How Wrestlers Lose In MMA: The Armbar

So yesterday we covered two of the ways wrestlers tend to lose in MMA: basic chokes (triangles and guillotines) and knees to the face…

By: Nate Wilcox | 16 years ago
How Wrestlers Lose In MMA: The Armbar
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

So yesterday we covered two of the ways wrestlers tend to lose in MMA: basic chokes (triangles and guillotines) and knees to the face plus a detour to discuss Sean Salmon’s losses which exemplify the traps wrestlers fall into in MMA.

Today we’ll talk about the armbar. Wrestlers are particularly vulnerable to the armbar because they tend to end up in top position and have never been trained to avoid planting their arms. Take the case of Olympic Gold Medalist Kevin Jackson. Oddly enough, he’s one of the few top wrestlers to enter MMA that Dave Meltzer didn’t at least mention in his excellent article on Wrestlers in MMA. I think that’s because Jackson never won an NCAA championship.

Jackson had roared into the sport in the final Extreme Fighting event, crushing the previously undefeated John Lober (at that time a top MMA fighter who’d tied Igor Zinoviev to a draw and beaten Frank Shamrock).

So when Jackson signed with the UFC it was widely expected that he would quickly claim their first middleweight belt (at that time middleweight was 200lbs in the UFC). He swept through a four-man 200lb tournament at UFC XIV and all that remained was claiming the belt. Unfortunately for Jackson, he had to get past Frank Shamrock first. Shamrock, making his UFC debut, had learned submissions well in several years of training at the Lions Den and fighting in Pancrase.

Here’s how 411 Mania’s Matt McEwan described the fight:

Both Frank Shamrock and the middleweight title debut tonight, as Ken’s younger brother takes on former Olympic gold medalist Kevin Jackson for the newly formed title.Shamrock makes his UFC debut here, but was well known to the Japanese fans as the King of Pancrase. The hype up his association with Maurice Smith in the “Alliance” as well.

Jackson made an impressive debut at UFC 14 by winning the middleweight tournament. Afterwards he said he wanted the best 200lb fighters in the world, and gets that tonight.

As the fight starts, Jackson immediately shoots but doesn’t set it up at all and eats a right. Jackson does manage to get a single leg takedown, but Shamrock transitions easily to an arm bar and the fight is over in 23 seconds. THAT is how you make a debut.

You can watch the whole fight here.

Certainly other wrestlers have lost to armbars early in their careers (see Randy Couture’s loss to Enson Inoue in the extended entry) but the ones who succeed in MMA learn how to avoid them. Not Kevin Jackson.

At the next UFC he fought another Lion’s Den fighter, Jerry Bohlander. Here’s how that one went, from McEwen:

Bohlander comes into this fight after losing to Murillo Bustamante outside of the UFC, while Jackson is of course coming off his 20 second title loss to Shamrock.Bohlander comes out swinging, but the wrestler Johnson is able to put him off balance with an overhand right. He takes Bohlander down and holds him against the fence. Bohlander tries for an armbar, but Jackson avoids. They scramble from her, and Bohlander ends up on top for a second, but Jackson is able to reverse and hold Bohlander down in a sprawling position. Bohlander is able to power out of that though, and they are back on their feet.

Bohlander tries to shoot, but Jackson catches him easily and takes his back for a second, but ends up in 1/2 guard. Not much doing from there other than an armbar attempt or two by Bohlander for a while, and we get a restart at the seven minute mark.

Back on their feet, Johnson gets another quick takedown, this time holding Bohlander down with a side headlock. Bohlander is able to roll out of that though, and tries for yet another armbar. Johnson avoids, and Bohlander tries his luck with a kimura, but can’t quite get it on totally. Bohlander rolls for an armbar again, and this time is able to get and fully extend it. Jackson doesn’t tap, but McCarthy stops the fight, telling him he couldn’t let his arm be broken.

OK fight here, with good patience shown by Bohlander as he really waited on that armbar. Another fight that was almost exclusively worked out of the guard though, making us three for three on that front.

Jackson fought MMA one more time but never became the all-time great he could’ve been. Rumor has it that he had to give up MMA or lose his career as an amateur wrestling coach. Lame.

Will Lesnar meet the same fate? Winning by arm bar definitely seems like Frank Mir’s best chance to me.

Couple of bonus fights below — including Randy Couture and Matt Hughes’ losing battles with the armbar.

Randy had already shocked the world by beating strikers Vitor Belfort and Maurice Smith in the UFC Japan but Enson was the first submission artist he’d met in the ring.

Bonus: Here’s video of Matt Hughes’ two losses to Dennis Hallman. One by guillotine, one by armbar.

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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