How to Use Shoulder Rolls or Granby Rolls in MMA, BJJ & Wrestling

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The Granby roll or shoulder roll is a great technique used extensively in MMA, BJJ and wrestling.

This shoulder roll has its name due to the Granby School of wrestling in Virginia, the school was famous for inventing several wrestling moves including the granby roll.

The Granby roll consists of doing an abrupt roll on the shoulders to escape back control or defend takedowns or even launch a counter submission of your own.

The granby roll as a takedown defense

The granby roll can be used as a defense against takedowns when the opponent is having you in a rear bear hug position. The bear hug or bodylock is a position where your opponent is locking their hands around your waist or chest in order to take you down. That’s when the granby roll serves as a counter.

How:

  • If your opponent is having you in a bodylock where their arms are wrapped around your body, don’t stand upright. Standing upright will expose your hips to your opponent and will let them take you down easily. Your hips are the center of your gravity, if your opponent controls your center of gravity, you will be put out of balance in no time.
  • You won’t be able to roll if your opponent has a high bodylock where their arms are wrapped around your chest. You will have to press down with both hands against their arms to slide the bodylock down to your belly
  • Now, make an explosive dive towards the ground
  • Don’t wait until you hit the ground to roll, make the roll while your body is still in the air
  • The explosive roll in the air will break your opponent’s grip and they will be forced to let go of your body
  • If you waited to roll until you have hit the ground go sideways on your shoulder blades.
  • Do not roll on your back, your opponent will have an easier job controlling you and pinning your back against the ground

Granby roll to escape the turtle position or side back position

Many wrestlers in MMA don’t prefer to take the back once they have taken you down. GSP and Cain Velasquez are amongst many fighters who prefer to keep their opponents in a side back position or a turtle position while striking them with punches and hammer fists from the top.

The fact that many wrestlers prefer that position and don’t go for establishing hooks to set up a rear naked choke is due to one reason: They avoid being reversed at all costs.

Putting both hooks inside your opponent’s hips when they are in the turtle position might put you at risk of losing your top position and being swept only to end up in the bottom with your opponent grounding and pounding you from the top.

How to escape a turtle position with a granby roll?

  • When you are in a turtle position or side back position, prepare to roll to the same direction your opponent is grabbing you from. For example, if your opponent is positioned at your right and they are wrapping their left arm around you, roll to your right towards your opponent and vice versa.
  • The roll should be only on your shoulder blades
  • Don’t do a front roll, remember! Your roll should be to the side
  • If performed correctly, you will end up having your opponent in full guard

Granby roll as a counter against slams and suplexes

Abel Trujillo used the same counter more than once against the slams and suplexes of Khabib Nurmagomdov.

Obviously the fight was a one sided wrestling clinic with a clear domination of Khabib, but Abel has still managed to successfully use the granby roll in two or three occasions.

Other versions of the granby roll

MMA, wrestling and BJJ are not geometry, sometimes techniques can be used in modified versions for different reasons.

The granby roll is no exception to this rule, different versions of the granby roll are used especially against takedowns. Many fighters prefer forward rolls and somersaults depending on the position they want to escape.

Granby roll or shoulder roll into kneebar

This is a very tricky transition to get the kneebar submission. It starts when you are in a turtle position.

How:

  • When you are in a turtle position, get tight and don’t let any space between your hips and your belly. Stick your thighs to your chest. This way, your opponent will have no space to put their hooks in
  • Keep your neck protected by tucking your head between your shoulders. The move resembles to a shoulder shrug
  • Now initiate your attack by doing a roll on your shoulders and your shoulders only
  • Keep rolling on your shoulders without letting your back touch the ground
  • When rolling on your shoulders, the back of your neck must have contact with the ground. This move requires great neck flexibility, make sure to include neck flexibility and mobility exercises in your workouts.
  • Now, start fishing for a leg with both of your legs. Spread them wide and look for your opponent’s closest leg and put it between your legs
  • Now, start fishing for their leg with your hand too. Roll under your opponent in a circle and grab the leg you have already between your legs
  • Pull yourself towards their leg as if you want to hug it between your arms
  • Your opponent’s leg is yours now!
  • Start executing your kneebar by pressing with your hips against their knee and pulling their foot from behind with both arms.

Tristar’s head coach Firas Zahabi did a great job explaining this technique

Granby roll or shoulder roll to triangle from the turtle position

Fabricio Werdum ended Fedor Emelianenko’s 10 year win streak by using the same set up in Strikeforce. Ryan Hall is also famous for this setup.

How:

  • When you are in a turtle position don’t let your opponent lock their hands around you in a seatbelt hold. You won’t b able to do your shoulder roll if they are having you in seat belt control
  • As explained in detail above in the section “Granby roll to escape the turtle position” roll on the blades of your shoulders
  • You will end up either in full guard, or in a triangle if you manage to keep one of your opponent’s arms outside your legs
  • Once you are in a triangle setup don’t waste time, your opponent will try to escape once they feel your calf behind their neck
  • Use one hand to pull their head down in order to prevent them from popping out of the triangle before it is fully locked
  • If you are not flexible enough, use the other hand to lock the triangle, adjust your foot under the back of your knee and tighten the knot.
  • Now, execute enough force on your tringle to choke your opponent
  • Congrats for the “W”!

Watch this visual explanation

How to counter a granby roll?

The granby roll is difficult to counter, because it is explosive and difficult to spot before it is executed. It doesn’t require any setups to be telegraphed.

But if you are fighting someone like Tony Ferguson who rolls like a Bugatti Chiron’s tyre, you should be fully prepared for that.

Your best chance to counter a granby roll is to roll with it and be as one entity with your opponent.

How:

  • Let’s assume you have your opponent in a rear bear hug while standing. You are preparing to lift them up and then slam them to the ground
  • If you want to counter your opponent’s granby roll you should first have them in full control by pressing their hips against your hips and controlling their center of gravity.
  • With your hips glued to your opponent’s hips you are forming one entity with your body and your opponent’s body. Now you are not only going to use your eyes to detect their roll but you are also going to feel every move they want to do
  • Once they initiate their roll, don’t think, jump and roll with them
  • Don’t worry you don’t need to know the exact direction of their roll, the fact that your body is glued to theirs will drive you wherever they decide to go
  • Don’t leave your head popping out in the air, this will put you at risk for neck and spine injuries. Make a shoulder shrug and tuck your head between your traps and shoulders.
  • The fact that your body is glued to theirs will make their roll slower than usual and will leave you enough time to see where the action is going
  • Once your opponent finishes their roll they will find themselves still stuck with you behind them, only now the situation has worsened for them and now you have them by their back on the ground. They have handed you their back on a silver plate
  • Capitalize on the situation and put both your legs as hooks around their waist
  • Finish them with a rear naked choke

Obviously, this counter doesn’t go as planned all the time, but this is the difference between the average and superior fighter, the superior grappler will always be one step ahead and will always capitalize on counters. For the experienced, a counter is an opportunity to be two steps ahead.

If you want to see how the best grapplers capitalize on their opponent’s moves and always make sure to be one step ahead during the whole fight, we recommend the fightography of Damian Maia, he is a veteran who explored the unseen grounds of grappling in MMA.