I talk to Robert Degle who is a Danaher Death Squad member and trains under John Danaher. We discuss the use of leg locks in MMA, how leg attacks can be used either poorly or how they can be applied in a more high percentage manner. We do this by talking about some of the greatest leg lockers in MMA like Imanari, Ryan Hall, Rousimar Palhares and Marcin Held. Along with some of the essential MMA bouts containing leg lock battles and go through Gary Tonons career in One F.C. to examine the D.D.S. use of MMA leg entanglements.
Sonny Brown: Robert, how are you today, mate?
Robert Degle: Good. Just got up. It’s pretty early here in New York.
Sonny: Early in New York unlike here in Australia.
Robert: [laughs] Yes, [crosstalk].
Sonny: A little bit early for grappling.
Robert: Yes. [chuckles]
Sonny: Well, that’s what I was going to ask, actually. It’s been a couple of months since we talked, at least. I think just wondering what you’ve been up to since we last spoke, where you’re at because I know there was some plans to go back to Singapore and get back with Evolve, but, obviously, with things changing so rapidly, since then the rest of the Danaher team has moved to Puerto Rico. A whole brave new world out there. What’s going on with you? What have you been up to?
Robert: As I just gave away, I’m still in New York. I’m moving very soon, I’ll just say that. I don’t want to say where. Anyway, you can DM me and I’ll just tell you. [laughs]
Robert: I don’t want to publicly say it until I’m there, let’s just say that.
Sonny: Yes, okay.
Robert: A lot of people asked me about Puerto Rico. It’s like I didn’t go because I’ve just been waiting to go to Singapore. It’s like what was the point? Well, look, make no mistake, I’d love to train more with my coach and some of my teammates, but there are a lot of us still here. Not everybody left. I’m training at Renzo Gracie in Northern Valley, which Professor Carl Massaro is one of our teammates. He’s been in the blue basement for decades. I have a lot of good guys to train with there.
Also, in a lot of ways, I’m very attached to New York probably more so than I should be. [chuckles] Craig asked me once, he’s like, “Why do you like this place?” I was like, “Pure nostalgia, I grew up here. That’s maybe the only reason.” [laughs] I’m pretty reluctant to leave unless I’m leaving for something that I really want to leave for, if that makes sense.
Sonny: Yes. What about this allure of these Puerto Rican tax rates that I hear is so tempting? Does that–
Robert: I don’t make enough money to care.
Sonny: Fair enough. Still going to be in New York for a while. Plans to move somewhere else, keep that, wait until it happens. Don’t count the chickens before they hatch.
Sonny: One thing I know that you have, obviously, done since we last spoke is released an instructional on leglocks for MMA. I think it’s a great topic to discuss because it was even just a couple of weeks before that, a few guys in the gym were asking me and one of the other coaches, “What about leglocks for MMA?” We started discussing it and probably hit him with all the standard things that you might say.
Maybe I’ll give you the chance to introduce your instructional and maybe some brief thoughts on the topic, and then I can give you some of those objections that I would give someone else who was asking the same question.
Robert: Yes, for sure. I’ll start off by talking about what was the initial inspiration for the instructional. I think people think I’m joking when I say this, but this is really why I decided to make the instructional. I can’t tell you how many times some middle-aged blue belt has commented on one of my videos where I pulled guard in a grappling match have been like, “If this is the street, I would beat the shit out of you.”
[laughs] I hate that so much because it’s assuming that I would pull guard in a street fight. Obviously, that’s not what I’m going to be doing really. These comments which you would be shocked at how often they– Maybe you’re not shocked.
Sonny: I probably wouldn’t be shocked, but I’m sure a lot of people have got some wild comments that– Yes.
Robert: They have it all the time and it’s– There was one in particular where Grappling Industries reposted a match that I had, where I competed under the Grappling Industries tournament, and I heel hooked this guy. It was a pretty nice submission. This guy commented about how it’s not realistic for actual fighting and stuff and all these other things. I started to think about why do these guys look at what I’m doing and think that it’s ridiculous?
The conclusion I came to is they think it’s leg locks, but it’s not actually leglocks because if we think about what a leg lock is, it’s a joint lock that breaks your leg. If I told you that somehow I could equip you with the ability to break somebody’s leg in a fight, would that be a valuable weapon? Obviously.
Robert: It goes without saying. It’d be very silly to say otherwise.
Sonny: Sounds scary if— [chuckles]
Robert: Yes. [chuckles]
Sonny: It carries some serious weight behind it.
Robert: Right. What they were objecting to I think more so is how you got there. They go, “Oh, he’s sitting on his butt, he’s going towards the guy, then he’s doing moves to get him in a leg lock.” There’s interim steps and stuff such. The trick is, yes, you’re totally right. I don’t think you should pull guard in MMA or in a street fight. In a street fight, you’re going to get kicked in the face. In MMA, kicks are usually not legal on the ground, but there are still a lot of bad things that can happen to you. Yes, they’re totally right. That’s not a good idea.
The idea that leglocks themselves are not a good idea, I think there’s a lot of silly bias against them, which doesn’t– I think when you actually look at the available evidence, it doesn’t measure up. The criticisms don’t measure up to what I think they’re actually capable of doing. I wanted to give– It’s funny. I actually think on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who overestimate the value of leg locks. I wanted to give what I thought was a measured, almost I will even say conservative, approach to pursuing leglocks in MMA, which I think that can be used very effectively.
Also, I wanted to temper them, in my opinion, with a more realistic expectations for it. People take this instructional, and you’re not going to turn into the greatest leg locker on the face of the planet. It’s going to equip you with a practical realistic way to use leglocks in situations where strikes are involved. I hope I achieved it. I don’t know.
Sonny: Yes. Obviously, it’s probably one of the standard objections is once you can keep people on the ground, obviously, pulling guard becomes not the smartest idea in MMA as such. Yet, where we probably saw leglocks taking or used most in MMA was in Japan in Pride, the promotions where you can actually use soccer kicks and everything on the ground. Do you think that that counters that narrative or–?
Robert: I think that’s mainly a cultural thing like the community. The community of grappling practitioners there. Let’s say you go out there in a street fight and the guy goes to kick you in the face, could you counter that and leg lock? Yes, of course, but I don’t think [crosstalk].
Sonny: That’s not a video you want going around if you miss.
Robert: I wouldn’t recommend it.
Sonny: I wouldn’t recommend it either. There is that one video of the street fight, there’s a guy in a basketball court. I’m sure you’ve seen it. Where he takes a guy down and holds him in a heel hook. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it. He threatens, “I’m going to break your leg.” Of course, for a basketballer, I’m sure that carries even more significant measures. Other than that though, is there anyone that comes to mind that you can think of?
Robert: As for street fights? I don’t really watch that many street fight videos, so I don’t know. [chuckles]
Sonny: Fair enough. You’re not even making the point that they do work in street fights necessarily or that you would recommend it, so maybe that’s not the way to look at it.
Robert: I actually have a part in the instructional I talk about the purposes of leglocks for self-defense. I think they can be used for that. What I basically say is, “Guys, this is a last-resort thing. Don’t do this unless you have no other option.” I do think you can use them for self-defense. I’ve never had to use them for self-defense. I’ve used jiu-jitsu for self-defense. I use takedowns and guard passing, which is what I think should be your first option.
I think your first option as a grappler in any situation where strikes are involved should be taking the guy down and passing his guard. I think that is always going to be primary, but sometimes you can’t take the guy down. If you can’t take the guy down and let’s say maybe he’s a better striker than you, geez, what are you going to do? I think leglocks can feature very well into that sort of a situation.
Sonny: I like that. Maybe let’s start with the objection that I gave these guys just a few weeks ago I think it was. Should we do some leglocks in MMA? Now, with that being said, like my gym, we’ve always been okay with leg locks. I’ve trained with people who won their MMA fights with leg locks. It was in our MMA syllabus, toe hold, knee bar.
We never shied away from it, but it’s still the old classic thing is while you’re going for a leg lock with both your hands tied up around the leg, your opponent’s hands are free to punch you and it’s too risky. It’s too risky. Don’t do it. You’re better off just focusing and scrambling, getting on top rather than committing your hands to one of the legs while you can get punched. What would you say to someone saying that?
