Introduction to MMA Guard Pulls

In this study, I look at pulling guard in MMA as an alternative way of getting the fight on to the ground. It’s a rarely utilised strategy but has been successful for a small set of fighters who have excellent guards and have made it their speciality. The guard is technically an inferior position in fighting as you are on your back and trapped between the mat and the weight of your opponent on top of you while they can use the assistance of gravity to implement control and throw strikes.

However the UFC was built on Royce Gracie’s success from the guard and the impressive look of a small man submitting larger opponents off his back and Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a whole as built a reputation around taking this inferior position and with practice study and techniques turning into a spot where they have a competitive advantage and can finish fights. So in competition Brazilian jiu-jitsu players will often favour this position on their opponents to the point where double guard pulls where both competitors jump to pull guard at the same time was a problem, and a rule had to be developed to prevent both competitors from stalling from there.
However, in mixed martial arts eventually, fighters got better at defending submissions from the guard and when you add that strikes are allowed the guard is not an excellent position to be in for a lot of sensible reasons. Not the least being that the time spent on your back will typically be seen as you losing the fight on the judges scorecards.

The Third Option: Pull Guard

So what situation would you need in MMA where pulling guard would make sense. Well, Eddie Bravo has a great video on this where he explains pulling guard is the third option. The basic concept is option number one in a fight is to beat your opponent standing with strikes and option two if you can’t win the battle there is to wrestle your opponent to the ground and score a takedown. The problem that arises is if your opponent has better striking than you and better wrestling so you cannot outstrike them and you cannot score a takedown. Well, that is where pulling guard becomes the third option. While I might suggest that clinching or working against the fence might be other options the point still stands that the guard can provide an avenue to victory that is often neglected.

Now several fighters have shown its effectiveness throughout the years, and a handful has actively sought this position in MMA. These are fighters who do have excellent attacking guards and are extremely dangerous when they’re in that position so for it to be considered a good strategy you do need to have the type of guard that the opponent would actively avoid if given a choice as they know they’d be in danger. So in this breakdown, I’ll look at the techniques that martial artists have used to pull guard and get the fight to the mat successfully.

Pulling Half Guard

Half guard is statistically the most common position that sweeps are successful from in MMA so pulling half guard is a great option if you have a strong sweep game to get on top and begin to throw grounded strikes or start working for a submission. Now if you want to pull guard, you will still have to close the distance on your opponent. Although sometimes guard pulls will be attempted by simply flopping onto your back, this is an awful tactic that leaves the decision to play guard as a choice for your opponent to make and looks terrible if they decide not to.

If your goal is to take your opponent down, then you’ll still need to be taking wrestling shots which may be getting sprawled on, and this is where we will begin to work one of the significant positions to execute a successful guard pull. This method still requires you shooting in deep for a single or double leg shot and getting to your opponent’s hips and thighs. So consider this the guard pulling paradox where one of the best ways to pull guard is going to require that you still have good setups and wrestling shots.
Once in on your opponent’s hips, you’ll want to have your hands around their waist or even better maybe locked around a single leg.

The critical detail here is to get your outside leg to come round and hook behind one of the opponent’s calves which then allows some control over the opponent’s base to prevent them from standing back up and backing out. Once that outside leg has been hooked in place, then the inside leg can shift between the opponent’s legs to lock off a half guard position properly. Alternatively, the outside leg can be brought around the opponent’s back to control their posture while the inside legs knee is carried across the opponent’s hips. From there you can look to work one of the many half guard sweeps to get on top of your opponent and into a dominant top position or you could proceed to full guard and begin working for a submission.

Pulling Guard with a Collar Tie

The other majority of guard pulls are going to come from the standing upper body clinch position and performed with a few different gripping options with the first we’ll look at is the collar tie. Now, this still does require striking or feinting on your opponent to close the distance and get into the clinch and then securing an over tie a single collar tie or full Thai head control before jumping to pull guard.

These grips give control over the opponent’s head and are used to assist in executing the critical element of the standing guard pull which is breaking the opponent’s posture. With proper control over the opponent’s head and neck, the snapping them forward and adding your entire body weight for them to carry will help bring the fight to the mat. From these collar tie positions when the guard hits the mat, the collar tie can then remain on the back of the head to continue to control the opponent’s posture while the other hand can move to bicep or wrist control to start attacking a submission.

Pulling Guard with an Overhook

Another grip when in the upper body clinch is the over hook. This is good for guard pulls and setup by securing an over hook with one arm and having the other hand either controlling the opponent’s wrist or in a collar tie position. From there you can begin to break the opponent’s posture by getting them to walk forward with a Whizzer so that they become off-balance and when the guard jump is made the additional body weight will bend them at the hips and drag the opponent forward and down to the mat. Once hitting the mat that over hook gives a strong trapping guard that continues to control the posture of the opponent limiting their ability to land significant strikes and this position may be one of the best guards in MMA to begin to work for a triangle choke or an armbar.

