Although Polaris 3’s card is not yet fully disclosed, the organization has revealed enough dream matches to keep grappling fans buzzing with excitement.
Scheduled for April 2nd 2016 in Poole – England, the 3rd edition of Polaris Jiu Jitsu Invitational has a line-up ready to rival any of the top grappling events across the planet. The “submission only” rule-set has also brought the interest of high level mixed martial arts fighters such as Rousimar Palhares (who will go up against Garry Tonon) and Jake Shields (vs AJ Agazarm), who are eager to prove their worth against the grappling elite.
We are not talking about your average MMA fighter here, both Shields and Palhares are regarded as the top representatives of the grappling approach to cage fighting and both have ADCC bling to prove it. But if “Toquinho” is seen as a submission machine by the mainstream fans, Jake is often (in our eyes wrongfully) labelled as a boring grappler. When looking at Shield’s MMA career we tend to overlook the level of talent the former wrestler and Cesar Gracie black belt has gone up against for the past 17 years. We are talking about a man who’s defeated Demian Maia, Renato Veríssimo (Charuto), Carlos Condit, Dan Henderson, Martin Kampmann, Yushin Okami, Dave Menne to name a few, using nothing more/nothing less than solid grappling.
When discussing Jake’s submission potential, many also forget Shields’ 40% submission rate in the octagon, having submitted the elite of MMA such as Robbie Lawler, Mike Pyle, Nick Thompson, Jeremy Jackson, Paul Daley (list goes on).
Come April 2nd, Shields will be facing a very particular grappler in AJ Agazarm. AJ is perhaps the most prolific representative of a style that Jake coined many years ago as “American Jiu Jitsu”, a name suggested to explain the merge between American collegiate wrestling and Brazilian jiu jitsu. In the sport of BJJ today, there is no other athlete who projects those two facets of grappling as well as Agazarm, the natural born scrambler.
Although with very similar backgrounds, AJ Agazarm and Shields have plenty of diverging methods in their grappling approach. In this article we hope to showcase their differences (as well as their similarities).
Both AJ Agazarm and Jake Shields have a similar approach to the stand-up game under grappling rules, with their “Plan A” consistently falling on the sweep single.
Unlike AJ, Jake shields is not a fast shooter and will often grind his opponents into a takedown, particularly in MMA with the help of the cage. In grappling only rules Jake will make the most of the clinch, wrestling tight from the get-go, wearing his opponents down with strong grips and heavy pressure. This “slowcooking” will be often followed by a snapdown to sweep single/high-crotch > double leg takedowns and very rarely with upper body throws, or foot sweeps.
Below is a display of Jake’s trademark clinch control. One used in almost every grappling we watched from Jake. A position he uses to slow his opponents down and set up his own snapdown, duck under and stand-up guillotines.
AJ is more versatile and athletic, with his takedowns coming from more angles, being dangerous with overhooks and underhooks from the clinch. Below you can see AJ’s versatility from the clinch at the 2012 BJJ Kumite against Garry Tonon.
But even with tons of flair, AJ’s game more than often goes back to his lightening fast low single leg, one he used repeatedly throughout his career.
Another interesting similarity in their game is the fact that under very specific circumstances, either will pull guard in an interesting jiu jitsu > wrestling cross over. What this means is that in no-gi circumstances we have seen either athlete pull guard if their opponent doesn’t engage/avoids clinch, or if they struggle to get a deep enough shot for their beloved sweep single. This peculiar guard pull is not a traditional jiu jitsu style pull as more than often, the objective will not be be to play guard, but instead get closer to the adversary’s legs and finish on a single leg style sweep attempt.
In the example below you can see AJ’s intent on going up on a single, a strategy changed due to Daniel Strauss’ “chin strap” attack, which allowed Agazarm to roll Strauss over.
Again we witness very distinct movement from both grapplers. AJ Agazarm has a variety of guard passing systems, though his most utilized passes are done from the reverse-half guard, and the stack pass, the latter being a position AJ combines with the miragaia control (see below).
Although not as tight as the standard miragaia, AJ’s stack/miragaia symbiosis protects his arm from the kimura and opens more room for the scramble – Agazarm’s element.
Another one of his go-to positions is the reverse ½ guard. A control that allows him 3 options: kimura/armbar attack, pass the guard by freeing the foot, and an exit route – the scramble for head and arm control (if a sweep is attempted):
The exit route:
This willingness to put himself on the verge of a scramble is what sets AJ Agazarm apart from the standard pressure passer. Jake Shields on the other hand is the picture perfect pressure guy, slow and methodical, leaving very few openings behind.
Jake Shields Passing
Shield’s guard passing M.O. is to force his opponent’s to play butterfly guard by wrapping both arms around their waist, then stuffing the legs, either passing the guard or forcing them turtle allowing Jake to attack the back. This method is consistently seen in the majority of his matches and we have yet to witness Shields attempt to pass a guard from his feet, rather than his knees, in any competitive environment.
Jake Shields back take
Grappling is a fighting style open to many interpretations, and what is right for some may not work as well for others. There are however a few dogmas in jiu jitsu, one of which says “never put your hands on the mat when inside the closed guard”. As mentioned in the previous segment, this is a particular “mistake” Shields has used throughout his career to control his opponents and force them to play butterfly/half-guard, but as expected it has brought him a fair share of scares against knowledgeable guard players, i.e. Cameron Earle (2005 ADCC – below)/Saulo Ribeiro (LA Sub. X 2006).
Or even in his rolls against Rafael Mendes.
AJ Agazarm also likes to push the boundaries of safety, and will take chances to get ahead of his competition, but for very distinct reasons. While Jakes’ mishaps come from his desire to control his opposer’s movement, AJ does it either to disturb his adversaries/entertain the crowd or to open spaces for his offence.
Against Daniel Strauss AJ opted to play mind games such as offering Daniel Strauss his foot for Daniel to toe-hold, after a failed attempt that went out of bounds (Polaris 2), much like on Polaris 1 when we saw Agazarm step right into Oliver Geddes’ strong game (half guard) without hesitation. This defiant attitude is seen throughout his career, including against heel-hook expert Richie Martinez, at the ADCC US trials, when AJ almost “offered” his heel just to get close to “The Boogeyman’s” own feet. A clash between recklessness, tactical awareness and showmanship.
A very interesting style clash between two wrestlers with tremendous jiu jitsu credentials, and a very strong candidate to steal the show. Both grapplers have a never say die attitude, tons of stamina and scrambles for all tastes on the feet and on the ground.
Although more experienced in straight IBJJF rules, AJ Agazarm is not a clear-cut favorite if we take into account what Jake has done in grappling. Deeds such as taking 4x world champion Leandro Lo to a draw at the World Jiu Jitsu Expo (2013) and his submission win over another 4x world champion in Leo Santos back in 2006 (ADCC) should be a warning of how legit Shields is on the mat. He has also taken legends such as Saulo Ribeiro and Pablo Popovitch through some very even matches.
We would not dare make a prediction for the result of this match, but we will predict it to be one of the more interesting contests on the card.