Usually the starting point of grappling action in MMA matches, the guard is often overlooked by fans and even fighters, but a fighter using proper technique can prove the position dangerous.
The goal of the top fighter in the guard is to utilize ground-and-pound striking while aiming to improve their position. The top fighter also has the option of opening the guard and going for submission attempts.
The goal of the bottom fighter in the guard is most commonly to attempt various submissions off of their back or to escape using sweep techniques to return the fight to their feet. However, there are a few effective strikes from the bottom as well.
There are two basic forms of the guard: the closed guard and the open guard. In the closed guard the bottom fighter has their legs wrapped around the top fighter’s back, as well as their arms in cases. The aim of the closed guard is for the bottom fighter to keep the top fighter’s body as close to theirs as possible, limiting range in order to prevent devastating strikes and set up submission attempts.
In the open guard the bottom fighter uses his legs to control the opponent with the goal being to keep the opponent further away rather than close, because the bottom fighter becomes more vulnerable to strikes. The open guard can be used by the bottom fighter to set up submissions, but is most commonly used to create a sweep in order to return the fight to the feet or transition to the top position.
There are various forms of the open guard such as the butterfly guard, the rubber guard, the x-guard, the spider guard, De la Riva guard and 50-50 guard. Arguably the most common in MMA are the butterfly and rubber guard.
The butterfly guard is a position in which the bottom fighter’s legs are hooked with their ankles inside the top fighter’s thighs. This allows for good control of the top fighter’s movements and distancing and allows for effective sweeps.
The rubber guard, created by Eddie Bravo, is gaining popularity and becoming more common in the MMA world. The bottom fighter uses a leg to trap the top opponent in their guard, opening up possibilities for submissions, sweeps and even effective striking from the bottom. Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki has developed one of the most effective rubber guards in MMA along with UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn.
The main goal of the top fighter in the guard is to advance his position. However, striking can be effective. Tito Ortiz is among one of the most effective strikers from the guard in MMA, in great part due to his devastating elbows. Elbows, hammer fists, closed fist strikes, and even Royce Gracie style palm strikes can cause damage from the guard.
Fighters inside an opponents open guard also have the option of standing in the guard to attempt various leg locks, such as knee bars, heel hooks and achilles locks. However, this can make them vulnerable to commonly the most devastating strike from the bottom guard.
Up-kicks have proven to be extremely effective in MMA and are a good tool for fighters on their back. Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi knocked out Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in dramatic fashion with a single upkick in the final round of the Dream middleweight grand prix at Dream 6 on September 23, 2008.
The bottom fighter has a clear advantage in the submission game from the guard. The most common submissions pulled off from guard are the guillotine, arm bar, triangle choke and kimura. Other popular submissions are the omoplata and gogoplata, but these techniques are most often used as a sweep to simply transition to the top or a standing position. However, they can be very effective when used from the rubber guard.
The top fighter must aim to improve his position above all else while in the guard. A ground-and-pound fighter must move out of harms way against a submission specialist rather than being contempt to strike from the guard. Mark Coleman learned this lesson not once, but twice when he was submitted from within WAMMA and former Pride heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko‘s guard during Pride FC competition in 2004 and then again in 2006.