Submitting Giants: Mikael Yahaya on Battling with Goliath

(Image courtesy of macofoto)

“I’ve always believed everyone’s just made of bones and meat; the leverage is all there if you can create it and time it properly.”


Have you ever wondered whether your Jiu Jitsu would actually work against an opponent twice, even three times, your size?


It’s a cliché saying that BJJ gives strength to the smaller, weaker person using technique, strategy and leverage to their advantage.


But, what happens when you face off against another Jiu Jitsu practitioner with the same level of skill? Would you still win? Or would the difference in strength, weight and size be too much for you too handle?




Rooster Weight, Mikael Yahaya is no stranger to taking on the giants of the open weight division, earning him the reputation as a competitor who embodies the take on all comers, David vs. Goliath, attitude of Jiu Jitsu.





“I started competing in the open weight division at purple belt. My first time was against a guy in the lightweight division I think, so he wasn’t that much bigger than me. He eventually managed to be beat by an advantage, but after I thought to myself – this isn’t so bad.”


Rolling with larger opponents wasn’t a new think for Mikael. Being a Rooster weight, in one of the most competitive gyms in Australia, forced him to face competitive size differences on regular occasions.


“Rolling at the gym, everyone else is always so much bigger and heavier than me. So it was never like a scary thing per se; it’s only scary if you come up against someone twice your size, which I’ve had to do before, and it’s sometimes unpleasant, but it’s just the way it is.”


While technique should always be the primary focus for smaller competitors, the difference in structural size, for example arm-to-arm and leg-to-leg, can often create challenges in the application of certain techniques, meaning there must be some form of adaptation in order for the smaller competitor to be successful.


“Obviously, some people are going to have bigger and thicker limbs than me, and that can be a hassle to deal with when I’m hunting things like leg locks, as they can potentially resist with force much greater than my positioning on the the lever. But I think if you can time your moves well enough and set things up to trick people, you can lull them into scenarios where you can make it your game.”

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Even though success can rely on how well a smaller competitor adapts during a match, every player has their strategy for dealing with larger opponents.


“If I’m on the bottom I want to get underneath them to get to the back or set up a sweep, but that’s in the gi. In nogi open weight, I stand more than I would in my weight division, because in the weight division guards are harder to pass and I feel that in open weight, if the opponent pulls guard, it can be a lot slower and usually be my opportunity to get ahead.”


Top-level competitors generally have a strategy they like to play out, dependant on the rule set and opponent. And, as the size between competitors on each end of the weight spectrum differs, so too should the strategy.


“In some ways it’s more strategic and in some ways its less strategic, lets say in rooster weight the styles are pretty similar in terms of the strategy behind gaining points and advantages, especially in IBJJF: the guards are going to be hard to pass, and it’s going to be difficult to get the first two points. It’s a much quicker pace and I think, statistically, it’s usually the first person who scores that wins the match. In open weight there’s more leeway, I guess, the possibilities are greater, because of the different styles and body types.”

(Image courtesy of macofoto)

The open weight division is generally dominated by competitors closer to the heavy weight division, which often turns lighter competitors off due to the potential risk of injury and low statistics of success. Yet, Mikeal is one of those lighter competitors who has managed to find success in the open weight division, and credits some of that success to his size deficit.


“I think a lot of my open weight success comes from underestimation. Bigger opponents think ‘Oh, I can easily pin this guy, I can crush him’, but I think that, because of my body type, I’m quite hard to keep still. Because I’m quicker than most people, I think it creates problems, opening up beneficial situations. But, let’s say a big guy is able to hold me and slow me down, I’m basically dead haha, if they know what they’re doing, I’m done.”


But how does a smaller competitor prepare for this division? Obviously, there are larger training partners in the gym to roll with, but how can the risk of injury be reduced in competition level preparation?


“So when it comes to rolling intelligently and safely in training, I try to make the timing of the roll run my timing. In training I don’t necessarily want to make my timing too quick, purely because it can encourage a bigger training partner to throw their weight around, which isn’t ideal – it isn’t smart training. I mean if we’re rolling like crazy and one of us get’s hurt because of the unnecessary pace or unintelligent training, well, that’s no good for anyone.”

Whether the open weight division is something for you or not, is totally up to you; however, Mikael does offer advice for those thinking about the open weight division that holds true for all weights and levels.


“Just do your thing and never hesitate. You’ve got to move a lot as a smaller person so you can never be stagnate and a big point is never to get frustrated. I notice when I compete and I get frustrated that I roll terribly, I’m being obvious with my moves, I can’t get anything to work and I’m not open to what’s happening in the roll. Always try to come back to some basic ideas: sometimes one step backwards gets you two steps forward. Are you wining the inside space? Do you have posture? What’s presented to you? Is there space for underhooks? Just have things like this running in your head on repeat.”

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