Last time I tried my hand at a post-event wrestling breakdown, the focus was on the offensive tactics of Khabib Nurmagomedov and the defensive errors of Dustin Poirier.
After UFC Boston, the wrestling performances that stand out both led to disappointing losses. Standout folkstyle wrestler and former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman got his base skill going early against light heavyweight contender Dom Reyes before walking into a flush counter soon after. For more on Weidman’s wrestling credentials, Coach Mike Riordan did a wonderful job providing context.
US men’s freestyle national team member and Daniel Cormier protege Deron Winn was able to complete plenty of takedowns, but gaps in his mixed martial arts game as a whole saw him fall behind on the cards. I plan on covering Winn in a more comprehensive fashion on a later date, including his freestyle career and how he’s looking to use his wrestling in MMA.
While it was over quickly, I thought it would be fun to examine the wrestling-specific situations of Weidman vs. Reyes and see what we can learn at a glance.
UFC Boston Post-Event Wrestling Breakdown
Chris Weidman vs. Dominick Reyes
I have relentlessly stressed the utility of reactive takedowns for wrestlers in MMA. The word “intercepting” might convey meaning a bit better, as reactive takedowns function like counters, capitalizing on motion.
The timing of the entry itself was near-perfect. Reyes pressured Weidman to the cage, then looked to uncork a rear straight when his opponent’s back hit the fence. Perhaps anticipating this, Weidman changed levels just as Reyes threw, slipping his head outside to the right as he took his penetration step.
Weidman isn’t the type to blow through an opponent with his double, at least not by driving them backward. He’s shown the ability to turn the corner reliably for finishes throughout his career, even when driving from less than ideal positions. In a perfect world. you get your opponent in a closed stance matchup, so that your penetrating knee can split the stance of your opponent, your head goes to the outside of the hip and your trail leg can be positioned outside their lead leg quickly.
From an open stance shot, there’s more maneuvering to be done. It’s risky, as it compromises your base, but Weidman showed a clever look by stepping across his body to his right on the penetration step. This way, when he quickly swings around his trail leg and pivots, he’s gained the dominant angle needed to at least drive straight on a double. In MMA, especially given their proximity to the cage in this moment, it’s not a bad idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s something Weidman has drilled specifically.
Weidman completes the turn and switches places with Reyes, leaving him very little space left to cover before he can find stability against the cage.
On his way to the fence, Reyes used a very shallow crossface and hip pressure to attempt to bump Weidman off to the side and get his back off the fence. It was nowhere near a strong position for Reyes, and yet he still took Weidman’s feet from here:
That micro-sequence alone highlights the risk involved with Weidman’s attack of choice. But like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Weidman has often been the kind of wrestler who hasn’t needed perfect entries, once he gets into wrestling situations his physicality and the rest of his competencies see him through. To his camp, it was probably just a matter of getting a hold of Reyes without being damaged.
Reyes’ persistent posting on the face after the fact forced Weidman to focus solely on pressing forward to avoid literally falling over. This killed the double, but Weidman was still able to slide up the legs to double underhooks, clasping on for a bodylock once his base was stable.
Weidman squeezed tight, straightened up and lifted, putting Reyes on his toes.
With his base completely compromised, Reyes had no answer to the outside trip. Weidman blocked the near leg and pulled Reyes to the right and backward, sending him tumbling to his butt.
To return to his feet, Reyes would need posts. Knowing that, Weidman went straight for the far wrist of Reyes. The other wrist was available, but Weidman made a more ambitious choice. With his arm already across the back from the bodylock, Weidman had the option of grabbing the far wrist and trapping behind Reyes’ back.
Some have been calling that “The Dagestani Handcuffs”. As it is a wrist ride from folkstyle wrestling, I’d prefer we didn’t attribute it to the Russians.
But against a larger man, it would take a bit more time and effort to get his arm through and snatch up the wrist. Because Weidman had committed both arms to attacking one target, Reyes was free to swim and turn to his knees. This forced Weidman to tighten back up on the waist and give up on the wrist ride.
The switch back to the waist proved to be the right one for Weidman, as he was able to cinch up the bodylock yet again as they rose back to their feet.
Crunching on the lock again, Weidman looked to drag for the finish, perhaps skipping the step of straightening Reyes’ posture. Reyes’ comparatively strong base limited how much Weidman was able to turn him away from the cage, and Reyes was able to break his fall against the fence and survive.
Reyes had looked to use a whizzer in both bodylock situations, but now that he had some space, he was able to dig a single underhook and get Weidman standing straight. Without a dominant position, Weidman’s offense against the cage, all stemming from an opportunistic entry, had ended.
We knew entries were there for Weidman off Reyes’ offense. But if Weidman truly wanted to control the fight, he’d have to create wrestling situations with his own offense as well. Attempting to press Reyes to the fence with a short combination, Weidman’s lunging 1-2 left his head on a platter, and that was the end.
Chris Weidman’s time as an elite fighter is probably over. He’s been a big strong, exceptional chain wrestler his entire UFC career. His competency in striking had grown leaps and bounds, but at the end of the day the tactics to wrestle safely were never quite ingrained in his game.
When your durability fades, those fatal details expose themselves in dramatic fashion.
Next time you see me writing about wrestling in MMA, our subject will be Gregor Gillespie. Is his game shaping up to be one that will endure late in his career? Find out in two weeks.