Essential MMA Skills – Countering the Leg Pick-Up

The takedown is fast becoming the most important aspect of MMA, and it is for this reason that we drill not only on offensive takedowns but on defensive takedowns as well.

NOTE: At all times during a match, a fighter, be he wrestler or stand up exponent – should be thinking offense. Any situation can be turned into a scoring opportunity for the fighter who is aggressive enough to take advantage of it.

We take each situation and drill on the possible reactions that can be made. Because of the popularity of the single leg takedown, one of the most common situations the wrestler now encounters is where his opponent has one of his legs off the mat.

countering the leg pick up


Here are the basic rules we use in countering any takedown attempt:

1. Stop your opponent’s penetration with your arms, shoulders, or hips.

2. Create distance between you and your opponent—no matter how slight.

3. Keep pressure on your opponent’s head. Where his head goes, he goes.

4. Counter with an offensive move.

When your opponent has your leg up, there are three possible places it can be held: In front of him this is best for your opponent. In between his legs both men have many opportunities from here. Outside his legs ; this position is the best for you—try to get there. We shall now discuss the possible counters for each of these situations.

When he has your leg in front of him: Whizzer the near arm high and tight. Use your free hand to force his head down and away from you (Figure 4). Kick your free leg up so that it is perpendicular to his legs and directly behind his knees; you might want to place your free hand on the mat for balance

Pull your opponent backward over your leg with your whizzer arm.. As you hit the mat, high-leg over the top of your opponent with your free leg. Straighten your trapped leg and work for a pinning combination.

When your leg is trapped in between your opponent’s legs. Force his head to the outside of your leg with your elbow or by taking his chin with your hand. This will remove any chance of him using his head to apply pressure. When his head is outside, use your hand or forearm to keep it down. Now . .

(a) Take his thigh or buttock with your free hand and sit hard. The force should stun your opponent momentarily. Then either hoist your legs and go behind, or scoot your hips, grapevine your trapped leg, and get your hips above his so that you can go to a cross-body ride.

(b) Take your hand off the head and drive it inside his near thigh and fishhook the thigh. Now sit hard and switch (Figure 7).

(c) Drive your hand over his head and under his far arm.

Grab the back of his thigh with your free hand and sit hard. When you hit the mat, scoot your hips and drive your back hand forward until you can clasp cradle. Now hoist your legs to free your trapped leg and work the cradle.

When your leg is on the outside: Lock your toe behind his near knee. Whizzer his near arm high and tight. Use your free hand to force his head down and away. Now .. .

(a) Hop high into the air and pull up on the whizzer arm while you straighten the trapped leg. This should force him to let go of the leg.

(b) Force him down as far as possible (if you lean forward he’ll bend at the waist). Keep your free hand tight to your side and hop in a circle away from your opponent, forcing him to follow. When he steps forward with his far foot, lean down and grab it at the heel. Drive off your back foot to take him to the mat. When you have him down, straighten your trapped leg and work for a pinning combination.


After teaching the leg-up counters, I have the wrestlers take about 10 minutes to practice them. Then I set aside six minutes (one minute in each situation for both a wrestler and his partner) of practice time to have them practice what I call the “hop drill.”

Hop drill. Have man A take man B’s leg in front of himself and move him around (don’t take him down) for one minute. Have man B take man A’s leg in front of him and repeat. Go through the same procedure with the leg in between the man’s legs and also with the leg on the outside.

This drill will get both men accustomed to the situations connected with having a leg up. After the boys become accustomed to the drill, you can change it by allowing the boys to either take the man down or execute the counters. The drill should be done every night or every other night for the first week or two and occasionally for the rest of the season.

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