"Always mash the head... in every position... at anytime... for any technique."
- Joe Lauzon
The narrative for UFC 162 promo packages and stories will make it clear that Chris Weidman was a stellar wrestler in college. Well, he was. They will then say that he has amassed tons of new skills and trained so much that he has become a one man wrecking crew. Well, he did. Six fast and brutal finishes in nine career fights showcase that.
However, much like Jon Jones, the young light heavyweight champion, the meteoric rise of Weidman to title contention against Anderson Silva came about by adding modularly onto what skills both fighters already possessed when they came out of college.
For Jon, it is his distance control, sense of balance and phenomenal athleticism that provided the skill base of a champion. For Chris, it is his head control/mashing, whizzer usage and not-quite-as-phenomenal athleticism. Every win in these former collegiate wrestlers' careers showed surprising progress, but that progress was built in small and extremely effective components that were added to the immense base package of skills both fighters already possessed.
The Submissions of Chris Weidman
The biggest component of Weidman's success is his ferocious love affair with mashing the head. If the opponent's brain box is near him, he's grabbing some form of control immediately. This is omnipresent in the clips of Weidman during his time in NCAA wrestling, freestyle wrestling, ADCC clips and MMA fights. His training processes must have embedded within his instincts something along the lines of "Head near? Grab it because good things will result." This is embedded so deeply that it comes freely and savagely from his body whenever advantageous and the added components of submission chains have made the head mashing truly scientific.
In 2009, Weidman had something like a year and change of submission grappling training to add to his lifetime of folkstyle and freestyle wrestling. With that training, he took Andre Galvao, the eventual -88 kg silver place medalist and eventual grappling legend, to a 4-0 points decision in the second round. This loss is notable because Weidman displayed in full against an extremely skilled submission grappler just how dangerous Weidman's versions of head control and whizzers (overhooks usually used to defend positional changes) could be in the context of submission grappling and eventually within MMA.
A respected friend (under the nom de guerre of Gylius) told me the following elsewhere about this match:
This entire fight is a clinic in the whizzer. The first minute is Galvao trying to get a flash finish, which Weidman does a good job of defending. Then the rest of the fight is whizzer + scrambles + a decent d'arce attempt that Weidman doesn't bother controlling the body on. Not once did Galvao try to limp-arm out of any of the whizzers. The entire fight is basically a wrestler making it hard to score on with great scrambles and a whizzer keeping him on top. His base stopped Galvao from coming underneath - except for the late scoring points in the match.
I actually disagree with his analysis in regards to the match being just whizzer after whizzer. At multiple points, Weidman does indeed use the whizzer to fend off attacks and to work to better positions. However, he combines that with a constant hunt for a particular type of head control - a hunt that nearly succeeded with a brabo/d'arce that came off Andre's attempt to work deep half guard. This brabo is Weidman's go-to submission in every single fight and probably is so because it builds so nicely off folkstyle wrestling head control situations.
Andre pops his head up briefly during a turnover in deep half and Weidman has already jammed his arm past the head and up on the other side. This is now getting to be a brabo submission attempt, which operates in a manner similar to a triangle - compressing the carotids with a tightening arm on one side and the opponent's own shoulder being jammed into the other side. Galvao struggles for a bit due to the immense squeeze Weidman imparts and eventually works out of it due to Weidman's lack of finishing technique.
However, that was 2009. Let's flip over to Weidman against Tom Lawlor in 2011 to see how good his finishing technique on this brabo is in a slightly different, but still similar set-up. Lawlor was a very good wrestler in the NCWA conference (generally a step down from the NCAAs), a fellow ADCC 2009 competitor and knows his way around the mats. After a very nice takedown (GIF), Weidman has secured side control and immediately pushes a whizzer down and starts mashing the head. Tom resists as best as he can, of course.
Chris's base and head mashing is preventing Tom from getting up fast or spinning underneath him. So Lawlor starts trying to grit'n'grind his way back to the feet by spinning around, getting onto his knees and preventing Weidman from getting the farside grip tight.
Weidman is so strong and so used to getting this type of head control that Lawlor simply cannot prevent him from readjusting and sliding that whizzering/underhooking hand to his elbow crook and biceps. Lawlor cannot beat the whizzer by limp arming or sliding the whizzered hand high up. Weidman has pushed him into a position where those options are flat out not there. In essence, the only option for Lawlor now is to continue to try to get up and hope that Weidman doesn't have his technique down enough to keep the submission locked on as Lawlor defends and struggles.
This is already a tight submission and when Chris flips Tom over, the instinct to push down with the hips has already added sufficient pressure of the arm squeeze to put Lawlor out. Tom briefly tries to move his trapped arm upwards and outwards (to give his neck sufficient space to get blood/oxygen to his brain), but quickly and silently goes out.
