Creating the perfect MMA fighter — Part II: Grappling/Ground

Yesterday we took a look at the best of the best in MMA at the striking game, selecting individual skills to use for creating the perfect fighter, balancing overall technique, effective use in fights, and success against higher up competition. We ended up with Anderson Silva’s head movement and footwork, Jose Aldo’s leg kicks, Dan Henderson’s rear (right) hand power, Quinton “Rampage Jackson’s lead hand power, A. Silva’s jab, Junior dos Santos’s uppercut, Anthony Pettis’s head kicks, Alistair Overeem’s Thai clinch, and Nick Diaz’s chin.

Now we move on to the grappling stage, where the average MMA bout is often decided with the use of offensive and defensive wrestling. And once the fight does go to the ground, who has the best submissions? How about ground-and-pound? And you can’t last long in a grappling duel without good stamina. Let’s take a look.

Wrestling (freestyle)

St. Pierre takes Koscheck for a ride at UFC 124 (Photo by Esther Lin/Fanhouse)

Georges St. Pierre (21-2): It’s been discussed ad naseum, but St. Pierre blends his wrestling skills with the other aspects of MMA better than anyone in the sport. Despite never wrestling competitively, he can easily hang with the likes of Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch to determine where the fight goes. Rating: 100

Rashad Evans (15-1-1): I think maybe GSP is rubbing off on Evans just a bit. Rashad has always had an incredibly fast double leg, but his ability to use boxing to set up his takedowns against Rampage won him that fight and set him up to face Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the title. Rating: 98

Jake Shields (26-4-1): It’s not always pretty with Shields. His striking isn’t going to scare anyone, and because of limitations on the feet, opponents always seem ready to sprawl and make it hard for Shields to get the takedown. But what makes Jake’s wrestling game so effective is his tenacity and determination to drive the initial sprawl and eventually pull you to the mat. Most notably, Shields survived an early onslaught from Dan Henderson and managed to take down Hendo time and again, even with Dan’s excellent sprawling. Maybe it was the weight cut or maybe he wasn’t 100 percent physically, but Shields looked very beatable against Martin Kampmann in his UFC debut. But you know what? He still somehow took Kampmann down enough to win the fight on the judges’ scorecards. Rating: 95

Cain Velasquez (9-0): I’m not sure Velasquez is to the point where he can mix in his wrestling as seamlessly as GSP or even Rashad, but he isn’t far behind. Most importantly, he’s shown thus far to have more overall talent than perhaps any heavyweight in the world and passed an important test at UFC 121 when he bounced back up from an early takedown attempt by a bigger Brock Lesnar. Rating: 94.5

Wrestling (clinch)

Some wondered if Couture (front) would have trouble with the bigger Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 74. He did not. (Photo by Sherdog.com)

Randy Couture (19-10): Until Couture retires, this category belongs to him. All hail one of the pioneers of dirty boxing. Rating: 99

Chael Sonnen (25-11-1): Chael has some good freestyle too, but his Greco-Roman clinch work is right up there with Couture’s. Rating: 98.5

Jon Jones (11-1): Don’t get tied up with Jon Jones. It doesn’t matter who you are; he will toss you on your head and/or butt. His UFC 126 bout with Ryan Bader is interesting for a number of reasons, but will also feature a match-up between Jones’s superb throws and Bader’s single and double leg attack. Rating: 96

Ground positioning

UFC welterweight Jake Shields (top) is without peer when it comes to ground positioning.

Jake Shields: Everything noted above about Shields’s wrestling applies to his grappling game, only you have to multiply it by about 100. Shields ground-and-pound won’t exactly light you up, but he almost never allows his opponent to escape once he gets the top position. Rating: 99.5

Demian Maia (14-2): Similar to Shields, when the fight goes to the ground, Maia is about as easy to control and get off of you as a large, angry octopus. Rating: 99

Jussier da Silva (9-0): If you didn’t watch da Silva’s U.S. debut at Tachi Palace Fights 7 against WEC veteran Danny Martinez, go find the video online. His transitions, guard passing, and ground control are top notch. Rating: 98.5

Leg locks

When Rousimar Palhares (right) attacks the leg, he usually gets the submission.

