BJJ has become such a large component of Mixed Martial Arts. Every MMA fighter must have a decent understanding of grappling before they can compete at any level. Despite the huge array of systems and submissions in pure jiu jitsu, the Rear Naked Choke (RNC) remains the most consistent choke throughout professions MMA. Watching high level BJJ matches, you see varied arrays of attacks and submissions especially with leg locks in recent years. In MMA, however, those who are masters of the fundamentals tend to enjoy the most success on the ground. Below, I will be looking at the potential reasons why the RNC, a fundamental technique, dominates the sport.
Ask any BJJ practitioner what the golden rule of the sport is and they will tell you “don’t give up your back”. It’s such an elementary aspect but when you add in the variables of striking and takedowns, this rule can be easily overlooked. In an MMA fight, the goal is to fight to your strengths. So when strikers find themselves on the ground, their first thought is “get back on my feet” as opposed to “don’t give up my back”. Even if you are aware of giving up position, it only takes a split second for an elite grappler to take advantage. Demien Maia and Gunnar Nelson are perfect examples of fighters who wait for the right moment. As soon their opponent gives up their back, it doesn’t take long before the choke is secured.
Many fighters choose to tire their opponents into order to secure an easy RNC. Fatigue can lead to poor defense but, especially in grappling, it leads to mental lapses. When a fighter exerts themselves in a fight, every effort becomes more and more taxing. Missing a punch or a kick will not only affect stamina, it will also lead to openings for take downs. Tired fighters will forget to protect their neck and tend to give up their back more easily. Two examples of high-endurance fighters who submit their fatigued opponents are Nate Diaz (see first fight v McGregor) and Tony Ferguson (see fight v Kevin Lee).
In addition to the above, the Rear Naked Choke is a fundamental move in BJJ. Many practitioners learn the technique within a month of starting training. As a result, most grapplers are very comfortable in finishing once they get the back. As a result, the higher level grapplers will have a much more fluid and nuanced approach to the RNC as opposed to purple and brown belts. The choke is also so simple and incredibly effective. Even if you have drilled your defensive technique against the choke, it can still be nigh-on impossible to stop a decent grappler from securing the RNC. Being such a fundamental aspect of BJJ is the reason why the RNC has been executed so effectively in MMA. For examples of an elite level grappler performing the RNC and other submissions with ease, check out Charles Oliveira’s fights in the UFC.