Jiu-jitsu, in case you hadn't realized it, is hard.
It's a marriage of the mental, physical and technical that takes years to perfect. Actually, it takes years to even become serviceable, much less expert. There are times when things click into place and flawless execution is the reward, but those times come between long spurts of work and plenty of failure and missed opportunities.
That's why the perfection is so rewarding, though. It's why, from the first time you put on a gi to the first time you hit a submission to the first time you hit a perfect submission, you're driven.
There's nothing like that feeling, and no sport rewards it the way jiu-jitsu does: the charge of simulated life-and-death, the ultimate checkmate broken up only by a simple tap.
On Saturday night at UFC 172, Luke Rockhold exhibited perfection. His win was a technical masterclass, a step-by-step showcase of how to take a bigger man who relies on raw power and overcome him with the most intricate of applied technique.
In a sport that is becoming increasingly infused with wrestle-boxers who learn submission defense and a few attacks from each position, Rockhold's win was not only remarkable, it was in utterly rarefied air.
The action began with Tim Boetsch predictably trying to be the aggressor. Since developing a reputation as a slow starter, he's begun a thrust of trying to get off earlier, and that looked to be the plan against Rockhold.
Hunt for a power double, beat him up on the ground, repeat as needed.
Only Rockhold, who is appreciated for his kickboxing more often than not, is a skilled mat technician. He's a jiu-jitsu black belt who followed that path to MMA and took to striking with surprising slickness as his career evolved. People call him a striker, but he's a submission ace first and foremost.
With those tools in his proverbial tool belt, he was able to catch Boetsch by surprise. On that telegraphed double leg, Rockhold sprawled and got to work on the opening that Boetsch left, slipping his leg diagonally across Boetsch's neck and out through his armpit. That opened up an inverted triangle, which he then closed off.
From there it was academic. Boetsch was willing to struggle because that's what he had to do, but it's the type of position and execution that is not seen at a high level in MMA. People aren't ready for a guy to slap on an inverted triangle from a sprawl, and they're certainly not expecting him to go through a checklist of attacks until one works.
Only that's what Rockhold did.
Once he established the position, he began looking for ways to get Boetsch out of there. He fished for an arm. He adjusted his hips and tried to force his weight down onto Boetsch's back enough to close the triangle that had formed on his front. He bridged and rolled, continuously looking for angles or new options to present for a finish.
And one did.
He was finally, after one last adjustment to the triangle, able to isolate Boetsch's arm thanks to a slight shift of the hips, which freed the arm from any protection. Rockhold, knowing that such a reaction would come from the hip pressure, wasted no time latching onto it and wrenching it into a kimura to secure the win.
It was the endgame for the type of jiu-jitsu performance that is not seen in MMA anymore. It's was the endgame for the type of jiu-jitsu performance that is not seen even in jiu-jitsu anymore.
Rockhold offered up a practiced, focused implementation of the right technique at the right moment, adjusting as needed until the path to victory revealed itself. Once it did, it was simply a matter of walking that path.
He did just that on Saturday night. He didn't win a performance bonus for it, mostly because the subtleties of his submission didn't match the flailing foot-tapping that ended Joseph Benavidez vs. Tim Elliott, but that's almost beside the point.
Rockhold earned something more valuable than the bonus: perfection. He's been practicing jiu-jitsu long enough to know that you can't put a price on that.