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What Mike Goldberg Means When He Says 'Turk'

Fairly regularly, we hear UFC broadcaster Mike Goldberg say that a fighter has a "turk" while grappling on the ground. Bloody Elbow wrestling specialist Mike Riordan tells you what he means, and if he's even right in the first place.

Ethan Miller

Ladies and gentlemen, I come here today not to bury Mike Goldberg, but to praise him.

Well, maybe not praise him, but at least defend him.

In the past few years, I've noticed people snickering at the long-time UFC play-by-play man when he mentions a fighter using something called a "turk" during a grappling phase of a bout. I know that you meanies out there like to take any chance you can find to take a shot at Goldy. Perhaps, in some cases, he deserves some criticism, but not this time. Goldberg has routinely properly identified the turk, a well known wrestling maneuver, as fighters have applied it in MMA.

Turks take part in a strange trend where moves within the lexicon of American wrestling moves bare the names of foreign nationalities. Usually the ascribed national origins make some semblance of sense. Wrestling fans may regularly see a Russian wrestler use a Russian tie, or an Iranian wrestler use an Iranian lift, and while I'm not sure if I have ever seen a Japanese wrestler use a Japanese whizzer, but it wouldn't surprise me if it happened. However, wrestlers from Turkey seldom turk their opponents. Turks (the move) are primarily useful in American folkstyle wrestling, while Turks (the people) wrestle only the Olympic styles, as well as their indigenous oil-wrestling.

Turks are not just a single, simple technique, rather, the term "turk" refers to a family of leg-based turns used to elicit back exposure in American wrestling. While turks sometimes result in match ending pins, they primarily serve only to widen a top wrestler's lead by racking up near-fall points.

Turks come in a variety of styles:


Above, Penn State national champion Frank Molinaro turns Purdue All-American Ivan Lopouchanski in what is sometimes called a high-leg turk. Molinaro starts off with his legs wrapped around Lopouchanski's left leg in a tight figure four. The Penn State wrestler then uses his left arm to "frame" his opponent's face with the pit of the elbow underneath the chin. The figure four and framed face collapse Lopouchanski backward, turning him until his back faces the mat, earning near-fall points for Molinaro.


In this sequence, Cornell National Champ Cam Simaz hits a bent-legged turk on Rutgers's Dan Rinaldi. Simaz frames Rinaldi's face with his right arm, while reaching back with his left, using the crook of his elbow to cup the Rutgers wrestler's right foot. The trapped foot and framed face squeeze together, bowing Rinaldi's spine backward, turning him, and earning near-fall points for Simaz. This move looks painful because it is painful, in fact, it's down-right mean.


While the first two varieties are valued members of the turk family, conventionally, when people say turk without qualification or modification, they mean the classic low-leg turk. Here, Iowa double national champion Brent Metcalf turns Penn State's Bubba Jenkins in a low-leg turk. Notice how high Metcalf must elevate his leg under Jenkins thigh to tilt the Penn State wrestler to the angle requisite for back exposure. Metcalf expedites the process by cross- facing Jenkins and grabbing his far shoulder.

When the UFC's Goldberg says "turk" while calling fights, he is identifying a low-leg turk, and this reflects common wrestling parliance. In the Tony Martin vs. Rashid Magomedov fight at UFC 169, he observed that Martin, while in half guard, used the turk to flatten out Magomedov in the exact moment pictured below.


The numbered notations in the screenshot explain how Goldy gets it right.

1. Goldberg correctly identifies that Martins right knee rests under Magomedov's right thigh, ready to provide upward pressure which will force the Russian fighter's back to the ground.

2. Martin wants Magomedov flat on his back where landing effective ground strikes proves easier, to help this process, his arm frames Magomedov's face.

I'll be honest, it's not a very good turk, in fact, it's only a turk in the loosest sense of the word. Martin's leg provides no elevation, and his chest does not touch the mat on the far side of his opponent's body like in the college wrestling examples above. Despite all this, all the necessary ingredients are present, and Goldberg technically does not err in describing the pictured situation as a turk. Furthermore, many fighters with wrestling bases, while on top and in half guard, use this technique as a means of keeping their adversary flat, and under control. In other words, Goldberg keeps mentioning turks because fighters keep using them to some degree or another.

So, the next time you gather with your buddies to watch a UFC card, and Mike Goldberg mentions a fighter "using a turk", please refrain from snorting with ridicule and chortling derisively at his expense. In the case of turking UFC fighters, the man has decent command over the concept.