It took roughly seven seconds for UFC Straweight Claudia Gadelha to take her opponent down to the mat once she had secured her double-underhook clinch position. Less than a minute later, she had won the match. This article is a moment-by-moment breakdown of why this occurred.
Though she could not stop herself from being taken down, Kowalkievicz did have responses to Caludia’s aggression. Initially, Kowalcavicz secures a shallow overhook on her opponent’s left arm while using her own left to press upon Gadelha’s chin. Head control is a crucial and common method of frustrating an opponent’s aggression in wrestling. Where a sprawl defense directs the opponent’s head downward and thus collapses him or her, pressure upon the chin directs the head upward or outward. Gadelha, however, had already begun to slide toward Kowalkievicz’s right side, away from the head-pressure and into an even more dominant position.
The Brazilian fighter continued to drive her opponent forward until the pair reached the caged boundary of the arena. Once there Kowalkievicz adopted a common defensive stance employed by disadvantaged fighters against the cage. The Polish fighter aligned her feet such that they stood parallel to the face of the octagonal cage, safeguarding her hips and discouraging Gadelha’s attempts to entangle her legs.
Ultimately, Gadelha pulled Kowalkavicz away from the cage using the superior, nigh-inexorable control afforded by her double-underhooks. In re-positioning her opponent, Gadelha placed her own left leg behind Kowalkievicz’s right and swung the latter fighter down onto the mat.
Escaping From The Back
The two fighters landed with Gadelha in the top position, roughly perpendicular to Kowalkievicz’s body. The Polish competitor quickly used a cross-face from bottom to create space to turn upon her side, gaining height. Height is generally the enemy of the top wrestler, as it raises his or her base, thus reducing his or her stability.
Unfortunately for the Polish fighter, she turned away from her opponent instead of into her opponent. Because of this, once Kowalkievicz was able to come to her knees, she had exposed her back to her opponent.
Failing to Escape from the Mat
Ultimately, the match was decided by some of the most fundamental concepts of ground wrestling.
A Left-Side View
A Right-Side View
Tom Jarman and Reid Hanley’s Wrestling for Beginners divides the act of standing up from beneath a ride into three essential actions. According to the book, fighting for and establishing good position, keeping one’s back squared to the opponent, and controlling the opponent’s hands are all necessary to a successful escape or reversal. Karolina Kowalkievicz’s failure to escape can be most directly attributed to a failure to complete two of the above actions: establishing good position and controlling the opponent’s hands.
Kowalkievicz’s made her first error soon after her opponent had secured her locked ride. The Polish fighter’s left arm was pinned to her side by Gadelha. Intending to post upon this arm, the Polish competitor swam her left arm free and placed her hand upon the mat past Gadelha’s arm and some distance away from her own body.
Generally posting an a single arm from beneath a ride suggests a short sitout. When making this post, however, the arm should be kept close to the body so as to prevent the opponent’s securing an inside position; much the same as in standing wrestling. Not only did Kowalkievicz fail to abide by this rule, she directly gave her opponent an inside position by swimming over Gadelha’s arm.
Gadelha’s Wrist Control Highlighted
Typically, in a short sitout, the under wrestler controls the same-side wrist of his or her opponent with the non-posting hand. Instead, Kowalkievicz’s right hand was controlled by Gadelha, who had an inside position on that side as well.
Kowalkieviz’s Body Alignment Relative to a Vertical Alignment
As mentioned above, Kowalkievicz’s body position also bears a portion of the blame for the failure of her escape. In an ideal circumstance, the under wrestler’s feet, hips, and head would align into a more-or-less straight, vertical line; his or her weight would also be directed back, into the opponent. The human body moves most efficiently forward along an imaginary line connecting the feet, hips, and head. Therefore, if someone wishes to create height, say to take a dominant wrestling position, he or she would be best served by a vertical alignment of these points.
Kowalkievicz’s mat position was diagonal, more parallel than perpendicular to the mat. Because of this, her weight was also directed forward and down, while Gadelha was free to apply her own bodyweight to the Polish fighter’s back.
In summation, Kowalkievicz had a a wide, ineffective post on a left side controlled by Gadelha, a right arm gripped by the Brazilian fighter with a right leg vulnerable due to this, and an inferior body position which was not conducive to escape and forced the Polish fighter to carry her opponent’s weight. The combination of these factors reduced Kowalkievicz’s escape to an awkward forward lurch, quickly squashed by her opponent who took the opportunity to gain control of the former’s leg. Kowalkievicz, now at the mercy of her opponent, was forced to give up only seconds later.
It was a widely held belief prior to the fight that Gadelha was the superior grappler, and that she would likely be able to ensnare her opponent in a grappling exchange at some point. A great deal of importance was therefore placed on Kowalkievicz’s “defensive wrestling” capabilities, and, ostensibly, she did play a defensive role throughout the grappling portion of the fight. Despite this seeming dis-similarity, the two fighters rarely had meaningfully different goals, nor were such means required to achieve them.
In the few moments of standing grappling, Kowlakievicz successfully defended multiple attacks, but this was irrelevant. The ability to interrupt individual maneuvers does not matter so long as one’s opponent maintains absolute control, in this case with double underhooks. Like Gadelha, the Polish fighter needed to secure an underhook or two for herself to achieve her goal of escape.
In the first ground exchange, Kowalkievicz attempted to scramble away from her opponent and thus failed to pose any offensive threat from the bottom position. If she had met Gadelha head-on, the Polish competitor would have had offensive options and could, feasibly, have worked into an equitable position relative to her opponent.
Finally, from underneath the Brazilian fighter’s ride, Kowalkievicz attempted to make her escape without fighting for any sort of favorable position. She gave up an inside position on one side and wrist control on the other, all while remaining in an awkward, broken posture on the mat. Like Gadelha, the Polish fighter needed to secure hand control and impose her weight upon her opponent.
In the three above scenarios, essentially the entire grappling portion of the fight, the two fighters needed the same things to be successful. Kowalkievicz’s circumstances did not necessitate a special “defensive wrestling,” but rather the same skills that her opponent was employing, if used from a position of disadvantage. Here, as elsewhere, the concept of “defensive wrestling” had no tangibility, there was merely a successful wrestler and an unsuccessful one.