Coach’s blog – To elbow or not to elbow, to heel hook or not to heel hook

Photo by Ryan Remiorz / ASSOCIATED PRESS - Elbows will cut you: McDonald vs. Doerksen UFC 83

Amateur MMA and the Pro ranks are similar but different in many ways. Some states like Kentucky and Tennessee have rules set in place to make the Amateur leagues a little safer than the Pro leagues. This is done to assist the Amateur who is new to the game, still learning, and not getting paid a chance to practice what he has learned in a safer environment.

The degree of difference varies from state to state and from sanctioning body to sanctioning body. Some groups require the Amateur to wear headgear and shin pads, others require them to use 7oz. training gloves, and others do not allow twisting Leg Locks or elbows.

Although I do believe that Amateurs need to be shielded to a certain degree, I do not agree with the no twisting leg lock rules.  Heel Hooks and Toe Holds are just as viable as an Armbar, Triangle, or any other submission. I have a big problem with the no twisting Leg Lock rule. Yes, they can hurt you bad, but a wind pipe choke can crush your wind pipe and kill you. A Keylock can mess up your shoulder for a long time with the potential to take the fighter out of the game completely.

So why exclude the Heel Hook? I think it’s because BJJ guys convinced everyone that it’s a “dirty” move, or overly dangerous, because generally, they can’t defend them. At SSF Submission Academy, we train all Leg Locks and we have never had anyone seriously hurt in class. Our fighters have pulled them off in many fights. They truly are the great equalizer.

I also disagree with Kentucky not requiring blood work for Amateurs. I think blood work is very important for all fighters Amateur or Pro. The ISKA in Tennessee has it set up so a fighter can go to LabCorp and have the entire series of blood work done for $37.00. I would like to see all states implement this policy.

It is a common belief that Amateurs have to be protected but the Pros do not since they are getting paid. In the blood work case, the Pro is being protected but not the Amateur. Kentucky’s rebuttal to this is that Amateurs in Kentucky are not allowed to do elbows. However, guys still get cut from punches all the time or get nose bleeds. Blood work is an important part of MMA.

Moreover, I do believe that every state that allows elbows in Amateur MMA but does not require blood work is to a certain extent behaving negligently. Everyone knows how I feel about Leg Locks, but elbows to the head on the ground are an issue I’m divided on.

Virginia allows elbows and Heel Hooks so I think the fighters out of Virginia are more prepared to turn Pro since they have fought under the same rules their entire Amateur careers as the Pros. When I take a group of guys to fight in Virginia, they are at a distinct disadvantage since they haven’t fought with elbows before. This is why, whenever the opportunity arises, I take my team up there to compete.

To heel hook or not? Ross Pointon hurts Ross Mason with a heel hook at Cage Rage 26.

We can train elbows, but they are hard to train full on. You’re trying to prepare a fighter the best that you can and at the same time not give him a crazy gash above his eye a month before his fight. It’s tough. Elbows are one of those things that you really only get useful experience with by fighting in the cage utilizing and defending them, it’s a cage experience thing that only time gives you.

So the guy in a state like Virginia who has 10 fights as an Amateur will have valuable experience with this, while guys from Kentucky, Tennessee, or a myriad of other states not allowing elbows will remain at a major disadvantage upon turning Pro.

However, the down side to this is that Virginia doesn’t require blood work and elbows cut guys and a cut from an elbow always produces a lot of blood. But, once again, on the upside, it does weed out the casual fighter. You get nailed in the head two or three times by an elbow and you will seriously think about whether you want to do this or not; so that tends to weed out the Tapout T-shirt crowd from the Amateur leagues in those states.

I’m not sure where I stand on the elbow issue for Amateurs. I can see the pros and cons of both sides. Let’s open this up for discussion, let me know where you stand on this and why.  And, don’t forget the Heel Hooks, too.

29 thoughts on “Coach’s blog – To elbow or not to elbow, to heel hook or not to heel hook”

  1. KY’s reasoning for not requiring blood work is that it’s an extra expense for the fighters and as a compromise they made elbows illegal. I appreciate not wanting to put the fighters through any extra expenses but I disagree in this case. Elbow or no elbow, blood work should be required. Setting up a deal with a group like LabCorp would keep expenses down and offer a higher level of safety for the fighters. But KY does allow all leg locks for that I give them kudos.

