As seemingly every fighter in big-time MMA, no matter the background, develops decent wrestling skills, MMA audiences, most of whom possess little Olympic/scholastic wrestling knowledge, find themselves bombarded with a host of new wrestling terms. One of these terms, "running the pipe", now gets thrown around with regularity by MMA broadcasters, so now would seem a good time for a robust discussion of what exactly it means to run the pipe.
To help in this endeavor, I have once again enlisted the help of Dave Esposito and Jeff Marsh of Edge Hoboken (find them here: www.edgehoboken.com). Great wrestling schools now dot the country, but Edge School of Wrestling probably stands foremost among them; it claims alumni with 51 NCAA Division I All-American finishes, eight different Division I champs, an Olympian, and a World bronze medalist (FILA Senior Freestyle World Championships-the real one). The two of them previously helped me when we took a look at switches.
One of the primary ways a wrestler has of taking an opponent off his feet involves grabbing one of his legs, or what we know as a single-leg takedown or single. To complete the single, after the wrestler grabs the leg he must execute a finish which brings the opponent to the mat. Running the pipe is one possible finish to a single.
Running the Pipe with the Head on the Outside
Commonly, one runs the pipe to finish a single leg with the head outside the hips, also known as a high crotch or high c. Below, Dave secures a high crotch on Jeff, and runs the pipe to finish it.
Notice that Dave's head hugs snugly against Jeff's hip, and throughout the finish he pulls the top of Jeff's thigh tightly against his chest. To run the pipe effectively, everything must work in concert, and there can be no space between chest and leg. Dave pressures forward with his insides leg, and takes a back step with his outside foot. As he takes the back step, he feeds Jeff's leg between his own legs (sometimes referred to as "snapping the football") while dipping his chest and assertively pressuring his inside shoulder into Jeff's thigh. The shoulder pressure serves as the linchpin to the whole technique as it ultimately is what drives the opponent's backside to the mat.
Often new wrestlers mistakenly use this finish to try to drag their opponent to the ground, but a properly run pipe should create a whipping motion with the upper body. Notice the level of Dave's hips do not change, the hips are the fulcrum and the torso the lever. Nothing should be gradual about running the pipe; it should be sudden and immediate.
Running the pipe can certainly prove effective, but wrestlers should probably not view the technique as a first option in high crotch finishes. The best high crotch finishes involve driving across the opponent's hips, as this leaves an opponent with little means to counter. Driving across the hips could entail lifting the secured leg by itself, but more often it means grabbing the opponents other leg, or doubling off.
Penn State NCAA champion and Edge product Frank Molinaro beautifully doubles off his famous left handed high crotch on Minnesota All-American Dylan Ness, below.
Notice how he ends up with his head on one side of Ness's lap, and his hips on the other, he earns the points for the takedown then and there, Ness has no way of weaseling out.
Wrestlers who run the pipe off a high crotch face the ever-present possibility of such weaseling occurring. Let's take a look at what Jeff has to say about the matter.
You see that? Jeff has skills, he once captained the University of Michigan wrestling team and just like most wrestlers on his level, is almost certainly is a giant pain in the ass for most people to score on. When Dave runs the pipe here, Jeff doesn't just say "Uggh, you got me" and flop to his back like a fish. Instead, he embraces the situation, holding onto Dave's arms, keeping his chest secure to Dave's back, sitting to a hip and entering what is known as a crack down position
Here we see the sad reality of high-level wrestling--you don't really finish a high c by running the pipe, rather, the work doesn't even really start until you run it. Elite wrestlers can show shocking amounts of skill wrestling from their hip in a crack down, and from this position, the offensive wrestler runs a number of risks:
He can lose the take down when his opponent recovers his hips.
Above you see Jeff kick Dave to his hip, whizzer down with his left arm, and swivel his hips so his pelvis now face the mat. The takedown bid has now effectively ended for Dave, who finds himself in pretty bad position.
Even worse, he can get taken down himself when his opponent achieves a crotch lift position and then slimes around behind.
Above, Jeff blocks Dave from reaching across for his far leg with his left arm, and he blocks Dave from stepping over with his left foot. He proceeds to scoot his hips around, turn the corner on Dave, get a crotch lift and finally bring his hips around behind for the takedown.
This does not mean that the offensive wrestler lacks a boat load of ways to finish from a crack down, but for many it's a tough place to be, and time and time again, we see really great wrestlers get countered in a crack down situation.
Here we see Iowa's slithery two-time national champion Mark Perry wrestling Michigan's Eric Tannenbaum in the NCAA finals. Tannenbaum gets the high crotch, and Perry forces the crack down and already has the corner turned before they hit the mat. Wrestlers like Perry turn the table on what should be a scoring opportunity for the offensive wrestler.
While running the pipe remains a valid technique for finishing a high crotch, at the higher levels of the sport it allows absolutely no margin for error, and as defensive wrestling techniques continue to evolve, its use becomes more and more precarious.
Running the Pipe with the Head inside the Hips.
Once in the past I said that the pipe cannot be run with the head inside. What I should have said was that running the pipe from the head inside ought to be called something else as it has different mechanics and a different feel then it does with the head outside. Running the pipe with the head outside is predicated on downward shoulder pressure, while running with the head inside hinges on sideways head pressure. But I was wrong. Here I am admitting it.
[Note: I do stand by my statement that most demonstrations of running the pipe with the head inside are shown by what I believe are BJJ guys, or even garden-variety charlatans, and the technique is simply horrendous. So horrendous that I sometimes watch the videos and show my utter disdain by snarkily and smugly saying "LOL" to myself, even if I'm alone in the room.]
Running the pipe with the head is legitimate technique, and it can work if done correctly in the appropriate situation. Watch Dave do it.
Just like with the head outside, Dave pushes in with the inside foot, back steps with the outside foot, and snaps the leg between his knees (the leg is the "pipe" and he is "running" it between his legs...get it?). When used to finish a head-inside single, unlike finishing a high crotch, pressure from the inside shoulder isn't an option, so Dave drives his ear into Jeff's sternum, forcing him to his back. Notice that Dave's holds his head up into Jeff's chest, with his back straight. Essentially, he remains in a proper wrestling stance with the leg secured. He does NOT hunch over with his forehead in the neighborhood of Jeff's groin, that would be bad wrestling and terrible technique.
The problem with running the pipe with the head inside rests on the fact that it requires the defensive wrestler to rest a bit of his weight on the offensive wrestler's head. Very good wrestlers develop an amazing ability to keep their weight perfectly balanced on a lone standing leg (what Joe Rogan describes when he uses the term "a good base"), and this would mean ample weight would not get placed on the offensive wrestler's head.
This may render running the pipe difficult, or ineffective as a stand-alone finish, but it can be used to set up an additional finish. Watch this Edge instructor demonstrate this form of chain wrestling below.
When he cannot finish by running the pipe, he pulls the secured leg over his hip and drives through to his opponent's far leg with a cut double, finishing in the proper position with his body across his opponent's lap.
The Take Away
We should leave this post knowing exactly what it means to run the pipe, how it works when properly executed, and potential shortcomings of the technique when used against upper-level competition.
Next time you gather with a large group of friends to defray the cost of a UFC pay-per-view event, and the commentator proclaims that fighter x "ran the pipe" on fighter y, you can place your lukewarm Miller Lite on the coffee table, stand up, throw your hands in the air and proudly proclaim, "HEY! I know what that means".
The instructional videos from Edge made for this post appear below: