Pulling Guard in MMA


Q: Hello Stephan,

I’m a big fan of your website – I’ve been following it since 2009.  I compete in BJJ and No-Gi submission wrestling.

I’ve also been training MMA with hopes of having my first amateur fight within the year.  I’ve been very successful working my guard when I compete, and I’ve been able to often score submissions from there when I spar MMA.

With some MMA fighters pulling guard I was wondering if there’s a particular guard pull that works well in MMA (I’m not as comfortable in the half guard yet).


A: Hi there Jerry,

Thanks for your kind words about my website.  I never thought it would grow as big as it has become when I started it way back in 2002!

Now, with regards to pulling guard in Mixed Martial Arts competition…

The simplest thing to say is: don’t do it!!!!!!!

With one exception, I’m completely against pulling guard in MMA!

If you manage to successfully pull guard (and successfully pulling guard in MMA is definitely not a given) then the simple fact is that you’re on the bottom and your opponent is on top.

This gives him at least three advantages…

First of all, he can rest his weight on you.  All things being equal, that means that you’ll get tired faster than him.

And getting tired in MMA is a very bad thing.

As I said in my very first Grapplearts blog post ever, if you’re tired then you’re not fast, you’re not strong, you’re not explosive and you’re not even smart!

Secondly, he’ll have gravity on his side and that means he’ll be able to hit you much harder than you can hit him.

It’s true that sometimes your opponent trying to take your head off with his fists and elbows does opens up submission and sweeping opportunities.  But against a knowledgeable opponent in the slippery and sweaty world of MMA that can be a long shot.

(It’s also possible that your previous successes with submissions from the bottom during MMA sparring came, in part, from your training partners not punching you full force. Don’t underestimate how much getting punched in the face really hard will mess up your submission game!)

I don’t know what the exact statistics are, but I’m guessing that for every successful submission from the guard in MMA there have been three times as many KO’s and TKO’s resulting from the guy on the bottom getting pounded by the fighter on top.

Not great odds…

Finally, should your fight go the distance, most judges in MMA will give the fight to the guy on top because he’s supposedly being the aggressor.  Decisions don’t tend to favor the person on the bottom.

Now, there’s one important exception to all of this…

Let’s say that you’re totally outclassed in the striking or takedown department.  The fight isn’t going well and you’re gonna get knocked out on the feet, or end up completely exhausted by your opponent stuffing your takedown attempts.

If you know that you’re a better grappler, then your only option might be to get the fight to the ground quick. And the only way to do this might involve pulling guard.

So let’s talk about the right way and the wrong way to pull guard, regardless of whether you’re competing in BJJ or MMA…

Many people pull guard by falling backwards to the ground in a lazy kind of way.

This is dangerous because it gives your opponent the option of standing back and disengaging, in which case the referee will probably force you to get back to your feet again.  Or, even worse, he’ll take advantage of your lazy butt-flop and pass your guard, which could be disastrous in a real fight!

So you want to be sure that your guard pull works!

One option is to tie up (clinch) with your opponent and shoot your hips forward ultra-dynamically in an attempt to to get the closed guard.

Think of hitting him so hard that you knock him over backwards.  In all likelihood you won’t knock him over, but you probably will get to the closed guard.

It would also help if you had a solid half guard game.  Many times when you don’t get the full guard you end up in half guard.  And the half guard CAN work in MMA: watch the sweep that Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira (Big Nog) did on Tim Sylvia in UFC 81.

One final option I’m going to talk about today is something that I’ve seen work in both MMA and submission grappling.  Namely jumping to a leglock attack and/or to the single-leg X guard from a standing position!

This is a very surprising attack, with strong followup potential…

The goal is to submit your opponent with the leglock.  But even if that part doesn’t go according to plan, you still get to the ground, often ending up on top as your opponent tries to escape the submission attack.

Here’s a clip from my Leglock DVD taking you through that specific jumping leglock entry:

Click here to view the same High Percentage Leglock video on YouTube.

Before we get carried away talking about the specific techniques to pull guard, let’s make one thing really clear.  Regardless of the technique you’re using, if you’re even thinking about doing this in MMA then you’d better practice it first in sparring!

Here’s a drill that might help you (I previously taught this in “Lesson 4 – Escaping in Transition” of the Grappling Concepts Course).

This game is good for both partners.  It develops: A) effective guard pulling, and B) effective guard passing during the transition.

You and your training partner start on your feet.  Each person only has ONE way of scoring points in this game.

The first person’s goal is to pull guard.  If he can secure a guard position (any guard position, open or closed) for 3 seconds, he gets one point.

The other person’s DOESN’T want get caught in the guard.

His goal is to avoid getting entangled in the guard or half guard, and pass to a dominant position (side mount, kneemount, full mount, etc) as the other person transitions from standing to the the ground. If he passes the guard and maintains a dominant position for 3 seconds then he gets one point.

This is sparring with very limited parameters.

All one person is trying to do is get to the ground and maintain guard (or sweep him) for 3 seconds. All the other person is trying to do is not get caught in the guard and try to pass it even before it gets established.  And after a pre-determined length of time you switch roles.

If you want pulling the guard in a match to be a last-ditch emergency option then this drill might be a good starting point for you.

But if your emphasis is MMA then you might want to mix it with some light boxing and/or clinchfighting with takedowns.

Also, you might want to award  the non-guard-pulling person ONE point if he breaks free of your guard and gets back to his feet, and TWO points if he passes your guard (this would reflect the severity of ending up in a bad position in MMA).

One last thing…

We’ve talked about pulling guard as an ace up your sleeve when nothing else is working.  Alright, we’re in agreement that it’s good to have a backup plan…

But if you want to fight MMA these days you need to have a striking game, a takedown game and a ground game!

Of course you’ll always be stronger in some areas than others – that’s completely normal, and is true even for the very best UFC fighters.

But if you only feel comfortable in one range then your opponents will eventually figure this out and clobber you.

Just remember, concussions are bad for you, and dental work is very, very expensive!  Train so that you got some options in all three areas of the game!

Take care, and good luck with your training!

Stephan Kesting

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