  2. ya,im a fan of elbows and heel hooks.. i personally think ky should require bloodwork, personally i dont want to swap blood with somebody with a desease.

  3. As an amateur fighter, I am all for blood work being required. I would much rather fork over some cash than contract Hepatitis…

    I am in favor of including heel hooks and elbows on the ground. The purpose of ammy competition is to get a fighter ready for the pros. I also agree with the reasoning that BJJ guys don’t like them. They don’t like neck cranks either and those are a specialty of mine. LMAO at the “Tapout T-shirt crowd” comment.

  4. I would also like to say that I’m not a fan of the ISKA’s rule against standing knees to the head. Like they’re giving a big middle finger to muay thai

  5. If I were a coach I would train fighters in leg locks constantly. BJJ coaches do not teach them. They are not allowed in most grappling tournaments. Most MMA guys have no idea how to defend them. Look at Satoru Kitaoka or Shinya Aoki. They tap American guys with leg locks like it is nobodies business.

  6. Imanari is the best out there for leg locks. BJJ at a higher belt level allows straight ankle and kneebars which are the easiest ones to defend. I have not seen to many BJJ guys pull those off correctly. Neck cranks and slicers not being allowed in BJJ is another thing that I don’t like but it’s the rules for BJJ so that’s why we have no gi grappling and MMA.

  7. Ok guys, here is my opinion……which i’m sure nobody will see eye to eye with me on….lol….but here it goes anyway. I don’t agree with (Amateur MMA) at all. I don’t agree that it’s right to have a young man get in a cage and fight another young man (risking broken bones, cuts, etc) and not get any MONEY for it. All while everybody else involved in the amateur mma bout does get MONEY. The promoter sells tickets for MONEY. The person that rents the cage rents it for MONEY. The person that owns the building rents out the building that night for MONEY. The commission that sells promoter license and fighter license sells them for MONEY. The people selling soda and food at the shows sell those things for MONEY. But you mean to tell me that it’s ok that the guys that the people are paying to come watch fight are the only people not making MONEY?????? The guys that are sweating and bleeding in the cage are the only ones not making MONEY??????? THAT’S NOT RIGHT!!! And the state of florida agree’s with me.

    But that being said amateur mma is here whether i like it or not so…….elbows and heelhooks…..yes they should be allowed in amateur mma. The commission says “elbows lead to blood” yep there right sometimes elbows do lead to blood…..but so do alot of other things folks. It’s a fight right????? In boxing, getting punched in the head leads to getting knocked out….I don’t see commissions taking away punches to the head in amateur boxing…..Guys it feels good to think that the smartest people or the people that know the most about a sport are the people that are always in charge, but one day you will learn that’s not the case. Just like one day you learned that Santa really doesn’t exist. There are people making rules about OUR sport that maybe shouldn’t be.

    Should amateur mma fighters be made to have blood work…YES. should they be made to pay for it….NO. The ones paying for it should be the people that make money off of these amateur fights! (commisions, promoters, etc). Anybody but the poor kid that gets talked into fighting infront of a group of people in a cage and all he gets to take home to his family is a black eye….THAT KID SHOULD NOT HAVE TO PAY FOR ANYTHING!!!!!!!

    Should heelhooks be allowed in amateur mma…YEP. if armbars are allowed and chokes are allowed why not heelhooks????? Because somebody may get hurt????? This is a fight right? When i hear commissions say that heelhooks are not allowed, i want to say “excuse me sir, you mean to tell me punching a guy in the head is okay, kicking a guy in the head is okay, breaking a guys arm is okay, choking a guy to sleep is okay, but you are drawing the line at an ankle lock????? REALLY???? REALLY?????

    Guys i have been doing this stuff for a long time. Some people think i’m pretty good. Some people think i am one of the worst fighters that has ever stepped in a cage. In reality i’m somewhere in between those two opinions…but i have been around long enough to know that my opinion doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter what i think and it doesn’t matter what you think. The people in charge will decide what to do on what best suites them and the crowd that is connected to them. I owe this sport alot. It has given me the chance to earn a honest living the last 12 years. It took me out of the streets and into countless gyms, it gave me a reason to be proud of what i had done, I can still remember my daughter telling people that her daddy was the best fighter in the world. I owe this sport so much. People in charge..i just ask that you don’t try and mess it up too much………

  8. Blood work should be required of anyone participating in a MMA, Muay Thai, or BJJ fight or match. I agree that the elbows should be allowed, at the very least while standing. Personally, I would rather fight with headgear and elbows allowed, than to fight with no elbows.

