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UFC 139 Judo Chop: Shogun Rua's Fight-Saving Leglock on Dan Henderson

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In the this mini-Judo Chop, T.P. Grant breaks down for us the mechanics of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua's fight-saving leglock sweep from the fight against Dan Henderson at UFC 139. Later this week, I will bring you a much larger Judo Chop that will take a look at Shogun's preferred ground game tactics and how various opponents have fared and gameplanned against them.

For now, the spotlight is on the third round, just after Henderson has badly staggered Rua and knocked him to the ground. Hendo is hunting for an exclamation point on a surprising finish and pauses to find the right angles to deliver the decisive punches. Rua takes advantage of the half-guard position he loves to apply a threatening inverted heelhook that buys him time to recover from the powerful punches Henderson landed.

To successfully achieve a heel hook, torque is applied through the twisting of the foot and ankle joint in such a manner that the torque is transferred to the knee, which is twisted itself. This type of leglock is considered to be very serious, due to the multiple joints under threat of injury and the tendency for grapplers to not feel pain or significant pressure in their knees before something critical tears or gives way. An inverted heel hook relies on a slightly different setup to apply the same principles of torque and threaten damage to feet and knees.

Mixed martial arts devotee may remember fighters like Masakazu Imanari and Rousimar "Toquinho" Palhares as having particularly vicious heel hook submission victories, yet some may forget that other fighters like Shogun Rua have been successfully using the submission to sweep or to buy time. Shogun in particular loves using this submission to create space to get up from the ground and apply his brand of Muay Thai.

Join us after the jump for Tom's breakdown of Shogun's fight-saving leglock.

Tom starts off with a paragraph on the general background of leglocks and moves right into Rua's application of the heel hook.

Leglocks are bit of wild card in MMA. Most fighters have basic knowledge of leg attacks, but few make it a major part of their game. Part of it is a positional concern, as dropping back for leglocks can be a sacrifice of position and another part of it is safety, as an inch too much extension on a kneebar can force one's training partner to walk with crutches for a few months. Despite this, there are a few grapplers in MMA that make leglocks a central part of their game, and the ability to attack the legs effectively can be the equivalent of KO power on the feet.

While a simple Fight Finder search will not yield this result, Maurico "Shogun" Rua has made excellent use of leglocks during his career and he showed a flash of it in his epic match with Dan Henderson. In the third round, Rua was hurt badly and huddled in half guard for pure survival. As Henderson rained down blows, Rua slowly crept into the deep half guard, in which Rua uses his legs to control one leg and hooks Henderson's free leg with his arm, yielding him control of both of Henderson's legs. This is an excellent sweeping position, and with a few hip bridges, Rua forces Henderson to use both his hands to base out on the canvas to prevent from being rolled over, which leaves Rua space to recover and to maneuver.


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Rua detects this space and puts his hand in Henderson's armpit to create even more space, while rolling on his back to create momentum. Rua then swings his right leg over Henderson's left hip to isolate the left leg and then hooks Henderson's right knee with his left leg to prevent Henderson from spinning out of the heelhook and potentially resume punching Rua.

Henderson's leg is across Rua's body and Rua traps the foot under his ribcage and beings to pull up on the heel to threaten a classic reverse heelhook. The lock is meant to turn the foot backwards on the leg and damage the knee joint, but ideally the foot should be up in the armpit and the leg extended more. The placement of the foot gives Henderson the critical time to work his leglock defenses, step over Rua's left leg and spin to remove his leg from danger.

While the submission attack failed, the threat of the leglock did stop Henderson's powerful ground and pound and prevented Shogun from taking more damage, which likely would have seen the referee jumping in to stop the match.

Questions? Comments? Fire away below and thank Tom Grant for another great brace of mini-Judo Chops.

As a bonus, see and listen to Rener and Ralek Gracie explain heel hooks in an all-meat no-filler Gracie Breakdown from 2009: