Submission Breakdown: Schnell Shocked, The Best Damn Closed Guard Combination in MMA

By Matthew Gioia

Between the torrid pace, unending scrambles, and the cohesive skill sets of its combatants, few divisions match the excitement flyweight consistently brings. With luminaries such as Demetrious Johnson, Joseph Benavidez, and our own Zach Makovsky, it is impossible to not fall in love with the division unless you are a sentient, HGH-infused tomato.

Part of the reason why the flyweight division is so fascinating is the slick tricks of the trade abundant throughout the top 15 and beyond. Even someone like Tim Elliott’s organized, yet chaotic style of wrestling put the “Mighty” Demetrious Johnson in real danger of being finished within the first frame of their main event contest.

One of these fighters who sadly, and undeservingly so, get lost in the shuffle amongst the volume that is the UFC match-making machine is Shreveport, Louisiana native Matt Schnell. Coming into the UFC after a loss to the aforementioned Tim Elliot during The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions, Schnell suffered two straight defeats in losses to Hector Sandoval and the current #3 ranked bantamweight in the world, Rob Font. On the verge of getting a pink slip after three, well technically two straight losses, since TUF fights are considered exhibitions, Schnell reeled off four straight wins with his last two coming by the way of some of the most clever grappling sequences in UFC history.

As the great Connor Ruebusch puts it, in MMA the fighter who comes forward often wins. Schnell seems to agree as “Danger” is almost always on the front foot looking to initiate exchanges. However, this style comes with a few flaws, namely that it leaves Schnell open to reactive level changes when he extends himself out while marching forward.

For fighters whom rely on forward movement, sprawling and throwing their hips back is not always an option, especially in the scrambly-shark tank that is the 125 pound division. To solve this potentially career-ending problem, Schnell introduced an arm-in guillotine into his game. While the no arm guillotine is more popular in MMA, mainly due to the fact that it is a much easier finish, the arm-in guillotine allows for much more stability as a fighter is able to control the whole upper body of his opponent rather than just the neck. This is especially important for Schnell as he is often able to lock his opponent’s into closed guard where scrambling is essentially impossible, unless you are Anthony Pettis.

The true genius of this layered combination is what comes next. When defending the guillotine, it is important to fight the hands of your opponents as that is the most pressing danger. Yes, you can try to tripod to alleviate some pressure but ultimately if someone has their arms around your neck and you don’t try to strip their grips, you will go unconscious. So, as his opponent attempts to strip his guillotine grip, Schnell calmly exchanges his overhook for a collar tie to break the posture of his opponent while extending his own body away to create enough space to throw up his signature triangle.

With Espinosa’s posture completely broken due to the collar tie of Schnell, Espinosa has no other option but to stand and stack as a last ditch attempt to escape. This however allows Schnell to underhook Espinosa’s leg, essentially closing off of all avenues of flight. Once Schnell brings his own hips to the mat, exponentially increasing the pressure on Espinosa’s neck, he is able to force capitulation, giving us one of the best closed guard combinations in MMA grappling history.