Clearing the Legs by Chael Sonnen
Chael P. Sonnen: The American Gangsta. The People’s Champ. The man with the gift of gab. No matter what you call him, Sonnen has been an entertaining and influential part of MMA for years in the cage and on the mic. Yet while many people know of his personality, it is his wrestling pedigree that often gets lost in the shuffle. After announcing his retirement on June 14th, 2019, it’s time to commemorate his combat sports career by examining his approach to wrestling.
In the video below, Sonnen takes a look at defending the most common attacks from leg riders.
Chael’s partner begins putting in one leg for a ride, and Chael responds in turn by sitting out. As he explains, this provides some much needed hip separation. The connection between your hips and your opponent’s hips is going to be a major factor in how you’re able to escape, as they need that connection in order to maintain positional control. After hitting the sit out, he scoots his body low enough to where his head is just below his opponent’s shoulder line. While they may be in control, their ability to score is hampered.
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Removing the Leg
Let’s assume that you aren’t able to scoot low after sitting out. If you can’t get the separation you need from there, you can get separation elsewhere: the leg. Chael mentions that removing the leg is as simple as moving it off of your groin. The caveat is that they can be just as simple and bring the leg back in. To fix this, Chael pins down the leg with his body so that they can’t rehook. Once you’ve neutralized the leg, you can continue moving outside of the leg for an escape or latch onto the head and turn in for a reversal.
Go Under the Leg
Another option for separation is to bring your arm under the leg. In a BJJ/submission grappling scenario, this would break the “two in or two out” principle, but in wrestling it is okay. Chael goes under his partner’s leg with his left arm by the crook of his elbow, scoots low, and escapes from the back. Once again, the focus here is getting separation from your opponent’s hips.
Drive On Top
The previous methods to clear the leg involved moving away from your opponent in order to create hip separation. As Chael points out in the video, this separation can be done from the opposite way. Rather than struggling away from the opponent to get separation, he pressures into his partner and clears the hip line by getting on top of him with his butt. This can work really well chained together by working away, waiting on your opponent to pull you back in for control, then pressuring in by using their momentum. Once you’ve cleared the hips and legs, you can turn in for the escape or reversal.
Use Your Far Leg
Chael mentions at the beginning of the video that you should use every part of your body for escaping rather than just your hands. If the above methods do not work either by lack of separation or your opponent locking tight, you can use your far side leg as a tool. Towards the end of the demonstration, Chael is extended out by his partner. He takes his free leg (in this case, his right leg) and bumps the foot off. From there, he covers his partner’s leg just like before and works to escape. Drilling this also allows you to build dexterity among both legs, which is important in the long run.
Leg riders can be tough to beat, especially if they get hip-to-hip connection and extend you out. Chael Sonnen’s approaches to clearing the legs are demonstrably effective, as they rely on one basic principle: disrupt your opponent’s connection. Try some of these methods out in different scenarios to see how you can neutralize the legs quickly and efficiently.
Fundamentals are key to success. Wrestling Fundamentals From The Bad Guy By Chael Sonnen gives you all of the fundamentals that helped Chael reach the top of MMA.