Chris Weidman's Middleweight title defense against Anderson Silva ended surprisingly and suddenly when Silva's leg snapped apart around Weidman's shin. Since then, it seems that fans have become so taken with the manner in which the bout ended, that they have forgotten the fighting which took place for the five or so minutes before. Those interested in the wrestling aspect of mixed martial arts should not be so quick to forget, for Weidman created good grounds for discussion and analysis with his takedown of Silva in the first round of this fight.
To take Silva down, Weidman used a technique common to MMA, but rarely spoken about. Roughly thirty seconds into round one, Weidman picked Silva's leg up off the mat with wrestling-style leg attack known as a snatch, or high, single. I prefer to use the term snatch, as I would like to leave designations of high, medium, or low to describe the type of finish, rather than the initial attack
Most single legs, and double legs for that matter, involve a penetration step (or a drop step, which we won't discuss here, for simplicity's sake) where the lead knee touches the ground, the attackers shoulder level lowers, and the torso then drives through the opponent's hips. In other words, leg attacks usually involve the act of shooting. A snatch single entails simply reaching down and picking up a single leg without an actual shot. It sounds simple, but leave it to wrestling to show that the most seemingly unremarkable action can prove very complicated.
For the most part, the same rules apply to snatch single as they do to standard singles. I have discussed in the past that setups for wrestling leg attacks fall into three broad families: clearing conventional ties, leveraging control ties, and timing/tempo. Wrestlers can hit snatch singles from all three families of setups.
Clearing Conventional Ties
Here, in this year's University Freestyle World Championships, the Ukrainian heavyweight (in blue) uses his right hand to collar tie young Turkish star Tahah Akgul. A collar typifies what I mean by a conventional tie. Akgul clears this tie with a technique known as an elbow off, where the Turk passes his opponent's right elbow over his head. This leaves the Ukrainian's right leg wide open, and Akgul snatches the single, finishing it quickly to the mat.
Leveraging Control Ties
Above, Cornell's All-American Steve Anceravage (in red) achieves an underhook, a common control tie, with his right arm. He then throws the underhook past him, feeding his opponent's leg into his left arm, and drops his underhook hand to the same leg, securing the snatch single. He finishes with a nice trip.
This sequence shows two Olympic silver medalists vying for a spot on the 2000 Olympic team. Sammie Henson (in red) snaps Stephen Abas's head down into a short offense situation (the control tie in question), he then gives Abas's head a slight shuck to the left, and deftly steps outside to the right, snatching the single and finishing to Abas's right hip.
Previously, when I tried to work out a way to determine which wrestling styles would translate most effectively to MMA, I theorized that those wrestlers who relied on timing/tempo based setups to leg attacks would see the strongest correlation between their success on a mat and their success in a prize fight. I still feel that way, if for no other reason that conventional wrestling ties rarely manifest themselves in MMA, and the upright posture of a cage fighter allows little opportunity to properly utilize control ties for leg attacks.
A timing/tempo based setup simply means that a wrestler executes his attack at the exact moment when a gap appears in his opponent's defense. This attacker may create this opening through motion, the opening may present itself in a counter situation or the attacking wrestler may just have an uncanny knowledge of when to attack, as you will see below.
In the 2008 finals of the U.S. Open in freestyle, a corn-rowed Ben Askren taps Tyrone Lewis's head, and just seems sense the proper moment to snatch the single for a takedown.
I will also note here, that though snatch singles commonly result in a head-inside position, this is not always the case. Above, Iran's Ehsan Lashgari grabs a head-outside snatch single on Max Askren, and takes him for a ride (yes, Lashgari does touch his knee to the mat, so this move's status as snatch single becomes dubious, but surely you get my point).
Weidman's Snatch Single on Silva
Now we will take a look at Weidman's snatch single on Silva in six steps
1. Weidman senses he has the right distance and proper timing
2. Weidman steps with his lead foot. Silva actually tries to stop the shot by posting with both hands, and may have succeeded, but for the fact that very quickly, almost imperceptibly, Weidman uses his right hand to reach across and clear Silva's right hand from his shoulder.
3. Locking his hands behind Silva's knee, Weidman secures Silva's leg. Weidman has less than ideal position here, his shoulder rests low on Silva's thigh, his back hunches a bit, and he has Silva's forearm pressing down on his head.
4. Weidman improves his position like a good wrestler should. Instead of straightening his legs and lifting Silva's leg with his back, as many bad wrestlers would like to, he steps in with his right leg, raises his head and drives his left shoulder up into Silva's hip.
5. The legs keep moving and Weidman uses his left knee to scoop Silva's right leg. Meanwhile he reaches behind Silva with his left hand, and grabs the far leg.
6. The scooped leg feeds into Weidman's right hand. Weidman now has both of Silva's legs in his grasp, and he drives his opponent to the mat.
The Disadvantages of Snatch Singles
At this point I bet some readers are wondering why wrestlers bother going through the clunky, risky and tiresome process of shooting at all. After all, wouldn't it make takedowns easier if we just committed ourselves to simply bending over and grabbing legs all the time? The short answer is no. The long answer is that snatch singles, while certainly very practical in MMA-adapted wrestling, still suffer several disadvantages when compared to traditional shots.
First, actually shooting makes getting in on leg attacks easier. Traditional shots allow for easier clearance of an opponent's defense. When a wrestler shoots, his level drastically lowers in an effort to pass underneath the other wrestler's hands and elbows. When snatching a single, the trajectory of the attacking wrestler's shoulder will more likely encounter an opponent's body part other than the legs. Though less severe than in pure wrestling, this problem persists in MMA, where modified striking stances often result in fighters' hands and elbows held less high to take into account the threat of the takedown.
Second, shots make closing the distance easier. Above, you can see a pretty wide gulf between Weidman's chest and Silva's dreaded knee of doom. In order to snatch a single here, Weidman needs to cover a good bit of ground, and he needs to do it while remaining conscious. Shooting consists of an explosive action which propels a combatant forward at a high rate of speed, ideal for covering space fast. Snatching the single from this distance, on the other hand, requires someone with enough athleticism to turn something as un-explosive as bending over into a quick and fluid action. Weidman can do it, but not everybody can.
Finally, when attacking the legs with a traditional shot, a good wrestler enjoys the luxury of keeping his hips underneath himself. The closer the attacker's hips come to the attacked leg, the more easily the attacker can control and lift the leg without getting extended and sprawled out.
In the 2006 NCAA consolation finals, we see Cain Velasquez try to snatch a single on Greg Wagner. Velasquez gets to the leg, and locks his hands around it, but his forward momentum stops. Wagner, huge, strong, and very skilled, sprawls his weight back and drives Velasquez's face to the mat. Velasquez finds himself unable to pull Wagner's leg in because the snatch single leaves Velasquez holding the leg in a bent-over position, with his shoulders way out in front of his hips. The upright stances in MMA exacerbate this potential problem.
This problem, however, can be largely alleviated if the attacking wrestler manages to step on the foot of the leg he wishes to secure. Like so
The sport of wrestling creates science in even the most mundane action. The snatch single, often seen and little discussed, proves how much skill goes into properly bending down and grabbing someone's leg. Chris Weidman's snatch single on Anderson Silva at UFC 168 looked simple, but oh, how looks can be deceiving.