Demian Maia has long been known as one of the very best jiu jitsu practitioners in the world, and he has been on a 2-year, 6-fight winning streak that has featured masterful grappling performances. His most recent submission of Carlos Condit on the UFC on Fox 21 card turned heads. Condit is well known for being a very able, dangerous grappler and Maia submitted him in just under two minutes.
Maia's grappling game has always been strong but in the years since his loss to Anderson Silva, he has been working very hard on improving his wrestling. Those improvements have fed into his ground grappling and the Condit fight was a prime example of that.
The fight starts off in on open guard square up - Maia in southpaw and Condit in orthodox (1). As Maia pressures forward, both paw at the air and Condit switches stances to mirror to Maia (2). Condit then spends some time circling, trying to avoid being trapped against the cage where Maia wants to the match to be in order to take away Condit's ranged striking game (3). As Maia starts to pressure more, Condit switches stances back to orthodox (4). As soon as Condit's left foot steps forward, Maia shoots in for a single leg, going under the extended left hand of Condit (5). The speed and smoothness of this reaction suggests a shot in response to the left coming forward is a trained reaction. This is important because technically speaking the shot itself was not particularly clean and 's explosion into it was not outstanding. What made that shot so effective was Maia's timing, he recognized that Condit was shifting his weight and that it would delay defensive reactions and was immediately able to close the distance without threat of counter offense.
This idea of closing the gap efficiently and for free on the feet because shooting in is the weakest part of Maia's takedown game, but once Maia is in his takedown finishes are top notch. Maia secures a tight hold on Condit's left leg, with his head on the outside, known as a high crotch (1). It is at this point were the evolution of Maia's wrestling over the last six years become evident. Maia continues to drive forward, pushing Condit to his right, potentially looking to switch to a double leg (2). Condit reaches his right hand over and begins to start digging for a crotch grip of his own, possibly looking to work a switch (3).
Maia then begins to chain wrestle, constantly changing directions on Condit, driving Condit to his right looking to switch to a double leg, and then switching to Condit's left to a takedown known as a crackdown. Here is a current Assistant Coach of the Arizona State Wrestling Team, Chris Pendleton, formerly of the University of Wyoming, teaching the crackdown takedown as an option from the high crotch grip when the double leg isn't an option .
Maia attempts this takedown once, and when Condit reacts Maia switches his head towards the inside to set up more single leg finishes. As soon as Maia feels a defensive reaction from Condit he then switches to another crackdown. This time Condit's momentum was already taking him in that direction, and he is unable to stop Maia from taking him down. As important as the takedown is where Maia lands after the takedown.
Condit understands he is going down and makes an effort to win the transition to the ground and establish his guard. Condit has a very savvy and dangerous closed guard, and Brain Stann mentioned on the broadcast that the game plan for Condit was to use his closed guard and a barrage of elbows to slow Maia down and tire him out.
At the higher levels of grappling, the closed guard isn't a common sight because it isn't something high level grapplers willingly put themselves in. The closed guard is something earned by the guard player, not given to him. One of the most common ways to end up in the closed guard in sport jiu jitsu competition is after a takedown, the grappler who scored the takedown's momentum carries him to his knees while the bottom grappler has accepted the takedown and looks to recover the guard on the way down.
It takes quite a bit of experience in standing grappling to be able to execute takedowns in a live environment with the feel and control to score without going to one's knees if it isn't necessary. Maia knees touch the mat for the briefest of moments, but he immediately bounces back to this feet and the whole time maintains control of Condit's left leg, and this denies Condit this closed guard. At this point Condit can attempt to play an open guard, but the most effective tools at creating space in the open guard are the feet. Condit's feet are already out of play though, and the only barriers Condit has left are posting with his arms and his knees.
Maia has, in effect, not only taken Condit down, but landed in an ideal position to begin attacking for guard passes. The fact that the passes available from here are some of Maia's best and most used passes suggest this isn't an accident, but again a purposely trained aspect of Maia's game.
Maia throws a right hand and then begins to switch his hips to face towards Condit's legs (1). This take's Condit's hands out of position and slides Maia over Condit's left knee and by the right knee. So while Maia is still in half guard, it is very ineffectual as Maia is now passed most of Condit's defenses and is able to put pressure down on him. Condit knows he is in trouble and hips in to bring his knee back into play (2) and he is able to work to the original start position (3), but Maia tripods by dropping his head and raising his hips (4). He floats over Condit's knees and pins him with a strong cross face (5). Now Condit's only life line is maintaining control of Maia's leg, but Maia drives Condit's right knee to the ground and pushes into the three quarters mount position (6).
Condit is in desperation escape mode now - he turns dramatically and attempts to stand up. Maia's hooks are too quick (1) and he quickly locks on a seat belt grip too, which allows to remain attached to Condit's back when he attempts to shake Maia off his back (2). Once the back is secured Maia begins working on the rear naked choke. Condit's chin appears to be tucked but Maia's arm is in contact with either side of Condit's neck, and with proper pressure he can still apply the choke.
Here is BJJ luminary Braulio Estima explaining the details of this variation of the rear naked choke.
Maia's six-fight win streak at welterweight is due to a focusing of his game. Maia's wrestling game has made big strides in aftermath of his struggles in 2010-2012, and the growth of his stand up grappling has complemented his mat grappling as well. Maia being able to take Condit down directly into a position he prefers for passing is like starting a race with a head start. Avoiding situations like Condit's is often why guard players pull guard so quickly, so they can begin ground work on their terms with their guard fully formed.
Maia has spoken about how wrestling actually forms the linchpin of his game. This isn't to say that idea of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu players understanding and training trakedowns to help them get fights to the mat is new in anyway, but the art has a history of many top practitioners from Rolls Gracie to Marcelo Garica going outside the art to expand their views of grappling. Personal grappling games are in constant state of evolution and to close with here is Part 2 of the BJJ Scout's excellent Maia passing study which highlights how Maia's guard passing has changed over the course of his MMA career from his sport jiu jitsu days.