Bloody Elbow Open Mat: Will the Rubber Guard Ever Become Widespread in MMA?

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A new feature on Bloody Elbow, the Open Mat poses a question to both BE Staff and readers concerning MMA technique for consideration. For this first edition we consider the Rubber Guard and if it will ever become widespread in MMA.

On the Underground forums recently this question was posed "Will the rubber guard system become increasingly popular in MMA? We've seen it utilized effectively in a handful of fights, but will it ever become common?"

Eddie Bravo, a frequent commentor on the UG posted a length response. Here is a brief snippet of his response:

How long would it take a fighter with no wrestling experience to hit a double leg takedown in the UFC?

1 year of solid double leg drills? 2 years? IMO it would take at least 4-6 years of solid double leg drills to be able to takedown someone in the UFC nowadays, maybe longer.

The same goes for the rubber guard. Unless you put in a few years of solid rubber guard drills you might never get any rubber guard to work in the UFC.

Why is there only a few UFC fighters able to utalize the RG successfully? (Vinny M, George Sots, Matt Horwich, Dusitn Kimura, Jim Miller, Dustin Hazelett, Jason Day)

Which one of the 2 below statements is true:

1. Every UFC fighter has gone thru at least a few years of intense RG training and only a handful have been able to make it work.

2. Only a handful of UFC fighters have put in the proper amount of RG training in. And that is why only a handful of UFC fighters have had success with it.

The full post can be found here, which includes some video of Rubber Guard applications in MMA.

Here is what BE staff had to say about the Rubber Guard being used in MMA:

Ben Thapa: Even taking Eddie's word as "essentially true," it makes far, far more sense within the current rule set of MMA to spend those four to six years learning how to either correctly sprawl or get up quickly from a takedown than it does to accept the takedown and work the rubber guard.

It would make even more sense to be training the takedown and guard passing too. Working the rubber guard is essentially working a defensive position that can mutate to offense through a combination of opponent knowledge failures and the imposition of dexterous legs in key places. It is very doable, especially if the fighter is someone as massively talented and skilled on the ground as Vinny Magalhaes, but only at the lower levels of the divisions. At the top levels of the division are fighters like GSP, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez who kill hip movement, dish out high amounts of punches and elbows from the top that require covering up and know exactly how to posture up or kill the rubber guard before any real danger threatens. Fighters like Anderson Silva or Jose Aldo will batter other fighters on the feet for all five rounds. Benson Henderson is the UFC champion that is perhaps the most vulnerable to rubber guard tactics due to his reckless abandon during bouts, but he is improving his escapes, his defenses and his positions of offense to a degree that is going to make him join the first three champions mentioned inside the next two years.

Eddie's right about the rubber guard working in MMA - it can and does. But the best of the best already shut it down and will continue to shut it down, despite the amount of time spent training the rubber guard Eddie recommends.

The ground game in today's UFC is no longer a haphazardly drawn map with massive blind spots. MMA coaches, trainers and fighters know what the unorthodox tactics are and how to counter them. The sport as a whole is waking up to the same thing that grapplers have known for thousands of years - if you do a select group of techniques and postural shifts right every time, you can shut down the opponent's unorthodox tactics enough to either ride out a points win or impose your own tactics en route to a finish. You see it in Rory, you see it in Jon Jones (apart from the Vitor armbar) and you see it in the demolition of fighters like Rousimar Palhares and Shinya Aoki at the hands of Alan Belcher and Gilbert Melendez.

T.P. Grant: The rubber guard is basically a high guard variation, and considering the fact that many fighters now prefer to have low posture in guard to control the hips and prevent guard players from pushing away and standing up there does appear to be room for it in some guard player's arsenals. Very few fighters actually attack with a high guard, which can be a powerful weapon.