    As far as the twisting leg locks, that’s another story. They are good tools and lots of folks avoid them which makes them dangerous to those opponents, however it is extremely easy to do serious damage with them. The problem is that many fighters have no concern for thier opponent’s wellbeing and only want to win at any cost. Understandable, but dangerous. It’s the amount of force and control used by the fighter applying the submission that really makes the difference. It is pretty easy to hurt people. It’s much harder to defeat them with control. Without control, there would be many serious injuries from heel hooks and the like and that’s where the problem lies. I don’t believe that the majority of fighters, ammys at least, have that level of self-control needed to succesfully apply the submission without causing injury to the opponent. That’s why they are only allowed in the brown and black belt levels in BJJ.

  9. “however it is extremely easy to do serious damage with them.”

    Yes and it’s extremely easy to give up position going for a leg and get pounding out from above for trying it. So that’s a 50/50 trade off…

    “I don’t believe that the majority of fighters, ammys at least, have that level of self-control needed to succesfully apply the submission without causing injury to the opponent.”

    If your idea of what should be a rule and what shouldn’t be a rule depends on some guy that you don’t know and his levels of self control, maybe we should take out armbars and chokes too. Because those things can lead to serious injury as well. For that matter let’s take out punching and kicking too because that could hurt somebody. LOL

  10. Johnathan thanks for your input. You and I have debated the Ammy/Pro issues for years and what you are saying has some good points. But ammy MMA is here for good. I wish all fighters got paid and paid well. I also wish all fighters were ready to fight before they get in the cage. Can you imagine how hard it would be for good Pro fighters to find shows to fight in if the market was flooded with everyone that wanted to fight. Promoters being the sleeze ( most but not all) that they are would only use the shittiest fighters they could find and they pay would be so low that they might as well fight for free. I think it should be harder to turn pro. Pros are the elite in every sport so why should MMA be different.

    Gabe I disagree about the leg locks. They are no more dangerous then any other submission. And in a fight you should crank a submission otherwise the guy will get away and beat the holy shit out of you or he may escape and end up winning the fight when you had a chance to end it and win the fight, it is a fight, not a sparring session.

  11. Ron, paying the young guys SOMETHING would not be taking anything away from the term “Pro Fighter”, and it wouldn’t do anything to lower the pay scale for more established pro’s. You and i know it couldn’t get any worse lol

  12. But it would lower the pay for lower to mid-level pros. Supply would be way beyond the demand for fighters. You and I know that most Pro-AM shows use really shitty low level pros that they make sale tickets or pay nothing to just so the promoter can advertise that it’s a pro show.

  13. Your right about that Ron, but paying these young guys something would also weed out all the (shady) promoters that look at mma events as a way to try and make a quick dollar and they only run amateur shows because they look at fighters as pieces of meat and they just want to sell tickets to watch the two pieces of meat beat on each other with as little over head as possible. When these guys would have to start paying the kids in the cage they would either stop running shows, pay the fighters, or sneak out the back door (I have had this happen to me). I don’t know……I see your point to an extent. But i wouldn’t expect a landscaper to come mow my grass for free, and i wouldn’t expect a construction worker to build my house for free, and i wouldn’t expect a fighter to fight for free. Can you tell that i have been a fighter for a minute or two. lol i guess i am a little bias

  14. I also don’t have an issue with requiring a higher bond or insurance coverage for the promoters. I don’t have a problem of requiring promoters to donate a portion of their door to the local school wrestling programs or a state fund to help pay for all the amateur fighters blood work, insurance deductibles….. Not all promoters are shady, the good ones will give back and the bad ones that put on shit shows will not be able to afford the expenses of running a stricter show. If you’ve ever had a felony or screwed a fighter out of money then your promoters license should be taken away. Shit, I would be fine with a state required number of pro fights on each card, something like 1 pro fight for every 3-5 amateur fight on a card.

  15. In skateboarding, they have a level before pro, called sponsored AM, meaning, at that level they are allowed sponsors who can help support them in different ways, but they can’t win money during contests… Maybe there could be something like that in MMA… just a thought.

