The major story coming out of the UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs Penn is the ignoble end to Penn’s storied career. But, on the undercard Russian submission specialist Alexey Oleynik stunned fans, and his opponent, when he finished Viktor Pesta with not only the first Ezekiel choke in UFC history, but from the bottom of mount no less.
The Ezekiel choke originates from judo, named sode guruma jime or sleeve wheel constriction. In Brazilian jiu jitsu it is dubbed the Ezekiel choke after Brazilian Olympic judoka Ezequiel Paraguassú who crossed trained with Carlson Gracie and was considered a master of the choke. The gi version of the choke is very simple, dive one arm behind the head of the opponent and with that hand grip inside the sleeve of the other arm, which comes in front of the neck to encircle it and provide the choke. This original gi variation is a common sight in judo and jiu jitsu tournaments. Here is all-time Brazilian jiu jitsu great Roger Gracie going over some basics of the choke.
Attacking the Ezekiel while moving to mount is the classic set up for the move, and some fight fans will remember that this was how Olympic Judoka Hidenhiko Yoshida executed the Ezekiel choke at Pride Shockwave 2003 against Royce Gracie.
Notice how Yoshida moves his left arm from under Royce’s arm to wrap around the head, and then brings his right arm up to begin securing the grip on his own sleeve. Once the grip is secured, Yoshida dives his right hand under Royce’s chin and begins to put on the choke.
Within Brazilian jiu jitsu competition there have been further modifications made to the ezekiel choke, an arm-in variation that can be finished from a variety of angles, including from the back. This back-zekiel has become a very popular choke among top-level competitors. Here is one of the most decorated competitive black belts in history, Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles teaching this variation.
Top-level competitors favor this particular variation as they will find themselves in positions to use this choke as they try to pass guard. But the Ezekiel choke is not just used from dominant positions. It is a sneaky choke that while easily prevented, once locked in is very difficult to escape. As a result fans will occasionally see the Ezekiel used from positions where normal thought is that a grappler does not have much in the way of submission offense. One example is hitting it while inside someone’s closed guard, it is a risky maneuver as it can easily be stopped and leave the attacker open to armbars and back takes, but if applied correctly can lead to a quick submission win.
This is a clip of a judo black belt competitor in a jiu jitsu competition, applying the choke on a jiu jitsu black belt. The Judoka has won the inside grip positions and has already wrapped up the jiu jitsu black belt’s head. The jiu jitsu player doesn’t realize a choke is coming, and the Judoka attempting to pin and pressure inside the guard isn’t uncommon. While the jiu jitsu player is relaxing, trying to wait out the Judokda’s pressure, the Judoka applies the choke. The jiu jitsu grappler recognizes the danger a moment too late, he tries to strip the grip and attempts to angle his hips for an armbar, but quickly goes to sleep.
Naturally, with a choke this popular a no-gi variation has emerged rather quickly. The concept is the same, encircle the head with both arms but with a modified grip. Here is an explanation of the no-gi version:
Now let’s take a look at Alexey Oleynik’s submission win. First keep in mind that Oleynik is a deeply experienced fighter with over 60 fights. He spent 20 years on the regional circuit and in that time collected 39 submission wins before coming to the UFC. He is a very good grappler and is considered an expert in the no-gi Ezekiel choke, having now finished 11 of them in pro MMA fights.
Notice that that while Pesta was in side control Oleynik actually already had his head trapped and had grabbed on to his own bicep, in what very much looked like a rear naked choke from the front. Then as Pesta moves to mount, with zero concern at all for his opponent’s grip, Oleynik slips his left hand under the chin for the choke. Pesta reacts right away trying to drive his weight through the choke, then trying to punch his way out, and finally trying to push on Oleynik’s arms. However, once this choke grip is locked in tight it is very difficult to break in time to fend off unconsciousness.
The set up by Oleynik was a clever one, essentially an inversion of the classic attack for the choke while moving to mount. Oleynik set up the choke from the bottom of side control and then invited his opponent to move to mount, putting the choke in while Pesta transitioned positions. A very fun bit of grappling and it leads to a historic finish.
Oleynik’s no-gi Ezekiel is getting a fair amount of attention and we may see a few more of them occur in the UFC from top positions as fighters tinker with it. It is very doubtful we will ever see one from the bottom of mount again or that they will ever become as prevalent as say the rear naked choke or the guillotine. Simple awareness and a small amount of prevention are all that is required to utterly shut down an Ezekiel choke, it requires far less effort than fighting off the entries for other more repeatable submissions. So, while the Ezekiel choke isn’t the center piece of a grappling game, having a submission like this in one’s ‘bag of tricks’ can allow a fighter to take a match that isn’t going his way and suddenly turning it into a win.
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