The curl-up to hook a foot over Lawlor's back and further increase the pressure is superfluous - although commendable finishing technique. This is exactly how an MMA fighter should create immense squeeze and finish a brabo. The 2011 ADCC double gold medal winning version of Galvao still would have won and avoided that entirely, but it shows how much of a difference two years can make. (GIF)
Against Mark Munoz, the head mashing came in handy again and again. Munoz was hampered by a set of injuries going into this fight, but still displayed some smart defense against Weidman.
A swift takedown (possibly directed unknowingly at Munoz's injured leg) gives Weidman side control. However, Munoz threatens a keylock and gets back to his feet after a short time in a clinch-type situation. From there, Chris refuses to disengage and goes for the head mashing.
After this control has been secured, Weidman unleashes a very well timed series of knees and punches as Munoz goes down to his knees to defend (and take advantage of the rule against knees to grounded opponents). At this point, Chris is in full flow offensively (GIF). He drags Munoz flat on his back to the ground, unleashes a series of elbows and shifts for a kimura from north/south. Mark unsurprisingly resists this by gable-gripping his hands and then spinning into Chris to go to his knees - which puts him right back into the head mashing. Chris appears to be shifting back and forth between the intimately-familiar-to-Mark cement mixer set-up from wrestling and the still-familiar-to-Mark set-up for the arm in guillotine. Then he begins throwing in a few knees and punches to the nearly-motionless Munoz.
After covering up, Munoz decides to try flopping to a side to get free of the head control - only to fall into the "trap" that Weidman set for another brabo/d'arce choke. Mark falls backwards and defends that sufficiently to get an arm out and Chris shifts to a no-arms-in guillotine - often called the Marcelotine or high elbow guillotine (GIF).
In a stroke of good fortune for Munoz, the grip around the neck and head is not fully secure and Mark wriggles out. However, Chris stays heavy upon him and starts to drive down elbows into Munoz's head. This forces Mark to turn back into Chris tightly, removing the head from the prime spots for elbows - but exposing an opportunity for Chris to shove a hand down and move into mount. Munoz shifts his hands low to defend that mount and ends up right back in a high elbow guillotine. Luckily, the grip again isn't quite right, so Mark is able to slide his head free in order to come out the back door and scramble.
All this defending and worrying about the placement of the head is tiring. Weidman is expending less energy and threatening to end the fight at multiple points during that first round and Mark is visibly tired after defending those submission and positional chains. The second round featured another single leg takedown segueing into this scientific head mashing and an even further fatigued Munoz. Then the Elbow of Doom that knocked out Munoz came out to make all this fine grappling from Weidman a nearly forgotten thing.
For Weidman's purest, rawest scientific head mashing, look to the GIF of him putting away Jesse Bongfeldt within seconds of achieving head control. That's a scary guillotine to contemplate. Not quite Dan Miller/Dave Phillips territory, but it's gotta be a bad feeling to be in there. Oh, I almost did a bad there. It is a mandatory thing to show the greatest guillotine of all time and I was thisclose to skipping out on that.
The Takedowns and Guard Passing of Chris Weidman
As Connor Ruebusch noted in his judo chop, Weidman stands in an orthodox stance to fight and has done so since his wrestling days. Mike Riordan gave us a very cool nugget of information in that same judo chop's comments about how Weidman may actually prefer to shoot off his rear leg and uses the lead leg to disguise and defend.
I'm not nearly as expert as Coach Riordan, but I can note that Weidman loves, loves, loves the single leg upon the right leg of his opponent and driving to the left. He hits this again and again on all manner of opponents.
After a brief striking exchange, Demian does the right thing and backs away at an angle. However, he's backing away at the exact angle Chris loves to go for a shot on. Look at Weidman's left leg that has stepped up and is blocking the retreat of Maia's right leg and note the closeness of Weidman's hips to the leg itself. Maia has no chance to defend this and Chris turns a circle-out movement by Maia into a routine double leg (GIF). As they hit the ground, Chris goes to stabilize (and Demian to set his grips to defend).
Weidman's legs are sprawled for considerable stability and his left hand is starting to push down on Demian's right thigh. This is to prevent the leg from coming up into a better form of open guard for Demian and to open a better opportunity for Chris to pass the guard or posture up for a punch. Maia already knows this, so he's looking to push that hand/arm right off his leg, slide his knee up Weidman's hip and to get the farside arm into a position where he can get an overhook or head control. In general, Chris seems to prefer the GSP-style passes from the knees, although he did pop up to knee slide against Galvao many times. I don't know if Weidman has figured out the knee slide/leg drag/long step chain like the Mendes brothers and Galvao made famous in recent years, but his athleticism is usually sufficient to get past the guard with a simple technique like this.
Because Demian Maia is an extremely good grappler, he still wriggles free and back to his feet within ten seconds of hitting the ground. And predictably, Weidman goes for head control, which Maia shucks free from. The reason for this quick escape is probably because Chris goes for the leg, rather than arm control, due to placement and instinct. Maia probably knew going into this match that Weidman prefers the head and arm control whenever possible and worked to simultaneously avoid that and bait other types of less polished control attempts from Weidman.