    I have never liked the idea of promoters and all these people making money off the ams. On the other hand, I don’t know what the answer is, because if a guy wants to fight, and he wants to turn pro one day, it seems like a great way to learn and pay your dues.

    Great discussion and if anyone is qualified to talk leg locks, it’s our man Johnathan Ivey here! Thanks for stopping by!

  16. Amateurs can have sponsors but nobody wants to sponsor an amateur fighter with money, just gear. Gear is nice but money is always better.

  17. I take my guys to fight in amateur mma and boxing. In amateur boxing, the fighter pays $85 dollars per year and that includes their insurance for a whole year. Spectators only pay $5 to view the show, and safety is the most important concern. Many amateur boxers will grow up and become Pro boxers, and will have plenty of ring time in with minimal damage inflicted on the competitors.
    Amateur MMA has little to no protection, the combatant pays for their own blood work every six months, and can fight almost every weekend if the don’t have any visible damage.The average show will cost $20 to attend and I’ve seen more than one occasion where fights have gone to long and took to much damage.Many of the MMA fighters are in a hurry to become pro and they are rushing through the ranks to make money.
    Sometimes experience is worth more than money. You wouldn’t pay a youth football player or basketball player. Only a few of those will grow up and become pro. They just chalk it up to experience, and it helps weed out the people who are either not tough enough or not athletic enough.
    Back to the topic at hand. I think that every tool should be used in amateur competition as in Pro. This difference should be(and this is just my opinion)that amateurs should wear knee and elbow pads to minimize cuts and damage.Amateur Muay Thai you have a class rating C class you wear head gear and shin pads, B class you wear shin pads head gear is optional, and A class you can fight without head gear or shin pads but through all this classes you still cannot knee to the head or elbow to the head.
    In Virginia they allow Youth MMA, the difference is head gear, shin pads and bigger gloves, there is no ground and pound, once it hits the ground you can only fight for submissions. This is acceptable youth amateur experience in my opinion.

    Sorry for the different points, my A-D-D kicks in sometimes and I have to write it down the way it comes through..lol

    Chris

  18. “You wouldn’t pay a youth football player or basketball player.”

    I don’t think anyone was talking about minors, we were talking about adults(amateur mma fighters) making other adults (promoters, Commissions, etc,) money, while not receiving any in return.

  19. Clearly I think “amateur” needs to be better defined. In a lot of places the fights are the same as professional without the fighters getting paid. I would love to see Class-C Shooto style fights and tournaments in the United States.

  20. Johnathan,
    We may not have been talking about minors, but the point I was trying to make was the experience is what you are paid in the beginning. Just like an MMA promoter the Youth sports team collect money at the games for admission.
    If you begin paying the amateurs to fight, then it makes the value of pay for the pro diminish. Why pay a pro $500 and $500, when you can pay an ammy $250 and $250. It just takes away the value all together.Fighters and paydays are like stocks, the more you have in the market, the less you have to pay for the Fighter/Stock.That is one of the main reasons I don’t agree with paying ammys, Pro fighters such as yourself Johnathan would not get the pay that they have earned.Promoters don’t put on shows because they like to watch the fights, they put them on to make money and to have their fighters gain the experience that they will need when they turn pro.
    You said,
    “The ones paying for it should be the people that make money off of these amateur fights! (commisions, promoters, etc). Anybody but the poor kid that gets talked into fighting infront of a group of people in a cage and all he gets to take home to his family is a black eye….THAT KID SHOULD NOT HAVE TO PAY FOR ANYTHING!!!!!!!”
    I agree, if you are talked into fighting in a cage fight, then that promoter should pay for your blood work, but if that person is a cage fighter that trains to fight in the cage, then that person should be the one paying for the blood work.My guys that fight in the cage don’t expect me to pay for their blood work any more than they expect me to buy their cup, mouth piece, shin pads or headgear for training.

    Maybe someone should look into creating a semi-pro fight league. This would be good for the fighters that work a full time job and fight for money.There are only a handful of fighters out there that can fight for a living, there are way to many guys out there that are fighting as much as possible, because they don’t want to work a full time job, I see them all the time posting that they need a fight to pay the rent or the water bill, those fighters to me should be considered semi pro, in boxing they are what you call a polooka or professional opponent. They aren’t there fighting to become a champion, they usually need money to pay a bill.

