Hit a Funky Sprawl with Ben Askren
What good is a stellar takedown game if you don’t know how to be defensive? As much praise as we bestow onto other wrestlers for using savvy takedowns during a match or fight, there should also be appreciation for moments where the opponent is left facing the ground after a hard sprawl. It’s not as photogenic as a double leg across the mat, but the vast majority of wrestlers would agree that practicality is more useful than getting your picture in the sports section.
The argument here is that sprawls are a fundamental yet critical part of wrestling. Not only does it prevent the opponent from scoring, but MMA fighters like Chuck Liddell have used the sprawl to keep the fight on their feet against formidable grapplers. To explain the core concepts of the sprawl, former ONE and Bellator Welterweight Champion Ben Askren demonstrates the defensive tool in the video below.
Pressure the Head Down
According to Askren, the most important thing with sprawling is to keep your opponent’s head facing the mat. Conceptually, this makes sense, as the head is the directional indicator for movement. Pressuring the head can be done with your hips if they are deep into your center of gravity, but otherwise the pressure will come from your hands. Either way, the head must be covered at all times. Failing to do so gives your opponent the chance to face upward and begin to drive back into you.
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Blocking the Knees
Once you have the head covered with your hips, you can begin to slide down the opponent to get to a front headlock position should you choose to focus on that route. However, a persistent opponent is still going to drive forward to build their base back up. Askren’s strategy here is to block the knees with your hands. He mentions that a lot of new wrestlers tend to focus on blocking the hips, but the driving power is coming from the legs instead. Blocking the knees also makes it easier to make the slide to the headlock. You can also keep your laces flat on the mat as they are driving in. Your opponent needs traction to finish their drive, but keeping your laces on the mat prevents your toes from digging in and allows your opponent to simply push you without building their base.
Attack the Ankle
An interesting variation Askren brings up in the video is working on your opponent’s ankles while they are in that downward scrambling position. This is taking advantage of a bad habit a lot of younger wrestlers have when they are attempting to finish the takedown after being sprawled on, specifically sitting back on their ankles. He grabs the ankle and pulls it slightly to the outside with one hand while continuing to apply pressure on their head with the other. From there, you can cut the corner and work for a cradle or simply get your two points once you cover the hip.
Don’t Flare Your Feet
A lot of inexperienced wrestlers when learning the sprawl overemphasize the movement by bringing their hips high and flaring their feet out before landing, which resembles a bed sheet rising then falling onto the bed. As Askren points out, this is wasted motion and takes time that could be used being more defensive. The lesson here is to get your hips and legs down to the mat as quickly as possible while using your chest, forearms, and hands as extra tools for blocking.
Stop settling for a wrestling game based only on offense and learn to sprawl effectively. Through proper head pressure, knee blocking, ankle pulling, and hip positioning as shown by Ben Askren, you’ll be quick to the draw and ready to sprawl.
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