A trapping technique in MMA consists of your hand pushing or blocking your opponent’s hand to momentarily limit its range of motion, clear the way and close the distance in a safe manner in order to clinch, shoot for a takedown or attack with strikes.
There are other definitions of trapping techniques originating from various fighting disciplines but this article will focus on techniques as defined above.
Jeet Kune Do practitioners use the term “trapping range” but in MMA this range is also wrestling and/or clinching range. Wrestlers often use trapping to get arm drags, block limbs from posting and open up defensive barriers. This article focuses on trapping techniques and not on trapping as a fighting range.
To help you identify a number of common applications, I list here several techniques that incorporate some form of trapping. Although most examples are from my previous breakdowns on BloodyElbow, I was also able to include some newer ones. To present a diverse approach on this topic I focus on specific fighters and how they employ trapping in their game. These are Valentina Shevchenko, Floyd Mayweather, Daniel Cormier, Lyoto Machida, Ovince Saint Preux, Alexander Gustafsson and Jon Jones.
Traditional martial arts trapping techniques
Traditional martial arts trapping techniques will not work in a cage. Opponents will not leave their hands extended forever for you to keep attacking. Once the punch is launched the arm will go back to its defensive posture. I am also not a fan of traditional continuous trapping combinations, where for example you trap with your left hand, punch with the right, then trap with the right and punch with the left.
Finally trapping transitions to joint manipulations when in standing positions will not work in MMA or in self defense. Especially inside a cage, wrestling and strikes will nullify such techniques. On the other hand the Thai clinch, overhooks, underhooks, neck ties and 2-on-1 grips are very effective in MMA especially when your opponents are with their back against the cage and are great ways to control an opponent in order to land strikes.
Are trapping techniques “high-percentage” moves?
The phrase “high-percentage moves” refers to techniques that can be applied against fully resisting opponents and have a high probability of achieving the desired results.
People often insist that trapping is not effective because nobody uses such techniques in the cage. This is not true. As you will see below, I was able to identify several successful attempts in a small number of UFC cards. The reason you do not see them applied in MMA so often is because fighters do not train in them. Most fighters train in boxing and Muay Thai and most coaches of these disciplines do not teach trapping.
So, are trapping techniques high-percentage? The answer is they are starting to be. All it takes is a couple of fighters to be successful in using a technique and everyone will start training in them. For example you can ask yourselves who attacked with oblique kicks before Jon Jones? Only a handful of fighters did. Now such attacks are pretty common. Similarly, I have noticed that more and more fighters utilize trapping tactics nowadays.
Training for technique effectiveness
Effective techniques base their fundamentals on fighting principles, proper use of mechanics and tactics. That being said, please keep in mind that it is always the individual that makes the technique effective. For example, not all wrestlers are great at double leg takedowns and not all boxers have great jabs. That does not mean that double leg takedowns or jabs are not effective.
In order for a technique to become effective, you need to consistently train and apply the move in sparring sessions against experienced fighters. Only then you will be able to troubleshoot the technique and modify it in order to make it work. Keep in mind, that some techniques take years of drilling and incorporating them into different set-ups before they can produce measurable results.
Trapping as a “range-finding” tactic
Every fighter needs a “range-finder” technique or tactic to be successful. Most fighters are effective in a specific range. Examples of “range-finders” are the jab, the teep kick, feints or in Mike Tyson’s case, his bobbing and weaving movement. Trapping is often used as a “range finder” in order to effectively close the distance. Here is an example:
In photo 2 above, against Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier touches Alex’s left hand with his own. He establishes a sense of distance, and explodes with a left jab, only to come nearer in order to land a powerful right hand. Cormier often exhibits explosive penetration in his efforts to close the distance.
Covering openings with trapping
Trapping can also be used to cover an obvious opening in your defense as you initiate an attack. For example trapping your opponent’s hands to momentarily immobilize them in order to land a knee to the body. You can see Alistair Overeem in this gif using this in a very effective knee attack. The concept can also be used in punching exchanges as you can see below:
Rob Font pushes Thomas Almeida with his back against the cage. Font extends his left hand in a trapping motion (photo 3) in order to touch Almeida’s right hand and rolls under an incoming left hook. Rob attacks with a beautiful right hook to the body from a crouching stance and goes upstairs for a left hook and a right hand.
Using trapping to land knees and kicks
Here are some useful breakdowns and tutorials on using trapping in order to stay safe when landing knees and kicks.
Opening a fighter’s guard: Lyoto Machida and Ovince St. Preux
Lyoto Machida steps forward and uses his left hand in a jab-like motion to push Sam Hoger’s hand to the right and clear the path in order to go for a right hand. This prevents Hoger from blocking the punch.
So far, the best punch on Jon Jones was landed by Ovince Saint Preux. As you can see above, OSP goes for a jab which Jones slips. Ovince’s jab on the way back pushes Jones’ left hand down, getting it out of the way while also measuring distance (Photo 3). This is a great way for Ovince to land a great right hand. Watch the gif to appreciate the beautiful execution of this technique.
