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What Should We Expect From Tainan Dalpra's No-Gi Debut?

What Should We Expect From Tainan Dalpra's No-Gi Debut?

When Tainan Dalpra takes the mats for WNO 21: Ryan vs Barbosa against Troy Russell, what should we expect from the 2-time IBJJF World Champion?

Nov 6, 2023 by Joe Gilpin
What Should We Expect From Tainan Dalpra's No-Gi Debut?

For the last few years, Tainan Dalpra has been one of Brazilian jiu-jitsu's most dominant athletes, winning nearly every tournament available to him in the gi to a record of 71-2. Now, with so many accomplishments already to his name at black belt, Tainan has announced his intentions to compete in no-gi with his debut match scheduled for November 30th when he takes on Troy Russell at Tezos WNO 21: Ryan vs Barbosa.

So what should we expect from Tainan's no-gi debut? He is someone who doesn't just compete in the gi - he uses the gi to optimize all of his moves very well. From standing, top, or bottom, he is constantly on top of the grip fighting so he can stay ahead in the match. If he wants to push, he has a grip that makes that push stronger. If he wants to pull, his grip is set up to make that pull much stronger. The gi acts as a force multiplier - and now he doesn't have that anymore when he steps on the mat against Troy.

We took a look at the three major positions in grappling (standing/top/bottom) to try and do our best to understand what Tainan's game might look like in no-gi, before we get a chance to see him begin his campaign.


This is the first major interesting hurdle for Tainan's game: does he pull or does he wrestle? Historically, in the gi, he's been a quick guard puller who is then happy to work for sweeps off his back. In no-gi, however, that is a much harder prospect at the higher levels without leg locks (we'll get into that more later). So what will the plan be? Would it benefit Tainan to try out his wrestling early?

I would lean towards yes he does wrestle - at least some. Athletes like Nicholas Meregali have transitioned from gi to no-gi recently and shown that one of the biggest adjustments is being able to last for long periods on the feet. I wouldn't expect Tainan to be shooting Jordan Burroughs-style double legs, but it's reasonable to expect that he can come out and hand fight reasonably well for an extended period of time. If he can bring his same dedication to hand fighting that he does grip breaking, he will be in awesome shape.

Defense is usually easier to build than offense, and Tainan has shown flashes of a good sprawl before when called upon. How he fares in an extended single leg or double leg scramble would be a really big question early in his no-gi career, if the opponent can move past that initial head/hands/sprawl defense.

Another factor to consider is Tainan's favorite finishing position - the back. In the gi, you can progressively build control over time in a way that is much harder no-gi, meaning you'll see no-gi athletes chasing the back from standing much more often (especially out of scrambles). If Tainan has no other path to getting on top from the feet, a few great ways to get a chest to back connection would help close that gap the fastest.

Top Position

Once he is on top, the numbers and the video tape are clear - Tainan is most dominant in getting to the back and finishing from there. However, almost all of those finishes come from a rear collar strangle which obviously won't be available November 30th, instead he will have to rely on other forms of offense. Will we see a more diverse toolkit? The popular options include the rear naked choke, the rear triangle, an armbar set up from the back, and more - with new, less high-percentage moves like the Thunder Lock or rear kata gatame adding some variety as people keep evolving the position and meta. Probably the most easily accessible move given Tainan's past in the gi would probably the armbar, set up like how Gordon tapped Patrick Gaudio earlier this year, but he is such a finisher from the back that I think he will come in with a plan.

How will Tainan approach passing the guard? A lot of people have studied how he passes in the gi, and it is VERY grip dependent. That's not a bad thing, when you have those grips available, but now he needs to change. Usually, he is a loose passer who mixes a few positions in a system that puts incredible side to side pressure on people and forces them to react - often by turning in or turning away in a way that exposes their back to him. What makes that significantly easier is the pants cuff grips he gets to push an opponent's legs down and away, making them have to pull their knees to the chest in a tiring way. If they stay tight, he will often look for stacks, held in with grips on the pants, or force a sideways opponent into a leg drag with pressure or leg pummeling.

The obvious issue is that his best passes won't be a factor here because he can't use those same grips to set them up. Creating that same sideways pressure is a lot more difficult in this context, it will take more movement and action. I would expect Tainan still uses some variation of his movement-heavy style, but when it comes time to control he will move towards a knee cut position (or a more traditional half guard). He will use these sometimes, and does show great skill there, but in no-gi it's going to be a lot more necessary to find positions to manage the fight and move to your next step when you don't have grips available to do that for you.

Bottom Position

What is Tainan's guard going to look like no-gi? The no-gi 'meta' has been to pull and either leg lock (usually if they are pressuring in) or wrestle up (usually if they are moving away), but in the gi Tainan has mixed those. From a traditional open guard, he moves into X guard variations very well, but then instead of attacking the legs he off balances people to their hands and builds height so he can wrestle up. How he manages his guard now that he is without his grips?

I suspect that it will be harder for Tainan to get to his X guard. Without the grips to hold him there and help him tip people's balance, he will have to deal with no-gi athletes who have been specializing in leg entanglement defenses for years now. Without his usual tools, he may need to rely on a backup plan if he can't get his A-game going. So what will that look like? Can Tainan comfortably play an open guard in no-gi, with effective off balances and follow up attacks from De La Riva or Reverse De La Riva?

Something to consider is his most recent fight, where Tainan went to closed guard and tapped Yan Pica-Pau with a triangle from his back. After the match, he credited this to his time training with grappling legend Rickson Gracie who shared some of his profound insights and improved Tainan's fundamental understanding of the more traditional positions. Rickson's game was one that showed no gap between gi and no-gi, so that may be a hint about Tainan's choices in no-gi. Perhaps he will rely on a more old school kind of closed guard, especially after that recent success.