Many of us got into BJJ after watching the early UFC events, seeing Royce Gracie run through his opponents with grappling skills the world hadn’t seen before. Anyone who’s seen Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and done their homework is familiar with the notion that the art was created for a smaller, weaker practitioner to defeat bigger, stronger opponents. Royce proved it, and most of us believed it.
If you met someone twice your size in a fight, your best bet would be BJJ. But what about when your opponent or training partner also trains Jiu-Jitsu? How does this change up the game? Some world champions like Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles or Caio Terra seem to be capable of beating bigger, stronger adversaries, but it certainly isn’t easy when they know as much Jiu-Jitsu as you do.
Over the last four years I’ve been lucky enough to interview and personally train with many of the world’s absolute best lightweight BJJ world champions to determine their insights, strategies, and approaches for beating bigger and stronger opponents. In this article, I wanted to cover five “Go-To” principles for beating the big guys.
1) Use Submissions That WORK: A Lot on a Little
Many grapplers treat Jiu-Jitsu like it’s exactly the same for everyone – regardless of their own body type or the situation they find themselves in with their opponent. If you watch the best lightweight grapplers win against bigger opponents, you realize there are certain submissions that are much more effective against them than other submissions. Some of these “effective” attacks are chokes, some are arm attacks, and some are leg attacks. The commonalities they have are as follows:
Effective “Giant Killer” Submissions Involve as Much of YOU on as Little of THEM as Possible
If you had a choice to go for a head-and-arm guillotine, or a head-hold guillotine on someone twice your size, which would be a more effective strategy? The fact of the matter is that the less of the bigger, stronger opponent you have to control, the better. The more you can concentrate your limited strength on a single point of weakness on the opponent, the better off you are.
This is why you’ll see a lightweight champion like Cobrinha hit a back-mount choke on a bigger opponent, but you usually won’t see him finish a kimura on the same adversary. The choke involves Cobrinha’s entire upper body concentrated on the opponent’s neck, with the opponent left with only his neck to defend with. The kimura, on the other hand, involves controlling the opponent’s arm and shoulder using one’s arms, thus attacking a bigger, stronger part of the opponent – making that submission less likely.
2) Use Submissions That WORK: Ignore Gravity
Effective “Giant Killer” Submissions are Usually NOT Dependent on Top Positioning
Another one of the most critical details to tapping out bigger, stronger opponents is using submissions that are not dependent on being on top positions. Someone who’s much stronger or larger can usually buck and roll a much lighter opponent, especially when they’re in danger of being tapped.
For instance, if you’re on top of a larger opponent and you’re aiming to finish an arm triangle or a traditional north-south choke, you’re at a huge risk of being rolled and reversed. Neither of these submissions happen to work very well from bottom, and if a giant opponent wants you on bottom, he may very well be able to make it happen.
On the other hand, if you are on top and go for a mounted guillotine, or an armbar from side control – you’ll be able to finish either of those submissions, even if a big opponent turns over and ends up on top (armbars and guillotines, unlike north-south chokes, work very well from bottom positions).
3) Initiative is King
When I took a private lesson from 8x BJJ World Champion Robson Moura, I asked him for his advice on beating bigger opponents (Robson has done many open weight divisions in Brazil, despite being a very small BJJ fighter himself). One principle that Robson shared with me was the importance of taking the initiative with a bigger opponent – especially from bottom positions.
When a big guy “sets the tone” or makes the first move from top, it’s usually not something that can be undone. If he squashes you in bottom half guard, you usually can’t easily get out. If he compresses and nullifies your butterfly hooks, it’s usually not super easy to get back to a sweeping position.
So, in order to avoid getting passed, and to have your best shot at sweeping and submitting, it’s most important to not just have a guard in mind when you’re on bottom, but have a sweep or submission that you’re able to aggressively transition into without hesitation. Forcing the opponent to react will open up opportunities you might not have been able to find against a bigger, stronger opponent otherwise.