To get an armbar, a fighter usually has to bring the fight to the ground. Ronda Rousey excels at this, not only because of her judo background, but because Rousey has trained her athleticism to perhaps being the best in women’s mixed martial arts and developed her understanding of leverage to a much higher degree than that of her opponents. With that double blessing already in place, Rousey managed to overcome a severe experience deficiency against Miesha Tate and gave us one of the most compelling finishes combat sports followers have seen in a while.
An armbar is a lever. In most cases, the fulcrum is the hips of the fighter applying the armbar. The lever action is used to hyperextend the elbow joint, which usually does not lead to broken bones, but rather damaged ligaments, tendons or muscles. Most fighters make clear their submission by tapping physically or verbally before the armbars actually break the elbow joints. Occasionally, a referee will step in if a fighter is being recklessly stubborn and stop the battle before such breaks occur. On other occasions, the action is too quick, the fighters in awkward positions or the referee hangs back too long and we get a snapped arm. Ronda Rousey is perhaps the MMA queen of applying armbars in lightning quick fashion, so her opponents have at times received damaged arms during their bouts.
In this Judo Chop, both armbars that Rousey applied in the Strikeforce championship fight will be examined. Miesha Tate escaped the first one with a great display of smarts and toughness and threatened to turn the tide her way afterwards. The second and final armbar came about after Rousey brought Tate back down to the ground and isolated the left arm in stunningly efficient fashion. Grapplers of all shapes, sizes and experience levels can learn from the performances both women gave us in that cage on March 3, 2012.
Hit the jump for the Judo Chop technical breakdown The lengthy wait between fight and this breakdown let me stuff this with enough GIFs to stun some browsers. Grappo’s GIFs mostly come from the Fightlinker post he created and he graciously made the Iatskevitch roll one to special order.
First, I asked Patrick Tenney, the esteemed leader of the Bloody Elbow Grappling Team, a few questions about the armbars Ronda applied in the one round battle:
Ben: A couple questions to bounce at you for the Judo Chop – Why is it okay for Ronda to open her knees and cross her feet with that armbar? Wouldn’t that give Tate more opportunity to escape?
Patrick: So this came up a few times actually in discussion. That was completely fine. The reasoning behind this is that experienced grapplers typically have the wherewithal to keep their knees squeezed while crossing the ankles. The reason inexperienced grapplers are taught the other mechanic is that by crossing your ankles your knees naturally open out unless you actively keep them together (so for a lower level grappler it helps to have one less thing to worry about).
She could also have been crossing her ankles in order to prepare different grip breaks utilizing her lower body if her upper body strength couldn’t separate the arms.
Ben: What other grip breaks are you thinking of?
Patrick: Dipping the shin inside the elbow pit of the opposing arm, the pull in using her ankle cross to bring the opposite elbow in to loosen the strength of the grip etc etc.
Ben: So in order to escape that type of armbar, what did Tate want to do? We saw her try and roll away from Ronda for a moment there and then seemingly struggle to get her elbow below Ronda’s hips.
Patrick: They call the roll away a hitchhikers escape because the person escaping points their thumb out (like a hitchhiker) and then rolls out and around the arm. Ronda stopped this by having correct pressure on the legs and perfect arm control. What Miesha needed to do in order to roll out that way, was to roll out with her wrist not controlled. You can actually SEE Ronda check the thumb position to make sure the elbow is in the correct direction.
When Ronda bent the arm past her own hips it was already over, that arm was gone. That was just Miesha being too stubborn for her own good; that was past the degree of bend that normal elbows allow.
By the way, Ronda, in spreading her knees initially, was trying to apply a little more pressure on the hips and head of Miesha to prevent the initial roll overs, or at least that’s what it appears to look like.
A video explanation of the hitchhiker’s escape (which has many other names, like the “answering the phone” escape and so on) from Dean Lister, a world-renowned grappler and one-time UFC fighter:
Look at how Dean insists that the roll over the shoulder begin as the hand is in a certain position and as arm is going down – NOT as it is fully extended and controlled by the opponent.
Alright, now to the armbars:
After trying to shake free of Rousey for a beat or two, Tate goes for an inside trip from the clinch. Rousey steps back the right foot to use as a pivot to counter-toss Tate to the mat, while keeping that fierce head/arm clinch. As they land, Tate maintains the half guard by clamping down on the right leg of Rousey. While keeping the clinch, Ronda goes for the guard break. She balances precariously for a moment to bring the left foot up onto Tate’s clamping thigh and shoves that down and away. The momentary tipsiness of the position is offset a bit by having a grip on the far side of Miesha and having the shoulders flat. Miesha cannot really get up on her side and toss Ronda over. This combination gives Rousey the space to get drive the right knee down to the mat on the same side as the rest of Ronda’s body and then the rest of the leg is brought firmly out. The same far-side grip, near-side knee slide principles apply in gi or no-gi submission grappling with the passes that Rodolfo Vieira and so many others have employed to great success.
After working to mount again, Ronda sets up the first armbar. She whips the right leg across the face and hugs that arm to her core. That exteded leg is what will keep Miesha down and the hugging allows her to use her entire body’s strength against the arm. The left leg is jammed up against the ribs to help immobilize the arm. Note how Tate’s elbow is not quite on top of Rousey’s crotch. Miesha has managed to get it down just enough and work onto her side in order to eventually escape the armbar. The arm still bends beyond the normal range of motion, yet the subsequent back take and control Miesha exerted on Ronda showed no visible signs of damage or injury to the arm.