The rubber guard does work. I've seen it work, I've had it worked on me, and high level grapplers, like Vinny Magalhaes, tell me it works. But as Ben pointed out, it can be shut down and when you see it work it is, like any other guard, it often happens extremely quickly after a transition. While it provides good defense from strikes, the Rubber Guard makes it very hard to move the hips and to quickly escape back to the feet.

The rubber guard is a tool to add the belt, but for offensive guard the full array of high guards would be worthwhile for fighters looking to develop a threatening guard as it gives them a more diverse offense than the omoplata, gogoplata, and triangle attack that makes up the core of the rubber guard attack.

K.J. Gould: I think Bravo is being pretty disingenuous, given most of the guys using Rubber Guard with high level success had more than solid fundamentals to begin with, making the double-leg analogy that relies on someone with no wrestling experience completely invalid. Of course If he didn't make the argument that solely practicing Rubber Guard and putting the time in is what's needed to succeed with it, he wouldn't be successfully promoting his 10th Planet system of which he has a considerable number of affiliates that continues to grow.

Recognizing the context of guys like Vinny Magalhaes, Jim Miller, Shinya Aoki, Masakazu Imanari etc. and their use of Rubber Guard as a tool is important, as they have more than competent fundamentals to transition to and from should Rubber Guard not work in a particular situation. They were successful grapplers before experimenting with Rubber Guard. Bravo himself advocates use of Butterfly Guard as well, and although he's really developed Rubber Guard more than anyone else has, his Jean Jacques Machado BJJ fundamentals are ever present. If Rubber Guard was a magic bullet that only required sufficient dedication to training, everyone would be doing it and ditching other MMA guards, and Bravo wouldn't need to be an apologist for it. Actions mean more than words, and since Bravo and his black belts haven't turned enough fighters into killers on the ground, his advocacy for Rubber Guard will continue to fall on deaf ears.

Rubber Guard and its submission / transition path can work in certain situations, and certainly against particular skill levels as we've seen, but it's arguably still a theoretical approach to ground fighting that's still being field tested by grapplers and fighters other than Bravo, who has never had an MMA fight himself. That's not meant to be a slight against Bravo, but a reflection of the reality of his approach to an MMA guard. When you see other forms of closed guard and high guard used more commonly, and taught more commonly, it's because their field testing has been more in depth and so more conclusive. Even then, if we look at the climate of how MMA is judged in the Western world, these types of guards are a losing propositions unless you can guarantee a submission. I'd argue they're worth knowing for survival only, until you can regain enough of your senses to change tactic.


Getting back to your feet, reversing position or gaining a more dominant position is what an MMA guard should address and give resolution to if you don't want to be consistently marked down on the scorecards.

Ben Thapa: I think we're focusing mostly on the value of rubber guard versus getting up immediately or not getting taken down. And we mostly agree there, which is sort of boring.

What about the usage of rubber guard once you have been taken down and cannot get up or if you feel that there is a legit submission opportunity? Is this a legit opportunity for fighters to use this or are they better off working the regular high guard, going butterfly and hunting for a leglock or working a guillotine?

K.J. Gould: It can be a tool in the belt, but not the sole tool for the job. Plus I think the Seatbelt / Rat Guard and possibly Octopus Guard have more immediate application since they seem more mechanically efficient and far less reliant on being flexible enough to make them work for what you want. They've also had more real world application success (except Octopus guard, barring the one time BJ Penn sort of used it to get out from under Matt Hughes if I recall correctly). Which goes back to what I mentioned earlier about field testing.

T.P. Grant: I'd agree with KJ. The move in competitive grappling was more geared towards guards that created sweeping opportunities: butterfly guard, X-guard, de la riva guard, berimbolo, the deep half and the like. Those haven't transferred to MMA because they were created in a grappling only context, and MMA hasn't really yielded many new guards. The rubber guard, while useful, has the primary goal of submission from the back in mind, which is very difficult against top level grapplers.

