MMA: Is the Closed Guard Dead?

T.P. Grant@@TP_GrantAnalyst IFebruary 11, 2010

During the  previous decade, the game of MMA evolved at a rapid pace as fighters went from one dimensional contenders to well rounded champions.

By 2005 it became clear that fighters had to train in a striking form, wrestling, and jiu jitsu simply to stay competitive.

As MMA enters a new decade, has the game of MMA moved past offense from the closed guard?

MMA analysts, including those of Sherdog, have noticed over the last six months across almost all high-level promotions that the number of submissions from the closed guard has dwindled down to almost none, with the 2000s seeing a huge influx of NCAA wrestlers and other top position grapplers.

As wrestling has become the primary base of MMA, skill in submission defense has increased a great deal to the point where black belts in BJJ are smothered on the ground by these wrestlers and are unable to work any sort of submission game while in guard, their primary defensive position.

Now this isn't to say that it is a totally useless position; super talented grapplers like a Demian Maia, BJ Penn, 'Jacare' Souza or Nog brothers will always be a threat on the ground, no matter the position.

The guard also has a very positive use in defending strikes. While the days of Tito Ortiz just sitting in fighter's guard and raining down elbows are dead, every fighter now knows the submissions, the set ups, and the positions, and as a result Jiu Jitsu players aren't fooling anyone anymore.

While this seems to be true, I think it's very overstated to declare the guard dead. One of the first things they teach at Jiu Jitsu is that while the guard is a fantastic defensive position, it is always better to be in a top position. It is safer, and you can take your time setting up submissions without the threat of getting hit.

I think one reason Demian Maia has been so successful in this age of MMA is because he almost never pulls guard; instead, he aggressively goes for trips or throws to establish top position. After getting top position, Maia patently establishes position and works for a submission without any threat of being struck.

The closed guard is limited in MMA, and in Gi Jiu Jitsu so much guard work of collar grips to control the arms of the opponent, which are not available in No-Gi and thus limits the number of submissions and sweeps. There are literally hundreds of ways to break down posture, sweep, or submit when your opponent is wearing a gi, so to take away a large portion of those options makes it much easier to defend.

I think it is very fair to say the age of fighters relying on their submission game while in guard is likely over. I think we will see Jiu Jitsu fighters be much more aggressive in opening their guards in an attempt to escape rather than sweep or submit and be less prone to jump into guard.

I fully expect MMA will see more fighters like Jake Shields or Jon Fitch who blend Jiu Jitsu with wrestling or like Maia who are just more aggressive in their pursuit of top position. But as a defensive position, the guard will always have a place in defending strikes.

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