Judo Chop: Phil Davis Invents a Hammerlock Variation Called the ‘Mr Wonderful’

No one who's been paying attention to his career should be surprised at how well Phil Davis is doing in the UFC. Before he…

By: Nate Wilcox | 13 years ago
Judo Chop: Phil Davis Invents a Hammerlock Variation Called the ‘Mr Wonderful’
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No one who’s been paying attention to his career should be surprised at how well Phil Davis is doing in the UFC. Before he entered MMA he was the 2008 NCAA division 1 wrestling national champion. Before he entered the UFC he went 4-0 with one TKO and two submissions.

It’s obvious just from seeing Phil Davis flex at the weigh ins that this is a rare physical specimen. But the thing that has those of us who really fiend for fine MMA technique pump is neither Davis’ wrestling pedigree nor his athletic gifts. No, it’s the way Phil Davis has dived deep into BJJ and submission grappling that makes him a very special talent and one who promises to accomplish great things while also advancing the sport as a whole.

Davis described the way he approaches training MMA to Dan Stupp before his bout with Tim Boetsch at UFC 123:

“When you go from a sport where you know what you’re doing and beyond that can kind of use your imagination to make things happen where they probably shouldn’t and then you go to a sport like MMA where you’re not good at all and you leave the gym and you haven’t landed a punch or a takedown because you’re busy getting punched it’s just hard to deal with, to go from a high level of precisionary to the very bottom and staying positive everyday.”

“It took a little while,” he said of his MMA progression. “Once I started getting comfortable, I worked with a new group of much better guys, and it’s just gotten worse. I’m never really comfortable. I work with a good group of strikers back home in San Diego at Alliance, and everyone once in a while, I’ll train for three or four months on end at AKA in San Jose, and they have a quality team there of strikers and grapplers. I’m never really comfortable. I’m always learning, constantly.”

That’s an amazing amount of humility for someone who already has mastered one of the most demanding aspects of the martial arts. Think about it, an NCAA 1 national champion has easily mastered as much information as any black belt and yet he’s coming to the gym everyday with the attitude of a white belt.

Sure he’s got a great deal to learn about the game, especially the striking aspects, but he has already shown a real knack for combining jiu jitsu with his wrestling. In fact I’d go as far as to say that Davis is very near the state-of-the-art for a wrestle-grappler.

The definitive example of a wrestler-grappler is currently Jake Shields, although Matt Hughes is probably the pioneer of that style of MMA. Davis’ is likely well-ahead of Ben Askren. See this post on Askren for more of my thoughts on wrestler-grapplers. Also see Jonathan Snowden’s post about the approaches to MMA taken by amateur wrestlers (thanks to BE reader lowellthehammer for finding that link).

So it should have come as no surprise to see Phil Davis pull off a very sweet hammerlock variation on Tim Boetsch. Announcer Joe Rogan had no idea what to call it so he named it the “Mr Wonderful. I think Mr Wonderful is a perfectly good name for the hold but I understand while many observers with a wrestling background were screaming at the screen since hammerlock is the term used in amateur and submission wrestling for any hold that twists the arm back that way.

In the full entry we’ll hear from Phil Davis’ BJJ trainer Lloyd Irvin, Jake Shannon of Scientific WrestlingCage Side Seats‘ K.J. Gould and Watch Kalib Run‘s S.C. Michaelson and we’ll look at some gifs.

Animated gifs by Grappo.

Phil Davis’ BJJ coach Lloyd Irvin sent out the following email to his list:

Well in our school we call it “The One Arm Bandit” now known Worldwide as “The Mr. Wonderful”.

I first started doing this back in 1997 when I was madly in love with the Kimura. I’m a true believer in finding ways to make moves that people say can’t work. Conceptually this is a old school ‘chicken wing’ what we used to do in grade school.

I have a complete arsenal of weird moves most people think won’t work in real life but they do but unless you prove it you’ll never convince the population.

I have my guys on video doing this move in competition and when I first showed Phil this move he fell in love with it. If you look at his last fight against Rodney Wallace you can see Phil going for this move over and over and over, plus you can hear me tell him to avoid other logical movements to go for this. Why?

Because I promised him that if he pulled this off in the UFC he would win submission of the night and he promised that he would show the World my move and do it in the UFC.

Well he did and won $80K because of it.

I asked Jake Shannon of Scientific Wrestling to comment on the submission and here’s what he had to say:

It’s disappointing to see modern MMA commentators struggle to identify a common technique only because it isn’t a part of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lexicon. Even a decent junior high-school wrestler will recognize the hammerlock from a mile away.

It’s a great maneuver in itself, especially for submission as Phil Davis has most recently demonstrated, and was so memorably shown by Sakuraba against both Renzo and Royler Gracie. It’s also great as a set up to pinning techniques, like the double bar arm.

The main difference between Davis’ hammerlock and Sakuraba’s double wristlock is not the position of the person being submitted but the position of the person applying the submission.

When you compare the two, you can see that the anatomy of the loser is similar: the arm is bent at a 90 degree angle behind the back and the wrist is push away from the back, applying pressure and pain to the shoulder. It’s mostly different in the way it’s applied by the winner.

