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Sabatini vs Emmers: When Engaging in Footsies Goes Wrong

There were several grapple moments that came to mind on the Barbosa - Chikadze card that took place a few weekends ago. Shoutout to Ricky Turcios who displayed a fantastic butterfly guard sweep that kept him in the fight against Brady Hiestand. Chikadze's front headlock game was on full display up until the moment he decided to just end the fight with strikes. While these were all fantastic moments, the one that really stood out to me was the brutal heel hook finish between Pat Sabatini and Jamall Emmers.

It's very rare you see a race to a submission in MMA. The moment both of these guys locked up their respective submission holds, I was on the edge of my seat. You rarely see shoot outs like this in high level mixed martial arts. I have a couple of qualms about this fight and what this implies for leglocks in MMA.

I feel like a reasonable conclusion to come to here is that "toe holds are low percentage moves that you shouldn't be putting time into. All hail the mighty heel hook". I think there's merit to that conclusion, but toe holds shouldn't be dismissed. I think Emmers' execution of the toehold was miss a few key details. In an ideal world, Emmer's would have prioritized positioning the leg into 90º bend, and then cranking on the hold. This would have given him better leverage for the break given his hand positioning on Sabatini's foot.

In terms of other solutions that could have been explored, he could have abandoned the toe hold and addressed the impending knee injury. This is was a very slow application of a reverse heel hook. For comparison, look up Ryan Hall's 50/50 heel hook on BJ Penn and notice how fast the tap is elicited. It's clear that Sabatini had the technique to get the break, but getting from the set up the finish took much longer then you'd expect, especially since his opponent wasn't defending.


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