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.