Rio de Janeiro will play host to its second UFC this weekend, headlined by Jose Aldo defending his belt against Chad Mendes. The main card will feature one of the UFC's best and oddest Brazilian Middleweights in the sport today. Rousimar Palhares is known for his unrelenting style, the odd occurrences that seem to surround his fights and his brutal heel hooks. Nicknamed "Toquinho", meaning tree stump, the Brazilian matches his awesome strength with outstanding Brazilian Jiu Jitsu technique, making him not just an up-and-coming MMA fighter but also a world class grappler. Palhares is hyper aggressive on the mats, constantly looking for submissions, preferring to target the legs.
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Leg locks are powerful and often misunderstood techniques in many grappling circles, so lets lift the veil of mystery and fear behind these submissions. Leg locks can be divided into groups based on the joint they attack and how they attack them. There are two targets for leg locks; the ankle and the knee. Some leg submissions, like the kneebar and straight ankle lock, work by hyperextending the joint, like in an armbar. Others, like the heel hook or toe hold, work by torquing the joint similar to a kimura. The heel hook works by isolating a leg and immobilizing the upper part of the leg and then twisting the lower leg. If the heel hook is done to completion, the foot and shin would be rotated past 90 degrees tearing the ligaments in the knees.
For more on the technique of the heel hook, Rener Gracie breaks it down after the jump...
Inverted Heel Hook (via GracieAcademy)
One of thing that makes the leg lock such an exciting part of MMA is the speed at which they happen and the way they seemingly coming out of nowhere. While it seems obvious, recognizing openings for leg locks is what sets leg lockers apart from other grapplers. Many grapplers who don't utilize leg locks often overlook the openings for leg attacks and let them pass, while fighters like Palhares attack at the slightest opening.
Getting careless with foot positioning when playing guard is one of the quickest ways to end up getting footlocked. Ideally when playing guard, the bottom fighter's feet should never be next to the top man's hip, it can be pushing into the hip but not resting next to it. Tomasz Drwal got caught in the most basic footlock setup when he faced Palhares because of bad foot-placement.
Drawl slipped when trying to throw a kick and when Palhares pounced on him they found themselves in a loose half-gaurd position. Drwal's left foot is left floating by Palhares' hip, with his ankle just past Palhares' body, this is an ideal position for a leg attack, either a straight ankle lock or heel hook.
Palhares senses sensed the opening instantly and hugs Drwal's leg to his body, trapping it in place. He then stops his left leg over Drwal and drops his head to the mat. His legs trap Drwals leg in place, and as he drops Palhares hooks Drwal's heel with his right arm and then rotates his upper body back towards Drawl's body, creating that torque on the knee.
Now that was a fairly pedestrian entry to a heel hook, lets take a look a bit more creative and dangerous entry to the submission. At UFC Live: Sanchez vs Kampmann, Palhares was faced with Dave Branch.
A Renzo Gracie black belt, Branch was not about to leave his foot out to a leg lock specialist, so Palhares would have to create his own opening. Branch has Palhares in turtle, and the Brazilian dives under to grab Branch's left leg.
Rolling under Branch, Palhares inverts himself to get Branch's foot in the proper position to attack. Palhares locks the leg by locking his ankles together and then hooks the heel and begins torquing. Branch is experienced in defending the heel hook and begins rolling in the same direction that Palhares twists his leg, relieving the pressure on the knee.
As Branch rolls he also slips his knee out from between Palhares' legs. When they come to a stop, Palhares is belly down and attempts to switch to a kneebar but it is already too late. Branch's knee is already out of danger, Palhares holds on and attempts to scoot up to re-trap the knee but Branch scrambles away.
The setup starts with Palhares driving for a double leg takedown. Branch is fighting off the takedown, but when his back is driven into the fence his weight and hips come up for a second.
Palhares literally pushes his hips under Branch and then lays down on his side, pulling Branch forward and off balance. Palhares then maneuvers his hips to place Branch's right foot next to his hip, setting up the heel hook.
Branch again attempts to slip his knee out ad roll but this time Palhares locks his legs higher on Branch and prevents the leg from slipping free. Branch rolls to relieve the heel hook pressure on his leg. But with the leg still fully trapped when Palhares pushes his hips forward it turns into a keep bar forcing Branch to tap.
To close with here is a highlight reel of Palhares heel hooking from every angle:
*Heel Hook from Hell* (via NaledgeBJJvideos)