In the years following its inaugural use in a 2002 bout between Amar Suloev and Paul Cahoon, the Suloev Stretch was seldom seen in high-level MMA. It briefly resurfaced when Kenny Robertson used it to submit Keith Jardine in 2013, but would then take a five-year hiatus before returning with a bang: in September of 2018, both Aljamain Sterling and Zabit Magomedshapriov used the Suloev Stretch to submit their opponents.
Galvanizing fans and aficionados alike, the Suloev Stretch’s night in the limelight led to a renewed interest in the submission. As with other techniques in our series, just because a move is rare does not mean its sole practicality is for the highlight reel: the Suloev Stretch is a superb submission that provides a solution to a particular problem that frequently arises, all without risking the loss of a dominant position.
A Time and a Place
Like the other techniques in our series, the Suloev Stretch is not just an extravagant finishing move but offers a much-needed utility. Let’s say a fighter has established back control; one common escape attempt their opponent might use is to “quad-pod” up on their hands and feet in an attempt to shake their unwanted passenger off of them. By angling their spine at a downward angle and shaking fervently, the entrapped often fighter will be able to shake their unwanted passenger off and escape the position.
While many “early-stage” actions can be taken to prevent the opponent from quad-podding — such as flattening them out with the hooks — if the quad-pod is established swift action will have to be taken to avoid being shaken off and ending up on the bottom.
The most obvious option, relentlessly pursuing the rear-naked choke, is a prominent option, but has its drawbacks as the RNC requires the attacker to dedicate their hands to the strangle, they are unable to keep them on the mat to stop the shake-off. This means that if the choke isn’t successful, the position is likely to be lost.
The second option, the judo-style armbar (juji-gatame) popularized by Ronda Rousey, provides a powerful finish; but again, at the cost of risking the position. If a fighter has put in a sufficient number of repetitions in the gym, the armbar is a high-percentage move, as the opponent’s arm is extended to the mat and ripe for the taking.
Yet even with all of Rousey’s success, this armbar setup has failed to see widespread use as, as it requires a high degree of movement. In grappling, every movement an attacker makes leads to the chance that something will go awry and the opponent will escape, so it isn’t surprising that this armbar isn’t utilized more frequently.
While both of these submissions require risking position, the Suloev Stretch does not. As it doesn’t require the attacker to move off of the back like the armbar, and the grip on the leg acts as an actor on the victim (which halts the shake off attempt) the Suloev Stretch is a low-risk, yet powerful counter to the quad-pod.
Even if the submission isn’t successful, the Stretch will break and opponent down to a hip where the attacker can pursue a more traditional finish, as we see Aljamain Sterling do against Renan Barao here:
That’s a Suloev Stretch
As the Suloev Stretch is a counter to the quad-pod escape, for it to be used the bottom fighter must have placed their feet on the mat so their leg is extended. Once this situation arises, there are two methods for attacking with the Stretch.
The first method is to go “around” the opponent, as the submission’s eponym Amar Suloev did for its MMA debut. Notice how Suloev goes around his opponent’s body, using his right arm to overhook the right leg. He then posts on his left hand and spins to his back for the finish.
The other method, which has seen more use due to it being increasingly secure over Mr. Suloev’s method, is to go “under” the opponent, grabbing a leg with the opposite arm. Here Aljamain Sterling sets up the submission by reaching his right arm under his opponent to grab the left leg. He then doubles up his grip with his left hand before driving his hips in to finish the Suloev Stretch.
As mentioned, just minutes after Sterling’s finish, Magomed Shapirov used an identical setup of his right arm going “under” his opponent to secure the left leg. His opponent survived the debilitating pain a tad longer than Sterling’s, as he was able to roll to his back in an unsuccessful escape attempt before yielding.
— Ahmar Khan (@AhmarSKhan) September 9, 2018
While commonly classified as a “kneebar,” as we can see from Zabit’s application the Suloev Stretch targets the victim’s hamstring before breaking the bones of the knee. While this might sound like the submission is less damaging, it generates more than sufficient force to tear the hamstring and break the leg; either scenario would render the victim incapable of effectively continuing combat.
As we have seen from exploring the Suloev Stretch, just because a maneuver is rare does not mean it is impractical. There are other counters to a quad-pod, but few offer a fighter the same level of positional security, or the potential to have their name added to such an exclusive list as the Suloev Stretch.