Southpaw trapping options to neutralizing an orthodox fighters’ guard: Valentina Shevchenko
Southpaw fighter Valentina Shevchenko often uses trapping to attack with left hands and follow up kicks. In the sequence above against Priscila Cachoeira, Valentina steps her left foot to the outside of Priscila’s left foot and traps Cachoeira’s left hand pushing it down. This enables her to land a beautiful straight left hand.
In this example, Valentina goes for a Georges St. Pierre classic move: a left superman punch to a right low kick. What’s interesting in this application is how Valentina uses her right hand to trap Amanda Nunes’ left hand before going for the move. This technique is a great way to close the distance against a taller opponent like Nunes.
In the sequence above, Valentina uses the same move, this time attacking with a left cross and not a superman punch. In photo 2, she traps the hand, goes for a left hand and a right low kick. She’s able to get out of danger in time, as Nunes attacks with a left kick of her own. This is how to press the action against taller opponents. This trapping tactic is also indicative of a southpaw fighter’s game against an orthodox opponent: to neutralize and dominate the jab, pushing it down and to the inside as they move their own front foot to the outside.
Using trapping to dominate southpaws: Floyd “Money” Mayweather
In my article Floyd Mayweather: Fighting Southpaws, Part 1 I elaborate extensively on Floyd’s use of trapping to dominate southpaw opponents. Here are some excerpts:
With his back against the ropes, Floyd often uses trapping to escape from a jab or left hook with a left pivot. He uses a check-hook-like trapping move. If the trapping effort misses, a boxer can grab the back of his opponent’s neck, controlling their posture in a wrestling neck-tie fashion while they continue moving out of danger with the pivot as you can see above.
Above, you can see a beautiful sequence where Floyd uses extending hand connections to land a series of body punches. These extended hands are used to create diversions, trap hands, block the opponent’s vision and also establish distance. In photo 2 you can see him connecting with the high guard. These connecting hands are not punches. He just touches his opponents head or guard.
Technique #3: Right hand trapping domination to a right cross
Another common tactic used by orthodox fighters is to dominate their southpaw opponent’s front right hand as you can see below.
When using this tactic, if his opponent attacks with a jab, Floyd can just hit it down as if he was using a hammerfist and land a right cross as in the example below against Robert Guerrero:
Here is another similar example where Floyd uses trapping to go for a right hand and misses.
Technique #4: Right hand trapping domination to a left jab
Another option for Floyd using this trapping motion is to land a jab of his own over the top as you can examine in the clip above. In the following images we will analyze some MMA applications of this technique.
Using Trapping to Neutralize Extended Arms: Alexander Gustafsson and Ovince Saint Preux
Technique #1: Countering an orthodox fighter’s right extended arm
Here Daniel Cormier extends his right hand and Gus pushes the arm down and delivers a left jab over the top. As you will see below trapping is very important when dealing with extended arm guards or grabbing attempts.
Technique #2: A southpaw countering an orthodox fighter’s left extended arm
In the photos above, before Jones could connect his hand like he often does in order to apply wrist pressure, OSP snaps Jon’s hand downwards getting his wrist free, keeps pushing Jones’ hand down and disengages by landing a right jab
Trapping to spinning back elbow: Jon “Bones” Jones
It is common for Jon Jones to extend his arms defensively in order to keep distance between him and his opponents or to use trapping tactics to strike using elbows and clinch attacks.
This is Jon Jones’ double extended guard:
If Jones cannot grab both hands he will go for one.
In the photos above Jones’ left hand is able to trap Saint Preux’s right wrist and Jon uses the control to attack with a spinning back elbow. You may notice that while maintaining wrist control, Jon extends his right hand as if he is going for a right elbow or punch in order to gain momentum, then spins and goes for the spinning left elbow.
Using trapping to deal with the extended arm head control: Glover Texeira
In the photo above, Glover Teixeira employs a successful tactic whenever Jones touches his forehead. He just uses his front hand to remove Jon’s hand in a trapping motion and uses punches to close the distance. Glover traps and pushes away Jones’ hand and attacks with a right hand and a series of punches. However head hunting is not the way to go with Jon Jones as I analyze in my article Defeating the G.O.A.T: How to beat Jon Jones pt. 1 and part 2.
Technique #2: Attacking the body
The head grab is a like stationary jab and you should treat it as such. The best targets to land once you trap the hand are the ribs and armpit area. Here Glover traps/pushes the hand, lands with a right cross to the ribs (photo 3) and misses with a left hook and right uppercut.
These are just some examples of trapping techniques applied against top level competition. I suggest you give trapping a chance as it can certainly be effective.
That will be all for now. Please join me next week for another breakdown. For a list of my previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.
About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).