There were beautiful displays of technique at this past UFC on FOX 16, from the beautiful switch hitting of TJ Dillashaw to Joe Lauzon's TKO of Takanori Gomi. But one fight in particular stood out to us. In the preliminaries, Ben Saunders was able to edge out NCAA wrestler Kenny Robertson and showed his ever improving rubber guard in a chess match where limbs & brains are at stake.
Both fighters came out hard, exchanging punches, kicks, knees, and elbows. Saunders, the taller of the two, was able to land effective strikes from range forcing Robertson to resort to his NCAA wrestling pedigree to take down Saunders with a double. But it wasn't quite a sure bet to take down the crafty Saunders who has been sharpening his guard under the tutelage of 10th Planet's Eddie Bravo.
The guard was once a dangerous place for opponents of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter. Flashback to the early days of Vale Tudo and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Royce proved that although you may be on your back, you could effectively use the guard to finish the fight by snapping your arm.
Fast forward to modern day Mixed Martial Arts, and the guard is dead, or so they say. Wrestlers are able to control the fight from the top and land punishing strikes from inside the guard. Fighters finding it harder and harder to use the guard are forced to get back to their feet when taken down.
But Ben Saunders has been changing minds with his dangerous guard by recently submitting Chris Heatherly via omoplata, the first ever omoplata submission in the UFC. And in this fight, Ben continued to prove the effectiveness of rubber guard and his favorite set-up "the Dead Orchard" named after 10th Planet's Nathan Orchard.
After finding success on his feet and being taken down by Kenny, Ben lands in an open guard. Ben begins to set up his attack by pummeling inside Kenny's left arm forcing his arm to the mat in an overhook position called the "New York." To Kenny's credit, he realizes the danger and briefly steps over Ben's left knee into half guard while keeping his head tight to the overhook side before Ben can establish "mission control." If Ben would have had established "mission control" and switched his forearm to an "invisible collar" position, a position with his forearm on Kenny's overhook side, he might have been able to transition straight to the omoplata. However, with Kenny's head positioned closed to the overhook side, Ben is forced to shrimp to recover full guard and begin the process again.
Keeping Kenny's posture broken with the overhook, he passes his right leg to his left arm commonly referred to as "Mission Control." From mission control, Ben is able to throw his left leg over Kenny's right arm and attack a set up called the "Dead Orchard." Defending quickly, Kenny uses his forearm to block the "Dead Orchard" but as a result, concedes the omoplata position also known as the "Jiu Claw" in the 10th Planet System. In this position, Ben attacks the shoulder with his legs. It's a race to sit up and break down Kenny's posture while Kenny attempts to posture up and escape.
Ben quickly reaches for the hip and sits up but Kenny rotates his left leg under Ben's back to roll backwards and maintain posture. When Ben attempts to break him down again, Kenny passes his arm to the far hip, allowing him to escape the position. This was the same submission and set up that Ben finished Heatherly with, but this time Kenny was able to survive. Once back on their feet, Kenny finishes off the round strong by dropping Ben with an overhand right but ending back in the rubber guard before the round ends.
In the second round, the fight is spent on their feet with both Ben Saunders and Kenny having varying levels of success. Ben is able to find his range more and begins landing effective body kicks until Kenny once again takes down Ben with a double leg in the third.
Immediately Ben Saunders begins attacking, first setting up the "mission control" and then passing his left leg over Kenny's shoulder to secure the "Dead Orchard."
From this position, Ben is able to land strikes & submit while Kenny's posture is broken. You can hear Eddie Bravo in the corner screaming for Ben to take Kenny's right arm via an armbar but Ben chooses to strike instead, opening up a big cut on the head of Kenny. In a classic case of pros & cons, by having Kenny's left arm zombied opens up the right arm for a submission but also allows Kenny to stack and prevent most elbow strikes. Ben is forced to transition back and forth from zombie to underhook to strike.
With less than 30 seconds in the round and Eddie screaming for Ben to take his arm, Ben attempts an Americana variation from the "Dead Orchard" but forces the position too much and Kenny once again slips out.
Although Ben Saunders didn't get the submission finish this fight, he once again proves how effective the guard can be in a fight if used correctly. Not only was Kenny unable to do any significant damage from the guard, but Ben also controlled his posture, attempted submissions, and landed effective strikes, all while in the guard. Under Eddie's tutelage, Ben continues to refine a feared guard that wise fighters will now try to avoid. And with continued successes such as this one, the Rubber Guard will be further validated as a great system to turn a defensive guard into an offensive guard.
Check out Eddie's break down as well as strategies he hopes to employ in future fights: