Charles Oliveira’s calf crush (aka calf slicer or knee compression) victory over Eric Wisely during the UFC on Fox 2 prelims raised a few eyebrows in the MMA world. Those with a background in BJJ, submission grappling, catch wrestling, or (especially) sambo saw what was going on, but the “stand them up ref!” fight fans had questions – as evidenced by the ensuing Twitter storm. Why did Wisely tap just because his leg was being bent? And how did Oliveira get himself into that position? Read on.
The past year in combat sports has been a big one for leglocks, thanks in no small part to Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares, who was the mayor of Heel Hook City at the 2011 ADCC competition and has also been ruining legs with a vengeance in the UFC. This is a welcome development because The Jiu-Jitsu Vortex loves leglocks and BJJ addicts such as ourselves are always happy see a submission victory.
The most recent high-profile MMA leglock victory happened during the prelims of UFC on Fox 2, when the aforementioned Charles Oliveira used a really tight calf crush to submit Eric Wisely. Ben Thapa from Bloody Elbow does a very detailed breakdown of this submission in his most recent edition of Judo Chop.
Oliveira’s calf crush (or calf slicer or knee compression, depending who you ask) caused a bit of a stir because it’s a pretty rare finish. It’s a hard submission to get a hold of and even then, it can be hard to finish. Rafael Dos Anjos snagged Tyson Griffin in a calf crush during their “fight of the night” war at UFC Fight Night: Condit vs. Kampmann on April Fool’s Day 2009, but didn’t finish the submission. Opting rather to use the position to take Griffin’s back and land some strikes, Dos Anjos ended up losing to Griffin on a decision.
Shogun Rua – Calf Slicer vs. Chuck Liddell and Jon Jones
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua has also been known to go for the calf crush, like he did on April 18, 2009 at UFC 97. At the 2:30 mark of round one of Shogun vs. Chuck Liddell, Shogun scored a takedown, Chuck scrambled back to his feet and Shogun, still on Liddell’s back, sat down into a heel hook. Chuck went for the standard heel hook escape – turn in the direction of the submission and sprint out – but Shogun was ready for it and transitioned straight into a calf crush, which could have been a fight finisher if Liddell’s foot hadn’t popped out.
During Shogun’s mauling at the hands (and the knees, elbows, and feet) of Jon Jones at UFC 128, he tried to initiate the same heel hook sequence with 35 seconds left in the first round, albeit with much less success (Shogun vs. Jones fight link).
Frank Mir breaks teaches a similar entry to the calf slicer (but starting from his back) during a seminar with Wolf Pack Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and also shows an alternate scenario with a kneebar finish.
How does the Calf Slicer Work?
What’s going on in a calf crush? In short, a potentially catastrophic knee injury. The mechanism of the calf slicer can be likened to a nutcracker (no, not the little soldier type) with a stone in the jaws. Squeeze it hard enough and the nutcracker is going to break at it’s weakest point – probably the joint [Note: this metaphor is stolen from Stephan Kesting of Grapple Arts]. So the nutcracker is Eric Wisely’s leg (the joint being the knee) and the rock is Charles Oliveira’s ankle. Once everything is locked in place and the pressure is on, Wisely taps or the weakest part of the mechanism gives way… possibly his tibia or fibula, but more likely the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that hold his knee together.
The TV show Human Weapon used an animation to describe the calf crush during their Russian sambo episode:
How to Set up the Calf Crush
In addition to acting as a plan B to the heel hook, the calf crush can be hit from a bunch of other positions and any MMA fighter, submission grappler, catch wrestler, or Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter would benefit from doing some exploring. A few places to get started:
Lars Wallin from Viking BJJ teaches a different variation on the calf crush. He starts in top half guard, backspins to kneebar, and transitions to a calf crush when his opponent defends. Notice that he uses his forearm under the knee rather than his ankle, which makes this similar to the submission that Gabriel “Napao” Gonzaga used to submit Marcio Cruz “Pe de Pano” in the semifinals of the +99kg bracket of the 2005 ADCC.
Calf crush from bottom half guard:
Rolling calf crush from top half guard (using a similar motion as the rolling back take):
And of course, Rener and Ralek Gracie provide another excellent Gracie breakdown giving a detailed explanation of Charles Oliveira’s calf slicer:
So all aboard the calf crush / calf slicer bandwagon. Have fun, but be careful. Don’t wait for pain! Tap early, keep your knee intact, and keep training hard.