Robert: Well, they’re totally right. There are guys throughout the history of leglocks in MMA who, you’re absolutely right, completely disregarded the need to protect themselves from getting punched in the face. I don’t want to call people out. I feel bad, but I will mention one fight. A very, in my opinion, notable example of somebody who I think is not a bad leg-locker, but, man, he didn’t do the right thing in this fight. If you look at Ian Entwistle versus Dan Hooker.
Sonny: I was thinking that one myself.
Robert: I feel bad. I’m not trying to shit on Ian because I’m not saying he’s bad whatsoever. In this match, he didn’t do a good job. He held onto the heel hook for such a long time and it’s clearly not working. We can talk more about this later on, but I’ll just mention this now. I think there’s two main ways in which leg-locking is different in grappling from situations where strikes are involved, obviously including MMA.
I think one of those big differences is you have to have the ability to mitigate the opponent’s ability to basically– If he can touch your face, he can punch you. If he’s within a hand’s reach, you’ve got to make sure he can’t. You have to stop that. You have to make it be the case that he is not a hand’s reach away from you. Because you’re totally right, both your hands are going to be committed to that heel.
You have to make sure that as you’re breaking him, not only can he not mitigate the break, defend somehow. Most MMA guys don’t know how to heel slip or toe slip. That’s not a significant issue in MMA, but they do know how to punch you in the face. You’ve got to make sure that you do a good job of keeping the guy from being able to touch your face, which obviously would translate to getting punched in the face.
For instance, in that fight, Ian, at one point, he does a really good job keeping Dan away, and then for some reason, he goes to what basically is an outside sankaku at one point, which is way better because you can keep the guy away from you. Then he goes right back to a regular 50/50 and it’s like, “Damn, dude. You had the position. You’re so close.” [chuckles]
He got beat up. You hate to see that. The guy does a great job getting the position, he gets his heel and he’s got everything that he should need to get the break. Not that I want to see him get broken, but to get the tap, whatever. He gets beat up. Whereas by contrast, a really good example– There’s a couple of ways you can keep the guy from punching you. I think there’s two main ways. The first one is, I call it a misdirection. Any time you put pressure to the back of somebody’s knee, what will happen is two things, their heel becomes exposed typically and their upper body is turned away from you.
If you imagine a backside 50/50. In a backside 50/50, what happens is– Let’s say the guy’s foot is flat on the mat. They’re standing up, you’ve got a 50/50 and they’re going to punch you. If you spin under for a backside 50/50, what happens is you start to put pressure to the back of their knee. As a result, their heel comes off the mat because the weight, it’s pushing the knee forward, brings the heel off the mat. Then you can expose the heel. At the same time, their upper body is turned away from you, so it’s very hard for them to punch you.
Some notable examples of this in MMA would be Ryan Hall versus Frans Slioa. I probably pronounced that wrong. [chuckles] That was an Ultimate Fighter. One of his qualifying fights. Ryan does an amazing job in that fight of keeping Frans away from him and making it hard to punch him. I studied Ryan a lot because I think Ryan is genuinely a master of not getting his face caved in as he’s going for leg locks, you know what I mean? If you go back and watch that fight, you’ll see at one point, Ryan is in a bottom 50/50, Frans is in a great position to punch him. He can hit him really hard from where they are, but Ryan does a beautiful spin-under movement.
What he does when he does that is he puts pressure to the back of the knee that exposes the heel and also it keeps him safe from strikes. Now, the second way you can keep yourself safe from strikes, Ryan actually does this also in that fight really well. You can take your feet and put that in front of the guy so you’re pushing him away from you. It could be an outside sankaku. There are a lot of other variations of your feet.
If you look at that fight, Ryan puts his feet in what I call a double foot-on-hip ashi. It’s the same position that Lachlan finished Mansher Khera with. He actually didn’t finish Mansher from an outside sankaku. It was what I call a double foot-on-hip. Ryan uses the same basic position to finish Frans. That’s really good because you can push the guy away from you while also getting a really strong break.
I was also going to mention, you can also look up Iminari versus Joachim Hansen back in the day in Pride to see Iminari is in a bottom 50/50 and he does an amazing job spinning under just like Ryan did in that other fight to keep himself safe from strikes. But he does get KO’d very brutally. [laughs]
Sonny: I was going to say, which match was that exactly? Didn’t they have two? Because that was a very brutal KO. That one stands out. `
Robert: Very vicious, but that was not from 50/50. He did a good job staying safe in 50/50. Imanari got KO’d going for an Imanari roll.
Sonny: Just goes straight into a big knee.
Robert: Yes, it was bad.
Sonny: Hellboy, Joachim Hansen was such a good fight as well. It just didn’t transition when UFC bought Pride. Not a lot of people know him, but he’s an amazing fighter. Imanari, that was a tough out.
Robert: Yes, for sure. The thing is people say that the whole thing about you can get punched in the face. The thing with that is is you’re absolutely right. I don’t even disagree with that. I actually completely agree with it. The thing is it’s like, if that’s the case then, then we have to make sure that when and if we go for leglocks, we have to make sure we are well-equipped to not get punched in the face as we do this. There are definitely ways to do that. Also, I think oftentimes, with that criticism of getting punched in the face is also connected to this criticism of positional loss. You’re on top, and then you go to the bottom.
Sonny: Get on top, stay on top. Don’t ever drop back for a leglock. You could give up position. That could be the end of the fight.
Robert: What’s funny is I mostly agree and I even say that on the instructional. I’ll tackle that a few ways. The first way is the same criticism holds true for armbars. Nobody ever shits on armbars for that.
Sonny: I actually advise the guys not to go for armbars for MMA. For that reason, I like the arm triangle unless there’s 30 seconds left in the round just like the classic armbar. You better not mess that one up. You better be good at those armbars in the gym, but certainly, there’s not that stigma around it.
Robert: I think that’s good advice, to be honest. Don’t do it until the end of round, be cautious. I totally agree. The trick is just what that discounts is the idea that all leglocks are born out of just dropping from the top. I spent the vast majority of the instructional talking about how can you use leglocks from the bottom position. Let’s say you got taken down or maybe even knocked down or from a situation where you’re trying to take them down but you just can’t get it. I think that’s the best situation to use leglocks in.
I mostly would agree with the idea that if you’re in a fight where punches are involved and you’re on the top, I think falling back for any submission is not really the smartest thing to do, but I do practice that by saying I think that it is feasible to go for leglocks in situations where you feel like you’re going to– Let’s say you’re on top and you’re going for a knee cut, and you maxed up into a cross Ashi, you’re still on top of the guy. You haven’t really given up bottom position. Even if you fall back for a cross Ashi and you’re controlling both legs, that’s a really good position to just get right back on top.
Basically, I think that if you’re going to go for leglocks from the top at MMA, it should be from a position where you can much more easily get back on top. I generally don’t recommend it from the top falling back for a straight Ashi or even a 50/50 or anything like that. I would say go to cross Ashi from the top. Go to cross Ashi pretty much only because you can control his legs, and then you can stop him from– He’s not going to get on top of you. You’re going to be in a double-seated situation so long as you control both of his legs. What that means is you’re going to be able to get back on top. The risk isn’t as high.
It’s like that criticism, basically, I totally understand it. It’s not an idiotic criticism. There is reall merit to it. I just think that we shouldn’t discount the use of these valuable weapons because there are things that can go wrong when we use them and because there are, I think, dumb ways to use them. I think if you’re just taking people down and then falling back for leglocks immediately, that’s pretty dumb. It’s not a good strategy. You work for the take down.
I would recommend try to pass his guard and control him. That’s how you win rounds in MMA and that’s also how you stay safe from getting punched with real force, but that’s a dumb way to use leglocks but there’s a smart way to use leglocks, which is from the bottom position. Also, keep in mind, leglocks are an awesome way to get on top. You can attack leglocks and then when the guy defends, a common defensive reaction you’re going to see when you attempt leglocks is the guy’s going to bring his hips to the mat because there are a couple of reasons to do that that keep him safer relatively. Guess what? You can get on top.
A really good example of this is– This isn’t MMA but it’s a good example of this, is Craig Jones versus Matheus Lutes at Polaris. Craig goes for a Kani Basami and he gets what is called a Russian Ashi, and he goes for a heel hook. Russian Ashi isn’t really the best for finishes and Lutes is also very hard to tap with leglocks. He clearly doesn’t want to tap to a leglock. It’s a very tight-looking heel hook but he doesn’t tap to it.