Rousimar Palhares (11-3): Not only does Palhares have five wins via some variety of leg/foot lock in his 11 career wins, but I get the feeling he’s seriously trying to take his opponent’s limb home with him. Some guys freak out a bit when they crank a submission and feel someone’s ligaments pop. Palhares doesn’t have that problem. Of those five wins, two of them came in the UFC (Tomasz Drwal and Lucio Linhares) and three came against solid Brazilian fighters (Flavio Luiz Moura, Fabio Nascimento, and Daniel Acacio). Rating: 98

Satoru Kitaoka (27-10-9): Kitaoka’s submission wins includes four by achilles lock, three by heel hook, and one by toe hold. Some of the victims: Carlos Condit, Clay French, Elji Mitsuoka, and Takanori Gomi. Rating: 97.5

Masakazu Imanari (21-7-2): If leglocks were illegal in MMA, I don’t know if Imanari would’ve had much of a career. But they are and he’s used them to defeat Mike Brown (kneebar variation), Yoshihiro Maeda (toe hold), and Jorge Gurgel (heel hook), among others. Rating: 95

Triangle choke

This might’ve been the hardest category to figure out. After doing a ton of research, it’s obvious that plenty of grappling experts with top-notch triangle chokes (example: Cole Miller) haven’t had the opportunity to use them to finish a fight. Why? Well for one, if you’re worried about a triangle choke, basically you just have to keep the fight on the feet. With the evolution in techniques and cross-training, there aren’t many great strikers left that don’t at least have good takedown defense to cover-up their lack of submission defense. Nevertheless, after weighing talent, technique, the number of triangle choke finishes, and finishes against above-average competition, the winner is …

'Look, ma! No hands!' Nate Diaz submits Kurt Pellegrino at UFC Fight Night 13

Nate Diaz (13-6): Four triangle submission wins in his career, including victories over Kurt Pellegrino (an excellent wrestler and BJJ black belt), Alvin Robinson, and Joe Hurley. Rating: 95

Hatsu Hioki (23-4-2)i: Like Diaz, most of Sengoku lightweight champion Hioki’s opponents prefer to stay away from his Jiu Jitsu skills in the first palce. Still, Hioki has four triangle victories, led by Mark Hominick, Ronnie Mann, and Jeff Lawson. Rating: 94

Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1): OK, so Werdum’s four wins via triangle doesn’t sound like a lot either, and besides catching the great Fedor Emelianenko, his next best triangle choke victim is … Roman Zentsov? Did I mention he submitted Fedor? Rating: 93.5

Donald Cerrone (13-3): Six total wins by triangle for Cerrone, including Chris Horodecki, Jesse Brock, and Anthony Njokuani. Rating: 93

Josh Neer (28-10-1): Against Mac Danzig, Neer looked like the long lost Diaz brother, talking trash, waving his hands around, and leaving his chin exposed without fear. I’d like to think his triangle choke submission of Danzig, himself a very good grappler, would’ve made Nate and Nick proud. Neer has also submitted via triangle Melvin Guillard, Forrest Petz, and Derrick Noble. Rating: 91

Just missing the cut: Miguel Torres (7 total; notables: Jeff Bedard and Joe Pearson) TJ O’Brien (11 total), Cole Escovedo (8 total; notables: Jeff Bedard, flying triangle on Joe Martin), and Paul Sass (8 total; notables: Martin Stapleton, Jason Ball, Mark Holst)

Rear naked choke

The RNC can come about in many ways during a fight, like a crazy ground scramble, an excellent transition that catches an opponent by surprise, beating a guy up until he leaves his neck exposed, or fighting Pete Spratt. (Sorry Pete, I still love you.) It’s not always about skill, but the set-up. Nevertheless, there are two fighters that go in for the kill better than anyone if they take their back.

Penn gets Florian with the RNC at UFC 101 (Photo by Getty Images)

B.J. Penn (16-7): Five rear naked choke wins: Takanori Gomi, Matt Hughes, Joe Stevenson, Jens Pulver, and Kenny Florian. Rating: 99

Demian Maia: Four rear naked choke wins, notably Jason MacDonald, Nate Quarry, and Ryan Jensen. Rating: 97.5

Kenny Florian (13-5): Seven rear naked choke wins, including Clay Guida, Takanori Gomi, Joe Stevenson, and Din Thomas. Rating: 96

Stamina

Georges St. Pierre: GSP has gone at least four rounds or more in five consecutive fights and hasn’t even come close to looking tired yet. Rating: 100

Urijah Faber (24-4): Like St. Pierre, Faber has been in the deep rounds of a title fight or marquee match-up more than most and never seems to run out of gas. Rating: 99.5

Dominick Cruz (17-1): Cruz has only defend his 135-pound title twice, going the full five rounds each time. Perhaps more than anyone, though, he looks like he could go for another five rounds right after that at the same frenetic pace. Rating: 99.5

Frankie Edgar (13-1-1): Although relatively new to the pound-for-pound discussion, Edgar’s last win over Penn and draw with Maynard prove beyond any doubt that you aren’t going to beat him by tiring him out. Rating: 98.5

Guillotine choke

Dan Miller (left) submits Dave Phillips at an IFL fight in 2007. Just so you know, the human head isn't supposed to be able to bend down that far.

