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Wrestling for MMA: Pedro Munhoz


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Wrestling for MMA: Pedro Munhoz

Bantamweight contender Pedro Munhoz has a chance to add another high profile name to his resume this Saturday when he faces former lightweight champion and featherweight title challenger Frankie Edgar. While Edgar is clearly approaching the final stage of his career, his legendary physical attributes fading, a big experienced wrestler can always spell trouble for…

Wrestling for MMA: Pedro Munhoz

Bantamweight contender Pedro Munhoz has a chance to add another high profile name to his resume this Saturday when he faces former lightweight champion and featherweight title challenger Frankie Edgar.

While Edgar is clearly approaching the final stage of his career, his legendary physical attributes fading, a big experienced wrestler can always spell trouble for an aggressive fighter.

To provide important context for this matchup, let’s examine the complete wrestling game of Brazilian guillotine artist Pedro Munhoz.

Offensive Competency

In terms of taking leg attacks of his own, Munhoz has been fairly low-volume throughout his career. He’s a pressure fighter, kicking low and snapping to the body from the outside, while hooking and lever punching from tie-ups on the inside. Munhoz has been criticized for his lack of speed and built-in defense relative to the rest of the division, his his durability and offense potency make up for these shortcomings most of the time.

With that striking style in mind, Munhoz has a couple of different avenues for offensive attacks. The first is the most traditional for MMA — pressure to force a linear retreat to the cage, then work your attacks from there when they run out of room.

If Munhoz’s opponents stand their ground and look to intercept pressure with lethal pocket counters, like Jimmie Rivera did, Munhoz can time the swing with sharp level changes to get to his single leg.

VIDEO CLIP: Pedro Munhoz takes down Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson

In past “Wrestling for MMA” articles I’ve noted the drawbacks of open space single legs, wrestlers often choose setups that force their opponents to step back, making the shot more shallow and expanding the amount of effort needed to build back up and finish. Pedro Munhoz prefers to shoot reaction singles, and his excellent wrestling footwork leads to minimal time stuck underneath his opponents.

Munhoz loves to turn the corner immediately on his singles, forcing his opponents to turn and square up, temporarily narrowing their base. From there, Munhoz capitalizes by switching off to double leg finishes. While there is a ton of momentum that goes into these shots, Munhoz is not driving straight forward, he uses more precise footwork to set up his finishes in open space.

Pedro Munhoz drag single leg finish Jimmie Rivera

Here you can see Munhoz used the handfight to enter the pocket, triggering the counter from Rivera. Evading the hook, Munhoz level changed in place and got to a snatch single, bringing up the lead leg of Rivera and pinching it between his own legs.

This is a position that wrestlers are often taught to “run the pipe” from. Technically, running the pipe involves “C-stepping”, taking a step out and back with the leg on the side you want to finish to. This forces their weight toward the side without a base. During that C-step motion, the offensive wrestler “bows” and angles the hip down to the mat.

The concept here is similar, but instead of finishing directly to the right, Munhoz stepped back and used a drag while C-stepping. Not only did this bring the lead leg of Rivera across his hips, it forced his weight forward across his broken base. With no forward post, Rivera had his leg pulled out from under him.

As soon as Rivera’s hips hit the mat, Munhoz used a penetration step to shift forward and swam out his left arm to attack the high side of the hip and double off.

It may not be the flashiest takedown you’ve ever seen, or the cleanest control finish, but it demonstrated a clear degree of wrestling competency from Munhoz, against a fighter in Jimmie Rivera who is notoriously difficult to wrestle with.

Perhaps even more impressively, Munhoz took down and controlled former flyweight title challenger John Dodson. If you read my article last week, or watched Dodson’s fight with Merab Dvalishvili, you’ll know how absurdly difficult it is to keep him down.

Against Dodson, Munhoz exploited his flawed ringcraft and shot a single when Dodson was square against the cage. Finishing a single on the cage is extremely difficult, but again, Munhoz demonstrated his understanding of MMA wrestling by taking the single to the left before doubling off.

Munhoz switches to a double vs Dodson

By stepping to the left and pulling Dodson’s knee across his body, Munhoz was able to both narrow Dodson’s base and line himself up to reshoot straight on for a more secure double leg.

