Welcome to a new series! Past Wrestling for MMA articles have focused on entire fights and careers to demonstrate the way striking and wrestling can be linked in mixed martial arts.
This sort of analysis is great when looking at full systems. Admittedly, there aren’t all that many fighters whose games are that specialized. More frequently, these concepts show up in brief sequences, both with and without long-term planning.
While I’d argue he’s fast approaching having a full-on wrestling for MMA system of his own, Tiger Muay Thai’s Petr Yan demonstrates linked maneuvers and strategies fairly often.
Yan’s extensive history in amateur boxing developed his footwork and motion - he understands how play with levels, feint, touch, dip on angles and pivot or cut diagonally. Most of wrestling at the highest level is about anticipating behavior and countering. The Russian national freestyle team are all incredible examples of how to make reads, lay traps and capitalize. While Yan does not have a significant background in wrestling, his sport IQ has clearly translated across domains.
Take a look at how one read from Petr Yan leads to a slick takedown.
Petr Yan vs. Urijah Faber, UFC 245
Just as World champion Gadzhimurad Rashidov does in wrestling, Petr Yan takes a few minutes to apply controlled pressure, mostly by feinting and testing the reactions of his opponent.
Not only is this a great way to gather new information, it may serve to confirm reads made pre-fight that are an essential piece of the gameplan.
Early on, after a few exchanges, Yan picked up on a huge advantage he held. He was able to strike with power and accuracy off clinch breaks - Faber either had a bad habit of disengaging with his hands down, or he was having a hard time recognizing the rhythm and timing of Petr Yan.
To truly make the most of this advantage, Yan would need a reliable way to enter clinch situations with Faber. As seen several times through his ACB and UFC career, Yan likes to hit an outside slip on the far side, pivot and clutch or pivot and circle to strike. In this open stance matchup, the best opportunity would be to slip outside of Faber’s favorite weapons - rear overhands and rear hooks.
While Faber had shown the lead hook a good bit while Yan pressured, when push came to shove, he was firing off that overhand, especially when Yan appeared to be fully committing to entries. It’s likely he zeroed in on John Dodson’s flash knockdown on Yan and was looking for a similar simultaneous counter.
In the midst of a fight with many other ideas and dynamics developing at high speed, Yan found spots to connect the dots on these two reads.
Each sequence begins with a committed lead from Yan, which in turns draws the rear hand counter.
Both from orthodox and southpaw, Yan kept his eye on Faber’s right side. He closed distance on his lead, angling his body to the left in preparation.
In the above sequence, you can see Faber’s right hand primed to swing high.
Yan’s first priority is to clear that arm. On the uppercut lead sequence, Yan does most of the work with a true slip to the left, but more often he’s bending at the waist to make sure he’s safe.
The distance between the two and the way Yan slips the right hand are key factors in determining what Yan can do next.
Slipping a right hand from that distance usually results in that cross-body position, with your feet planted. Ideally, Yan could pivot on his left, step back with his right and regain his stance to capitalize on that left-side angle.
Either by design, or because of the momentum Faber carries forward on his rear hand counter, Yan ends up having Faber crash into him, making it more difficult to lighten his base.
While being jammed like that might not be ideal in a boxing context, it’s great for anyone looking to wrestle in MMA. Whenever someone aggressively bursting forward, there is an opportunity for a reactive takedown entry by their opponent. Usually this means a leg attack, but Yan’s positioning off the slip doesn’t really allow for that. I’m sure he also considered Faber’s habit of hunting for guillotines.
Instead, he plays off the natural motion of the outside slip.
It wasn’t until Faber completely threw his body forward that the takedown fell into Yan’s lap.
Yan led with the right hand and immediately began to weave under and to his left. The level change loads Faber onto Yan’s back. Yan immediately begins to turn in and postures up with his head high and his blocking hand ready to pass Faber’s right arm.
Any counter maneuvering with footwork is almost impossible for Faber, Yan’s posturing literally lifted him off the ground. Notice that Yan has weaved through that rear straight and hooked it up and across Faber’s chest. Not only does this allow him to keep Faber tight while he completes the transition to the back, it will become one half of his grip when he gets to rear standing.
Yan steps in with his left foot and back with his right while circling, reaching across the back to pull Faber’s lat.
Once in rear standing, Yan shows off a relatively underutilized mat return. Pulling hard with the rear standing lock, Yan drops levels and turns his body away, switching his feet and kicking across with his right leg. With the explosive turn and pull, Faber is forced backward, and his base is tripped out by that blocking leg.
You actually don’t see this return all that often in wrestling. In freestyle, in rear standing, defending wrestlers tend to default to the “quad-pod”, basing forward on their hands to prevent their knee from touching the mat. The idea is typically to stall out the position and get a restart from the referee. In folkstyle, that would be considered a takedown, but a rule against the controlling wrestler leaving their feet on the mat return prevents use of this specific move.
Petr Yan isn’t the only fighter finding grappling opportunities off the outside slip. Champions like Valentina Shevchenko and solid contenders like Marlon “Chito” Vera alike are finding success with this kind of maneuver. “Chito” Vera’s entries were especially fun against Andre Ewell, where he turned that clutch position into an arm triangle attempt.
If you enjoyed this breakdown, please feel free to recommend other interesting MMA takedowns for future articles!