What does Craig do? Craig does a great job of using the position then to just get on top. If you don’t get the breaks, just get on top. You know what I mean? If you’re doing that from the bottom position or if you have the ability from the top once you go for the leglock to get back on top, you mitigate the risk of being on bottom and losing position and such.
Sonny: Okay. That idea then of using the leglocks to just at least offer a threat from the bottom to maybe someone’s walking into your open guard, you can just at least threat with a heel hook to make them back off or even using leg attacks to help pass guard. That’s something that Sakuraba would do as well a little bit. I guess that, as an addition to the toolbox, seems like always a good thing to have. When we think of leglocks in MMA, there’s a handful of guys who you think you point to and say, “These are the guys.” Obviously, Imanari, Palhares. I would put in Entwistle in there as well because he did score a lot of heel hooks in MMA. He got a lot of quick victories as well.
They’re those guys that we look at, but there doesn’t seem to be that many of them. It’s like that is what they’re known for. The ones you look to that make leglocks work in MMA are really those guys. That’s their game, especially Imanari, where he would enter just by throwing these wild kicks with reckless abandon that would just– It was a beautiful thing to do. It seemed like Ryan Hall took a little bit of that, but then he actually has a bit more technique in those kicks. Actually, probably a lot more. How do you think about the disparity then of just how many people are leglockers in MMA versus the potential of their use?
Robert: A few comments. I just want to comment on Ryan Hall first. I think this is interesting. I view Ryan as an updated refined version of Imanari. I think he has a very similar approach to Imanari in a lot of ways and he’s just like a more systematic controlled version of Imanari in a lot of ways. Not to disparage Imanari whatsoever, because he’s actually-
Sonny: Not at all.
Robert: -a gigantic influence on me. It’s fairly arguable. One thing Imanari was not good at was being controlled. He used to do crazy shit.
Sonny: That’s what reckless abandon is what I’m describing because he would just throw, and then just all of a sudden, he’d end up with your heel and that was it.
Robert: Yes. He’s pretty wild. It’s an interesting point you bring up. You see a lot of these guys that they do leglocks but they’re super specialists at it. I think there are two main ways to use leglocks in MMA, you could even say in combat sports in general, because I think even in grappling, you see this distinction a little bit. You see guys that they take leglocks and then they make that the main focal point of their game. In MMA, you can take somebody like Paul Harris as an example. That becomes the center point of their game. You can have a lot of success with that, but I think there is a ceiling to that. It’s hard if leglocks are the chief focus of your game to succeed at the highest level. On the other side of the coin, you have guys that use leglocks rather than as an end into themselves. They use them as a means to an end and the larger end is the positional game, the upper body positional game which is getting on top, passing the guard, taking it back or getting them out to punch them in the face if it’s MMA.
Leglocks can situate themselves very well into that context, that strategy of using the threat of leglocks, you can either break the guy and then now he is easier to take down. If I break both your of legs, it will be obviously much easier to take you down or the threat of that will allow you to get on top. Just off the top of my head, I think two of the best leglockers in MMA for the way I would recommend using leglocks in MMA would be Gary Tonon. Obviously, there’s bias there but I do think it’s true.
Sonny: Yes, I will ask you about that in a bit.
Robert: I also think Marcin Held deserves.
Sonny: Yes, of course.
Robert: Marcin is somebody who we’ve seen the development of his career where in the beginning he was one of those guys that it was leglock or bust. If he didn’t get the break he was probably going to fall short. I don’t now if you remember his fight with Michael Chandler where, godamn he was so close. Have you ever seen this fight?
Sonny: I think I went through all of Marcin’s fights a while back so I would have watched it but I’m not remembering it for a while because he played a lot of Williams Guards so when I was looking over that I went through every one of his I could find.
Robert: Okay, so at some point go and check out his old fight with Michael Chandler where he’s so close to finishing Michael Chandler and then he doesn’t and Michael gets out and Michael arm triangles on it. It’s like, “Ah, dead,” but he’s so close. It was such a nice knee bar entry but you see he’s young and inexperienced. When the leglock falls short his whole game falls apart but as his game developed over time, you start to see a maturity. He actually fought a friend of mine named Phillipe Nover. Phillipe Nover trains with us in the blue basement.
Sonny: Phillipe from the ultimate fighter?
Robert: Yes, that Phillipe Nover.
Sonny: Did he win it, MMA?
Robert: He did. He won, yes. Phillipe is such a good guy. Phillipe’s actually a nurse which is fucking crazy.
Sonny: Yes, I remember that.
Robert: He still works as a nurse nowadays. It’s wild but he trains with us. I’ve rolled with him many many times and he has very good leglock defense. In that fight, Marcin couldn’t get the finish, so what did he do? He came on top. Sorry, Phillipe, he used the leglock really well to positionally advance which is I think that’s the most mature intelligent way to use it. Really, I’m going to be honest, any context whether it’s fighting or what’s funny is I think at the highest level, I really think the same style that dominates in terms of the general strategy, obviously, specifics change but the same style that dominates MMA grappling I also think dominates pure grappling. ADCC and I’m talking about No-Gi only, the Gi is a totally different ball game.
ADCC is pretty similar to MMA grappling when you see what succeeds. When you watch the guys that are dominant at ADCC I do think that style translates very well into MMA. What I’m recommending doing for leglocks in MMA not seeing it as an end unto itself, not seeing it as distinguished or divorced from this positional strategy but rather seeing it as a part of this positional strategy.
I think that also can be used very well for ADCC or just competitive No-Gi where by all means try to finish them with the heel hook but in the event that either maybe you can’t get the finish or maybe they just need the break because there are fights where people literally had their ACLs torn mid-fight. Conor McGregor against Max Holloway. It wasn’t a heel hook but apparently, Conor popped his ACL in the second round and he just kept fighting.
Sonny: Lot of adrenaline going through the bone. A lot on the line that much bigger crowds and everything to keep you going.
Robert: Yes. I’ve heard of other fights too where people, I think if I remember correctly, I think Kurt Pellegrino tore his ACL on a fight or something and he kept going and he went up winning so yes, sometimes people will just eat it. You have to be prepared for what do we do next. If the leglock is all you have, then it’s a rough spot to be in.
I think the biggest adjustment we’ve got to make for leglocking is to just situate them into a different strategic context and when we do that, pretty much all of the major criticisms, I think they all pretty much evaporate. I think most of those criticisms are just born out of looking at leglocks in a way that you shouldn’t be using them. If you look at them and how I think a smarter strategy is, I think they work really really well if that makes sense.
Sonny: I get where you’re coming from which is basically, of course, if you are just diving back, if you’ve got full mountain instead of opting to punch the guy you just dive back onto a toe hold or something and you lose it and then end up on bottom. Of course, it’s not going to work. That’s not what you’re recommending to do.
Robert: That’s the dumbest thing ever.
Sonny: Yes, [laughs] but you’re saying that there is a way to use this strategically and those are the times when you can look in MMA. There’s evidence of how they can be used in such a way and as long as you focus on that don’t just get that tunnel vision of the legs, then they can be a useful addition into your MMA game, right?
Robert: Yes, absolutely, and also it’s funny, you mentioned toe holds. A lot of people have asked me, they’ve gone through the instructional or they’ve dm’d me and they said, “I don’t see any toe holds or ankle locks in this structure,” I’m like, “Yes, because you should not be doing that in MMA.” [laughs] In my opinion, it’s like, “Look, can you get toe hold an ankle lock finishes?” Yes, obviously you can. Andrei Arlovski won the UFC Heavyweight title with an ankle lock. A lot of people mentioned that fight to be like, “Yes, Rob, we were under the lock.”
Sonny: There’s always one.
Robert: Yes. It’s like, “Okay guys, but we’re talking about percentages here.” You can go to a local grappling industries tournament and put some tough blue belt in an ankle lock and he’ll refuse to tap and you’ll break his ankle. I’ve seen that many times at local tournaments. If someone’s going to do that for a $5 medal, people are going to do that in high stakes professional MMA.
