So first things first. How shall we proceed? The format of this blog will follow the featuring of a single individual or movement based on highlights (coupled with genre appropriate music) particularly suited towards BJJ players with a background in wrestling. I’ll feature individuals in both gi and no gi with a focus on individuals that have a background in wrestling before beginning BJJ or simply a good wrestling base in their BJJ game.
So who better to start us off than Rustam Chsiev. This guy, known as The Russian Bear has recently sprung into the spotlight by giving high level grapplers like Andre Galvao and Keenen Cornelius extremely hard times with hardly any experience in BJJ at all. He’s simply a high level wrestler who has learned a few submissions to compete in grappling tournaments.
So let’s have a look at his game broken down into takedowns, guard passes, escapes, submissions, and an area I like to call “caution” to showcase the limitations of a particular style:
First, takedowns. You’ll notice from the first few seconds of watching Rustam his pure, raw dynamicism and explosiveness obviously developed over a lifetime of wrestling mixed with a bit of sambo. This ability is coupled with a few standard takedowns usually set up from the high crotch switching to either a single leg or double leg, without caring in the least bit about guillotines as seen in his ultimate absolute match against Cerconi. His head simply pops out form the natural slamming motion derived from the amount of inertia in his takedown. Some of his old wrestling matches also showcase his use of the high crotch which he often combines with a firemans carry that has been successful both in these old matches and in his new grappling matches as well.
The high crotch is indeed a extremely controlled takedown entry but certain risks are inherent. One, if you end up against someone who happens to specialize in playing crucifix or kimura trap, defeat may be immediate. Especially if the “carrying arm” is not immediately dropped (as is the case in the firemans). That being said, it can obviously be a strong setup/takedown approach with total commitment (which sometimes falls by the wayside if one has wrestled in the past and upon started BJJ ended up in a lot of terrible positions initially because of one’s wrestling background.
Rustam also uses a violent snapdown as a form of takedown. It is usually so violent however that the other player simply ends up in open guard without the ability of Rustam to take the back. Lastly, if he finds himself having been snapped down he uses the old elbow drag (albeit a little differently by first coming to his feet in a quasi-tripod position) to pull out the back.
Passes. Rustam’s passing game is quite unorthodox and many BJJ practitioners would say – just plain wrong. Nonetheless, his effectiveness can not be argued. His most popular and seemingly successful pass involves jumping into mount once the bottom player sits straight up into open guard. This pass is so fast I had to slow it down to half speed (as seen in the above HL video) to pick up any evident nuances. You may notice that right before he leaps forward he grabs the back of both scapulae (behind the traps) and throws his hips forward. When I first started integrating this into my game I thought is was initiated out of a tie up (one hand forcefully cupping the neck and the other on the back of one tricep). I wasn’t having much success with it until I started grabbing the back with both hands.
A second pass Rustam uses has a great deal of variability and involves simply applying forward pressure to immobilize his opponents hips and then jumping in a circular motion eventually lassoing the head and blocking the hips directly into north south. You’ll notice he always attempts to pass into north south. Which, is usually quite frequent at higher levels due to the difficulty in maintaining side control on a skilled opponent. This spinning/lassoing/hip blocking motion is used on a number of his opponents from a number of positions and set up similar to an over-under pass or knee cut. You’ll also notice sometimes he traps his opponents arm to the ground before initiating the movement.
He also uses the classic knee cut pass with the underhook (although often times with more dynamicism (power and speed) than is usually integrated. If he can not get the under-hook he often hooks the head in a similar fashion to a stack with his would-be under-hooking arm reaching underneath the head and pulling it forward while passing.
A few other passes include pressuring the legs down and jumping to alternate sides and variations of double-under/stacking passes.
Next we have his unorthodox escapes. With such ongoing forward pressure and an uncanny habit of constantly turtle-ing (or going to referees position in his mind) his back often ends up being taken. Rustam simply tripods his body up, shakes his opponent down, then hooks and drags his opponent off of him. Sometimes he throws them straight into north south! Even Keenan has to settle for full guard after taking his back. Remember though that the likelihood of this being a high percentage move in gi is probably zero to none. He also often times baits the triangle and uses it to pass as seen agains Rockhold. Even guys that get it locked up can’t handle the forward pressure he applies on the top triangle leg. If you’ve ever been triangled by a good grappler you’ll notice this is pure raw strength.
His submissions are selective and few in number. In more than one match he taps his opponents simply by cranking over a headlock from kesa gatame, pushing the elbow over the face, locking his hands, and squeezing. This is obviously as a result of his heightened pinning/nearfall skillset which he was probably surprised to find out had such great applicability in submission-based grappling. His other submissions have all been leg locks by setting up an achilles lock from the step-over kneebar postion and then either finishing there or falling to the side and rotating between toe holds and kneebars until he finishes.
All grapplers, even the best in the world, have their weaknesses. Rustam’s seems to be his constant forward pressure. This simultaneously adds both advantage and disadvantage. Many opponents simply aren’t prepared or have not faced someone with such strong forward pressure and therefore Rustam often passes their guard. Sometimes however, he is so forward he get’s his back taken. This can been seen in his match against Keenen when he spiral sweeps (reverse berimbolos) his way to Rustams back. In addition, Barbosa takes his back by coming up when Rustam attempts to jump out of his x guard.
Lastly, this of course isn’t the biggest deal if/when slamming is allowed ,as seemed to be the case in the Ultimate Absolute tournament when Rustam slammed Cyborg on his shoulder or in his Grapplers Quest match when he jumps into the air and slams Vinny on his back (which it seems was not legal in that tournament).
In either case The Russian Bear may be more well suited for MMA as such an animal with striking power would likely be hard to take down, backtake, or move in any other direction he disagreed with. Until then we’ll analyze and utilize the best points in his game for ours. A caveat for the Jiu Jitsu purists out there, this is obviously limited to no-gi as we can all recognize the limitations of his game for gi matches. That is where we will bring our next adventure……