Dan Miller (13-4): Having three professional wins by guillotine choke doesn’t sound impressive. But Miller doesn’t simply catch guys in a guillotine; he rearranges their neck. When he gets his grip, he doesn’t need to pull guard. Just ask John Salter or Jake Rosholt. Or better yet, ask David Phillips. Rating: 99

Joe Stevenson (31-12): If you like your guillotine chokes a bit more orthodox but equally as nasty, Stevenson is your guy. Stevenson has five guillotine wins to his credit, with Gleison Tibau, Melvin Guillard, and Dokonjonosuke Mishima among them. Rating: 98

Cody McKenzie (12-0): Although he hasn’t faced the most stellar competition yet, McKenzie has finished 10 of his 12 pro fights with the guillotine, and against enough durable competition to prove it’s not fluke. Plus, when you create your own variation for when your opponent passes to side control and still make him pass out (Marc Stevens on TUF 12), you make the list. Rating: 98

Urijah Faber: Five guillotine finishes, the best being against Dominick Cruz, Jeff Curran, and Jens Pulver. Rating: 97.5

Honorable mention: Claude Patrick (6 guillotine choke submissions), Joseph Benavidez (4 total, including Wagney Fabiano and Miguel Torres)

Elbows

Jon Jones put a serious beating on Matt Hamill at the TUF 10 Finale, though a couple of illegal strikes led to his DQ. (Photo by Getty Images)

Jon Jones: What’s that? Elbows are only used to cut people? Hogwash! It probably helps that Jones has some of the longest arms in the UFC, but his elbows hurt … bad. I’d venture to say he could finish anyone at 205 if he takes them down and gets on top. Rating: 100

Kenny Florian: OK, so Florian actually does use elbows — rather effectively — top open up cuts. Still, he also puts a lot of force behind them when he takes the top position and uses them quite effectively in his ground-and-pound attack. Rating: 97

Ground and pound

Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos (10-1): As vicious as Cyborg is with her striking, she is equally as devastating on the ground. Male or female, you don’t want her on top throwing punches. Rating: 98

Jon Jones: Elbows. Elbows, elbows, elbows. Jones brutalized Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko on the ground and was well on the way to doing the same against Matt Hamill, but for a lapse in concentration and a couple of illegal elbow strikes that caused a disqualification. Rating: 97

Cyborg (above) hits hard. Really, really hard.

Diego Sanchez (22-4): When Sanchez beat Paulo Thiago at UFC 121 by decision, it looked like the Diego of old was finally back. And he might be too small for 170 and a bit too big for 155, but he is relentless with his strikes from the top position. Rating: 95.5

Tatsuya Kawajiri (27-6-2): He isn’t called “The Crusher” for nothing. Kawajiri isn’t afraid to stand and trade, but his ground-and-pound is one of his strongest assets and makes him one of the few Japanese standouts that could transition between DREAM/PRIDE rules and North American/UFC rules without missing much of a beat. Rating: 95

Arm locks

Sonnen (left) later tried to claim he didn't tap, but Filho had his arm in a bad spot at WEC 31 (Photo by MMAWeekly)

Paulo Filho (21-2-1): Although he seemingly disappeared after his loss to Chael Sonnen (the first of his career) and often hasn’t looked to be in top form, Filho can break your arm in a hurry. Filho has seven submission wins by armbar (Amar Suloev, Kazuo Misaki, Chael Sonnen, Ryo Chonan) and one by kimura. Rating: 99.5

Nick Diaz (23-7): When he’s not busy throwing down without fear of getting punched in the face, Diaz has a great ground game and is especially adept at attack the arm, with two kimuras — including Josh Neer and Joe Hurley — and three armbars — Jeremy Jackson and Hayato Sakurai among them to his credit. Rating: 98

2 thoughts on “Creating the perfect MMA fighter — Part II: Grappling/Ground”

  1. Minotauro does have the best armbars or Fedor… You favourite US fighters.

    Everything else is professional

  2. I looked at Minotauro and Fedor (btw, listed Fedor for punching power). Mino hasn’t had a major win via armbar since 2003 (Cro Cop). And at this point, I just think he’s too punch drunk and I’m going by current ability. If I do a best of all time list, I’m sure he’d be on there.

    Fedor’s last three armbar wins: Hong Man Choi (freak show), Matt Lindland (middleweight) and Mark Coleman (already past his prime at that point). He does have good armbars, but I don’t think his resume in that area compares with Filho or Diaz.

    I listed a lot of non-US fighters, but I’m open to opinions if you think there are categories where I put US fighters and overlooked some other nationalities.

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