Wednesday, August 7, 2013

BJJ To MMA: Sergio Moraes Breakdown UFC 163


In the early days of MMA, there was an expectation that all BJJ fighters could fight MMA, as BJJ was the dominant style of the era. It's dominance wasn't purely based on effectiveness but rather it exploited the lack of knowledge of their opponent, their errors.

Initially, if you could prevent the takedown, you were safe against the BJJ fighter. Eventually the rest of the world caught up in BJJ knowledge and was born modern MMA.

Now with so much muddying of the water, there seems to be no pure water BJJ left in MMA anymore. Just sparks of it, or moments of fantastic Jiu Jitsu, and we still wonder if a BJJ champion can still dominate MMA like they dominate the BJJ Mundials; that BJJ is still relevant as an art in itself for MMA.

There are certain BJJ competitors that fans will watch, and proclaim, "they'll do well in MMA." They can't be just anyone. They have to be strong, have good takedowns, good control from top, a bully on the mat as opposed to a pure technician, large for their weight class, but most of all, fast.

Someone like Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza had more MMA hype behind them than Roger Gracie did (though Roger Gracie has defeated Jacare on more than one occasion in BJJ). Jacare was more athletic and opportunistic with his style, rather than Roger Gracie who was more slow and methodical.

There's more to being good at MMA than being athletic, but it seems to be a minimum requirement. Another name with much anticipation was Sergio "The Panther" Moraes, who was a perfect blend of BJJ skill, athleticism, speed, and strength. He also shares with Ronaldo Souza, a beastly nickname signifying their strength and dominance. It's still early in The Panther's MMA career and unlike Jacare who is more 3-dimensional as a fighter, Moraes is still under development and deserves some further analysis as he presents a classic example of a BJJ fighter transitioning into MMA.

Sergio Moraes 7-2 vs Neil Magny 8-1 (UFC 163: Aldo vs Korean Zombie)

Moraes started in the UFC as a middleweight and has since moved down to welterweight though he still looks undersized in the welterweight division, even against lanky Neil Magny.

The High Shield - The Simple Defense

Moraes with his developing striking skills uses a shield technique and steps straight backwards to deflect all strikes. Head movement takes time, but a high shield can be utilized starting tomorrow for any BJJ fighter looking to transition into MMA.

The problem with this technique is that a heavy or accurate puncher can strike through this shield, it leaves the body open for strikes, the head open for kicks, and the legs open for takedowns (which in the case of Moraes may be why he utilizes the tactic).

Linear Movement - Baiting Collision

Much of the early goings of this fight was contested in this forward and backward linear line of striking. Moraes would cover up and move backwards towards the cage, possibly baiting Magny to give chase, either forcing a clinch, set up a takedown (Carlos Newton had much success with this tactic), or create an opportunistic opening for his opponent to possibly shoot an ill-advised takedown. Still a very dangerous defensive habit, as it creates challenges to move out of the way of strikes, as the aggressor has the speed advantage in this backwards foot race. A problem he had with heavy striker Cezar Ferreira.

Naked Kicks - Striking Without Fear of Takedown

Something many MMA fighters use too often are naked kicks. Meaning kicks with no set ups which can be easily countered with strikes or takedowns. In the case of Moraes along with many BJJ fighters, they use this technique quite often to score points without fear of a takedown. Stylistically this is why you see more wrestlers utilize boxing, and more BJJ fighters utilize muay thai.

Moraes has the doubly bad habit of throwing a naked kick with both hands down. A habit curated during light sparring where training partners are essentially playing tag and flicking kicks without fear of reprisal.

Anderson Silva countered James Irvin beautifully when he attempted this and Demian Maia utilized this technique against seasoned veteran Nate Marquardt to be instantly knocked out. See the gif.

The Overhand Right - Clinch or Takedown Set Up

The overhand right is a signature of MMA as it moves the head out of center-line, closes the distance, and creates a level change. If it happens to land and hurt the opponent, it's a bonus.