I suppose the most disappointing thing about the lack of care shown by most modern English-speaking MMA commentators is that there is a rich lexicon of grappling terms available from the English-born catch-as-catch-can tradition. I’ve included photos, many that predate the birth of Helio Gracie, showing the very move that Davis won with at the last UFC.

The last thing I want to do is drag the whole nomenclature debate into this post but Shannon does have a valid point. Rogan trains BJJ with Eddie Bravo which means he’s more informed about the terminology of a somewhat eccentric subset of one grappling community (BJJ) but there are other communities who have different terms and I think it would be cool if Rogan learned more wrestling terminology. If Rogan and Bravo weren’t actively dismissive of catch wrestling as a valid style there would be much less animosity coming back at them from the catch guys.

Here’s K.J. Gould and S.C Michaelson to walk us through the gifs and add their own takes to the nomenclature debate:

Gould: It’s a type of Hammerlock. It’s also maddening to hear a lot of people butcher the name and call it everything but what it is (but that’s an aside).

If we just go straight wrestling (and not exclusively Catch) Davis started with a Double Wrist Lock. People often wonder as there’s a Double Wrist Lock. if there’s a Single Wrist Lock and the answer is yes. Often names in wrestling refer to the grip or method of control, so Davis switched from a DWL to a SWL. In wrestling the names of moves often refer to the grip used rather than the joint being worked.

Michaelson: Forget the “Mr. Wonderful”, that move was called the Pistol Grip. First thing you’ll notice is that it will be hard for Davis to get a traditional kimura because Boestch is too close to the cage. There doesn’t appear to be room enough for Davis to bring his free horse leg and step over Tim. Another thing starting off Phil didn’t have the arm of Tim flexed at that right angle, so that when he applied the grip, Tim’s arm wouldn’t unfold (which it did). Also, while you’re applying the grip, you need to post up and put some space between your bodies to make it easy to make Boestch as perpendicular to the floor as possible. But enough about what didn’t happen, let’s talk about what DID.

Michaelson: It’s clear that Davis realizes he won’t be able to get a traditional kimura on Boestch for all of the obvious reasons.because at one point Davis pulls his trapped leg out of half-guard and mounts Boestch (which barring massive upper body strength from Davis, won’t finish the sub). He chicken wings the “kimura” arm with one hand (a la BobBacklund) which shows incredible strength as he is doing a bicep contraction against Boestch’s tricep contraction in trying to control the arm and we all know the tricep is the stronger muscle..While doing this, he snakes his right arm in-between Tim’s legs and just rolls him off his back and makes him perpendicular to the ground. This allows Davis the chance to wretch around there and grab his other arm (still controlling Boestch’s arm) in the proper kimura grip and pull. PISTOL GRIP.

Gould: S.C. has said the next part requires a lot of power but it’s actually technique and leverage. Davis uses his weight to pin Boetsch’s arm to the mat, moves to side control and uses a cradle to over rotate the hips which causes Boetsch to turn and moves the pinned arm up his back to a Hammerlock position. The cradle did all the work and doesn’t require a great deal of strength.

With one arm over Boetsch’s shoulder holding the Hammerlock, Davis snakes his other arm under Boetsch’s waist and shuffles to get a second grip. Based on his position it’s too akward for Davis to get a figure-4 frame up so he would have to double grip and pull the arm up and away to get the tap.

Michaelson: How could Tim not get caught up? Simple, don’t sign to fight Phil Davis. But seriously, Boestch’s fatal mistake was posting up with his right arm while Phil had the left one locked up at the beginning of the kimura attempt. By doing that, he allowed Davis the space to chicken wing his arm behind his back. If he doesn’t do that, Phil isn’t going to be able to finish the kimura. Like I said, he didn’t have the space to get his big horse leg over Boestch’s head to isolate the arm nor was the arm bent enough of a degree to try and put pressure on the shoulder to create space to get the arm under. Phil would’ve either a) continued to try the kimura and likely fail, b) attempt a straight armbar and fail because Boestch’s arm wasn’t turned in the right way to get the fulcrum in the right spot, or c) use that distraction to escape half guard and get into side control or mount.

Boestch’s second error was Tim allowed his free arm to be too latent. I mean it just sat there and did nothing. When Davis snaked his legs and hoisted him like a father does his son, Boestch should’ve stopped rubbing Phil’s lower back and gotten his arm to his right side to at least try and keep Phil from using his second arm to grip the kimura. Or punch Phil in the ribs and claim a moral victory. Something.

Gould: Hammerlocks are still used in amateur wrestling today as it’s a great assist to getting a pin. Because of this usually the guy isn’t already on his back, but with no pins in MMA you can adapt it like Davis has done. In Am. Wrestling as long as you’re not over torquing the shoulder it’s ok to use (similarly to DWLs and Top Wrist Locks.)

Here’s some Catch legends showing variations of the Hammerlock from Gnarlmaster’s Catchwrestling (thanks to K.J. and Jake who both sent them along):

George Hackenschmidt— “Arm up the back with a bar (a Forbidden Hold)”

Hackenschmidt — “Hammerlock with the bar on (now a prohibited hold)”

Below is Earle Liederman as taught in The Science of Wrestling and the Art of Ju Jitsu:

Hammer Lock and Half Nelson

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of BloodyElbow.com. 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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