The UFC is set to be the main event of the debut of new Cable TV channel, Fox Sports 1 and the headline of that card features a Light Heavyweight bout between former UFC and Pride Champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and former Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen.
Known for his striking, Shogun is also a very able grappler and is one of the few deep half guard players in MMA. With Chael Sonnen’s aggressive takedown game and the fact that he has been working more diligently to pass guard since his first loss to Anderson Silva, it is likely that we will see some deep half guard work. So, this breakdown will help MMA fans recognize the deep half guard when it is happening and determine which fighter is actually getting the better of the grappling exchanges.
What is the Deep Half Guard?
The deep half guard is a modification of the traditional half guard, where the bottom fighter wraps up one of the top fighter’s leg to maintain some control over the top fighter, as opposed to the mount or side control where the top fighter is in total control. The deep half guard is where the bottom fighter positions himself deep under the top fighter, getting under the hips, giving him excellent position to disrupt the base of the top fighter.
Jiu Jitsu competitor turned MMA fighter Ryan Hall demonstrating the deep half guard
Now at this point, there are some Jiu Jitsu purists throwing things at their computer screens because this position is not the “true” deep half guard. The deep half guard as preformed by Jeff Glover (Link) is what is considered the deep half guard in competitive grappling, but that positioning one’s self totally under an opponent’s leg is less practical in MMA because of the inclusion of strikes. It can be done, but the change in position must come very quickly.
So the pictured position above with Ryan Hall is what you see more frequently in MMA because if the bottom fighter buries his head he is reasonably well protected from strikes and can work his offense. Speaking of offense…
What do you do from the Deep Half Guard?
The simple answer is sweep. While submissions are fight-enders, both in MMA and competitive Jiu Jitsu, submissions from the bottom are very difficult when facing upper level competitors. So, the elites in competition Jiu Jitsu switched their focus to developing their ability to use their guard to reverse the positions and end up on top, known as “sweeping.” So many of the positions developed in competitive grappling, like the deep half guard, were specifically developed for sweeping, with submissions coming when the top man makes a mistake while defending the sweep.
A fighter who gets to the deep half has a great number of options available, because from that position they can disrupt the top fighter’s base a number of ways. The most basic sweep a fighter can do from the deep half guard is often the first sweep a fighter learns from the half guard in the first place. Some times referred to as the Dogfight sweep, it involves the bottom fighter using an underhook to come up on to his knees right into a double leg takedown.
This sweep has been a favorite of the Nogueira brothers and has been used heavily by Demian Maia in his career. (Gif) (Gif) This sweep is ideal for when the top fighter is leaning back or attempting to disengage from grappling.
If the top fighter is trying to lever down on to the head of the bottom fighter and putting his weight on the leg near the bottom fighter’s head another option is for the bottom fighter to hook one of this legs into “elevator” position. From this position, a fighter more effectively lift and move around the top fighter.
To help demonstrate this, here is Vinny Magalhaes showing an example of using the legs to elevate from the deep half guard.
This position is very similar to Marcelo Garcia’s famous X-Guard, which is a type of deep half guard using elevator hooks. For application in MMA, Wilson Reis made use of these sweeps during his run in Bellator. (Gif) (Gif)
If the top fighter projects his weight onto the bottom fighter in an effort to put him flat on to his back, the guard player can fall back on a Nogueira brothers’ favorite. (Gif) For a detailed looked at this sweep, here is Hillary Williams, possibly the best American born female BJJ grappler we’ve yet seen, breaking it down.
Finally, to show a little submission offense form the position, we look at a favorite of Shogun’s from the Deep Half guard. During all the rocking and weight shifting, if the leg by the head of the bottom man ever gets too light there is a chance for a leglock. For a look at this attack, here is Mr. Deep Half Guard himself, Jeff Glover.
How do you stop the Deep Half Guard?
So if the deep half guard is so wonderful, why doesn’t everyone use it and unstoppable sweeps litter MMA and grappling? Because the position can be negated by a savvy grappler, so let’s look at what Chael Sonnen will need to do should he find himself in that position.
The old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies here. As Ryan Hall likes to say about the deep half guard, getting to it is about three fourths of the battle, once you are there it is expected that you sweep. So fighters will jealously defend the space under them to prevent a fighter from getting into proper position.
The easiest way to prevent the deep half guard is with good head control. If the top fighter is able to control the bottom fighter’s head and prevent it from getting into proper position it will negate not just the deep half guard, but the majority of half guard attacks. The simplest from of head control is diving an arm under the bottom man’s head, and then driving the top of the shoulder into the side of the bottom man’s face, force him to look away. Refereed to as a crossface, when combined with a little sprawl of the hips it prevents the guard player from getting under the hips. (Gif)
When Jon Jones fought Shogun he was able to shut Rua’s half guard game using head control, sometimes using his own head to maintain that distance (Gif) and other times using his hands (Gif).
But if the bottom man does get into the proper position all is not lost. If the bottom fighter becomes careless with his arm there are submission openings for the top fighter, but against an experienced deep half player that is unlikely.
Another way to defeat deep half guard for the top fighter is to get both knees on the same side by stepping over the bottom player’s head. This requires the top player to get the knee that is trapped in the half guard to the ground so he establishes a strong base. These lead to a very strong guard pass that Fabricio Werdum used on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. (Gif)
To break that pass down, here is Gracie Barra competitor and BJJ coach of UFC Lightweight Rafael dos Anjos, Philipe Della Monica breaking it down.
So, that is a basic guide of what to watch for when it comes to the deep half guard. To share thoughts go to the comment line below or reach out to T.P. Grant on Twitter or Facebook.
And if you are a grappler have fun trying out those moves, remember it is all about seeing what works for you and being yourself. Unless you can be Andre Galvao, if given the choice always be Andre Galvao.
For more half guard goodness check out these other Judo Chops:
Ben Thapa’s amazing piece looking specifically at Shogun’s half guard play and it can be shut down
Back when beloved mod and BE BJJ ace Patrick Tenney was known as AboveThisFire he helped Nate put together a Judo Chop of Wilson Ries’ half guard brilliance.
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