Leading into UFC 162: Anderson Silva vs Chris Weidman, we Bloody Elbow Judo Choppers are taking a close look at the main event. I've already taken a look at the UFC Middleweight Champion's undervalued takedown defense, and now we move on to Silva's ground grappling. First, Silva is a well credentialed man in that department. A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt under the famed Nogueira brothers and currently training under Andre Galvao, a two-time world and ADCC champion, Silva has six submission wins to his name and is clearly not a hack on the ground.
Silva is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the ground, and this article will take a look both at where he shines and where he is somewhat overrated.
We'll start with where Silva is extraordinary; striking from top position. Silva is normally not one to take fights to the ground as he is a fantastic striker, so if a fighter finds himself on his back facing Silva it is usually because Silva has already dropped him with strikes. In that situation, Silva has a fantastic and cold blooded killer instinct.
Silva's grappling game is based around striking, maximizing his and minimizing his opponent's. From the top, Silva isn't really looking to progress to submit, rather Silva is looking to advance to a position from which he can land heavy strikes.
Whenever possible, Silva prefers to attack the guard while standing, which presents real problems to the bottom fighter because without the gi to grip he has very limited control of the top fighter.
Above, Silva is working in the open guard of Nate Marquardt. To get himself in an excellent position to strike, Silva pushes his hips in and moves off to the side, striking while he goes. Silva ends up in the position pictured above, he has slide off to the side into a pseudo standing side control. Silva's knees are against Marquardt's hips, and head stopping him from being able to roll towards Silva. And from that posture, Silva is able to turn his hips into his punches, resulting in excellent power. (Gif)
But the position works both ways, and Silva is also limited in how he can control the bottom fighter. From the side, Silva needs to move a lot to keep in proper striking position (Gif).
As a result, Silva seems to prefer the half guard, which gives him good control of the hips and allows him to posture and strike.
Here is Silva in a standing half guard, which is a very difficult position for a bottom fighter to work from. In sport Jiu Jitsu, this position was what gave birth to the reverse de la Riva guard, which is rendered rather impractical by the ability to strike. And the accuracy and power of Silva's strikes really changes a lot on the ground. It takes away a lot of scrambling because a fighter knows as soon as he takes his arms away from his head Silva will start landing hard, straight punches.
But when a fighter does keep trying to turn into Silva he will establish a more traditional half guard, but again with upright posture so he can strike.
Now on his knees here against Dan Henderson, Silva is able to both control Henderson's hips and posture up to strike. Randy Couture once called the half guard the "beat-down position" because of this ability to both control and attack. But Henderson is a savvy wrestler and is very good at getting to his knees, so Silva abandons his upright posture to control Henderson.
Silva grabs head and arm control and smashes Henderson flat on his back. From this position, Silva will again attempt to reestablish his posture and attack. If a fighter is persistent about rolling to his knees as Henderson was, Silva will pop his leg out and take the back. (Gif)
Silva's top game is geared towards creating the space to strike and then taking advantage of his opponent's movements to defend against those strikes. It is very efficient and effective.
However, on his back Silva's game changes quite a bit.
Silva's bottom game is primary about survival. He works to get back to his closed guard, and from there he will attack with some basic submission and sweep attacks, but he doesn't often overcommit and is content to ride out the trouble until the end of the round or until an opening to escape presents itself.
The problem with this style is the passivity of it. Silva's primary focus is to control the top fighter's posture to minimize the power of his striking. As a result, much of Silva's guard work will look like this:
Silva is applying good, fundamental practices of guard work; he's using both his legs and arms to break down Chael Sonnen's posture. But Silva is flat on his back, and that takes away a lot of the offensive ability of the guard. Silva's use of the body triangle from the guard also provides good control but limits offensive options. Silva will maintain a tight, defensive posture in just about any bottom position and is quite crafty at getting back to his guard.
Once there, Silva is actually able to strike effectively using both punches and very dangerous up-kicks, and looks to establish wrist control.
Here, you see Silva moments before his famous triangle win over Chael Sonnen, and Silva is controlling Sonnen's right hand. The wrist control can be used to take away one arm an opponent could be using for striking. Also, Silva is able to either push or pull that arm to set up a triangle attack. But again we can see that Silva is flat on his back, not the ideal position for guard play.
Silva is not overly aggressive from his guard. In fact, the most active his guard has looked in the UFC was at UFC 67 against Travis Lutter, who was able to use Silva's aggression to pass his guard and then mount Silva. Since then, Silva has become much more reserved in guard, looking primarily to survive and conserve energy, and it often seems Silva is more than willing to give away a round on his back and look to win the next round rather than expend a great deal of energy and give up openings trying to submit or escape from that position.
While Silva is a very able grappler, he is not a great grappler. Silva has been, and always will be, a striker and his grappling game is built to maximize what he does well and close any windows of vulnerability. On top, Silva is very deft at getting into prime striking position and using his Jiu Jitsu to stabilize and then attack with great power. On his back, Silva is not a great threat, but his guard is creditable enough to keep fighters honest, and when passed, Silva has historically been able to stay defensively tight, but it is passive to the point where it can be exploited by experienced and skilled grapplers.