I can speak from personal experience, I had two matches. One was at the ADCC trials, one was at a fucking Naga, not really worth it, but I let my foot break both times. They’re both like a steem lock variation. My foot broke both times and I just didn’t tap and I won both matches.
Sonny: Was it worth it?
Robert: In hindsight, knowing that my foot is fine now, yes. I’m glad.
Robert: Immediately after the second one, the second one was because it was the same foot. The second one was definitely worse. I couldn’t walk for a month and I was like, “Bro, that was not smart.” I’m 100% sure I should’ve just tapped that but in hindsight, no. It healed up fine and there was no lingering issues. My foot is fine, but anyway, the point I’m getting at is that you don’t want to bang–
If I’m going to attempt to break someone with a leglock, I sure as fuck don’t want it to be the least damaging variation of leglocks. I basically recommend the only leglocks you go for in MMA are knee bars and heel hooks and they could be outside or inside. Obviously, we all know that the inside heel hook is the most devastating. I don’t think should just count knee bars either. I think knee bars are very valuable. I think they’re very very valuable. I think those three, outside inside heel hooks and knee bars.
Sonny: I wouldn’t disagree with that. If you did take knee bars out of there then people would be telling you about Frank Mir beating that beast of a man Brock Lesnar with a knee bar. It was a good time, right?
Robert: Yes, I just say those three because what do they do, they attack the most vulnerable, they attack the joint of the leg that’s the most– If your foot breaks, that shit will heal, but not all the time. I’m not an expert on the biomechanics of your feet, but my foot has been broken and it’s healed. It’s not as devastating, but the knee, man, we all know the knee is very serious. The consequences are much more significant.
Sonny: For sure. It actually highlights something that I just want to bring up as an aside, which I think is the way that the Danaher team uses the term break, it’s not necessarily breaking the bone. A break could mean a ligament tear, just any major swelling. Is that what is considered a break? It’s not necessarily the bones, right? It took me a while to get my head around it, because when I would hear “Break,” I think, “Oh, they must have broken a bone,” but it’s not necessarily that. Is that right? Because that’s just what I’ve managed to figure out on the outside.
Robert: It’s funny, I’ve never sat down and asked Danaher, “What do we mean by break?” What I take it to mean, I think we’re just referring to structural destruction. That sounds like the black metal album.
Sonny: I like it. Structural destruction. It’s like a song title.
Robert: I don’t know how else I would describe it. Any time a structure is destroyed. It’s funny, I do get your confusion a little bit. My teammates and I, we often times talk about pops. I’m like, “What is a pop?” I still don’t really know.
Sonny: [laughs] Is a pop different than a break? Like, “I got a pop,” is not a break?
Robert: I think a pop is just when you hear a pop, just physically, which I don’t know what that tells you. I had a match once where there was a pop in my knee and it just turned out to be an air pop. I was like, “Okay, nice.”
Sonny: That’s what I’ve heard. It can be air or it can actually be when something gets stretched and the pop is actually when it goes back into place. Something gets stretched out and when it rebounds back into place, that’s the pop sound. A physiotherapist told me that when my knee popped and I had assumed that that pop was a tear, that was the noise your knee made when it tore, was a pop, but they said that it’s actually when it snaps back into place apparently.
Robert: Interesting. The one time I had a match where I couldn’t finish this guy with an inside heel hook and my mechanics were off. I asked Danaher about it. I sat down with him and I was like, “Okay, I got to figure out what happened.” The first thing he asked me was, “Did you hear a pop?” I think a pop is a sign, it’s a signal that there could have been a break. It’s not proof, but it’s a signal that there could have been. I think that’s generally what we mean by pop.
Break, again, I think break mainly refers to ligaments, to be honest. We’re mainly not attacking bones. It’s mainly the ligaments of the knee or of the elbow or the shoulder. I think those are probably the three main targets, the knee, elbow, shoulder, and obviously we got feet too. I’d say those are all the major targets, and it’s mainly ligament, I would say. The only break to your bone I could think of would be that Tex Johnson ankle lock, because he almost does an ankle lock higher than most people do them, but he seems to get such torque on it that it snaps the shinbone. It’s funny, I’m telling you not to do ankle locks in MMA. There are exceptions. If you tell me that you’re capable of snapping somebody’s shinbone.
Sonny: [laughs] Maybe we add it to the arsenal.
Robert: Yes, that’s different. Can most people do that? I think a lot of that is also a byproduct of just being an absolute moose of a human being. I’ve never seen a devastating break from an ankle lock in MMA. Actually, okay, I have once. Héctor Lombard got a pretty nasty one.
Sonny: Which one was whose? I’m trying to–
Robert: It was an obscure fight.
Sonny: He fought a lot in Australia. I saw him fight a lot live because he came up on the CFC, a local promotion down here, and trained at one of the local gyms until he got onto Bellator. There’s definitely one where he breaks some guy’s leg in a gym, I think it was a knee bar, but it’s a horrific one that I don’t want to even go Google again.
Sonny: I’m trying to remember. The fight one doesn’t come to mind off the top of my head.
Robert: I think I know which one you’re talking about. I don’t think it’s that one. It’s in a dusty cage. Sorry, not dusty cage, it’s like a ring. It’s like a shitty-looking ring. It was the last fight he had. What’s his name?
Sonny: Yes, I’m starting to remember, it was Brian Ebersole on the card as well.
Robert: I think he was. Yes, he was.
Sonny: I think it was an explosion fight or something like that.
Robert: I think, if I remember correctly, Héctor got a pretty nasty ankle lock on. I think the kid was really young too, which is terrible. Apparently Héctor snapped his shinbone. Anyway, people always bring up these examples. Look, man, I’m totally open minded. If you can show me that it works consistently, fine, by all means. I’m just arguing that the goal for leglockers in MMA should be– This is another criticism people levy against it, which I think is actually an intelligent criticism, they say you have a limited amount of training time.
Sonny: Yes. This was one I was going to bring up as well.
Robert: I hear this all the time, it’s very valid. You have a limited amount of training time, you should be allocating your training time to more relevant areas. Okay, I don’t disagree, yes. I think leglocks are probably less important than striking and less important than takedowns, but I would argue they are more important than arm bars from the guard, which people do not seem to want to stop drilling. They’re more important than triangles from the guard. I think they’re more important than a lot of other things from the bottom position, quite frankly.
I think that leglocks can be situated very well within this idea of using submission attacks to get on top. I think that because they’re not as important as the most important things, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t allocate time to practicing them. On top of that, I think if you’re going to practice them, only practice the most relevant areas that have been demonstrated to be effective. You can get a nasty ankle lock if you practice it, if you refine it and practice it. I rolled with guys with nasty ankle locks. The time those guys took, these guys were not MMA fighters, they were all grapplers. Let’s say they’re MMA fighters. What do you think is a more relevant use of your time, working on that ankle lock or working on your boxing? Probably your boxing.
Sonny: Definitely boxing.
Robert: Yes, definitely, I agree. I hear these things, it’s funny because, because I’m in the middle of this debate where some guys are hyper leg-locky. They’re like, “Fucking let’s just go out there leg-lock people.” The other side is like, “Leg locks suck.” I’m in the middle like, “No, let’s find common ground.” There’s a middle point we can reach that I think is more reasonable than either of these two extremes. This criticism of limited training time is very valid.
I think that you can still use them effectively, more effectively than many other things, and I think that as long as you allocate just the amount of time to learn the most relevant skills, get really good at the core skills, finishing with heel hooks and knee bars, gaining the positions, mitigating the opponent’s ability to strike you from the positions. Those are the main things. You get really good at those things and you’re going to be able to use leglocks really effectively to either break people or to get on top of them. Those are two very damn good things to have in any fighting scenario.
I used to coach some MMA guys. I’m not currently coaching any MMA guys, but I plan on doing so in the future. I have a friend of mine who is Singaporean, who is an MMA fighter, he was actually being scouted by the UFC but he’s stuck in Singapore. [laughs]
Sonny: It’s a tough time.
Robert: It’s a pandemic, yes. [laughs] It sucks, but it is what it is.