In striking sports, it is not seen nearly as often as in MMA because the benefits of closing the distance, creating clinch and takedown opportunities are not appealing. This was a strike tailor made for MMA, but it still has risks, against straight punchers and good counter strikers.

In boxing it is primarily seen as a counter (typically against a lazy jab), whereas in MMA it is thrown as a naked strike, as Moraes did to set up a clinch. With the average MMA fighter, either they will get hit with the overhand or they block like Magny did with the high shield. The same defense Moraes uses because he is inviting the takedown and clinch. Often it ends with the overhand side being the over-hook, and the reaching side being the under-hook in an over/under clinch.

The Clinch - Over/Under

The scenario every grappler is waiting for is the clinch. Where you are basically grappling from a standing position and the chances of strikes landing effectively are limited. Even a Muay Thai fighter who utilizes the Thai clinch becomes cautious against an efficient grappler looking to take the fight to the ground. Any movement of the hips or hands may mean a disadvantage in the positioning battle. Usually the clinch is contested in an over/under position to negate possible body wrap.

Trying to fight a battle of under hooks with a Thai clinch is like fighting apples with oranges, anything can happen. But typically in MMA under-hooks win, and the times Anderson Silva used the Thai clinch were against other strikers.

BJJ Takedowns - Riskier Than Wrestling

Takedowns for BJJ fighters are not always the same as wrestling. Meaning often times BJJ fighters are willing to go for high risk takedowns where they may end up on bottom. This often takes their opponent by surprise and is why BJJ fighters have been able to take down superior wrestlers.

From over/under, usually wrestlers go for double underhooks or try to drop down for a leg attack. The reason being, from over/under, both fighters essentially have the same mirroring positions, whatever you try on your opponent, they can also do to you.

Here Moraes goes for a trip in over/under. Both fighters legs are entwined, essentially both balancing on one leg. This can create a takedown for the initiator, or create an opportunity for a reversal for the reacting fighter. Randy Couture was also skilled at throwing opponents from this position. In the case of Randy, he nearly always ended up on top from this position. In the case of Moraes, as long as the fight hit the mat, the risk of being on bottom was negligible.

Stabilize, Club, and Prevent Guard

You will often times see the top fighter allow the bottom fighter to compose guard, even sometimes moving so the bottom fighter can free their leg. In Sport Jiu Jitsu this would make no sense but in MMA this allows the judges to see the bottom fighter has accepted bottom position.

As long as the legs are wrapped around the top fighter's waist, the bottom fighter is not attempting to stand up. The top fighter can conservatively throw strikes and now after knowing he has secured takedown points, need only worry about submissions. Preventing submissions from closed guard may be the most drilled BJJ for MMA scenario.

Moraes opts to stabilize Magny's hips and prevents him from getting to guard by trapping one of Magny's foot in butterfly (trapping a foot between his leg). From there he settles down to the mat to stabilize his position, Magny who trains BJJ himself is able to get half guard.

Notice Sergio's left arm which is clubbing/crossfacing Magny's face. This does two things, it anchors Moraes to Magny, which gives him an anchor point to pivot his hips and drop all of his weight onto Magny's face, secondly it allows Moraes to keep Magny from digging himself underneath Moraes, in fact he can use it to turn Magny's face away.

The Club

This is important because Magny's right arm has Sergio's left leg which he can use to sweep or roll Moraes over. This little bit of high level BJJ which isn't seen in MMA often, will allow Moraes to switch his hips, free his leg, and set up a hard to defend mount pass while still maintaining head control of his opponent. This will allow him to go directly for submissions from mount, most often an armbar or mounted triangle. This bit of key strategy will be important later as he will return to this after some improvisation.

Striking from Bottom - Common Error

From here Magny does what many frustrated fighters do, strike from an inferior position. This will not only earn him no points from the judges, it will also do little to stop Moraes. In removing his right arm to strike, Magny has removed his only threat of a sweep, and also removed the only obstacle from preventing Moraes to switch his hips.