The nice escape of the first armbar. Rousey tries to turn this now-failed armbar into an ompolota, by rotating to her side and bringing the left leg over the shoulder, but it is too late. Miesha is already coming around the backside and into a far, far better position. The spin backwards prevents the armbar from being re-applied and essentially eliminates the omoplota or triangle alternatives that most submission grapplers like to go for in that sort of situation. Tate obviously spent quite some time figuring out the usual counters to armbars and related attacks during her training camp. From this scramble, Tate would threaten to take Rousey’s back for quite some time and it took some creative maneuvering for Ronda to get out.
Tate threatened a rear mount for quite a while before Ronda worked her way out with impressive athleticism. Once, the scramble ended, both fighters regained their feet for a brief moment of stand-up. Tate barged forwards with the intent of rearranging Rousey’s face. The problem with that head-on attack is that when you do that to a judoka, you will usually get thrown. Yoshihiro Akiyama did a similar thing to Jake Shields at UFC 144. Ronda uses a plain ol’ clinch’n’hip toss.
If it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it. Or go ahead and add onto it your own flourishes like completely leaving your feet as to make your opponent take the impact of both bodies landing on the canvas in full. Nastily delicious piece of work. The fall leaves Ronda in a kesa gatame position, which means that there is a brief opportunity for Tate to scramble out, if Ronda does not bring up that left leg. Ronda makes that possibility academic and then swiftly passes guard into a more typical side control position. The Gracie Breakdown by Ryron and Rener does a great job of explaining the guard pass.
As the Gracie Breakdown showed briefly, Ronda attacked Miesha’s turtle defense in a manner that swiftly and efficiently broke it wide open. There is much more to the technique than they show though. Some graplers know the technique Ronda used as an Iatskevitch roll (named after the very good Russian judoka, Alexander Iatskevitch) and KJ Gould pointed me towards this brilliant breakdown from The Difficult Way blog.
As you can see in the beginning of the GIF, Rousey has decided to skip the usual mount position entirely and shoved her leg across Tate’s stomach in a position most people recognize as a precursor to a body triangle. However, Rousey comes from a judo background where pinning the opponent and/or getting the armbar is more prioritized and rewarded than getting BJJ or MMA-style control of the back. The foot of the left leg is clamped onto the thigh initially, as Rousey shifts to the side, while balancing on her left arm and head, and shoots her right arm deep into the crook of Tate’s left arm. The left leg of Rousey is correctly on top of Tate’s head, preventing any sudden movements upwards or outwards.
At this point, Ronda wants to roll Miesha onto her back, so she grabs Tate’s left leg behind the knee and rolls over her side, dragging Tate’s leg over her head. The direction of the drag is important, as the Difficult Way breakdown of the Iatskevitch roll above shows, because otherwise, brute force is needed to flip the opponent completely over their own head. That method can lead to a strong, smart opponent resisting the flip or straightening out their body. Miesha appears to try straightening out a bit in the GIF, perhaps looking to resist the flip. Rousey is strong, yet doing the Iatskevitch roll by dragging Miesha’s leg over her own head is much easier and less risky. As the flip occurs, Ronda’s right leg slips into place over Miesha’s face and when the flip is done, Ronda is in perfect position to pop upright and work for an armbar.
The armbar is not immediately available, as Miesha has a grip upon the trapped arm with her other hand and arm. Ronda has to rip the arm free of the double grip and then recline for the armbar. First she gets a truly solid grip on the wrist by putting it in the crook of her own right arm and using the other hand to clinch even more. Rousey sweeps to the right in her fall backwards, which better isolates the arm, by rotating the direction in which Tate’s opposing grip muscles need to pull and resist. Once the sweep to the right gets to a certain point, the arm truly pops free and Ronda pulls her legs in, starts to elevate her hips and continues hugging that wrist to her chest in a near-death grip. Miesha reacts a beat too late to start the hitchhiker escape, as the time to do it was when the arm was not fully extended.
Miesha wants that hitchhiker escape, which is not happening with the arm fully extended like that. The GIF exaggerates how much time there is to react, but Tate missed the opportunity to get that escape and shifts back in to try in desperation to free her elbow once more. The GIF shows that the elbow is already bent and damaged though. The fight should have been stopped at this point.
Once that elbow pops, the fight is over. Unfortunately, neither Tate – hyped up to the gills with adrenaline and competitive fire – nor the referee – completely disregarding his obligation to maintaining fighter safety – stops the fight.
Ronda has no choice but to put the exclamation point on the finish by pushing the arm down towards the legs. In most armbar situations, pushing the arm towards the legs allows the usage of the upper thigh/hip corner as a fulcrum to get some sideways leverage on the elbow joint. Most times, the opponent taps before the arm actually wraps around the leg. Once that arm wraps around the leg, Tate finally taps and only then does Mark Matheny, the referee, move in to stop the fight. Take a look at the fine open leg armbar technique displayed by Rousey: Miesha’s upper body is immobilized, the wrist is firmly controlled, the hips are elevated and she does nothing more than what is required to have that fight stopped.
Another theoretically possible defense for Miesha would have been to take the Vinny Magalhaes approach to the armbar Fabricio Werdum applied upon him in the 2011 ADCC heavyweight final. Basically, Vinny got up on his side – which allows his larger frame to relieve the pressure somewhat – and then employed mystical grappling magic to allow him to tough out a super-gnarly submission being applied by one of the very best grapplers on the planet for several minutes. This “Vinny defense” is not advised for anyone who does not have the high level grappling background that Magalhaes possesses or has not made peace with the possibility of the arm being broken like what happened to Miesha Tate. Seriously, I have no idea how Vinny stayed in that for so long or eventually got out of it. Werdum did not do anything immediately and obviously wrong. That is Benson Henderson level Gumby stuff.
Remember, Ronda gives the Look of Doom to anyone in her way. Think the Vinny defense would successfully work on this new champion?
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