    Bottom line is amateur fighters can either fight or not, no one forces them into it. They need to get as much experience as an amateur as possible, because when they become pro and begin to amass a huge loss record, they have become the polooka and they wont be worth much of anything…

    Just my opinion..

    Chris

  21. “but the point I was trying to make was the experience is what you are paid in the beginning.”

    Chris, next time you have a bill due…..try and go pay it with a pocket full of experience…

    “If you begin paying the amateurs to fight, then it makes the value of pay for the pro diminish. Why pay a pro $500 and $500, when you can pay an ammy $250 and $250.”

    Chris, why pay a pro $500 and $500, when you can get an ammy to do it for free??? Just because young guys thinks fighting looks cool on tv and dream about doing it and are willing to do it for free, DOES NOT MAKE IT RIGHT FOR PROMOTERS TO MAKE MONEY OFF OF THERE BLOOD.

    “Promoters don’t put on shows because they like to watch the fights, they put them on to make money”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself chris.

    “but if that person is a cage fighter that trains to fight in the cage, then that person should be the one paying for the blood work.”

    Not if there’s somebody other then the fighter making money off of them fighting in a cage……

    “I see them all the time posting that they need a fight to pay the rent or the water bill, those fighters to me should be considered semi pro, in boxing they are what you call a polooka or professional opponent. They aren’t there fighting to become a champion, they usually need money to pay a bill.”

    “Bottom line is amateur fighters can either fight or not, no one forces them into it. They need to get as much experience as an amateur as possible, because when they become pro and begin to amass a huge loss record, they have become the polooka and they wont be worth much of anything…”

    They won’t be worth much of anything?????? REALLY???? I could not disagree with you more. Everybody in this world is not going to be a champion. Chris i think in your text you said something about you have promoted a event. But your event was not on the UFC’s level, your event was not a “champion” of all shows….does that mean that you “won’t be worth much of anything” as a promoter? By your way of thinking. I think the guys that fight for a living ought to be looked at as great people that go out and earn an honest living (no matter what there record is). They are providing for there family while not breaking the law. They could just as easily break in your home when your away at work, or snatch your wife’s purse as she is leaving the maill…..BUT THERE NOT!! They are doing the right thing and earning an honest living, just to have people say ” the polooka and they wont be worth much of anything…”. Listen guys, at the end of the day if people are making money on fighters (Pro or Amateur) then the fighters need to make some too. PERIOD

  22. “Chris, next time you have a bill due…..try and go pay it with a pocket full of experience…”

    This is why I have a full time job, it pays the bills, and I can do that because I have made myself more valuable by gaining experience which helps me charge more for my services.

    “Everybody in this world is not going to be a champion. ”

    Your right you have Polooka’s,Journeymen, Contenders and Champions.But I encourage my guys to train and fight as Champions, while settle mediocrity when you can strive for excellence.

    “Chris i think in your text you said something about you have promoted a event. But your event was not on the UFC’s level, your event was not a “champion” of all shows….does that mean that you “won’t be worth much of anything” as a promoter?”

    No right now I am still a Contender status, promoters such as Ed and Ron are considered Champion status right now, because their shows are bigger, but I am gaining experience and one day I will be a Champion Promoter.

    “They are providing for there family while not breaking the law. They could just as easily break in your home when your away at work, or snatch your wife’s purse as she is leaving the maill…..BUT THERE NOT!!”

    Wouldn’t that make them criminals? That excuse does not fly, your logic says that if I can’t make money doing what I like, I should begin robbing people instead of looking for a job to support myself and my family. I think that you may have misunderstood me when I said they won’t be worth much of anything,I mean financially they won’t be worth as much money as a journeyman or a contender.

    Amateur MMA can be a hobby for most, a way to get out aggression or a way to gain experience to become pro some day. Any individual that doesn’t want to come out of their own pocket, should get a sponsor to pay for their expenses.As I said before, my amateur boxers fight for USA Boxing, it costs them $85 per year. Our gym doesn’t pay their fees for them, that is up to their parents and for the adults they pay their own fees.I don’t expect the event promoter to pay for anything.

  23. Your right Ron,
    I still believe that the ammys should be able to do leg locks and for knees and elbows they should have to wear pads to minimize damage.

  24. I think all submissions should be legal but I do like the no elbow rule as well. Bloodwork should be mandatory whether your amateur or pro. Amateurs should not get paid.

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