In an effort to make sure the post-fight melee doesn’t overshadow the exceptional martial arts displayed at UFC 229, let’s take a look at how Khabib Nurmagomedov was able to use a rear-naked choke to strangle Conor McGregor, without needing to get under the chin.
A common misconception is that the rear-naked choke is ineffective if the choking arm doesn’t have direct contact to the neck. While it is more efficient to have a direct arm-to-neck connection, the over the chin variation is still perfectly effective. Having one’s chin down makes it easier to defend the strangle, but it does not prevent the strangle. When the is chin tucked it allows the defender to push the choking arm up and over the head, but it does nothing protect the arteries on its own, it just makes auxiliary defensive actions more effective.
Notice the difference between these two pictures. The first shows Roger Gracie strangling Kevin Randleman by getting his choking arm under the chin, and the second shows Nurmagomedov strangling McGregor with his choking arm over the chin. Both methods are effective ways to force an opponent to submit due to strangulation.
While the nomenclature “choke” is used frequently in the context of MMA, what is usually being referred to is a strangle. Rear-naked chokes, guillotines, triangles, and most other “chokes” function by compressing the carotid arteries, severing the flow of blood to the brain. Without a supply of blood, the brain has no means of receiving oxygen and will shut down after approximately seven to ten seconds. Physiologically speaking this is a “strangle,” while “choking” is caused by blocking the esophagus, preventing airflow to the lungs. Choking can take significantly longer to render an individual unconscious, sometimes up to multiple minutes (think of how long you can hold your breath underwater).
The misconception about needing to get under the chin originates from an incorrect belief that in order to compress the carotid arteries, there needs to be direct contact with them. The carotids are structurally feeble, taking only minuscule pressure to corrupt their ability to carry blood (simply push a single finger against your own carotid and you will immediately feel the effect).
Because the arteries are so incapable of withstanding a direct attack, the natural thought is to use the chin to defend them. The idea that one must “get under the chin,” is built on the notion that the chin is strong enough to protect the carotids from being compressed, which it is not. A proper rear-naked choke is executed by pulling with the muscles in the back, as well as squeezing the closed the “V” formed by the choking arm together. There are very few scenarios in which the pressure generated from the combination of one fighter’s back and arm strength is not enough to compress, or even crush, his opponent’s mandible. The jaw is designed for the sole purpose of chewing food and lacks the muscle and structural integrity to hold up against the pressure generated by a rear-naked choke.
The superiority of the attacker’s strength versus the defender’s jaw allows for an “over the chin” rear-naked choke to result in submission by two potential methods. Either the victim yields because he feels his mandible is about to be crushed, or because it has been jammed back into his neck, closing the carotid arteries and resulting in the primary objective of strangulation. It is a perfectly effective method of strangulation to use the opponent’s own chin as an instrument in the strangle, similar to how triangles and arm-triangles are effective because they roll the opponent’s own shoulder into the neck to close off the carotid.
Notice how in this clip from Quintet 3, which occurred just a few days prior to UFC 229, Gordon Ryan makes no effort to get under the chin of his opponent in order to complete the submission. Ryan, who is arguably the best submission grappler on the planet, knows that the power he can put on his opponent’s chin by using his back, hips, and arms in unison will easily crush through the mandible, resulting in strangulation or severe damage to the jawbone.
The lack of necessity to have one’s arm directly on the chin in order to achieve submission has been established in the higher echelons of submission grappling for some time but has yet to be properly disseminated to the larger MMA audience. To close, watch legendary grappler Braulio Estima teach the lack of necessity of “getting under the chin” below.