UFC on Fox 4 featured plenty of action, but one fight that jumped out was Joe Lauzon's match with Jamie Varner. A fantastic contest, it had back and forth action and ended on a high note when Luazon locked on an excellent triangle to claim victory.
Jamie Varner is not a novice grappler by any stretch of the imagination, in fact he is a veteran on the mats. While Lauzon is known for his aggressive and fluid grappling, he had trouble finishing submissions on Varner, even when he had such dominant positions as the back. So how was Lauzon able to finally lock on a triangle?
The answer is by winning the transition battle. A concept that I delved into in a previous Judo Chop, the submission attacks that most grapplers learn at the beginning levels are dictated by the position: armbar from mount, triangle choke from guard, kimura from side control and so on. But as grapplers advance they start to see the openings for submissions independently from positions. When two excellent grapplers meet submissions are not often caught in textbook fashion, they are often caught in the transition between positions, when fighters are often slightly off balance or out of position.
In this Judo Chop we will look at:
- The sweep that created the transition
- The opening in the transition and the way Lauzon used it to his advantage
- How Lauzon finished the triangle
In this match up it was doubtless who the better wrestler was, Jamie Varner wrestled in college and has spent the majority of his career training with fantastic wrestlers including Cain Velasquez, Ryan Bader and now Benson Henderson. Varner was able to dictate where the fight took place for much of the match and always started grappling on top. Early in the match Lauzon tried to lock on a straight armlock from the closed guard but when that failed, Lauzon changed strategies from his back.
A truth that has existed for sometime is when two skilled grapplers meet in competitions submissions coming from off the back have become very rare. As a result many of the best guard players have switched to a sweep first mentality, look to get to a top position or on to the back and then working for a submission. In order to achieve these sweeps guard players have been forced to open their guard and play different varieties of open guards, which gives them more ways to off balance their opponents.
In that vein of thinking Lauzon switched to a butterfly guard in the third round. To the left you can see Varner has just finished a power double leg takedown. Lazuon has both his feet hooked under Varner's thighs, refereed to as "butterfly hooks".
Now a key detail of butterfly guard is that the guard player must not be flat on his back. Notice how Lauzon is laying on his right side. Lauzon has over hook control on Varner who is driving his weight forward into Lauzon, trying to put him on his back. This plays right into the butterfly guard.
As Varner leans forward Lauzon rolls on his right side, using Varner's momentum to create the roll. Lauzon's left butterfly hook raises up Varner's hips. Lauzon's right leg is posted on the canvas, allowing him to bridge his hips, swinging Varner all the way over to complete the technique.
Varner sprawls out as Lauzon rolls him over and the result is a scramble. They end in the position pictured to the left, Varner has two under hooks while Lazuon has his hips high on Varner in an attempt to take the back.
The only thing preventing Lauzon from achieving that position is the under hook Varner with his right arm. Both fighters have one hand planted on the mat, Lauzon to maintain his high hip position and Varner to keep from falling forward. The situation is extremely similar to a hip bump sweep, and there is an opening here for a triangle that many jiu jitsu competitors drill to attack. Varner's posted hand is very far away from his body and is a lot of space for Lauzon to slip his right leg between that arm and Varner's head creating a triangle choke. To help explain how this opening can be exploited here is a master of this particular attack, Ryan Hall.
Notice in the last picture of Lauzon that he has hooked Varner's head, just as Hall points out is critical to locking up the triangle before Lauzon's back lands on the mat. Once Lazuon has Varner in the triangle, Varner knows this is a close fight and struggling to escape. He stands in an attempt to slip out of the triangle.
To explain how Lauzon prevents escape and then finishes the triangle, here is a segment of the excellent Gracie Breakdown on the submission by Rener Gracie.
So this triangle submission was the result of several high level grappling moves and was all the result of Lauzon being aggressive from his back and successfully using the butterfly sweep to create the transition. This creating and then exploiting of transitions is difficult and risky, but there is a great reward to having a grappling game built on this and it is good to see Joe Lauzon not playing it safe.