Rafael Lovato Jr. accomplished his goal of becoming a champion in a major MMA promotion on Saturday, June 22, when he outworked Gegard Mousasi to win the Bellator middleweight title in the main event of Bellator Europe 3.
Lovato Jr. (10-0 MMA, 6-0 BMMA) implemented a grappling-heavy strategy to wear out Mousasi. Rafael is an accomplished BJJ competitor and one of the few grapplers that have been able to successfully apply their submission grappling tools in MMA.
As you can see in the tweet above, Lovato used a beautiful deep half guard technique in order to escape from the bottom and come on top.
This article was inspired by this technique so we will study here several clips of Rafael and other fighters successfully applying deep half guard tactics in MMA.
Deep Half Guard Basics
Deep half guard is a variation of BJJ’s half guard position where fighters on the bottom trap their opponents’ foot between their legs in order to prevent them from passing the guard to side control.
Here are some basic deep half guard instructional videos:
Here are some additional sweeps:
Deep half guard application in MMA
In recent years there has been considerable debate over the effectiveness of deep half guard in MMA. Indeed, there is the risk of getting punched in the face from this bottom position.
Believe it or not some wrestlers love the top half guard position in MMA. Their opponents trap themselves on the bottom by scissoring their legs, trying to go for sweeps from the bottom and although half guard does prevent the guard pass, wrestlers often do not care about passing at all. They only care about landing ground n’ pound strikes. Top half guard can be a good place to be in order to land such strikes.
Additionally, in wrestling competition, wrestlers use a move called “leg turk” to keep opponents from going belly down, turn them and pin them. This is similar to top half guard.
Here are some details on leg turks:
Top Half Guard
Full fight video: https://www.ufc.com/video/ufc-200-free-fight-brock-lesnar-vs-frank-mir
Below you can see Frank Mir himself with some grappling tips from top half guard.
Additional resources: Maurício “Shogun” Rua had some relative success with deep half guard early in his career. An interesting read about this topic is available here on BE:
Successful deep half guard application examples
The Nogueira brothers were both able to use DHG very effectively during their MMA career. The most famous clip of successful deep half guard application in MMA is Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira sweeping Tim Sylvia back in UFC 81.
In the clip below you can see how Nogueira is able to underhook Sylvia’s left foot and sweep him thus coming on top. This was possible due to the fact that Tim tried to stand up from the top knee shield half guard position.
Here is Minotauro teaching some half guard basics:
Finally below is a video tutorial analyzing Antonio Rogerio Nogueira’s version of a deep half-guard sweep:
Fabricio is a very talented grappler and two sample clips showcasing his deep half guard wizardry can be examined bellow. These specific clips are from his fight against Alexander Volkov in UFC Fight Night 127
Description: Volkov attacks with punches and Fabricio ducks under for a single leg takedown. As Volkov sprawls, Werdum sits on the ground under his leg and goes for deep half guard control, sweeps his opponent and lands on top open guard. Notice in photo four how Werdum pushes his opponent’s chin up to keep his posture high. In order to avoid a lengthy description here is a detailed variation of this sweep from Jeff Glover:
Description: Here is another deep half guard sweep, this time used to get an opponent’s back. Werdum goes again for a single leg and sits down. He underhooks a leg and gets under his opponent to secure the deep half guard. In photo 4 above, he uses his left hook (instep) under his opponent’s calf to elevate and push the foot over in order to go under his hip and get the back. Here is a detailed instructional of a similar sweep:
It is important to study how Fabricio is able to get the deep half guard from a failed single leg takedown. This is a common way to establish this position in an MMA fight.
Rafael Lovato Jr.
Rafael Lovato employs a very successful grappling game, which is perfectly modified for MMA. When he is trapped in the bottom position, he keeps unbalancing his opponents in order to force them to post their hands on the floor. This way they cannot focus too much on landing strikes from the top.
In the clips below, Lovato gets the DHG from failed takedowns. As we examined in Werdum’s clips, deep half works great with wrestling scrambles.
Technique #1: Outside trip
In both examples below, Rafael goes for a takedown and his opponent uses a hard whizzer and a sprawl to slam Lovato down. Lovato uses is right foot to hook his opponent’s left leg, triangle-locks his feet, gets up on his right knee (keeping the leg triangle), grabs the back with his right hand, connects his hands in tight waist control and uses an outside trip to get a takedown from the knees.
Technique #2: Waist control to the back
If his opponent manages to use a whizzer (overhook) to avoid the outside trip, Lovato keeps tight waist control by connecting his hands and stands up with the opponent in an attempt to go for the back.
Here is another cool transition where Lovato switches to his opponent’s opposite foot in a X-guard-like position, escapes to the back, stands up and get a single leg control. Pretty impressive stuff!!!
MMA is not submission grappling and strikes change the game in a devastating fashion. Additionally, modern MMA fighters roll with BJJ black belts in training sessions all the time. Just because accomplished grapplers like Rafael or Fabricio can make BJJ sweeps work, this does not mean that your average MMA fighter can do the same. It modern MMA you are (probably) winning the fight when fighting from the top. As a BJJ practitioner, I find this very unfortunate but that is just the way judges score MMA fights nowadays.
That being said, as you can see in the aforementioned examples, deep half guard CAN be effective in MMA as long as fighters keep unbalancing their opponents to avoid getting punched in the face and do not try to force sweeps. The sweeping game is about timing, not force.
Finally DHG works better when it is used as a tool to achieve a goal (for example a sweep or reversal) but should not be used as a winning strategy in a similar manner as it is used in BJJ competition where athletes just pull guard and start employing their bottom half guard game. This is not a winning strategy against punches. If fighters keep that in mind, they can use grappling in MMA more effectively.
This will be all for now. Both constructive criticism and additional information in the comments section are welcome. Join me next week for the final article of my ongoing Mike Tyson technique breakdown series featuring body punches and uppercuts.
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 black belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).