I’m going to coach him on using leg locks in MMA and he’s talked to me a lot about the strategy and stuff, and it’s like, “Look man, focus on your boxing and your wrestling first and foremost. That’s paramount. I don’t want to interrupt that training time. That’s got to be your central focus, but then the leg locks are going to come into play when that stuff doesn’t work.” It’s funny, I don’t know if you remember, do you remember that old Eddie Bravo video where he’s talking about-
Sonny: The Third Option?
Robert: The Third Option, yes.
Sonny: Oh yes, oh yes.
Robert: I actually totally– People can rag on Eddie, but do you remember when Tony fought Justin Gaethje recently? Eddie was like try an Imanari.
Sonny: Maybe try an Imanari. Poor guy.
Robert: Yes. People attacked Eddie, but the reality is-
Robert: -nothing else was working. He’s getting his ass kicked.
Sonny: Was he supposed to just give him this magic bit of advice that would have won the fight? It’s a tough position to be in.
Robert: The thing is that people shit on Eddie there but it’s like a disingenuous criticism because Eddie didn’t say that– Imagine if in the beginning of the first round Tony’s about to walk out and Eddie said, “Maybe try a new move.” Then it’s pretty inappropriate. That’s not the time for that. In the fifth round, you’ve been getting your ass kicked the whole fight, you can’t take the guy down, fuck it, try the leg lock.
Sonny: Exactly. The tough thing to go with that too is if he had just given like the cliche, “Come on mate, dig deep, go out there, give me five minutes Tony, that’s all we need. I know you’re an animal,” kind of speech, which is useless most of the time.
Robert: 100% yes.
Sonny: No one would have blinked twice.
Robert: People also just loved to shit on Eddie Bravo. He’s his own worst enemy with some of these conspiracy theories and stuff but I don’t think he’s an entirely idiotic guy when it comes to jiu-jitsu. I think he has a lot of insight on jiu-jitsu.
Robert: I don’t think he is the greatest coach ever but he’s definitely got some insights, he’s very creative.
Sonny: Very creative without a doubt.
Robert: Anyway so getting back to The Third Option, I think in that video basically what Eddie Bravo says is he says, “Look if you can’t beat him on the feet, and you’re having a hard time taking him down, what are you going to do next?” He says, “Pull guard.” A lot of people shit on that, what he said there, but I think he’s totally right. He’s totally right. I was talking to Gary one time about pulling guard in MMA and he thinks of, he’s actually, I’ve heard him say this in interviews too if I remember correctly where he says, “If you think about it, pulling guard into leg locks is the best way to pull guard because you pull right into a submission and on top of that if you don’t get it, you get on top of the guy.”
This brings me to– We talked a little bit about this before the podcast got started where it’s funny that I think leg locks back in the day were more advanced in MMA actually than grappling. If you go back to the era before the Death Squad blew up, you go back to 2012 let’s say, not that long ago, all things considered.
Sonny: It’s tough to say not long ago or does it?
Robert: Yes. I used to stay up to watch Dream and ONE Championship, I’ll never forget-
Sonny: Those were the days.
Robert: Yes, they were great.
Sonny: Simpler times.
Robert: Yes. Oh geez. Well, there’s still events happening but not many for sure. I remember when Imanari heel hooked Kevin Belingon. It was a ONE championship fight. That fight, I’ll never forget that. I woke up, it was the morning of Comic-Con, and I was going to Comic-Con. Before I was going I was like, “I’m going to watch. I love Imanari so I want to see him fight.” I got up at 4 AM to watch him fight. I watched it and I was like, “Fuck yes, Imanari is the man. Holy shit.” Back then I do genuinely think that there was nobody in pure grappling at the level of Imanari and Palhares. I think those two were the best. I don’t think anyone was at their level.
There were other guys that were very skilled, but nobody was as good as those two in my opinion. I’m a very big Imanari fan. I genuinely think Imanari is one of the most creative innovators I would say in grappling history but definitely in leg lock history. The guy discovered so many things which are only now, the relevance of them are becoming known. What’s really interesting about him though is that he would discover things which I think were actually brilliant, and then just stop doing them, and it’s like, “Why? What happened? This was working.” I don’t know. I think he just probably wasn’t organized about it but he was coming out with brilliant stuff.
Back then leg locks in MMA seemed to be better than in pure grappling. I think the main reason why that is is cultural which I think comes down to a lot of major criticisms of leg locks have more to do with cultural outlook than they do with actual efficacy. Back then in the MMA world, leg locks, they maybe weren’t the most popular thing but they weren’t outright frowned upon whereas in jiu-jitsu not only was it considered bad, it was considered borderline unethical. I actually first got into lego locks because of MMA. Okay, that’s not fully true. Basically what happened was I was a Gi athlete, I was focusing on a Gi, and I started to really get into leg locks and in order to keep practicing them, I actually fought MMA. I fought MMA-
Sonny: You won with leg locks as well, yes?
Robert: Yes. I had four fights. My first night I won by a very fast heel hook. I had no idea what I was doing. I won by– I accidentally did some very good stuff.
Sonny: Why not? That’s the best way to do it I guess.
Robert: Yes. It’s taken played. I won two and I lost two, but even the two that I lost, if you Google you’ll find them on YouTube, they’re still up, one of them I still I’m salty about. I think I should have gotten the decision. The reason I didn’t get the decision is because I kept falling. It’s ironic. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to do this. I kept falling back through leg locks. What you’ll see in the fight is the guy never punches me hard. At no point do I get– Out of four fights, I got punched hard one time. I was doing stuff I actually don’t recommend people to do. I was diving for leg locks like a madman. I had one fight against the guy named Shaquan Moore, a very tough guy.
I didn’t finish him but I won the decision where I was literally just sitting on my bottom pulling guard, and I was going towards him and I was actually having a lot of success doing this. The key is to see, if anyone’s curious and wants to watch my fights, I focused hard on not getting punched. I was like, “Okay, how can I mitigate strikes?” The one time I did get hit hard is because what happened was I got really eager to get the finish. It was my last fight which I lost my decision. I do think I deservedly lost the decision. I didn’t get blown out of the water, but I definitely think the guy edged me out on points.
It was near the end of the third round, and I knew he was up on points, and he hadn’t really cracked me at any point, but he did a great job mitigating, keeping control, and regulating distance and stuff. He played a very cagey, intelligent game. In the third, I dived, I did like kind of Asami. I got his legs and I was like, “I’m going to get him.” He cracked me real hard while I wasn’t paying attention and then I was like, “Oh shit.” Basically, I dipped on the position, and I was like, “Okay.” I let him out because I didn’t want to get hit again and then we just standed there, stood there rather, and then the fight ended and he got the decision there. I think he deserved it.
Anyway, the point is other than that one slip up I never really got hit very hard because I focused very hard on, “If I’m going to go for these, I need to make sure that I keep him away from me.” I talked about this earlier, I don’t need to reiterate it. Just one quick thing is I only stopped doing it in MMA because I saw an avenue for using leg locks. I was very interested in leg locks. I was very curious about them I thought they were cool. NoGi started to gain some popularity so I was like, “Oh, maybe I don’t need to do these fights anymore to do this I can just go in a tournament instead.” I shifted to that yes.
Sonny: If you haven’t watched Imanari’s fights, which probably if you’re listening to this, I imagine you probably have because-
Sonny: -you got to be pretty into it. Yes, and there’s so many creative things that he did over the years it’s a treat to go back and just watch. Even in his losses he is just one of those entertaining guys that normally win spectacularly or lose spectacularly. There’s no in-between. I actually did a breakdown video on guard pulling in MMA, and one of the things that I bring up in that is that if you want to do it successfully, you have to close the distance in one way or another. I guess borrowing an Imanari role, you’ve got to close the distance and that’s entering into a clinch, or I actually think that the best way to do it is to be shooting in onto a double leg and then pulling into a half guard like Damian Maia would do.
If you are going to have to pull guard, I’d say that, in my opinion, that’s the best way to do it which also then means that to practice your guard pulling, you’re actually going to have to be practicing your wrestling, practicing your double legs, because you’re still going to be able to take a good shot to get in on the hips. Even if you want to pull guard, you should have good wrestling. Is that something you agree or disagree with that?
Robert: It’s funny, I literally say verbatim, the same exact thing on the instructional.
Sonny: Great minds think alike then.
