Technique Showcase

Vagner Rocha's Rock-Solid Leg Lock Defense, Explained | Technique Showcase

Vagner Rocha's Rock-Solid Leg Lock Defense, Explained | Technique Showcase

A breakdown of the details of Rocha’s escape strategies against inside sankaku, and the strategies that kept him out of danger from Thor’s best attack.

Dec 20, 2020 by Corey Stockton
Vagner Rocha's Rock-Solid Leg Lock Defense, Explained | Technique Showcase
Jon “Thor” Blank attacked [person: Vagner Rocha] with a barrage of leg lock attempts at Who’s Number One: Duarte vs Vieira. For the most part, Rocha kept out of danger through the 15-minute match.

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Jon “Thor” Blank attacked Vagner Rocha with a barrage of leg lock attempts at Who’s Number One: Duarte vs Vieira. For the most part, Rocha kept out of danger through the 15-minute match.

Midway through the match, Thor managed to attack with his favorite leg lock setup, a kani basami from half butterfly guard, from which he landed in the inside sankaku position. Throughout his career, Thor has been most dangerous from this position, and has submitted several high-caliber grapplers there.

Read: The Official FloGrappling Leg Entanglement Encyclopedia

But Rocha remained patient, and displayed his leg lock defense. In this week’s Technique Showcase, we’re breaking down the details of Rocha’s escape strategies against the inside sankaku position, as well as some of his preventative strategies that kept him out of danger from Thor’s best attack.


Thor’s Favorite Setup: The Half-Butterfly Kani Basami

Jon Blank has at least three noteworthy submissions via heel hook from the inside sankaku position. He tapped Adam Wardzinski, Rustam Chsiev and Manuel Ribamar from the position, and used the same method to get there against all three opponents.

Watch: Jon Blank Heel Hooks Rustam Chsiev At ADCC 2019

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In this example, Thor used the setup to heel hook Rustam Chsiev in the opening round of ADCC 2019. Thor elevated Chsiev with a butterfly hook, then swing his bottom leg beneath, and triangle it behind his own foot on the outside of Chsiev’s leg, trapping it in the inside sankaku.

Chsiev rolled toward his trapped leg in effort to beat Thor in a chase for position. In doing so, Chsiev took weight off of his trapped foot and lifted his heel in the air. As Thor followed, he easily secured a finishing grip on Chsiev’s foot and buried both of Chsiev’s legs underneath his weight, securing the position and collecting the submission.

Watch: Jon Blank Heel Hooks Manuel Ribamar At F2W 154

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He used the same setup in this Fight To Win 153 match against Manuel Ribamar. Ribamar offered the same response, rolling toward his free leg, making his trapped leg light and exposing the heel. Blank caught the heel amid the rotation, and stopped the motion once Ribamar’s legs were trapped underneath him, finishing the attack.

Watch: Jon Blank Heel Hooks Adam Wardzinski At Grapplefest 8

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In this Grapplefest 8 match against Adam Wardzinski, Thor used the same setup, but Wardzinski offered a different initial defense. As Thor completed the kani basami, Wardzinski backed away, putting his instep on the mat and putting weight in his knee to prevent his leg from getting outstretched.

Blank used the inside sankaku position to tilt Wardzinski toward the trapped leg, where Wardzinski did not have a base. As Wardzinski fell to the hip, his trapped leg became light, and Thor extended it.

Now in a dangerous position, Wardzinksi tried to put his knee to the mat beside Thor’s hip, aiming to free his knee from the position. To prevent rotation, Thor grabbed Wardzinski’s toes, putting outward torque on his foot to prevent knee movement.

Trapped, Wardzinski opted to rotate toward his backside, allowing Thor to pass Wardzinski’s foot back to the inside where he locked up the finishing grip.


A Few Crucial Details Saved Vagner Rocha

Thor successfully executed his kani basami attack once in his match against Rocha at Who’s Number One. But Rocha remained patient, and applied fundamental details to negate the threat to his legs and escape the position.

