How Effective are BJJ Sweeps in MMA?

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This month MMA Fight DB delves into the murky world of BJJ sweeps. Despite the long history of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in mixed martial arts, sweeps (as defined in BJJ) are rarely seen in MMA fights. This low rate contrasts to the comparatively high rate of other grappling techniques such as; takedowns and submissions, within mixed martial art competitions.

The statistics suggest that the efficiency of sweeps fairs poorly when compared to other techniques, and that alternatives to sweeps such as standing up should be more of a focus for many grappling practitioners.

By contrast, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (gi and no-gi) sweeps are common and often contribute to success on the mat. Despite the similarities between no-gi BJJ and MMA, sweeps appear to translate poorly into the MMA arena with many fighters choosing to use the guard to stand rather than to sweep.

MMA Sweep Basics

By way of background, a sweep in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is where a fighter goes from guard underneath an opponent to being on top of his opponent. According to the IBJJF (the most prestigious governing body for BJJ) rulebook a sweep is:

“When the athlete on bottom with the opponent in his/her guard or half-guard       inverts the position, forcing the opponent who was on top to be on bottom – and   maintains him/her in this position for 3 (three) seconds.

When the athlete on bottom with the opponent in his/her guard or half-guard inverts the position and the opponent turns his/her back on all fours and the athlete who initiated the reversal estabilishes a back clinch over opponent’s back – without needing to place hooks but maintaining the opponent with at least one knee on the ground for 3 (three) seconds

When the athlete on bottom with the opponent in his/her guard or half-guard gets to his/her feet , puts the opponent down and maintains the grips necessary to hold the opponent in bottom position for 3 (three) seconds.”

A BJJ sweep doesn’t necessitate turning an opponent onto his back (taking the back or achieving a front headlock will count as a sweep), although most sweeps do. However, a sweep must be initiated from a guard position and any reversal of positions initiated from side control or other non-guard position from the bottom (eg front headlock) is considered an escape and not a sweep.

Our statistics match the BJJ classification of sweeps, with DLR and 50:50 sweeps treated as “open guard” sweeps, although we maintain no requirement that the sweeping fighter maintains the top position for 3 seconds.

MMA Sweeps Overall

In total there were 90 sweeps recorded in 1438 fights. This translates to a rate of around 0.06 sweeps per fight, to put this another way; for every 100 fights only 6 will include some kind of sweep. Most sweeps came from half guard (43) with the butterfly guard (19) and closed guard (11) some way behind in second and third place, respectively.

BJJ sweeps in MMA

Sweeps vs Takedowns

We can contrast this rate per fight with other grappling techniques to demonstrate the relative rarity of sweeps in MMA. In fact, BJJ sweeps are so rare that the number of all sweeps recorded is less than the number of double legs or rear naked chokes recorded on their own.

Double legs are currently averaging out at a rate of 0.59 per fight. Similarly, rear naked chokes come in at around 0.085 percent per fight or 0.02 above that of all sweeps.

For any random number of 100 fights, therefore, we can expect to see almost 59 double legs, 8 rear naked chokes but only 6 BJJ sweeps of any kind.

Sweeps even compare poorly with other techniques from the back. Triangle chokes (0.0461) and armbars (0.0384) both have rates per fight that surpass any single sweep technique, and come close to matching the overall number of sweeps recorded.

Sweeps compared to take downs and chokes

Best Guard for MMA Sweeps

In terms of the best guard for sweeps, the half guard leads all other types of guard. Traditionally thought of as a weak position in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the half guard has been used to great effect by a number of fighters to sweep or stand in the MMA arena.

Anecdotally, most MMA half guard sweeps come from a strong under hook. Once a fighter on bottom has established a strong under hook and got onto his side facing his opponent, then he will come up on a single leg, take the back or use the space to stand.

For a great break down of some of the fundamental concepts in half guard and for good list of things to avoid, Stephan Kesting’s breakdown is very good.

Top MMA Sweeper

The title for the most sweeps goes to Rani Yahya, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu whiz, who picked up 4 sweeps (all from half guard), in four fights in the UFC. Rani shows a small preference for the left half guard sweep, with three of the four sweeps coming from his left hand side (ie the side where he has a under hook with his left arm).

Next in line were Tor Troeng and Cole Miller , who both managed to pick up three sweeps over the course of two and three fights, respectively. Tor showed a similar affection for half guard sweeps as Rani, although all three came from the right hand rather than the left hand side. Cole Miller by contrast, mixed up his sweeps with closed, open and half guard sweeps scored (all against Andy Ogle).

Individuals mma sweeps


Individual sweeps heat map 2 

Do BJJ Sweeps Work Then?

The statistics raise an interesting question about the efficacy of sweeps in MMA. With so few sweeps seen in so many fights, are sweeps low percentage moves in MMA? Why are sweeps so common in no-gi BJJ but not in MMA?

We would argue that sweeps like other moves are products of the different rule sets in either sport. In modern MMA bouts, fighters are given less and less time on the ground in which to work, which undoubtedly reduces the opportunities for sweeps (and submissions) in MMA.

The lower number of sweeps in MMA also in part reflects the fact that points are awarded differently in either sport. In BJJ, sweeps gain the sweeper two points but that is not so in MMA – a sport that continues to use the 10 point must system (despite strong opposition). Under the ten point must system, the winner of a round is awarded 10 points and no individual move, such as a sweep, will receive a score. Scoring 3 sweeps in BJJ may therefore be enough for victory but it may be completely nullified in MMA by other criteria, such as striking or takedowns.

There is also a strong perception in MMA that the fighter on bottom is losing, suggesting that the priority for many fighters may simply to be to get up rather than to try and work from bottom.

In fact, many MMA fighters chose to use the guard in order to stand up rather than to sweep. In BJJ this isn’t rewarded points, as it isn’t considered a scoring technique. This means that is rare to see BJJ competitors use the guard in order to stand rather than to sweep or submit.

In MMA competition, however, using the guard to stand is an incredibly useful technique. It can allow a fighter to change the dynamic of a fight- perhaps increasing the chance of winning by knockout and reducing the risk of submission.

For those that practice BJJ regularly this does pose an interesting question. How often to you use the guard to stand rather than to sweep or submit? Should BJJ incorporate more of a focus on stand up techniques and less on sweeps?

Let us know what you think in the comments bellow.

For the latest stats and data on MMA techniques (takedowns, submissions, KOs) and fighters (ages, height, reach etc) check out our online database stats . The online MMA database statistics will update dynamically to keep you up to date. Use them to find the ideal weight category for a fighter or to explore the effectiveness of techniques.

-Professor X

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