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UFC 115 Preview: Chuck Liddell and the Perfection of Sprawl and Brawl

Going into UFC 115, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the historical significance of Chuck Liddell and the style of MMA fighting he perfected: sprawl and brawl.

Let's establish some terms, from Wikipedia:

Sprawl-and-brawl is a stand-up fighting tactic that consists of effective stand-up striking, while avoiding ground fighting, typically by using sprawls to defend against takedowns.

A sprawl-and-brawler is usually a boxer, kickboxer, Thai boxer or full contact karate fighter who has trained in wrestling to avoid takedowns to keep the fight standing. Often, these fighters will study submission wrestling to avoid being forced into submission, should they find themselves on the ground. This style can be deceptively different from traditional kickboxing styles, since sprawl-and-brawlers must adapt their techniques to incorporate takedown and ground fighting defense.

Former UFC champions Tim Sylvia and Chuck Liddell have been successful using sprawl-and brawl techniques.

And the sprawl:

A sprawl is a martial arts and especially wrestling term for a defensive technique that is done in response to certain takedown attempts, typically double or single leg takedown attempts. The sprawl is performed by scooting the legs backwards, so as to land on the upper back of the opponent attempting the takedown. The resultant position is also known as a sprawl or sprawling position.

Ideally, the sprawling athlete should arch his back as much as possible and keep his knees off the mat. His options here including attempting to gain leverage on the lower back by hooking underneath the elbows; throwing in a headlock; and grabbing his opponent's ankles and trying to get behind his opponent.

Before Chuck Liddell made his mark in MMA there had been strikers who'd found success, notably Bas RuttenMaurice Smith and Igor Vovchanchyn. But all three of those fighters had relied on developing a sturdy enough guard game to survive or even win off their backs. Although Vovchanchyn did become fairly hard to take down, he certainly never developed anything like the sprawl of Liddell.

Liddell didn't just use his background as a Division 1 college wrestler to stay on his feet either, he also pioneered the techniques of cage walking back to his feet virtually anytime he was taken down. At his best, Chuck Liddell presented a virtually impossible dilemma for other MMA fighters -- exhaust yourself trying to take him down or take your chances on the feet against a very dangerous KO artist.

Most famously this style proved to be utter kryptonite for dangerous, but limited fighters like Tito Ortiz and Renato "Babalu" Sobral. Tito's fearsome ground and pound style just didn't work at all against Liddell and Sobral found himself on the wrong end of two highlight reel KO's.

Peak Chuck had worse luck against the more well rounded Rampage Jackson who was able to get him down and keep him down in the PRIDE ring in 2003. Randy Couture was able to surprise Liddell with surprisingly effective boxing that set up his take downs in their first fight. But in the second and third fights, Liddell adjusted his footwork and was able to prevent Couture from punching his way inside. Two more highlight KO's were Chuck's pay off.

By developing and perfecting one of the signature fighting styles of MMA, Chuck Liddell earned his place in the history of the sport.  Other fighters may surpass his title runs, but only a very limited few will develop and perfect one of the most effective and wide spread approaches to the game. Here's to the Ice Man.

More technical stuff and a high light video in the full entry.


Here's a fun video HL reel of Chuck Liddell's take down defense in action. It starts at the beginning of his career with his losing effort to Jeremy Horn (but damn Horn had a hard time getting him down), Paul Jones, Jeff Monson, Kevin Randleman, then works into the classic era Chuck with footage against Vitor Belfort, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and more. 

If you watch this closely, you'll see all of Chuck's trademark techniques: the quick sprawl, the knack for getting an overhook and underhook when pushed into the clinch, the almost eerie ability to climb back to his feet when he is taken down.