Leg locks started as a “lesser” technique. To quote the book by Reila Gracie:
“Oswaldo Fadda’s team won, making better use of their footlock knowledge, something Helio frowned upon, calling it “suburban technique” (Técnica de Suburbano)”
Regardless of his disdain, leglocks are a big part of grappling nowadays. ADCC 2013 and 2011 showed that as much as 39% of submission wins came by way of leg locks. To quote Fightland’s article this is a direct inversion of the UFC statistic where most submissions come from choke from the back. It’s interesting to consider that Eddie Bravo told this anecdote where people were booing him back in the early 2000s for the same things we praise these guys for. Is leg locking the ultimate douche move or is it just the most soul-crushing injury for a human?
We examine some of the most prominent leglockers out there today.
Craig Jones is one of the biggest name in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu right now. Whether or not he is the best is irrelevant, Craig came into the ADCC in 2017 in Finland and virtually nobody had heard of him. Craig had what many consider one of the best performances of the tournament. He was able to catch some of the biggest names in his division. He actually was able to submit 5x Black Belt World Champion and favorite, Leandro Lo, and he submitted Unity BJJ coach and competitor, Murilo Santana. He holds wins on Richie Boogeyman Martinez, Tim Spriggs, Keenan Cornelius, Gabriel Arges and many more…
Tonon first garnered media attention after his victory over Kit Dale in Metamoris 4. He quickly rose to fame and promptly skyrocketed because he had enough bravado to take a match with another member of our list – Rousimar Palhares. That match remains one for the books. It opened with the heel hook attempts exchange and culminated as Tonon managed to ramp up the pace and get ahead of Palhares on a couple of occasions. Tonon also shelled out a couple of knee bar attempts as well as his non leg specialty – guillotine. You can watch one of his key concepts for leglocks (and guillotines) here.
While Eddie Cummings has a complete game he opts to collect legs almost exclusively. He believes that his success is owed to the fact that much of jiu-jitsu world has a certain disdainful attitude toward leg locks. Cummings firmly believes that the only place to train is John Danaher’s. While he acknowledges other people might be doing interesting things the level at Renzo Gracie’s is incomparable in his eyes. Cummings also believes that the real insghits come from nuances and details. The devil is in the details apparently.
Kenny is another Heel Hook aficionado, this time from Lauzon MMA. His preferred version is also reverse heelhook. Kenny thinks that lack of leg locks in MMA is a result of lack of proper training and lack of willingness to give up position only to do them incorrectly. You can see one of his favorite setups here:
Live competition execution of set up.
Traditionally “position before submission” means some sort of core control over torso of the opponent but Reilly has a different idea. He firmly believes there are other ways to have position on an opponent. He believes in isolating a single limb of an opponent rather than holding the entire person immobile. These positions are designed to direct movements in a way that expose a submission on the controlled limb. And everything is constantly evolving or reinventing itself.
“Interactions between the bottom and top player tend to shift to what we have seen lately in these higher level grappling tournaments, which is constant leg lock battles. It s an interesting development, and it goes to show how rule sets begin to dictate behavior.”
Igor Kurinnoy is nothing if not an absolute beast. 3xSambo World Champion and 5xWorld Cup Champion dominates any matt he enters. Kinnoy is no stranger to crosstraining. He is known to have competed in judo and sumo among other things. Nowadays he’s mostly focused on teachingand kneebars are his forte!
Lister is another competitor on the list with a history of crosstraining – wrestling and sambo. He gained notoriety with his 2003 ADCC Gold in the Open Weight Division. As much as 60% of Dean Lister’s victories came by the way of heel hook, more than all other submissions combined. Boogeyman is certainly scary, his strategy is largely transparent – he knows what he wants to do, no intention to hide it, just to go for it. He noted this could be used to his disadvantage:
If this is a weak point of mine and my adversary takes advantage of this, then I accept that… I would rather lose by submission than win a boring decision by one point! Of course it is my intention to win by submission.
Palhares is a contraversial figure in the community. While none doubt his athleticism and dedication to getting the submission many think that there’s a sadistic aspect to him. Here’s a video of him demonstrating a nasty Heel Hook counter
Sadly Palhares soured his own burgeoning UFC career by holding the first round heel hook against Mike Pierce after the referee stepped in. As a result of this unsportsmanlike conduct he was released from his contract with the UFC.
Ryan is a Garry Tonon/John Danaher black belt most famous for his recent victory at Eddie Bravo Invitational 6, where he was a late replacement for injured Eddie Cummings. His passion for reverse heel hooks is quite prominent throughout his Submission grappling record. Out of 12 submission entered into official record on bjjheroes exactly half came by the way of inside heel hook. This is no surprise when we consider his membership in the “Danaher deathsquad”. Most recently he fouht Vagner Rocha in a superfight but the match ended in a draw. You can check out the highlight here.
Imanari is one of those names who have become more synonymous with a move then with a fighter that popularized them. The imanari roll is one of those versatile moves that change the playing field in a split second.
This doesn’t make Masakazu Imanari any less threatening, most recently he defeated Nam Phan after only half of a minute via heel hook in a Deep Cage Impact on April 23rd of this year.
Roli “The Crazy Cuban” Delgado is an MMA artist. Once featured on the Ultimate Fighter reality show, nowadays he dedicates much of his time teaching IBJJF legal leglocks via his site legalleglocks.com
Hayden started training after a career ending injury in football. He started under the tutelage of lef lock specialist and ADCC veteran Joe Baze. He claims that the first 3 years of his training were exclusively dedicated to leg locks which made him realize how devastating they are and how much respect they demand. Hayden even recognizes his bjj had serious limitations for a while even though his leg locking was at a black belt level. Nowadays you can buy access to his “80/20 Leg Surfing System”
Mike is a founder of Evolution Grappling Academy but more importantly he is a brown belt under the tutelage of 3x World Champ Rafael Formiga Barbosa and Sambo Master Vlad Koulikov. This has allowed Mike to become a two time Pan Am Medalist as well as multiple time Submission fighting champ.
Oleg Taktarov, Sergei Lopovok, Rais Rakhmatulin, Caio Terra, Josh Barnett, Luiz Panza, Rodrigo Cavaca, Davi Ramos, Ryan Hall.