UFC 138: Thiago Alves Needs to Use His Ground Game

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2011

Courtesy: fiveouncesofpain.com
Courtesy: fiveouncesofpain.com

It’s time for a reality check: Thiago Alves has a ground game, a good one.

And while people love watching him chop down opponents like trees with his leg kicks, or knock them senseless with well-time punches and elbows, it’s time for him to start using that ground game to get himself some wins.

Coming into his UFC 138 matchup with Papy Abedi, there was talk that the American Top Team product could be cut with a loss. That’s a remarkable fall from grace for a man who isn’t yet thirty and fought Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title on the biggest card in UFC history in 2009.

Fortunately, he came out and buzz-sawed Abedi, looking incredibly tight on his feet and far more cerebral than he has in recent losses or uninspiring wins. For Alves to fight anywhere other than the top promotion in the world would be ludicrous, as when he’s on he’s as good as anyone in the game.

However part of that talent is utilizing his slick ground game. It’s not something that’s new, he holds a jiu-jitsu brown belt under the legendary Ricardo Liborio and has for a while. but it’s something that’s new to his MMA game.

Too often in the past, Alves has been pulled into fighting out of his comfort area. He’ll have trouble with opponents who keep him off balance with in-between distance, too far to strike powerfully but close enough to get tied up with and held against the cage. Opponents with good wrestling have posed issues, and while his ability to scramble and get up is as good as anyone at 170, the points are already scored against him when the takedown happens, so his efforts to get up seem less impressive.

Thankfully, in a division heavy on guys who will use wrestling to grind away and win in uninteresting fashion, Thiago Alves is there to make things exciting. It’s a very rare thing that he’ll come to the octagon and not put on an enjoyable performance. However, he needs to temper that excitement with success, which he can do by implementing his grappling game more prominently.

When done properly, jiu-jitsu can be exciting. As MMA grows, people become better educated on the nuances of grappling, and appreciate a guy like Demian Maia as much as they do Anderson Silva. Alves has the unique ability to combine a little bit of both, the vaunted striker with the excellent grappler, and do so excitingly while racking up some wins.

For that reason, it becomes clear that he should be using his ground game a little more.

And if that reason isn’t enough for you? Ask Papy Abedi. He can probably be more convincing than I can.