Robert: Yes. It’s so funny because everybody fixates on the rolling entries, the Imanari rolls, the Ryan Hall rolls. They’re good, they can work, but I definitely think shooting for doubles or even singles, and then off of the failed attempt– Like Poirier’s a huge percentage of his entries was he would go for a double, he would put the guy against the cage and he’s trying to get the double but the guy would defend so he says, “Fuck it. I’m going to go for a leg lock.” He sits back goes for the leg lock and usually gets it. I totally agree.
This aspect of closing the distance, what’s so key about it is that what it enables you to do is proactively force body contact in such a way that– Whenever we’re grappling in MMA, we have a different consideration that we still have it in regular grappling, but not as much. The guy doesn’t need to grapple you. In pure grappling there’s a lot of stalling, but they’re supposed to be engaging you. In pure grappling, hypothetically, this doesn’t always play out but how it’s supposed to work is if I pull guard, the onus is on you to engage me. That’s how it’s supposed to work it doesn’t always work like that, but it’s how it’s supposed to work.
In MMA, that’s not true whatsoever you sit on your butt, the guy has no need to engage you. The onus is on you. If you want to grapple you have to make him grapple so what you have to do is you have to find a way to bridge the distance so that you can proactively force body contact which you can force grappling exchanges. The issue with rolling entries, it’s not that they’re bad because I talk about them and I do think they can be used well, the big issue is that they’re mainly reactive it’s really hard to proactively force rolling entries.
Every time people try to practically force them, they just wind up looking dumb, and they just don’t work that well. A notable example is– Who was it? Rory McDonald’s versus Stephen Thompson was it?
Sonny: Yes, I remember that one. I was pretty hyped for that fight. That was pretty not very memorable in the end.
Robert: Fair enough. Do you remember that rolling entry?
Sonny: Yes, Rory went for the rolling entries, but yes.
Robert: It was when Stephen was backing up so it’s so hard to get it under those situations. The best place to get it is when you bridge the distance especially when you’re going for a takedown. When you create that kind of a threat then he defends it then you can pull it to the legs. That’s the best way to do it.
Sonny: Where would you class then the Ryan Hall, Gray Maynard fight in that one? Is that a good example of that as well?
Robert: Yes, that’s a really good example to illustrate my point. If you watch that fight so many times Ryan tries to get the rolling entry and Gray will run away. That or rather he’ll back it up. Then the best few times Ryan gets in on Gray’s legs, you’ll see it’s because Gray is going towards him. Gray starts to walk towards him and that’s when Ryan gets him. Yes, that fight was also, I would say I found that terrible.
Sonny: [laughs] Look up Imanari matches before going back to look those ones up this year.
Robert: Yes, that one was just awful. It’s not entertaining whatsoever.
Sonny: Give some data let’s put it like that [laughs]
Robert: Definitely a useful fight, yes, for sure.
Sonny: I want to talk then about Garry Tonon. We’re talking about shooting the double. I can’t remember the guy’s name, who he fought. Shooting for the single leg, he ducks under, pulls guard into a heel hook, gets the tap. To me, that is just a masterful bit of shoot boxing, just striking to wrestling to submission attacks it’s just such a very masterful fight. He has run into problems with his leg locks in some of his other fights, run into problems. I think it was his second one he fought the Indian 10th Planet guy. I thought he had his heels snapping or breaking and the guy gets out.
Even though in the last fight, the guy seemed pretty wildly, pretty skilled and it seemed like he couldn’t rely on those heel hooks as much as he could in say, submission grappling where you’d think if Garry gets you in that position, if he got even those guys in this position in a ADCC rules match probably you’d expect Garry to get the finish but there’s something about MMA if it’s the gloves, if it’s the extra sweat or something that it seemed like they weren’t as reliable as they should be, as they normally are. What’s your thoughts on that then?
Robert: I’ve seen all of these fights obviously.
Robert: I’ll take it one at a time so the first one is your Yoshiki Nakahara that’s the ideal way to use leg locks.
Sonny: I agree that is an ideal. If anyone I know did that, yes it would be amazing.
Robert: Yes, He goes for the takedown, and then when the guy defends, he goes for the leg lock, and yes beautiful execution yes pretty perfect. Yoshiki actually came to train with us. He wanted to learn leg lock defense. I rolled with him at the time. Really nice guy. I think it’s always cool when people do that. They recognize they have an area of weakness, and they go to mitigate it with somebody who just beat them with it. Yes, so it was cool of him. Then the second one is Rahul Raju. Actually, I’ll talk about the Koyomi Matsushima fight that’s the other Japanese guy who he fought.
That’s an interesting one to compare to the Yoshiki Nakahara fight because there’s a lot of similarities but there are some key differences. The first big difference is that Koyomi definitely came better prepared, technically speaking to defend. Koyomi had Satoru Kitaoka in his corner, who is a real innovator of leg locks back in the day. I still love to study Kitaoka. I think he also trained with Imanari leading up to the fight. He definitely came very prepared, technically to defend and you can see it Koyomi was doing very intelligent defense.
I think in that fight, the reason why Garry couldn’t get the finish simply was a matter of Koyomi preparing himself very well defensively, but the reality is Garry was able then to get on top pass the guard. Garry won the fight based on that you know what I mean. The leg locks I don’t remember if he ever got on top from the leg lock threat. I honestly don’t recall but sometimes it just doesn’t come through. A big difference when you look in those fights– Another thing is Garry, in the Yoshiki Nakahara fight, he pulls into a far hip Ashi and he rolls through to an outside Ashi. In that Koyomi Matsushima fight, he pulls into a diagonal Ashi.
Usually, that’s okay, you can still get the roll to the outside Ashi to get the break, but it can be hard if the guy’s very prepared defensively and Koyomi definitely was. He did all the right things defensively and so, yes, there is a slim margin for errors. I also think the gloves as you said, I do think that plays a part. That is another big factor where your gripping has to be very very good, has to be very on point. Anyways, the Rahul Raju fight, that fight definitely Gary, the trick is, Gary had a hard time getting him to tap. I think he’s still broken if I remember correctly. I think he broke Rahul.
Sonny: Yes. It’s been like apologies to all these guys for not remembering a nice show and it’s been a while since I’ve watched that so I’m just going from memory, but I remember I’m like, “Damn, this guy’s legs look like rubber candle.” He defended, got out, didn’t tap but I do remember having that feeling of like, “Oh, is that not working, is the adrenaline or–?”
Robert: Yes. I think there was a lot of adrenaline but fight I can definitely say Gary used the leg locks to get on top. After the failed leg lock attempts, he would get on top with it which is I think the best way to use it. I forget. I don’t remember if I asked Gary about this, I don’t remember if I did, but for some reason, I think I remember I did and Gary told me that he heard pops. I think so. Those were very notably brutal. Rahul is fighting, I think he actually fought last night-
Sonny: Oh wow.
Robert: at ONE. He’s still clearly healthy.
Sonny: Yes. I made all respect to him as well for getting there-
Robert: Yes, for sure.
Sonny: -and surviving and putting up a decent fight too. Go on, sorry.
Robert: Sorry, just to add. That’s what I was getting at with why I said I think Gary is a really, I think he’s the best guy for leg locks in MMA. I think probably ever, to be honest because what he’s doing is he’s not just using it for the finish. Against Rahul, he couldn’t get the tap, fuck it, passes guard. He turned that on its head. Instead of fucking try like, “Oh, fuck it,” passes the guard.
Sonny: That’s a really interesting way of looking at it and I think it’s probably correct in that even though that he’s only working with six fights still such so early on. With all that expectation that he does have so many leg lock finishes in his grappling career that I’ve been thinking, “Oh, if he gets someone in that position, it should be dead to rights that he finishes him.” From the other perspective, it is, “Well, he didn’t finish but he still used the leg locks to get on top.” Obviously having such a threat behind him with that is going to make it easier to work those other elements of his game because people they don’t want to be in his guard or they don’t want to sit on top probably trying to go for grant and pound if they’re concerned about him snatching hold of the leg so he still has that advantage.
One thing actually again I thought of going back to the brakes on the pops when you’re talking about twisting. Probably on the aside, but I can’t let it go. If you get a pop and they tap, does the pop become a break?
Robert: I don’t know.
Sonny: I heard a pop and he taps so does that make it a break?
