The Leg Drag Sweep: Scoring and Setups

By now the entire Jiu Jitsu world has seen the back-and-forth match between Rodolfo Vieira and Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida in the Absolute division of the 2012 World Jiu Jitsu Championships.

Before the referee had even called “Parou” to end the match the tense contest between the two behemoths was being proclaimed as “the greatest BJJ match ever.” But this means that an equal number of people were exposed to some confusion on behalf of the normally excellent commentary team of Shawn Williams, Caleb Queern and guest Braulio Estima.

At about the five minute mark, Rodolfo sat up into a leg drag pass as Buchecha attempted to defend the reigning champ’s omoplata sweep. The commentary team, all of whom are respected black belts, were unsure of the scoring of this transition. This demonstrates the current state of confusion surrounding Jiu Jitsu’s competition rule set. Even ADCC and world champion Braulio Estima expressed that the sweep was directly into a form of side control and therefore three points should not have been awarded.

“That wouldn’t be considered a pass, would it? Because there was no guard.” – Braulio Estima

“He swept him, basically, to the cross side.” – Shawn Williams

Such a turn of events would have drastically changed the match in favour of the eventual winner, Buchecha, would have robbed the audience of a nail-biting conclusion and as I’ll explain would have robbed Rodolfo of his rightful points for the pass.

To be clear, a sweep is defined on page 19 of the new English language edition of the IBJJF rulebook as, “When the athlete on the bottom with the opponent in his/her guard or half-guard inverts the position.” No controversy there.

But a guard pass is described as, “When the athlete in top postion manages to surmount the legs of the opponent in the bottom position and maintain side-control… for 3 seconds.” Two things stick out here. One: that the pass needs to be completed from the top position, and two: that the guard here is, “defined by the use of one or more legs to block the opponent from reaching side control or north-south position.”

From these explanations, it is clear that the referee scored the position correctly. The litmus test is that when an athlete performs a leg drag initiated from the top he is not awarded points or even an advantage until he advances from the leg drag position. Even though the leg drag is virtually passed the guard, the opponent still technically has their legs in between the athlete on top and the side control position.

There are many examples to back this scoring up.  And since it happens to coincide with a style of sweeping that I heavily favour it’s worth taking a look at a few of them.

The set up for this sweep is beautiful; the entire exchange deserves recognition. As Buchecha attempts to escrima pass, Rodolfo is able to create space and latch onto an omoplata. The young CheckMat competitor tries to defend the omoplata by back stepping over Rodolfo’s head, but Rodolfo blocks the second leg from coming over.

This puts Rodolfo in position to release the omoplata and hook behind Buchecha’s legs for the leg drag. Buchecha sits back, giving up the sweep to prevent his back from being taken. Rodolfo is then able to pass from the leg drag into side control getting two points for the sweep and three for the pass.

Ary Farias vs. Fernando Cosendey – 2011 Abu Dhabi WPJJC

We’ve reviewed this match before, since it turned into a showcase of Farias’s inverted DLR game without a gi. The sweep in question occurs when Farias spins through to X-guard from DLR and pulls his opponent’s leg into a leg drag guard, also called reverse X-guard.

I’ve heard on the grappling forums that you can’t play this guard without a gi, but Ary demonstrates a few pointers to make it much safer. The most important of which is the direction of his hips. Note that Farias’s knees and hips point in the direction he intends to sweep.

If you are lazy with your leg position expect for your opponent to slide over your legs into knee-on-belly. But by squeezing your knees when they are angled away from your opponent you are able to control the hips for the sweep. The overhook on the leg also helps prevent the pass. Ary Farias is awarded two points for the sweep and then an advantage for a near back take. He is not awarded pass points.

Rafael Mendes vs. Rubens Charles – Pan Jiu Jitsu Championships 2012

This is one of the most fun to watch sweeps ever, partly because of who the victim is. While we reviewed in sweep during our berimbolo video study, that post mainly looked at the entry while here we want to focus on the completion of the sweep.

From DLR guard, Rafael Mendes is able to weave his free leg under Cobrinha’s knee. This is made possible due to the secure grip he has on the belt and the lapel under the knee. I often forgo the lapel grip to grip inside of the knee here, but Rafa knows you have to be as tight as possible to beat the likes of Cobrinha.

Like Farias, Mendes has his hips pointed in the direction that he wants to sweep. I can’t stress enough how important this detail is. Whether the sweep is set up from the 1-leg X-guard or DLR or another variation, the position of the hips relative to those of your opponent will make or break this sweep, ensuring that you collect an almost-certain pass, or get passed yourself to your embarrassment and shame.

One detail I like as well is the sleeve grip that Mendes uses. He fakes grapping the pants, and when Cobrinha defends, Rafa is able to nullify the arm that would otherwise be able to post to block the sweep. Mendes is awarded two points for the sweep.

The immediate armbar Rafael Mendes hits on Cobrinha is a result of many opponents, even some of the best, attempting to stiff arm against the almost-inevitable pass that come from this sweep.

It is my prediction that this style of sweep, what we’re categorically describing as a “leg drag sweep” where a Jiu Jitsu athlete sweeps directly into a pass attempt is going to be increasingly common. The level of guard work in Jiu Jitsu, particularly at the coloured belts greatly surpasses the guard passing ability of even the elite competitors. By ensuring that they are not only are awarded points for the sweep, but put yourself in position for a powerful guard pass, the chance of pulling ahead on points and getting a submission are greatly increased.