Saturday, October 12, 2013

When He Hollers ... A Look at the Palhares Heel Hook

Ever since they turned vale tudo into mixed martial arts, I've lamented that there is no jiu-jitsu-grappling analogue to the massive advantage of gloved hands for strikers. If there is one thing that favors striking over jiu-jitsu in MMA, this is it.

There was one way of restoring at least some balance. And no one made the case better than Frank Mir, whose tap or snap attitude - a talk walked in brutal submission victories over Pete Williams, Tim Sylvia, and the legendary Minotaro Nogueira - made jiu-jitsu scary again. You punch my face. I snap your arm. You kick my head. I pop your knee.

You can see this in the beauty of Royce Gracie's performances in the vale tudo-era UFC. The armlocks on DeLucia, Kimo, and Hackney. Those submissions weren't "just getting caught" as so many have dismissively referred to submission losses in MMA in the past few years.  Those armlocks were for keeps.

Which brings me to Palhares. The heel hook is the ultimate tap or snap technique. Worse than a two-step snake or a poison that paralyzes before it kills, the heel hook is capable of destroying almost before it hurts. In the hands of naive defender, the results can be inadvertently disastrous. In the hands of an aggressive (to say nothing of overly-aggressive) attacker, the results can be just as ruinous.

I've seen armlocks and kneebars held longer than Palhares' heel hook while referees tugged mistakenly at the most hyperextended part of the trapped limb as they called a stop to a fight. And to put it bluntly, the last person in the universe who should be convinced of the success of a submission hold should be the one applying it - at least when it comes to mixed martial arts.

In a world in which tapping to a submission is really no big deal, but tapping to strikes is a character deficit of the highest martial order, I'll admit to being willing to give a victorious grappler a second to untangle himself - and for the opponent to learn to concede (and concede quickly) even if as much out of fear of the submission as the submission itself. This isn't amateur sport jiu-jitsu. This is how they've decided to change vale tudo into MMA. I urge jiu-jitsu fighters to adjust accordingly.

And if you aren't ready forgive Palhares' heel hook or Babalu's choke, maybe wondering what the world would have been like with Vitor Belfort regaining the UFC Light Heavyweight belt will help.

"I've always had great respect for Jon Jones and know he is a great champion. When I felt his arm snap, I decreased the pressure, and he got out. Simple as that. During the bout, he managed to work his elbows well (from the top), but I was never afraid. But he was very good in the fight."