Robert: Well, the thing is, I guess when we were talking about brakes, we’re dealing with speculation.
Sonny: Of course because that’s not like, “Until you get an x-ray how are these guys calling it a break?” That was my brain. After the match they go, “Oh yes, I’m broken.” I’m like, “Wait until he gets the MRI mate.” Like, “Come on.”
Robert: Yes, for sure. No, 100%. It’s a tricky thing. One time Danaher told us his story about we’re talking about the paradox of this, we’re trying to practice braking mechanics, but we don’t actually want to hurt each other. The only way you could really know is by you’re right, getting an MRI. One time, Danaher told us he said, “Don’t rely on any mechanics unless you’ve seen it definitely break two people. I’ve seen it, done more than once, and you can rely on the mechanics.”
I was talking to a friend at training yesterday he was a former wrestler, and he’s like, “Yes, why does it NoGi jiu-jitsu become a high school sport?” I was like, “Okay, it’s because, imagine just the visual image of a 14-year-old with like a snapped ACL lying in a gymnasium locker room, sorry, or a gymnasium floor just screaming.”
Sonny: It’s not going to happen.
Robert: The school would not fund that.
Sonny: Well, that’s why wrestling is the perfect thing you guys got over there, folkstyle wrestling where it did evolve from catch wrestling, taking out the submissions so people could perform it, and then I know that they’ve got a lot of potentially dangerous calls from high school wrestling where they take some things out and keep it safe. I think it’s because they’ve taken those submissions out that it is able to work in a school environment and frankly, I think everyone talks about getting jiu-jitsu in schools over here in Australia and it’s like, “Man, it’s the same thing.”
Robert: Yes, it’s tough.
Sonny: There’s no way that, you could do some things but it’s not going to take off like a big thing because there’s just too many headaches involved with submissions whereas wrestling it’s like, “Well, hey.” It’s just like rugby scrum kind of. It’s far more palatable than anything if it could go wrong in jiu-jitsu.
Robert: Yes. Well, it’s funny because I think that wrestling is statistically more dangerous injury-wise.
Sonny: Than jiu-jitsu?
Sonny: It could be, it could be.
Robert: Just from my own personal– I shouldn’t have said statistically too bad because I don’t know the statistics.
Robert: My own personal anecdotes I’ve seen many more injuries from wrestling than jiu-jitsu. For myself, I can say for instance I have had many more injuries from wrestling than I’ve ever had from leg locks. The point is that in wrestling the goal is not to break the guy’s leg because jiu-jitsu it is.
Sonny: That’s it. Those visuals count for points on the sideline-
Robert: Yes. No, 100%.
Sonny: -or just anyone trying to sell it to a school admin. That is going to matter what the goal is.
Sonny: Then going into that specialization then of that wrestling or jiu-jitsu where to spend the time, we know that Gary was a wrestler, goes into jiu-jitsu, adds striking into the mix and he’s still, I look forward to every one of his fights now watching him, paying close attention just to see where this development of the modern submission grappling game can go in MMA. He’s got to be at the forefront of it. You get someone coming in saying, “Fresh, brand new,” how much specialization then would you put on that leg locks? Or is it really as we’ve discussed in just those key areas that you’ve talked about? I guess, in what order of hierarchy would you put that in?
Robert: The most important things for MMA first and foremost would be striking offense and defense. Personally, this is a hot topic of mine, a lot of grapplers will get mad at me, but I think striking is the single most important thing in MMA because I think that if you have– It’s debatable. A lot of people say wrestling and I think there’s some validity to that but fair enough. I think that wrestling defense if you have solid wrestling defense, striking seems to be firmer.
Sonny: Can be very hard to take someone down who’s got a good single leg defense, the no shoes on, and if they get good at using the cage, taking someone down who wants to just avoid it to strike can be very difficult.
Robert: Yes. I would say– Anyway, we don’t have to rank the first two because there’s a debate there but I would say striking and then wrestling, or just takedowns, those two areas, To be honest, I would honestly rank leg locks right beneath those two. I would rank them right beneath those two. We’re talking about skills from the outset of a match because you could say, I would argue back control. Pinning is more important than leg locks, but hat’s not the outset of a match. I would rank that above, but if we’re talking about things that you’re going to do at the beginning of a match, I would say striking, takedowns, leg locks. In my opinion, those are your best three options. If you get really good at–
Another point, I don’t even talk about this point on the instructional because I don’t think it’s too important, but I don’t want people to fixate on this. I think it’s a mistake to ever fixate too much on trying to– I used to try to do this, metagame the community where I’d be like, “What are people not good at?” There was a point to doing that initially when the squad came up, but it’s really hard to do that now in grappling. In MMA, to be honest, can get away with– Palhares was a master at two things. To be honest, he doesn’t have sophisticated skills in certain leg locking areas. For instance, his heel exposure strategies aren’t super sophisticated, but in MMA, you don’t really need that, that much.
Palhares, for instance, was an absolute master at entering the legs and breaking people, maybe the best ever at that with an outside heel hook, specifically an outside heel hook, psychotically good. The point is if you’re a grappler and you’re looking to do leg locks, I think a large percentage of your time has to be on heel exposure strategies. Whereas in MMA, it’s just not as important. It’s just not-
Robert: -because guys don’t know how to hide their heel as much. Now, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn that because what happens if you go get somebody who does know how to do that? You got to learn to deal with it, but you don’t need to invest as much time. Training time has always been like you’re playing the stock market, which is on everybody’s mind nowadays.
Sonny: I was trying to think of how I could work a joke.
Robert: Yes, the GameStop–
Sonny: Yes, GameStop somehow, I don’t know, I’ll see what I come out with. [chuckles]
Robert: Yes. I view it is like playing the stock market, where you don’t really know where– There was hedge fund managers they were expecting that stock to go down in value to make money, and then it, obviously, didn’t. It’s similar with– Imagine if you don’t invest any time into, just an analogy, you invest no time into leg locks, but then maybe you’re in a fight where it really could have been valuable for you or maybe you invest too much time in– Let’s say, you invest hours of time into, something that I love to shit on because it’s super popular, and I think barely ever works is just the traditional armbar from the closed guard.
Sonny: Yes, I’d agree with you.
Robert: Just the way people do it most of the time it just doesn’t work.
Sonny: Imagine to get your guard passed in MMA pretty much.
Robert: Yes, and also you’re on bottom and you’re ineffectively throwing your legs up and the guy’s punching you in the face.
Sonny: It’s– Yes.
Robert: It’s stupid. It can work, but it’s a low percentage.
Sonny: Of course, it can work, but I’d probably say keep them tight so you’re not getting punched in the face first. Then if they are posturing up, feet on hips trying to kick them away or throwing the legs up just you could– Geez. [laughs]
Robert: Anyway, yes, I think you get what I’m saying.
Sonny: Yes. I think what you’re saying is we got to take leg locks to the moon really.
Robert: Well, yes.
Robert: Yes, there you go, that was really good.
Robert: Yes, 100%.
Sonny: I think that’s pretty much covered I think most of the things we wanted to get through in this discussion. Maybe what are some all-time matches or leg locks for leg locks in MMA aside from the ones that we’ve discussed if you haven’t seen that Gary Tonon one? I’d animated it. I think it’s free on the ONE FC thing, so definitely check that out. What are some other maybe some hidden gems that you could think of that people could go and check out to see leg locks in MMA in action?
Robert: Yes. I think that one of my favorites ever is Palhares versus David Branch. That’s a really, really good one. Very, very significant match in grappling history too because Danaher was actually in David Branch’s corner. Definitely, very closely studied the outcome of that fight because Palhares got the heel hook on Branch. A lot of his early outside heel hook stuff, he studied Palhares very intensively. Everyone should ensure–
Sonny: As they would, yes, of course.
Robert: That was very good at what he was doing, which I find very interesting because it’s almost like he doesn’t seem like the brightest character. It’s like how did he figure this stuff out. [chuckles]
Sonny: He does seem like the brute strength reap and tear kind of guy too, but hey, he obviously figured it out.
Robert: Yes, there was real I think technical refinement to what he was doing. Anyway, that one is really, really good. Another good one, Imanari versus Hiroshi Umemura. The thing is it’s tough because that fight I’m reluctant to mention it because I don’t think people are going to be able to find it very easily because that’s an old Deep– It’s called Deep–
Sonny: Deep. Yes, Deep and ZST ones that he fought on, they’re tough to get.