Moraes here underestimates his opponent and attempts to both free his leg and get the pass while at the same time threaten Magny's left arm.

MMA Stand Up - Specific to MMA

Another tactic specific to MMA is standing up from half guard. In Sport BJJ this is a move that is high risk with little reward, meaning not only do you set up a chance to get submitted (especially with the gi on) but also Sport BJJ is contested on the ground. Even if you stood up, you will eventually have to go back to the mat, whereas in MMA once you stand up you may be able to contest the rest of the fight standing.

In discussion of strategy, many MMA fighters have claimed to prefer to be on the bottom of half guard or sidemount as opposed to closed guard, as this allows for more wrestling and stand up. There is no closed guard in wrestling, you are basically pinning yourself.

In removing his left arm from the club position, Moraes allows Magny to attempt to scoot out and stand up or possibly single leg Moraes and end up on top. Something a better wrestler could have capitalized on. As Dan Henderson did against Fedor Emelianenko. See the gif.

The Back Step - An Underutilized Technique

Moraes counters the stand up attempt with a back step, where he re-establishes the club and repeats his previous strategy.

The back step is underutilized in MMA because it is not a move you set up or plan for, it is opportunistic in nature, and something you must use creatively on the fly. It wouldn't be drilled in MMA as strategies demand careful planning, but a high level BJJ fighter has spent years drilling for opportunities in BJJ matches.

Notice Magny has his legs open, as having a closed half guard would prevent him from standing up. This allows Moraes to free his leg and establish sidemount. Opportunities like these may not present themselves in the higher levels of the UFC welterweight division.

Often times in the lower ranks, a BJJ fighter will accumulate submission finishes due to situations of opponent error, and the BJJ fighter's opportunistic capitalization rather than careful planned execution.

Many BJJ fighters have had tremendous success with submissions until they break into the top 10. At which point they may have to adopt a more conservative game rather than an opportunistic one, especially when you have a time limit and your opponent gets rewarded for standing up (also in BJJ referees don't often stand you up like they do in MMA). You have 5 minutes to take you opponent down, keep him down, pass his guard, and submit them. Not an easy task against the 10 best in the world. Lower amount of opponent error is also why evenly matched fighters have such uneventful matches.

As The Panther develops as a complete MMA fighter, we shall see how he adapts to higher level competition.

Rolling Opponent Over - More Magny Errors

Maybe because of Magny's long build or maybe due to his preference, he attempts to roll Moraes from the bottom of sidemount.

Previously he also set up a roll when he had Sergio's leg, as well as positioning his elbows in a few earlier situations to control Sergio's weight makes me think he must have success with rolling opponents from bottom. This may have given him false confidence that this would work well against Moraes. He had yet to take any damage from Moraes, it may have felt like a good gamble. Or Magny was just desperate.

Either way all Moraes had to do was allow Magny to do the work and just open his legs wide to land in the mount. This time Magny's legs were bridging off of the ground, which prevented him from getting guard or half guard.

Mount Errors - BJJ Quicksand

Magny grabs Moraes, something commonly done in MMA to prevent the top person from posturing up and raining down blows. In the case of Magny, I suspect he was attempting to roll Moraes over again. Magny's left elbow is positioned on Moraes hip to possibly lift him, and possible also to have a high guard to block punches as well.

In BJJ, they say a good black belt makes a lower belt feel like they are sinking in quicksand, as every move they do is the wrong move, and the errors keep mounting and you incur more positional debt. A great BJJ fighter will make every opponent error matter. What happens when the opponent stops making errors? Time will tell as Moraes gets tested more and more in competition.

Mounted Triangle - An MMA Opportunity

Due to the fear of strikes, many opponents will either raise their guard up high to block strikes or wrap their arms around their opponents waist.

This lends to many opportunities for MMA fighters to secure not only armbars but triangles.

Demian Maia secured the same move on Ed Herman. See the gif.

The downside? You may end up on bottom.

They say the better your guard, the better your mount. If you have no fear of being rolled to your back, your mount can become fearless. This is often why only high level BJJ fighters attempt mounted triangles, whereas many other fighters opt for ground and pound.

