The meeting between Paulo Thiago and Michel Prazeres yielded some fairly entertaining results redolent with gobs of pleasingly sloppy wrestling. In the midst of this wrestling, something rare, if not totally unprecedented in a mixed martial arts match, occurred. Near the end of the second round, Thiago countered a Prazeres front headlock with a sucker drag. The sucker drag was imperfect, yet effective, and best of all, it gives me a chance to pontificate on yet another MMA wrestling technique that is not a double leg or sprawl.
The sucker drag isn't an exotic or rare move. Early on in a wrestler's development when he is first introduced to some variation on a front headlock, the very first counter he normally learns is a sucker drag. It is neither the only counter nor the best, and as its name suggests, its success is predicated on a lack of vigilance on behalf of the dragee.
Before going into detail about sucker drags in particular, we would be best served to take a step back for a brief discussion of drags (short for "arm drags") simplicitur. The arm drag in its most basic form is demonstrated by John Trenge below.
[Note: Trenge, a three time All American and two time NCAA finalist from Lehigh University, is perhaps the greatest Division 1 wrestler to never win a national title. This puts him in exclusive company. It is hard to recognize him without his signature goggles, which he had to wear in competition due to not one, but two detached retinas suffered during his wrestling career. His somewhat controversial senior year was chronicled in the highly entertaining documentary Veritas, which I recommend.]
Here Trenge (in white) stops an arm post with his left hand, and rotates his opponent's wrist under his chest, feeding the arm to his right hand. The right hand executes the drag which always consists of gripping an opponent's opposite arm at the triceps and pulling it across your face. The higher on the arm a grip is achieved, the better. In wrestling, the closer a handle is to the center of an opponent's mass, the better. The grip of an arm drag must be above the elbow if there is any hope of the move working on any opponent with a live pulse. Finally, notice the way that Trenge pivots hard into his partner near the end of the move, maximizing the force generated.
Arm drags can be used to go behind an opponent for a take down or they can be used as excellent set ups for shots. As set ups, they possess particular utility, simultaneously pulling an opponent out of position, and bypassing his head/hands layer of defense. It is my opinion that on all levels of American wrestling, the arm drag is criminally underused, particularly in its role as a set up.
Here what a shot set up by an arm drag may look like.
In the 2011 Big Ten tournament, Michigan's Eric Grajales (in the gold trim) blocks a shot attempt by Penn State's future national champ Frank Molinaro, and then re-shoots with a left handed arm drag to a head inside single. Grajales doesn't finish the take down, but gives a glimpse of the ability which led many (including myself) to view him as a "can't miss" prospect out of high school.
Perhaps the most famous instance of arm drag take down occurs below
Here, in the 1997 NCAA finals, Iowa's Lincoln McIlravy (in black) is wrestling Iowa State's Chris Bono, both are NCAA champs, and both will eventually be world team members. This was the Dake vs. Taylor of its era. In sudden death overtime, McIlravy hits an ultra-slick, lighting-quick drag and boot scoot; he then nonchalantly raises off Bono, his third national title secure.
Now onto an even briefer discussion of front headlocks. Specifically the variation where one locks his hands around his opponent's arm and chin.
Front headlocks fall into the broader category of techniques known as "short offense". Short offense is needed any time an opponent is stopped prone underneath your chest and hands, and you need to score. This is usually achieved by going behind. Different wrestlers adopt varied approaches to short offense. If you watch superstar American Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, you would notice that he usually eschews front headlocks in short offense situations, instead he rotates around his opponent on his toes with his hands free. This forces his opponent into a Faustian bargain where they can either allow him to go behind, conceding the take down, or pop up to his feet and risk giving up back exposure points after getting double legged into the next century.
Many short offense options exist: backhand go behinds, drags, trapped hand go behinds. A very common and reliable method of scoring from short offense is the front headlock. Most commonly these days, particularly in scholastic wrestling, the "head in the well" variation on the front headlock is used where the hands aren't locked; rather, they grip the chin and triceps separately.
The classic, locked-hand front headlock is far more common in the Olympic styles of wrestling where it allows for gator rolls and a variety of instant back exposure techniques. For this sort of front headlock to achieve requisite tightness and pressure, the headlocker must focus on two technical points: he needs to be on his toes, and he needs to shorten his arms by pulling his elbows high and close to his body.
Here is a picture of Matt Hughes' famous front headlock on Ricardo Almeida, which led to a submission that amazed many of my jiu-jitsu friends (and my wrestling friends wondering what the big deal was, if you wrestle long enough, somebody, someday is going to put you out with a front headlock - it is certain as death and taxes)
Hughes hasn't quite achieved optimum position. His left elbow is nice and his arm high, but he needs to raise his other arm and then squeeze them together, thus pinching his forearms together and squeezing Almeida's arm and head tightly together. He also needs to raise his right elbow to make sure he isn't open to a sucker drag from Almeida. As things stand in the picture, with Hughes' right elbow below Almeida's arm, Almeida can reach his right arm across his face, grab Hughes' triceps and drag him by.
Below is a great example of a sucker drag in the 2007 NCAA semifinals match between Ryan Lang of Northwestern (mohawk) and Rider's Don Fisch.
This clip is bitter sweet, as it would have been nice to see Rider send a guy to the national finals and all Fisch had to do was not get taken down by Lang in the closing seconds to win (Lang, who had a brief pro MMA career would get tech falled in the finals by Derek Moore, who like Urijah Faber was a member of the now defunct Cal Davis Aggies wrestling team). Fisch stops Lang's shot and enters into a short offense situation. Instead of staying on his toes and continuing to move, a dog-tired Fisch locks his hands in a front headlock, elbows low and wide, and drops to his knees just for a moment. This moment of bad positioning is all Lang needs as he immediately sucker drags Fisch, and goes behind for an instantly called takedown and the win.
To fOnce Fisch locks his hands, Lang rises to his feet, steps up with his left leg, reaches across with his right hand, grabs Fisch's right triceps, turns his head to the right, drags the arm past his face and swings his left arm around Fisch's back for two points (yes the points were awarded a bit quickly there, but Fisch let his guard down; sadly, that's what happens). This is a sucker drag.
Almost an identical series of events transpired in the Thiago fight (here for convenience sake). Prazeres is holding Thiago in a loose front headlock, and Paulo sucker drags him. He steps up with his right leg, and swings his arms around behind Michel's back. The actual arm drag component of the move appears to happen on Prazeres's forearm, not triceps, but no matter, the move still works beautifully.
This is yet another contribution wrestling has made to MMA technique. Hopefully the trend continues and I have a wider variety of wrestling techniques to discuss in the future.