Robert: Yes. A good ZST one you could watch is his tag team fight with Takumi Yano. It’s great one.
Sonny: Yes, exactly. That is classic.
Robert: That one is not really even MMA, to be honest. It’s sort of MMA.
Sonny: I’d wonder if there’s bits of work there or if they had–
Robert: Yes, I think probably.
Sonny: You never know with that if they were–
Robert: Most likely. It’s funny because that kneebar he gets at the end is definitely a real kneebar. It was very brutal. [chuckles]
Sonny: You just don’t know what they had agreed to. It could be 100% real. I don’t know. It’s a tag team match, two grapplers against two strikers in Japan. Who knows?
Robert: It’s a very ridiculous fight, but it’s interesting. It is on YouTube for free. I generally would just say watch Gary, watch Rousimar, watch Imanari, watch Marcin Held, watch Ryan Hall. There’s a lot of other guys you can watch, but those are the central–
Sonny: Those are the main guys, right?
Robert: Yes, they’re the main guys I would recommend. There’s so many other guys. I’d say Marcin Held. I would say a lot of other Polish guys like Marcin Held. I criticize one of Ian Entwistle’s fights but he’s also done very well before. His fight against Anthony Birchak was a very, very good fight. That’s a really good use of leg locks in MMA. Definitely has his moments, Paul Sass is another one, Paul Sass.
Sonny: Yes, Paul Sass. One of the best guard pullers ever with something like– Who knows how many triangle victories he got?
Robert: Here’s a fun fact about Paul Sass.
Sonny: Please, yes.
Robert: I was a massive fan of Paul Sass. I thought his game was so good. I did a seminar in Liverpool at Paul Sass’s academy. He doesn’t own it. It’s where he trains.
Sonny: Kaobon or something like that?
Robert: No, NextGen MMA. I was talking to the owner of NextGen MMA who was Paul Sass’s coach. I said, “Whatever happened to Paul? Why doesn’t he fight anymore?” He said, “Paul got a job working in finance making a ton of money and just said, “Fuck this.'”
Robert: I was like, “All right, that’s totally fair.”
Sonny: That’s definitely fair. It seems fitting that he would because he was such a unique fighter as well in that guard pulling, and that he only ever won by triangles and heel hooks. I think that was it.
Robert: He had one decision win.
Sonny: He had that heel hook against Michael Johnson, right?
Robert: Yes, that was an awesome one. He had one decision win. Yes, but that was the only one on that. I’ve never seen the decision win. I just know it happened, but, yes, all triangles and heel hooks other than that.
Robert: Definitely one of the best guard pullers in MMA history, an absolute legend of a guy.
Sonny: Without a doubt. What about any up and comings? Is there anyone that comes to mind, a leg locker that–? Maybe it’s the person you mentioned you were training before or just anyone under the radar that maybe we could keep an eye on if we want to keep savvy in the leg lock game in MMA?
Robert: Not anyone that’s currently fighting, but one of my teammates Damian Anderson he has been training a lot with Gary doing the MMA drills and Damian is a very, very high-level leg locker, especially with outside heel hooks. Outside heel hooks, I would say, are his specialty. In my opinion, legitimately one of the best outside Ashi and outside heel hook practitioners out there. Very, very solid at that and he seems to be shifting his focus, mainly to MMA. I think that once he fights there will be a lot of really interesting outside heel hooks on display. Yes, he’ll finish most people with that, but he’s not just focusing on that.
One thing that Danaher does is when he works with the guys is they’re working on MMA. All the arts integrated together. Gary’s not just doing jiu-jitsu practice and then hitting a punching bag, and then [laughs] they’re integrating it all together. I’ve no doubt, I think Damien will do very well because he’s directly under Danaher and Gary, so he’s going to do well.
Sonny: That would make me excited to watch him. Definitely. I just remembered the final question of scrimmage wrestling. Scrimmage wrestling is something I hear about. What is it? From what I understand that does seem something that would work into MMA and maybe leg locking in MMA as well, right?
Robert: Well, you’re going to hate my answer. My answer is I actually don’t know what the definition is.
Sonny: That’s okay. It seems I’m trying to get a definition and I’m like– My vague one is wrestling up from the bottom.
Robert: Okay, that might be what it is. I’ll tell you what the scrimmage wrestling drill is. Scrimmage wrestling drill is we start from a broken down single leg and you have to wrestle up from that. That’s the scrimmage wrestling drill. I have never really asked what is the definition of this. I just know and I guess, I’ve seen a lot of other– Danaher is always trying to integrate wrestling with– You have to modify it. You can’t just copy and paste it. For instance, very low single legs, and wrestling are much more viable because man, that shoe really catches when you grab the ankle, there’s a real surface it catches right.
Grappling that is not viable, the foots going to slip out. You can’t do that as easily. You got to modify it. Similarly, let’s say I shoot a single leg and I stand up with it and I just look for the takedown but I’m struggling to get it but I don’t account for submission threats, you can get counter because in wrestling those threats are illegal, obviously. You can’t keep hitting somebody in wrestling, you can’t rolling for somebody in wrestling.
Sonny: Used to be able to, because– what was– I’m blanking now, Foxcatcher, the ’92 Atlanta. Was it ’92 Atlanta Olympics? Damn, I’ve gotten terrible with dates and names, but he’s going up against the Turkish guy. Is it Mark? Mark Schultz. Mark Schultz. Yes. He’s going up against him and he breaks a guy’s arm in the Olympics.
Robert: Oh, wow, there you go.
Sonny: Now it’s banned. It’s definitely banned.
Robert: Okay, so there you go, you can’t do that in your wrestling, but in jiu-jitsu, obviously, super valid counter. You’ve got to take that into account. You’ve got to factor that in. When Danaher is coaching wrestling, he’s always thinking about that thing. A lot of what you’re going to see at an up and comer, Damien, for instance, or Gary in future fights is going be the integration of different arts. Yes, that’s, I think, a very valuable insight that I gained watching him coach those guys. Yes.
Sonny: Okay, that’s, that’s good. I’ll keep thinking about and looking out for that thing in the future as well. Hey, Robert, thanks so much for your time. It was great to catch up and obviously if people want to get a hold of that leg locks in MMA instructional and get in touch with you, what should they do to get their hands on that?
Robert: The instructional is just on my website, it’s robertdeglebjjonline.com. So robertD-E-G-L-E-bjjonline.com. It’s on there, and if you want you can follow me on Instagram. Same thing, Robert D-E-G-L-E BJJ. Also, I have a YouTube channel which I haven’t been putting up as much stuff, to be honest, because I’ve been pretty busy lately, but–
Sonny: As we all are. As we all are, it’s crazy times.
Robert: Yes. Hopefully, I will get back to YouTube because I actually enjoy YouTube more than Instagram.
Sonny: I think it is better, it’s longer-lasting anyway. It just reminded me there’re some clips from the instructional app on there, is that right?
Robert: Yes, there’s two. Yes, there’s two. I have two up. One on breaking mechanics, one on I talked about, so we didn’t get to this on the podcast, but I think that breaking mechanics actually. There are some differences in MMA versus grappling. If you’re curious about that, I have a video.
Sonny: You have a video, yes nice.
Robert: Yes, there’s a video where I talk about that. I’ll just say this. I think it’s way easier to break somebody in MMA, it’s so much easier to break people, as long as you’re in a cage because you’ll hit the cage wall. That helps things immensely.
Sonny: No rolling out of bounds and–
Robert: Yes, you can’t, it’s impossible. [chuckles] I had a grappling match in a cage and we hit the cage and I had the lock. I just thought to myself, “Oh, man, I feel so bad.”
Robert: I was like “Really it was the cage that fucked this guy , we hit it and he tapped.
Sonny: Two points in a standoff are gone.
Robert: Yes, yes, no, no.
Sonny: Two gone.
Robert: You can check me out on YouTube as well.
Sonny: Awesome. Awesome. Robert, thanks so much for your time mate.
Robert: Thanks for having me.
Sonny: Yes, be in touch. Stay in touch again in the future. It’s been a good chat and yes, I appreciate it very much.
Robert: No worries.
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