elbows out weakening any attempt at pushing upwards from bottom by Miller.

Again this is quite similar to the image above, but the main focus of this trade between Miller and Chael is ankle control by Sonnen. Everyone knows the guy on bottom will use up kicks and push off the top guy to get back to his feet. Chael grabs Millers left leg with his right arm than fakes going for the other leg and throws a really explosive over hand right to Miller while hes on the ground. This is a great set up and it all starts with ankle control. Many guys will get high posture and thrust their hips in but they don’t get really good control of the legs of their opponent. This is key to first avoid getting kicked in the face and second to get in on someone deep in the corner of the cage.

Back Control

In wrestling leg riding is really prevalent especially on the collegiate scene. Chael being a Division one all American from the University of Oregon got quite good at leg riding. Instead of throwing both hooks in Chael throws in his right leg laying perpendicular to Mardquardt. While their are less submissions from here there is a lot more control and much less of a chance of escape if used correctly. Chael drives his hips into Mardquardt making sure to keep his legs spread as much as possible. When Nate attempts to throw Chael off his back Chael shoots arm catching Nates to slow the throw. Also his strong hip control and leg ride keep him nice and snug allowing for endless amounts of pounding of the sides of the opponent. This is a staple of any grinders arsenal and can be used quite well against a someone who has the upper hand in BJJ or grappling in general. This can be used to take control of the fight and wear them down. I know its been mentioned but Sonnen’s balance is really a something to be admired here. Most men would have lost position and be on the losing end of a ground and pound attack.z

Here later in the fight Nate is successful in up heaving Sonnen from the leg ride, but another amazing presentation of balance by Sonnen foils Nate’s escape plans. Chael posts heavy with his left arm driving Nate down to the ground. When Nate starts to settle Sonnen is able to post with his right arm as well floating on top of Nate’s guard until he lands in half guard.

This simple but another great use of the leg ride. Sonnen has the one hook in while Okami blocks him from coming in with the other. So Chael throws his hips to the left back, and flings his leg backwards widening Okami’s hips allowing Chael to throw in his other hook.

UFC 148 is tomorrow and two wildly technical men will collide. Chael has shown he can be one of the most dominant grapplers in his division, as well as the chinks in his armor. Through his entire MMA career he has been game, and never once was afraid to jump in their with any fighter. No guard scared and no opponent could stop him from bringing it down to where he wanted the fight. Chael for all his theatrics, seems to be very genuine and willing to do anything to achieve his dream.

Tomorrow I wish him all the best.

One thin we can all be sure off win or lose his grappling will play a huge role in what goes down.

Photo: Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

\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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