Unlike many Dodson opponents, Munhoz was able to retain control after the takedown. Dodson typically gets his hips high, sits up and posts behind himself while pushing off on the head of his opponent. When they go to attack the posts, his legs become free and he stands up. Much like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Munhoz instead switches his control from a double leg to the “leg mount”, lacing underneath the legs of Dodson and sitting on them to free up use of his arms to attack the posts.

Even when Dodson did build back up for a moment, Munhoz switched back off to the double leg position and slid off to the back as he pulled Dodson’s hips off the cage. Aside from Demetrious Johnson, I believe no one has been able to put Dodson down and keep him down in this fashion.

It’s not a big part of his game, but Munhoz is excellent in these more basic wrestling situations. This comes as no surprise — Munhoz trained for a long time at Blackhouse MMA in California, where he worked with Kenny Johnson — a former University of Iowa wrestler and Division 1 coach.

Let’s move on to his defense.

Basic Defense and Creating Barriers

When I refer to “competency”, there are some basic standards I’m looking for. If someone shoots on you from the outside — can you sprawl? Can you downblock? Can you catch underhooks, stuff the head, create separation? Beyond that there are higher level competencies. If your opponent gets to a single, can you elevate their shot with a whizzer, can you turn and post to limp leg out? Without wrestling shoes, maneuvers like this should be in every fighter’s defensive repertoire.

Not only does Pedro Munhoz show a high level of competency, he’s extremely consistent and active with his defense.

VIDEO CLIP: Pedro Munhoz repeatedly stuffs takedowns

Munhoz constantly presses forward, winging hooks and kicking without fear. A commentator like Joe Rogan might point out that Munhoz feels comfortable doing so because his ground game is so threatening, which is fair, but there are enough top players at bantamweight to limit how far that philosophy goes. Truly, Munhoz can pursue his pressure style because he’s flat-out a great defensive wrestler.

His excellent hips, likely formed by a mixture of years of grappling and wrestling repetitions, allow him to leave his opponents reaching on most of their shot attempts.

Once that initial momentum is stifled, Munhoz immediately controls ties and crossfaces to force his opponent back into their stance and peel them off the leg.

Munhoz stuffs Scoggins

If the head is in the center or the opposite side, Munhoz instead uses the space created by his hips to dig underhooks and straighten up his opponent that way.

The only time you see someone get in deep on his leg is off kicks. Munhoz does have a habit of getting his kicks caught, but each time he has an answer. Against Aljamain Sterling, he posted on the head, turned and kicked out. Exactly like Jose Aldo.

More often, however, Munhoz stifles deep shots with his front headlock game.

Guillotine Master

It’s common knowledge that Munhoz has an incredible guillotine, and you’ll find better sources than myself on the exact dynamics of what makes him so successful with it. However, his use of the front headlock in general is worth exploring.

VIDEO CLIP: Pedro Munhoz uses front headlock for control and guillotines

Unlike other guillotine-happy fighters, Munhoz does not opt for the choke as a counter to leg attacks. He doesn’t sell out and pull guard and commit to the choke off the shot, Munhoz actually goes through the motions of defense, while holding onto that front headlock, using it to gain a more stable position first.

As mentioned in the Dodson breakdown, MMA wrestling often leads to fighters leading with their upper body when they shoot takedowns, rather than having their head and hips aligned. For this reason, it’s not a mistake for Munhoz to drape over the top in response to shots. He’s keenly aware of his hips and feet, making sure to clear them before committing his to chest pressure and tightening up his grip.

Because his preferred guillotine variant is a head-and-arm choke, the whizzer on his left side is built in, allowing him to stop his opponent from cutting angles on that side and making sure they stay squared up.

After having his kicks caught, Munhoz first posts or crossfaces to move his opponent’s head across body or to the center. Normally, someone who wants to guillotine would love the head outside position, as it gives up the neck. But in this case, Munhoz wants to make sure he can use the front headlock to break down their posture and gain a stable position on the mat before transitioning to the choke.

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Munhoz snaps down Damian Stasiak

Once achieving a grip on the head, Munhoz flexes his legs back and circles toward the side that is being attacked. Partially because Stasiak still may be able to drive him back into the cage, but also because focusing his weight on his right side allows him to gain better leverage to pull Stasiak off his leg.

The front headlock is a great defensive hold against a single leg here because Munhoz can pressure down with his chest and pull up tight with his arms, keeping Stasiak’s posture stuck in place as Munhoz kicks his legs back.

When he catches front headlock in striking situations where his legs are already freed up, Munhoz is great at immediately sagging and stepping back to snap down and either hit his guillotine or a go-behind.

