UFC 123: George Sotiropoulos and His Rubber Guard
George Sotiropoulos heads into Saturday’s tilt against Joe Lauzon as one of the top contenders in the UFC Lightweight division. A lifelong martial artist, Sotiropoulos is a well-rounded fighter with crisp boxing and is one of Australia’s first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts. Sotiropoulos’ skills were enough to earn a spot in The Ultimate Fighter house.
After The Ultimate Fighter, Sotiropoulos used his found connections to travel the states and train at some of the best U.S. schools. He spent time at Serra Jiu Jitsu, Xtreme Couture and finally 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, a style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu founded by Eddie Bravo, an ADCC World Champion and the first American to make a Gracie tap out in a jiu jitsu match.
Bravo’s style is purely no gi and focuses heavily on using flexibility and unorthodox positions to off-balance even the most experienced grapplers. The corner stones of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu is the "rubber guard" and "twister side control."
The rubber guard is something that is often misunderstood by fans and used very well by Sotiropoulos. Controlling posture is the most important aspect of playing guard in grappling or MMA: it gives better control, opens up more sweeps and submissions and stops punches to the face. In traditional jiu jitsu the grips on the gi make posture control much easier; in no gi, controlling posture in the guard is far more difficult.
With the rubber guard, the bottom player uses an hook on his own leg to break down his opponent’s posture. Now this is often confused with a regular high guard where the fighter grabs his own shin. There are key differences, the biggest is that in the rubber guard, the guard player goes under his own leg and hooks it with his ankle.
There is then a progression of positions to trap the opponent’s arm on the ground and then create an opening for submissions. This progression is complicated to explain and has a series of odd names, so here is a video where 10th Planet brown belt Ari Bolden of Submissions 101 walks through the basic progression.
Sotiropoulos used that progression to perfection against Joe Stevenson. He was able to completely control Stevenson in the guard and attain the "chill dog" position several times. From that position there are several attacks, but many Sotiropoulos seems to prefer to attack with the omoplata as the video showed because even if he doesn’t finish the submission, he still has gone from being on the bottom of guard to a controlling top position.
Joe Lauzon is an experienced and dangerous grappler, as he reminded Gabe Ruediger with his dominating two-minute armbar victory at UFC 118. Lauzon would be foolish to keep the fight standing, where Sotiropoulos would have a clear advantage, guard play could be deciding factor in their match.
Where 10th Planet fits into the larger picture of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is hotly debated in the grappling world. Many traditional Jiu Jitsu figureheads scoff at Bravo for simply renaming techniques that already existed, like the high guard. I don’t want to get too deeply into this debate but in my view. While Bravo hasn’t fundamentally changed Jiu Jitsu, he has systematized his "high guard" in a way nobody before has.
The Rubber Guard is a very effective and aggressive guard that allows for sweeps and submissions while providing superb posture control, but it relies heavily on the fighter being gifted with unusual flexibility.
This video that is an excellent example of the rubber guard aggressive nature in an MMA match. Shuichiro Katsumura goes from the traditional closed guard straight to "New York" and then swims over to "Chill Dog." When his opponent defends against the omoplata, Katsumura finishes with the Ninja Choke, a modified guillotine choke/neck crank.