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Competitors at the heaviest weight classes are often associated with heavy, unidirectional passing. We often see the heavy, super heavy, and ultra heavyweights forcing their ways into their opponents half guards and then slowly grinding forward to earn a pass.
But some exceptional athletes in the top weight categories have proven to be incredibly mobile.
These grapplers have taken their divisions by storm, using the pressure mandatory within their divisions, but always ready with an agile, precise movement. They are multi-faceted threats within the top weight categories, and they’re always exciting to watch.
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Especially among heavyweights, Leandro Lo is a master of the torreando pass. Lo rotates his hips in a backstepping motion in his torreando, taking advantage of his considerable length by turning his hips towards his opponent’s feet during the pass. He uses an intricate grip handoff, keeping his opponent’s legs extended away from him.
In this first example, Lo pressured in, getting Ricardo Evangelista to turn toward him. Then he created distance, passing Evangelista’s inside leg from his left hand to his right hand as he dropped his shoulder to cover the hips.
Clip: Leandro Torreandos Past Evangelista
In the next clip, Lo opted to keep his double pants grips against Luiz Panza, again turning his hips through and attempting to settle in north-south. In response, Panza turned to his knees, and Lo continued moving, trying for the back before settling on a triangle.
Clip: Leandro Lo Hits His Classic Torreando Before Triangling Panza
Lo makes a similar hip switch when attacking with a leg drag. Instead of keeping his hips parallel to his opponent’s, he turns totally perpendicular, throwing his opponent’s leg by and immediately seeking north-south. This hip turn allows him to keep his hips away from his opponent’s legs, preventing recovery before he’s finished passing. Because Lo finishes the pass so far beyond his opponent’s legs, the defender must make a large movement, exposing himself to further attack.
In this example, Leandro threw Nicholas Meregali’s leg by, dropping into north-south. When Meregali made a big movement to recover, Lo kept his momentum, nearly finishing the pass in mount.
Clip: Leandro Threatens Meregali With A Leg Drag
Kaynan Duarte may have taken something out of Leandro’s book in his Worlds final match against Leandro Lo. In this clip, Kaynan mimic’s Leandro’s upright posture and double pants grip, throwing Lo’s legs by and turning to face Lo’s legs, finishing the pass in north-south.
Clip: Kaynan Uses A Leandro-Style Pass Against Leandro
Among super-heavyweights, Nicholas Meregali may be one of the most athletic and precise guard passers around. He has a gift for seamlessly changing the direction of his passing attempts, flowing through techniques as he picks apart his opponent’s guard.
In this first clip, Meregali gestured a pass to his right, stacking his weight on Luiz Panza before stapling for a leg drag and running back in the other direction to secure his points.
Clip: Meregali Executes A Perfect Leg Drag Vs Panza
In the next clip, Meregali transitioned from a kneecut to the left to a backstep to the right, and then made an agile hip switch to finish in an X-pass style on Felipe Pena. As Pena defended, Meregali continued to move, following Pena and nearly securing back control.
Clip: Check Out Meregali's Footwork Vs Pena
Skilled leglockers can add an additional element of threat when they attack with a backstep. And savvy passers such as Gordon Ryan can use that threat to create holes in their opponents’ guards.
In this match against Yuri Simoes, Gordon backstepped as if to attack Yuri’s legs. As Yuri adjusted his legs to defend the threat, Gordon secured a wrist-ride grip, used his legs to free himself of Yuri’s grip and took Yuri’s back, then secured the choke.
Clip: Gordon Uses A Backstep To Misdirect Yuri's Guard At Kasai
Gordon uses intricate leg work to get through his opponent’s long-ranged guards. In this next clip against Kaynan Duarte, Kaynan kept his frames in front of Gordon, defending against upper body control. So Gordon used his legs to get the job done. Here, he used his outside leg to extend Kaynan’s guard while hovering over Kayan with his upper body, keeping the guard player’s hands occupied.
Clip: Gordon Uses Shin on Shin to Float Over Kaynan's Guard
Speaking of no-gi guard passers, Lucas “Hulk” Barbosa is among the best of the current generation. He prefers the body lock pass in no-gi situations. While this is a style predicated on pressure, Hulk is neither stagnant or unidirectional in his approach. For example, in Hulk’s match here against Arnaldo Maidana, he established the body lock, then utilized his precise leg pummeling to switch from the right side, to the left side, then back to the left to finish the pass and move toward back control.
Clip: Hulk Uses Intricate Leg Pummeling To Pass Maidana's Guard
Hulk has a slightly different approach in his gi passing game, using his head as a wedge in his opponents’ hips so he can circle around the guard and establish an upper body grip. In each of these two instances, he circled all the way around to the far side. Against Rafael Lovato Jr, he moved to a far side leg drag before settling into side control; while against Leandro Lo, Hulk circled around to Lo’s back.
Clip: Hulk Rushes Past Lovato's Guard
Clip: Hulk Sprints Past Leandro's Guard
Fellipe Andrew has one of the flashiest passing games of any up and coming super heavyweight. He has a nimble longstep which he used to pass James Puopolo twice in the same match. In both efforts, he paid particular attention to Puopolo’s near leg to prevent guard recovery. In his third passing effort, he landed a clean X-pass.
Clip: Fellipe Andrew Moves Through James Puopolo's Guard
We can’t complete a discussion of mobile heavyweight guard passing without mentioning Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida. The ultra heavyweight king, Buchecha has made a career of enticing his opponent to sell-out defending the pass to one side before he finishes the pass with a simple hop to the other side. Watch in this example as Buchecha closed the distance on Victor Honorio with a flying cross face then waited for Honorio’s reaction before floating over to the other side, where he earned the Kimura finish.
Clip: Buchecha Alternates Sides To Finish Pass Vs Honorio
Buchecha is not the only big man with mobility. Rodolfo Vieira has a legendary pressure game. But he’s accompanied it with nimble movement. In this clip from 2014, Rodolfo threatened Andre Galvao with a knee cut pass, then switched to an X-pass before seamlessly hopping over to Galvao’s far side to finish the pass with his world-class pressure.
Clip: Rodolfo Leaps Over Galvao's Guard
Rodolfo will return to action on December 11 at Who’s Number One to take on Kaynan Duarte.
Nicholas Meregali has blessed us with the secrets to his blitz passing style. Here are some of his favorite drills, details and strategies to moving through the guard.
Gordon Ryan entered a local tournament to show off just how buttery his guard passing game can be. Watch and learn.