Watch: Vagner Rocha Defends Thor's Inside Sankaku Heel Hook

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As soon as Blank slid his leg behind Rocha’s leg to trap it, Rocha rolled once toward his free leg. During the roll, he punched his leg deeper into the lock, keeping it away from Blank’s elbow. If Rocha’s leg was closer to Blank’s elbow, Blank would have had the opportunity to catch it. Because Rocha’s leg was toward the armpit, Blank had to reach high for it, allowing room for Rocha to turn his foot.

As Rocha landed to a seat, he turned his toes away from Thor’s body, burying his heel against Blank’s body to prevent immediate heel exposure.

Blank grabbed Rocha’s toes, twisting his foot to try to elevate his heel. Meanwhile, Rocha began posting up on his knee, driving weight into his trapped foot to make it heavy for Blank to manipulate. When Rocha stood up, he pressed on Blank’s knee with both hands and rotated toward his free leg again. In the rotation, Rocha started to pull his knee out of the trap.

As Blank made a final effort to attack Rocha’s foot, Rocha made another turn, drawing his knee completely free of the position to complete the escape.


Felipe Pena’s Stiff-Leg Defense

The kani basami is a staple of many leg lockers’ attack arsenals. Gordon Ryan, Craig Jones, Eddie Cummings, Ethan Crelinsten, Lachlan Giles and Oliver Taza have each been successful with this attack from half butterfly guard among other positions. 

But Ryan struggled to utilize this attack in both of his encounters with Felipe Pena due to his somewhat unorthodox defense. 

Watch: Felipe Pena Escapes Gordon Ryan's Heel Hook

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During their match in 2017 at Studio 540, Ryan made several attempts to trap Pena’s leg with a kani basami. Ryan earned the inside sankaku on several occasions, but lost the position to Pena’s defense each time. 

As Ryan locked his legs, Pena turned to his hands and paused there, extending his leg toward Ryan’s shoulders and keeping Ryan posted on his head. As Ryan initiated the rotation to bring Pena to his hips, Pena followed, returning to his hands. Ryan continued to roll, alleviating some of the pressure from his legs. Keeping his leg stiff, Pena was able to extract his leg in one smooth motion.

Watch: Felipe Pena Counter's Gordon Ryan's Leg Attack To Get To The Back

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Pena used a variation of the same technique later in the match to get onto Ryan’s back. 

In this exchange, Ryan had a deeper bite on Pena’s leg. Pena turned to his hands again, but this time, he posted on his free leg to put even more weight into his trapped leg. Keeping his leg stiff, he moved toward his free leg with his trapped knee facing the mat.

His posture forced Ryan to remain inverted. After a few steps toward his free legs, he cut back in the other direction, turning his knee upward toward Ryan’s torso. As he turned, he grabbed Ryan’s hips and slid his free leg beneath Ryan. In the same movement, he extracted his trapped leg, and pummeled into a twister hook, then climbed to finish the backtake.


Rocha’s Preventative Measures Limited Thor's Opportunities

 Rocha implemented great positional awareness against Blank’s inside sankaku. But for the rest of their match, Rocha stayed out of danger. While Blank continued to pursue the butterfly half guard, Rocha utilized a few important concepts to dismantle Blank’s position.

Watch: Vagner Rocha Keeps Inside Foot Position To Neutralize Jon Blank's Half Butterfly Guard

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When trapped in Blank’s half butterfly guard, Rocha focused on pummeling his outside leg to staple Blank’s bottom leg. He circled his foot behind Blank’s knee, pinning it to the mat and making it impossible for Blank to swing his leg out to the far side, where he could attack with a kani basami.

As Rocha started to apply pressure for a pass, he extended his inside leg and dropped his hip. This made his hips heavy, so it was challenging for Blank to elevate Rocha. In addition, with Rocha’s leg extended, Blank could not get a sufficient grip on Rocha’s leg if he attempted a kani basami. 

Inside foot position is paramount in stopping the kani basami. In the next example, Rocha maintains an inside foot at all costs against Ethan Crelinsten, giving up a sweep to prevent Crelinsten’s kani basami effort.

Watch: Vagner Rocha Defends An Early Barrage From Ethan Crelinsten At 3CG

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Pena was equally adamant about keeping his feet inside against Ryan. But in this exchange, he got too aggressive about turning his defense into a pass, allowing Ryan to initiate another attack.

Watch: Felipe Pena Maintains A Diligent Leg Staple Vs Gordon Ryan

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