UFC on FX 8 Judo Chop: Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza and Passing the Guard

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

T.P. Grant looks at the guard passing game of Jacare Souza, one of the best BJJ fighters in MMA.

UFC on FX 8 features quite a few Strikeforce stars making their UFC debuts, including the last two Middleweight Champions of the now defunct promotion, Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo Souza. Known as Jacare, Souza is one of the best Brazilian Jiu Jitsu grapplers of all time who has translated that to a successful MMA career. This is partially due to the fact that his style of jiu jitsu translates very well to the world of MMA, and also because his athletic ability allowed him to pick up the striking game very quickly.

Jacare's jiu jitsu is not the prototypical one that MMA fans are used to seeing. When thinking of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, many MMA fans think of Royce Gracie or B.J. Penn using the guard to confound and submit their opponents. But the bottom game is only half of jiu jitsu, and Jacare's fights show case just how detailed, technical, and effective the top game can be, as well.

The top game is really what old school BJJ was all about - a fighter's goal was to secure a takedown, pass the guard to a dominant position, and then submit. It takes just as much skill and knowledge of grappling as does playing guard, and it is a game that is used by some of sport jiu jitsu's very best including Jacare, Fernando "Terere", Roger Gracie, and Xande Ribeiro to name a few.

The guard is the most offensive position a fighter can have while on his or her back, and is iconic of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighters. Passing guard is almost a martial art unto itself, with as many variations and adaptations as there are guards. While not totally universal, there are two keys to a good, controlling guard pass:

  • Limiting the mobility of the hips
  • Pinning the shoulder blades
These two concepts are normally present in guard passes, but passing guard is often as much improvising as it is rehearsed technique. When dealing with a superior grappler like Souza he can pass in dynamic ways that are technically perfect (G) or something he made up on the spot (G).

Let's take a look at the more measured passes Jacare has used that highlights the key concepts of guard passing and the fundamentals of Jacare's passing game.

When Jacare works from guard, he will often back his hips away, creating space for an opponent to establish a butterfly guard. Jacare's background in grappling has caused many fighters to employ grappling avoidance strategies, and the butterfly guard has become very popular for fighters to create space and stand up. Jacare invites the butterfly guard and then uses it to pass quickly.

Here is Jacare working from the butterfly guard of Robbie Lawler. Jacare's posture is very low and is controlling Lawler's hips, stopping him from getting to his side. This effectively kills most sweeps from the butterfly guard. Jacare has both arms controlling Lawler and his head just enough on Lawler's chest not to leave himself open for guillotine choke.

Jacare has control of Lawler's hips, but Lawler's knees are still high and tight to Jacare's side, preventing Jacare from moving to either side. Lawler is also able to sit up, giving him some ability to move and defend himself.


To get Lawler's knees lower, Jacare sinks his hips back. Lawler is forced to extend his legs to maintain the butterfly guard, giving Jacare a chance to slide over Lawler's right leg. Lawler keeps the left butterfly hook because even with Jacare passing to his right he can still threaten with sweeps as long as he maintains that hook and has some freedom of movement.


Jacare now gives up an underhook on Lawler's right; this is not a mistake as the underhook doesn't help Lawler at all and the overhook is actually what Jacare needs. He wants to have his shoulder in contact with Lawler's jaw to create a cross face. Jacare also raises his hips as he prepares to take away both Lawler's remaining butterfly hook and pin his shoulders to the mat in one move.


Jacare kicks his right leg behind his back, dropping all his weight on to his shoulder, pinning Lawler's back to the mat. (G) Lawler's ability to move or use his guard is completely taken away during the whole pass because of how effectively Jacare controls his hips and then pins his shoulders to the mat.

The key to maintaining control of both the hips and the body is that Jacare kept his hips low. Even when he raised his hips, it was not very high, and the pressure never really let up. The pass will fail if the hips do not get low and the bottom fighter is mobile off of his back. (G)

Jacare has always favored passing over the leg for his entire grappling career, but when doing a pass that involves stepping over one leg, quite often the other leg gets caught in a half guard. As a result, anyone who employs an over the leg passing game normally also develops a half guard passing game, as well.

Jacare's half guard top game centers around what is sometimes called the "reverse scarf half guard".

Here is Jacare employing that half guard against Joey Villasenor in Strikeforce. Souza has sat facing Villasenor's legs, overhooking his far arm. The position gets its name from the Judo pin position of gesa gatame, and this half guard variation of it provides both control of the hips and flattens the bottom fighter's back on the mat. Villasenor holding on to the half guard limits his hip mobility, and Jacare's upper body provides the pressure to keep Villasenor flat on the mat.

One of the primary advantages of working the half guard is that Jacare does not need to worry about nearly as many submissions, and can threaten with his own submissions while he passes. (G)

This half guard position has a great deal of offense that can come from it; for a look at one of its more basic passes here is Renato Tavares, American Top Team grappler.

This all barely scratches the surface of Jacare's overall BJJ game, but it does provide an overview of the basics of passing guard.

For more technical breakdowns be sure to check out the Bloody Elbow Judo Chop stream. For comments on the article scroll down and leave your thoughts or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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