Guards that either provide a direct path to the back, like the Octopus guard, or one where a grappler could threaten with sweeps and follow up with submission counters would likely be more useful for an MMA fighter. The issue is with the current state of MMA nobody is working on their guard because judges do not value much guard work and award rounds to the fighter on top. So most fighters aren't working on anything new. They are simply working on escaping to their feet, so we aren't getting MMA geared evolutions in guard work from fighters.

Patrick Tenney: Eddie Bravo makes a few good points. If people do not put the requisite amount of drilling and practice time into a guard system then the odds of it working for them are extremely low; it would be like me trying to do a couple flying armbars and then thinking that the technique would suddenly be high percentage for me; you just aren't going to get good results in competition without putting the time in practicing (unless you're up against someone who is absolutely terrible).

I disagree however with Eddie's belief that the high guard/rubber guard is going to work for any/everyone as long as they put time into it, I've trained with and trained a lot of people and I can say that not every system/technique/philosophy of grappling is applicable unilaterally; I've got 260 lbs students who have the flexibility of a sleeping elephant and I just don't expect them to be hitting berimbolos or playing an inverted or rubber guard system; likewise I have smaller more flexible students who just don't like using the position even after practicing it because it has a lot of limitations. I myself am a 210 lbs, lanky, flexible mofo and I do use a high guard system that has what people call "rubber guard" in it; I'm going to tell you right off though that it's just a tool in the toolkit and it's not something I fall back on or rely on, I just use it when the correct opportunity presents itself; I'd much rather just play an overhook and sweep game to get on top. The point is, it isn't something everyone can use even with time put in on it, and it certainly isn't something you can always rely on (just like any technique or position, there's a time and place for it).

As far as the application of rubber guard in MMA? If you've got it, flaunt it I suppose. I'm thinking that I probably won't ever see Mark Hunt using it even if he lived with Eddie for a year. It has some limitations as well:

- It's really not feasible as a guard system if you're pushed up against the cage.
- It's very easy to burn out your legs holding that type of position for long.
- It often involves very obvious set ups, most of the time people are prepared to defend it if they know their opponent uses it and once the cues go off that the position is being looked for then it's much much easier to shut down or escape.

It isn't without positive aspects though, it works very well as far as posture control goes, it does limit the striking capability of your opponent, and it can be used offensively if applied correctly.

I have no problem with people learning it if it works for them, I've got no problem with it as a position if it's used correctly, I do have a problem with the idea that it's anything more than just a tool in a toolkit, much like the double leg is just a single facet of wrestling or the jab is a single facet of boxing; if it's something your coach or trainer thinks might be a good idea for you, or if you're learning it and hitting it with good success on good opponents then more power to you I just would really warn against the belief that it's any better than traditional guards; it's all just about the time you put in, just know that if it's the only weapon you've got and you don't have a fall back plan when you get put on your ass then you're more than likely about to get molly whopped.

Connor Ruebusch: I know even less about grappling than I do about striking, with only a few months of BJJ under my belt. But at this point, it seems like the rubber guard almost occupies the same place in MMA as Aikido does in the full spectrum of Japanese martial arts. An accomplished karateka and judoka would greatly benefit from the practice of Aikido, which focuses heavily on one aspect of fighting (kuzushi). But Aikido on its own is more or less a bust. It really only works as a supplement to an already accomplished martial artists' arsenal.

The rubber guard, so far, has only shown great success when employed by grapplers with tons of experience. Aoki, Magalhaes--these guys can make use of the rubber guard because they have a near-complete understanding of the principles it depends on. But teaching the rubber guard as a fundamental from the get-go hasn't really shown good results so far. I couldn't exactly say why that is, but it doesn't seem to be a sound-enough technique to base a game around. Even those high level guys that use it well have a whole bevy of other techniques at their fingertips, including Eddie Bravo.

Alright, now it is your turn. Maybe you've done some 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu and have some insight we've missed, you're a long time grappler with thoughts on the matter, or just an MMA fan with thoughts to share. We want to hear it!

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