When Chris showed something different than the left leg lead takedowns in the fight against Demian, it was a perfect counter to a southpaw rear lead - something that Maia, Machida, Anderson and other southpaws enjoy using (GIF).
As Demian storms forwards with the rear hand, Chris ducks underneath it and shuffles his left leg forwards in preparation for a takedown shot. He's also tucking his chin and covering up with his hands in case his read of the telegraphed punch is wrong. The next step is to close the distance with the onrushing opponent and figure out how best to lower them both to the ground.
That turns out to be the outside leg trip. There's a judo name for it (ko soto gake), but this is pure Murican wrestlin' at work here. Weidman slides up Maia from the contact point, clinches his hands above Maia's waist and pulls towards him, while pushing with his head and blocking the left leg from stepping backwards. Then, Chris falls to his right (Demian's left) and they both go to the canvas.
Weidman has saved himself an awful lot of work passing Maia's guard by landing in side control off the throw. He immediately starts his scientific head mashing process by trying to elbow Maia in the noggin. Demian prevents the strike from being a doozy by putting his hand in there and cleverly beats Weidman to the whizzer position on the far arm. Chris was too late in getting that whizzer in and couldn't push Maia's arm down like he did with Tom Lawlor before - thus Maia gets up. Look at the picture below and see how far Maia has turned into Weidman and how far Maia's shoulder is into Weidman's armpit. Compare that to Tom Lawlor above and see the differences.
Weidman would try the same outside leg trip later in the fight without as much success and even the same anticipation of the rear hand strike to a single leg, but Maia defended both well and either stayed upright or got back to his feet quickly. This fight was actually quite a bit more fun than my remembered impressions from the live viewing, despite Weidman being gassed quickly from the short notice cut and Maia being sick.
Interestingly, Chris did something that was a hybrid of the above two methods to take down Tom Lawlor. After using the rear straight (thanks Connor for pointing this out!), Weidman stepped into perfect takedown range.
He made as if to grab the single leg and drive left, but actually hoisted up the left leg and drove to the right. From this and Coach Riordan's comment about the right footed shots, I suspect that his comfort level going in either direction is very high. Weidman is not Jake Shields - who only shoots successfully from one basic angle. If not completely exhausted, he can finish strongly going to the left and going to the right, although with a small, yet effective and interrelated set of techniques. Note in the GIF how quickly Weidman passes after stabilizing and how Lawlor is unable to stop that or get up. Anderson has a better guard and will be more determined to do one or the other, yet the ease with which Weidman slices through to get going on the head control is something I envy as a grappler.
In a cool tidbit from near the end of the 2009 ADCC match, Weidman actually goes for a fairly nifty kneebar on Galvao during a scramble. His technique on the rotation over the knee is not supa-fly, so Andre gets out fairly easily. It could be an unexpected technique come fight time for Chris if any scrambles ensue, so watch for that. (Andre's earlier armbar attempt on Chris early on was spooky good to watch over and over again.)
On just about everyone he has faced in the cage, Chris Weidman has imposed his scientific head mashing, whizzers and superior athleticism. The six finishes have all been modularly built from his years and years of wrestling experience and even a superior collegiate wrestler and a Brazilian jiu jitsu legend could not truly stop Weidman's head control from winning the fight.
Weidman has beaten the southpaws he's faced - dominating Uriah Hall at Ring of Combat 31 and controlling Maia on a short notice fight - and looked perfectly at ease coping with the positioning. Jack Slack showed us that Anderson has problems with wrestlers who use their rear straight to set up shots - as Weidman often does. He's risen to the occasion before, as Coach Riordan so vividly described to us in his Factgrinder, and he appears to be in terrific shape leading into Saturday.
The problem with all this is that the defenses of Chris Weidman's opponent at UFC 162 will mostly look like this:
Inside the five minutes of a round, Weidman has to correctly navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of Anderson's fists and feet, take the champion down, secure position, open the guard if needed and get to or maintain half guard or side control without letting Anderson up to work his beloved scientific head mashing.
In the vast majority of his fights, Anderson Silva has delivered balletic violence. He is the Nuryev of the cage and he'll astound us all while giving up all kinds of bad positions or breaking the "rules" of fighting. However, he very rarely - if ever- yields head control to his opponents. Inside the clinch, Anderson keeps his head out of the plum. On the ground, his head stays far away and he promptly locks down, grabs wrists or permits guard-based punching all in efforts to prevent any potential head mashing.
If Chris Weidman is to succeed on Saturday night, he is going to have to force the greatest MMA fighter on the planet to break one of his long-standing patterns and take advantage of the opportunity that follows. The cool thing about this impending fight is that Weidman genuinely has the physical ability, determination and skills to do that - if everything goes right.
There will be five rounds for either fighter to put their gameplan, skills and heart to work at UFC 162. We shall see what happens and we should celebrate both the victor and the loser for being excellent and admirable fighters.