BJJ lessons for MMA: Beating bigger fighters
UnderGround Guest Blogger Dan Faggella has a black belt in BJJ, owns Black Diamond Mixed Martial Arts in RI, and holds a Masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. He the author of the Amazon #1 bestseller in its category “BJJ Techniques to Defeat Bigger and Stronger Opponents."
Beating Bigger Opponents, BJJ Lessons for the MMA Athlete
Four years ago I set out on a mission that I thought would take only six months. I’d find and train with (or take a seminar with, or interview) all of the absolute best Brazilian Jiu Jitsu lightweight grapplers in the world - and steal their insights about one very special topic: Beating Bigger Opponents.
As it turns out, my first mistake was assuming that I’d be able to catch up with all of the world champions within six months. My second mistake was believing that I’d be able to distill their insights in so short a time. Over the next four years I interviewed and took private lessons under the likes of Robson Maura (8-time world champion), Caio Terra (7-time world champion), Alexandre Soca (ADCC world champion), the Mendes Brothers, and more.
In this article, I’ll aim to share three of the biggest MMA-applicable lessons that I’ve learned from lightweight BJJ world champions about how to defeat bigger, stronger opponents.
First, submission strategy changes significantly against a much larger opponent. Many of the BJJ champions I interviewed mentioned that if given the choice, they’d go for the choke from the back on a bigger opponent. Rarely will you see a 140 pound grappler finishing a kimura or head-and-arm triangle against someone 200+ pounds. It involves too much of a strength-vs-strength battle, what I call the “arm wrestling dynamic.” Instead, successful smaller grapplers aim to get submissions that involve as much of them on as little of their opponent as possible - such as the rear naked choke, heel hook, traditional armbar, or head-only guillotine (as opposed to techniques like the keylock, or mounted cross choke).
Second, positioning strategy tends to differ against bigger opponents, too. Rarely will a lightweight grappler be able to maintain a mount position, or a side mount position, or even a knee-on-belly position against an opponent twice his size. In fact, there is a significant chance of getting bucked and rolled by a larger opponent any time a dominant position is attained - with the one exception being back mount. The back is the one position where being on top and on bottom is more-or-less irrelevant. This is why grapplers like Jeff Glover, Augusto “Tanquinho” Mednes, and Mario Reis all recommend taking the back as a go-to position of dominance when battling a larger opponent. Many of BJJ’s legendary “giant killers” are back-mount fiends.
Last, one of the key insights I gained from interviews with lightweight grappling champions is that initiative is even more important when fighting someone bigger. If someone twice your size settles into a dominant position, then it’s twice as hard to get out of that spot. Ideally, you as the smaller fighter should determine the first move - and so put the opponent on his heels, allowing you to force the next step, and so on. Failure to determine the first encounter could mean getting stuck in a position that you can’t “unstick” yourself from. So whether it’s the first technique you go for when you pull guard, or the way you setup a sweep or submission, be sure that you determine the first encounter and start off aggressive.