UFC 129: Breaking Down Georges St. Pierre's Ground Game

T.P. GrantAnalyst IApril 22, 2011

Georges St. Pierre is one of the most visible and well rounded champions in MMA. While his striking has the been the talk of the MMA world since his five round destruction of Josh Koscheck's eye socket, one cannot mention the Canadian fighter without mentioning his skills on the ground.

St. Pierre's takedowns have been unstoppable force in the UFC Welterweight division, made even more impressive by the fact that prior to training MMA, he had never wrestled a day in his life. A Gracie-Barra black belt, the Champion relies on his years of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training once he hits the mat. While most fans translate Jiu Jitsu as submissions, St. Pierre is a master of positional grappling. 

When speaking of St. Pierre's Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game, the place to start is his guard passing, and sadly no gifs could be found. Passing the guard one of the most important, fundamental and difficult aspects of Jiu Jitsu and St. Pierre employs several different approaches. He seems to prefer standing passes, working from the stacked position where he pushes his opponents entire weight on their neck and shoulders, lifting their hips off the ground and reducing their mobility.


From this stacked position the French-Canadian likes to employ ground-and-pound because the position traps the opponent's head against the mat and reduces the ability to deflect strikes. After using strikes to distract and damage, he can then work for either an explosive pass or a more meticulous pass. Once GSP has opened an opponent's guard he also actively seeks to trap a leg with his shin, drop his shoulders to pin the opponent and look to slide his knee out in a classic open guard pass.

Once he has passed guard St. Pierre has a very strong side control, from which he likes to play a traditional belly-to-belly control and strike with short elbows or use a variation of the Judo scarf hold, Kesa Gatame, to set up advance of position and submissions.

It has been a few years since we've GSP spend serious time on his back, but he has a very active guard. He does not aggressively pursue submissions from his back, instead St. Pierre either looks to sweep (skip to 6:34) or stand back up, using the scissors guard to create enough space to get back to his feet. Against Dan Hardy, St. Pierre went attacked Hardy's foot, instead of trying to finish the footlock, used it as a sweep.

George St. Pierre Sweeps Jon Fitch UFC 87 Seek and Destroy

Against Jon Fitch in the above gif, you can see Fitch beginning to pass GSP's guard by sliding his knee over GSP's leg. The Champion immediately transitions to a deep half guard, by grabbing the leg and pulling Fitch off balance, forcing him to base out both hands on the mat. St. Pierre is then able escape his head out the back door, threatening Fitch's back and as Fitch turns back into GSP, he turns the half-guard into a single leg for the sweep. 

This brings us to the topic of St. Pierre's submission offense, which has seemed shaky at times.

GSP Kimuras Dave Strasser

Above we see one of GSP's five submission victims, Dave Strasser and we can see one of GSP's most common submission attacks: a kimura from North South. You can see that St. Pierre has Strasser on his side, attacking the top side arm, struggling to pull it free. Strasser has underhook GSP's leg and is attempting to disrupt GSP's balance. St. Pierre is able to pull the arm free and begins twisting behind Strasser's back, but he also pushed Strasser's arm away which makes the submission more difficult to finish. To help preserve his balance, St. Pierre has to widen his base, posting his leg far out. The tap is forced when the pressure on the shoulder becomes too much, but St. Pierre was forced to muscle the submission quite a bit.


Here we see St. Pierre in the same situation with Dan Hardy. The hands are positioned for a kimura, Hardy's arm is pulled behind his back and GSP spreads out his base. And again you can see GSP is holding Hardy's arm out away from his body, with both his arms extended. This reduces the amount of leverage in the submission, requiring more strength and a greater angle of rotation. This enables Hardy to weather the storm.  If GSP had kept Hardy's elbow tight to his chest a slight rotation would have force a tap.(skip to 4:00)


[SLOMO] GSP submits Matt Hughes

Here again St. Pierre is going for a North South Kimura on Matt Hughes. Again Hughes is on his side, GSP goes for the kimura,  with his base out wide and arms away from his body. With his elbows away from his body, the Canadian is going strength vs strength with Matt Hughes and Hughes is able hook St. Pierre's leg and roll him over. As Hughes straightens his arm to fight the kimura, St. Pierre is able to transition to an armbar. As Hughes rolls out of the armbar, GSP slides his leg in front of Hughes' face to isolate the arm. 


GSP Submits Justin Bruckmann

Speaking of armbars, lets take a look at GSP's armbar offense. Above is the Canadian's near perfect armbar on Justin Bruckmann. He uses strikes to set it up, hooks the arm, smoothly slides to the side and then isolates the arm. The only detail is that after extending the arm to point out is that St. Pierre doesn't control the wrist rather he just hugs the forearm to his chest.


Here is the famous armbar attempt on Dan Hardy. The entry to the armbar is hooking an arm from back control, scooting the hips out to the side and throwing the legs over to isolate the arm. And it is here that things begin to go wrong, GSP does not control the wrist right away and Hardy begins rotating his arm to take pressure off his elbow. Further reducing the pressure on the challenger's arm is that GSP's knees are flair out wide and he is not lifting his hips into the armlock, reducing the leverage and you can see the extra effort required to crank the arm on GSP's face. Hardy's other hand moves to the leg controlling his body to give him space to roll, and as he rolls GSP begins to try to put his hips into it but its too late.

Ryron and Rener Gracie did a fantastic breakdown of this attempt and the resulting escape.


Lets take a look at Nick Diaz's picture perfect armbar against Cyborg. Once the arm is isolated, look how quickly Diaz transitions to controlling Cyborg's wrists. Diaz pinches his knees, fully extends his hips and forces a very quick tap even as Cyborg attempts the same escape as Dan Hardy.

Now St. Pierre's submission defense is likely the most improved aspect of his grappling. In 2004, then an up-and-coming challenger St. Pierre made a very basic mistake of going for a kimura from bottom of side control on Matt Hughes and in 2006 he almost walked into a gogoplata choke against B.J. Penn. Since then he hasn't even had a submission attempt come close to being locked in on him.

Now he is faced with the potent blend of wrestling and jiu jitsu since his 2004 match with Matt Hughes in the new challenger Jake Shields. The gameplan for St. Pierre is almost certainly to keep the fight standing and flex his striking but if this match his the match it should be the stiffest test of GSP's grappling fans have seen in a long time.