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Judo Chop 'Year of the Guillotine': Part 3 - MMA Adaptations

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T.P. closes the 'Year of the Guillotine' mini-series with a look at the MMA specific ways fighters are catching guillotines.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

This is the final installment of the "Year of the Guillotine" min-series of Judo Chops examining trends that lead to the guillotine becoming a more prominent submission in 2015 than ever before in MMA. Part I explored the increased understanding of how to apply pressure to the choke and how that has lead to the evolution of new, more efficient grips. Part II looked at the arm-in guillotine in particular as it was once was considered a less-desirable grip but last year was the most used single grip to finish the submission.

So thus far this series has dealt with finishing details of the guillotine, but how fighters are getting the to guillotine is just as, if not more, important. A quick good search of guillotine chokes will bring up a lot of videos showing how to set up a guillotine from the guard. While catching guillotines during guard play and mat scrambles is common is sport grappling in 2015 in the UFC only 3 out of 23 actually started during ground grappling and none of them were caught from guard play.

The way guillotines are caught in modern MMA has a great deal to do with modern MMA wrestling and grappling. Catching guillotines off of shot takedowns is a classic set up, but the improvements in the overall quality of wrestling in MMA has improved and that has caused guillotine set ups to evolve as well.

Let's step back ten years and look at how a standing guillotine was taught classically:

Now this is not a bad video at all, in fact Rener and Ryron Gracie show some excellent details on how to put pressure on the choke. But notice that while there is excellent detail on the choke itself, the actually act of stopping the takedown is largely glossed over. The guillotine itself is seen as the defense to the takedown.

Now let's look at UFC fighter Pedro Munhoz teaching a guillotine in a video from June of 2015.

Notice how much more time Munhoz spends on the actual act of stopping the takedown, and how his heavy sprawl and control of his opponent's head leads to a far superior guillotine position. Munhoz utterly breaks his opponent's posture, traps an arm with is leg, and has an excellent angle for his arm-in guillotine.

Using the fundamentals of stopping a takedown and then controlling an opponent towards the goal of setting up a guillotine again isn't a new idea, Alexandre Cacareco was famous for his wrestling and guillotine game in the early 2000's. It is a matter of the skill-sets becoming wider spread as the way MMA rules are enforced and bouts are scored encourage a very wrestling-centered style of grappling. The standing guillotine setups often come off wrestling exchanges. Some of them look very similar to the Gracie video, often when an opponent is hurt and shooting desperation shots. Others involve stopping a shot in the center of the cage first, like Fabricio Werdum's choke of Cain Velasquez.

The cage plays a pivotal role in MMA takedown defense, and MMA clinch exchanges almost always end up against the fence, and cage grappling was a factor in the majority of standing guillotine set ups in 2015. An outstanding example of cage grappling leading to a guillotine occurred in Warlley Alves vs. Colby Covington at UFC 194.

Convington had actually taken Alves down, but Alves wall walked back up to his feet with Convington pressing him into the cage (1). Alves gets a strong collar tie with his left arm (2) and forces Convington's head to Alves' right side, his preferred side for guillotines, and establishes a strong overhook (3). Alves makes a frame with his right forearm on Convington's jaw (4). Alves takes a quick look at a guillotine, but when Convington pops out Alves reestablishes his frame, this time forcing Convington's head down (5). Alves has maintained his overhook and now Alves circles Convington's neck with his right arm, connecting his grip and jumping guard in the same moment (6). The finish comes very quickly.

In this case Alves used superior grip fighting to put Convington's head in position, but guillotines are also powerful weapons against shots against the cage.

Arnold Allen is in third round of his UFC debut with Alan Omer and has been taken down against the cage (1). Allen starts to work his way to his knees and actually is threatened with a guillotine himself (2), which is a very real threat that will be explored later. Allen works his way up, careful to keep his hands on the mat to keep from being kneed (3), and wins his way back onto the feet (4). Omer maintains his connection to Allen, and in this position most MMA fighters are looking for a way to take their opponents down through a variety of trips, throws, and takedowns. A tried and true method is to shoot in on an opponent's legs and attempt to pull his hips away from the cage. Omer attempts just this, but bends a bit too much at the waist and leaves his head by Allen's hip (5). Allen quickly scoops up Omer's neck and locks up a full on figure-four grip, known as the Ninja Choke (6). Allen uses the choke to twist Omer down to the mat and finishes the choke from top position.

Allen turned a slightly sloppy shot against a wall walk into a fight ending submission, but he first had to fend off a guillotine. The three guillotines on 2015 that started during ground grappling, all of them came when a fighter was attempt to stand up. To close the series let's take a look at an example.

Aljamain Sterling as Johnny Eduardo down in their December bout and is striking while working against Eduardo's guard. Sterling's right arm is free and his throwing strikes at a variety of angles and with several feints (1). Eduardo gives up on guard play and posts his left elbow on the mat and starts to scoot his hips out, Sterling reacts instantly and shoots his right arm to encircle Eduardo's neck (2). Eduardo freezes and Sterling is able to connect his grip (3) and starts to apply pressure (4). Sterling applies the finishing touch by stepping his left leg up and over Eduardo, forcing a fast tap (5).

And there are, generally speaking, how every guillotine of 2015 was set up: off a shot, defending a takedown against the cage, or while an opponent was attempting to escape back to their feet. The conclusion that can be drawn from this series is that the increase of guillotines seen in 2014 and 2015 comes from a growing awareness of efficient ways to apply pressure and superior grips crossed over from sport grappling to intersect with a current MMA metagame, whose emphasis on wrestling, cage grappling, and wall walking has forced fighters to acquire the skills needed to create more quality opportunities for guillotines.

It is hard to say if this trend will continue. Submission offense was, for time, a badly neglected skill by many MMA fighters. But the ability to turn small windows of opportunity into fight ending offense is a powerful tool for an MMA fighter, and it seems to be a skills set many fighters are reinvesting in, so while the guillotine may not stay in vogue, another submission may rise to take its place.