Moraes climbs his left leg up high so Magny can no longer remove his left arm, while also trapping it under his armpit. With his right arm, Moraes controls Magny's left arm. The one that was in high guard possibly attempting to roll Moraes over. All Moraes has to do is pin the arm in place and step his right leg over for a triangle.

The Fat Man Roll

Magny basically just belly rolls over onto his stomach, with no bridge or finesse.

Moraes has stepped over for the triangle but he actually doesn't have enough room to lock his ankle behind the crook of his knee.

This is when Magny gives him a gift and tries to roll him over (at this point you can see this is a running pattern and an error Magny will make over and over).

In MMA, if nothing else, try to end up on top and somehow your MMA problems will be solved. Trapped in an armbar? Get on top. Stuck in a kimura? Get on top. And many times this will actually work, but not against someone the caliber of Sergio Moraes. In Sergio's case, if Magny didn't roll himself over, Moraes may have rolled himself to bottom position of his own free will. A risky move in MMA.

Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira tried this same Fat Man Roll against Frank Mir when he was caught in a kimura. See the gif.

The Triangle - The High Finish Ratio

Outside of the rear naked choke (which is done from a dominant position), the triangle choke has the highest finishing ratio out of any move done from an inferior MMA position (the bottom).

The reason being is you not only have a submission, but you also have a harness around your opponents head and arm. It's basically a guard around their torso. It secures them in place and finishes them off.

Moraes not only has the full triangle, but he also has Magny's posture broken. This allows him free shots at Magny's head without fear of being picked up or Magny escaping.

Hooking The Leg

Magny has a sense of urgency to get out, and most likely Moraes can finish from bottom like Anderson Silva did against Travis Lutter. Gif here.

But instead he hooks Magny's leg, which creates another pivot point (much like the club) to make the triangle tighter, prevent Magny from possibly picking Moraes up, and also roll him over for a sweep.

Securing the finish and leaving no opportunity for escape.

The Triangle as a form of Guard

The triangle unlike other submissions, is also similar in mechanics to the guard. It controls the torso of your opponent. Since he controls the torso, and the posting arm is trapped within the triangle, Moraes can grab Magny's left leg for a sweep and end up back in mount.

Earlier in the match, you saw Magny control Sergio's left leg and threaten a sweep. Magny though opted to let it go and strike from the bottom. Sergio did not make the same mistakes as Neil Magny and is why he won the fight.

Once it hit the ground, Magny created situations and Moraes made him pay. BJJ in it's essence.

Closing Thoughts

BJJ is an art based off of opponent errors, when there are no more errors, you hope the BJJ fighter can then rely on athleticism, speed, takedowns, control, and has also developed his overall MMA game to win fights. Rickson Gracie said every opponent will make a mistake, that's when you use Jiu Jitsu to seize the moment. That was under no time limits and rules and no third man overseeing the fight.

A problem with BJJ fighters is they start MMA much later in their career, in their 30's. We never see them at their athletic prime like we did on their BJJ championship runs. But if they cut their BJJ career early, we would also not consider them a true representative of the sport. But then again there are the BJ Penns who won just one World Championships then went immediately to MMA at a very young age. As BJJ becomes more lucrative, it will be interesting if the transition to MMA becomes as appealing. Roger Gracie was actually discouraged by his family to go into MMA. Unlike wrestling, there is a bright financial career for BJJ fighters after competition.

Sergio Moraes and Ronaldo Souza are both in their 30s. Their best likelihood of a UFC championship run has to happen in the next 5 years. But then again Randy Couture proved that anything can happen.
Sam is a martial arts nerd and efficiency nut. He also writes fitness hacking columns at All Out EffortFind Sam and Inner BJJ on FacebookYoutube, and Twitter.


  1. Awesome and very detailed analysis. I just started BJJ and have a kickboxing background. Your insights into what works for MMA vs BJJ are very informative. Thanks!




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