Flying Triangle Guard Pull

Another guard pulling attack that works off the over hooks is to go for a flying triangle. With this move once clinched up with an over hook on one arm and wrist control on the opposite arm of your opponent, you jump in to pull guard while at the same time you push the opponent’s arm out of the guard on the side you have wrist control on so that you land in a fully locked triangle choke submission that you can begin to work on finishing immediately. Alternatively, if your Shinya Aoki you can pull off an extremely rare flying Omoplata that you use to sweep the opponent and land in top position.

Pulling Guard with Double Underhooks

Another option for the guard pull can also be performed from the double under hooks in the clinch. However, this would be my least preferred position to pull guard from, for starters if you do manage to get the double underhooks this is the best position to still work for a takedown so you may not want to give that up too quickly, but secondly if you do pull guard with double under hooks when you hit the mat it is going to be the most challenging position to control the opponent’s posture as both their hands are free to cross face and throw down significant strikes.

It can also be performed from a wrestling shot that is sprawled on, but the problem with being open to strikes remain as opposed to going to a half guard position where you are angled off to the side and working for a sweep. Alternatively pulling a butterfly guard with double underhooks may be the best position to work from with a butterfly sweep but if you can transition your grips quickly to gain control of the opponent’s posture, then this is still an option that has been used successfully many times by some of the fighters we’ve looked at.

The Jumping Guard Pull

A rarer option is to jump to the guard position from out of striking range or with only the slightest of contact being made on the hands of the opponent’s. Aoki and Imanari have done where they’ll run directly towards their opponent and jump at them relying solely on the momentum of the jump to break the posture of the opponent. This is pretty risky though, and you even run the chance of knocking yourself out as the back of your head slams down onto the mat but has been something that’s shown to work by these two fighters.

Throwing Kicks, Imanari Rolls & Leglocks

Throwing big kicks and guard pulling goes hand in hand, see another advantage of having a good guard is that it does open up more striking opportunities when standing as you can have the confidence to strike without being too scared of ending up on your back. This is especially true with kicks as you do not have a fear of your kick being caught and you being taken down as you know you can confidently attack or sweep from there. So with that belief, a common theme with fighters who have strong guards is that they will throw high kicks and low kicks with almost a reckless abandon.

Now a lot of the guard pulls in this study have been from Imanari, he might be most known for his Imanari Roll into a leg entanglement but should also be noted that many attempts at the Imanari roll often resulted in guard position which was just as desirable for him and may be seen as another option for pulling guard.

Moreover, there’s also a big crossover with the fighters pulling guard and attacking for leg locks. In the process of working to guard the opportunity for leg locks will be available and dropping into any of the leg locking positions in an MMA fight could be considered a guard pull. This is an exciting topic that is worthy of an individual study but be aware that leg locks and guard pulling are strongly connected.

A Conclusion to Pulling Guard in MMA

Now that rounds up this look at some of the various methods that have been used to implement this often neglected strategy, now while it is still recommended that fighters always work on their striking skills and wrestling skills to get them as technical as they possibly can. This is something to keep in mind if you have a dangerous guard and find yourself in a situation where you might need to use it. That indicates that you’ve spent time sharpening your guard, so you’re ready to sweep or submit your opponent as soon as it hits the mat

Peace, love and raging waters,
Sonny Brown

References

Bravo, E. (2010). Mastering The System 10: Pulling Guard in MMA. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/IGkd6mlukoA

Gold, B. (2018). Why is “Pulling Guard” mocked in the BJJ community?. Retrieved from https://bjjproblems.com/blogs/bjj-problems/why-is-pulling-guard-mocked-in-bjj

Grant, T. (2016). The Art & Science Of Pulling Guard In Jiu-Jitsu — A Complete Guide. Retrieved from https://www.flograppling.com/articles/5049225-the-art-science-of-pulling-guard-in-jiu-jitsu-a-complete-guide

Kesting, S. (2011). Pulling Guard in MMA – Grapplearts. Retrieved from https://www.grapplearts.com/pulling-guard-in-mma/

MMA : Improve your gameplan – The 3rd option : Pull The Guard. Retrieved from http://moncoachsportifenligne.fr/pull-the-guard/

Why Pulling Guard is Killing BJJ. (2014). Retrieved from https://pennerlive.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/why-pulling-guard-is-killing-bjj/

Wilcox, N. (2010). Judo Chop: Paul Sass Gives a Clinic in Pulling Guard at UFC 120. Retrieved from https://www.bloodyelbow.com/2010/11/1/1759748/judo-chop-paul-sass-gives-a-clinic-in-pulling-guard-at-ufc-120

Zahabi, F. (2015). Pulling Web Guard Part 1 – Firas Zahabi – Guard Pulling 2.0 Series. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/K2SvF6kXNGk