Scrambling or Standard Process

Munhoz is a fighter with a clear system. He does more or less the same things in every fight, and only has one or two different reactions in any given situation. Some may call this predictable, but I believe it’s evidence of an approach that has been drilled to excellence and is demonstrably effective.

Even in situations that may appear more improvisational, Munhoz has hardwired responses ready to go.

VIDEO CLIP: Pedro Munhoz can scramble, mat return, and escape

Against Stasiak, Munhoz has a kick caught, and Stasiak attempts to finish a head outside single, on the head side.

This is not an ideal finish, but in theory it should put Munhoz’s hip on the mat and allow for Stasiak to attempt a secondary finish.

You can observe Munhoz applying simple, basic defense in every step.

Munhoz scrambling explained 1

Calling someone a “good scrambler” is often a disservice.

Pedro Munhoz is applying the same principles he would in any of these positions individually, enormous amounts of practice have developed his muscle memory so that he can chain his defense together as the situations progress.

Against Stasiak we saw Munhoz show a couple of different looks to regain his base until he was in a more stable position.

Munhoz kicks out of Stasiak’s single

A jiu-jitsu player by trade, Munhoz typically prefers to put his hooks in off back control, rather than any traditional wrestling rides from turtle.

However, he does not sacrifice positioning to throw hooks in if the space is not there. This means that sometimes his opponents have time to build back up to their feet. Repeatedly, we’ve seen Munhoz establish a trap-arm grip from rear standing and pop his hips for huge mat returns.

Pedro Munhoz mat return

The trap-arm prevents Stasiak from pummeling and turning in, as well as removing any post that could break his fall.

Munhoz steps around to the trap arm side and squats, bracing his hips underneath of Stasiak’s. This ensures that the power of the lift comes from Munhoz’s core and hips, rather than his upper body or the grip itself.

In mid-air, Munhoz steps high with his right leg to block the near leg of Stasiak. This allows him to arch and turn Stasiak horizontally, as well as removing another potential post for him to break his fall.

You can see that Munhoz pivots, dangerously, on his left foot while hitting the arch, allowing him to angle the return and slam Stasiak on his dome.

One last look I love from Munhoz is his ability to enter leg entanglements off being taken down. In fairness, Munhoz has been legitimately taken down only once or twice in the UFC, so the sample size is small. Against Rob Font, he was able to invert under Font’s base and take out his legs, using the heel hook attempt to stand right back up.

Pedro Munhoz vs. Frankie Edgar

Against a legend of the sport, Munhoz will need all of his skills to click if he wants to put on a dominant performance.

Major analysts like Dan Hardy are picking Edgar to use a perceived advantage in wrestling and grappling to control this five-round main event.

There are three issues with that.

One — Edgar’s wrestling efficacy has been declining for years, as seen in the latter half of Wrestling for MMA: Frankie Edgar.

Two — Munhoz has proven to be one of the best all-round wrestlers in the UFC. The official UFC stats count his guillotine attempts as completed takedowns by his opponents (which is especially ridiculous considering he defends the shots beforehand), but in truth Munhoz has been taken down once or twice ever in the UFC, and was never held down.

Three — Pedro Munhoz has demonstrated the ability to deal with the exact wrestling tactics that Edgar brings to the table at this stage in his career.

The knee pick entry and other high leg attacks are Edgar’s bread and butter these days. But as seen against Jose Aldo, Cub Swanson, and Max Holloway, a whizzer or post and limp leg will shut that shot down with alarming efficacy. It’s likely that Edgar will continue to look for these shallow singles, as they have a lesser chance of turning into guillotines for Munhoz than deeper level changes.

Ideally, if Edgar wants to wrestle, he’ll attempt to pressure and shoot on the cage, limiting Munhoz’s ability to move his feet and get to his best defensive and counter looks.

Ultimately, I believe Edgar will largely look to pick at Munhoz with in-and-out exchanges, only mixing in those knee tap entries conservatively. Munhoz, on the other hand, will press forward as he does, and it’s hard to believe Edgar can consistently avoid taking damage in the pocket over five rounds. If the fabled chin and durability of Edgar have truly faded in a meaningful way, it’s likely that Munhoz finishes the fight.

In any case, I hope that we see a few wrestling exchanges between the two, and that Pedro Munhoz earns the respect he deserves as one of the most skilled fighters in the UFC.

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