The UFC 106 bout between Antonio Rogerio "Minotoro" Nogueira aka "Little Nog" and Luis Arthur "Banha" Cane was a treat for fans of the striking game: a rare meeting of two southpaws. Not only were both fighters left-handed, but Nogueira is one of the most polished boxing technicians in the game, a sharp contrast to Cane's brawling Muay Thai style.
Nogueira has long competed as an amateur boxer at a very high level. In 2006 he took the Gold Medal in the Super Heavyweight division at the South American Games and in 2007 he took home the Bronze in the 2007 Pan American Games.
Despite these achievements, MMA commenters have slept on Nogueira's dramatic improvements in his striking game. In large part this is because Little Nog's MMA career took an unfortunate two year detour. In 2005, he approached the very top of the division, losing a razor thin decision to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at PRIDE Critical Countdown in 2005. Shogun went on to win the PRIDE 2005 205lb Grand Prix and cement his status as the uncrowned champion of the division. But Nogueira,, after taking an impressive TKO win over Alistair Overeem in 2006, found himself on the wrong end of a KO loss to Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in 2007. Then PRIDE collapsed and Little Nog spent most of the next two years in exile, wandering from Sengoku to Affliction to Jungle Fight. Because of the dramatic drop-off in the caliber of his competition, few noticed that Nogueira was racking up a string of TKO wins -- of his 5 career TKOs, all have taken place in the last three years.
Well, this fight was a definitive announcement that Little Nog is back at the top of the division. Along with the dramatic reemergence of Shogun Rua, Little Nog's steam-rolling of the very tough Luis Cane was a powerful reminder of just how good the old PRIDE 205lb division was.
In the full entry we'll get to some technique talk, first off, a general discussion of being left-handed in boxing and kickboxing, followed by some animated gifs.
What's it mean to be a southpaw, why's it called that? This piece from Fightworld lays the foundation:
In boxing a southpaw simply refers to a left handed fighter, one who fights with his right foot forward while holding his left rear power hand in the back for his lethal cross. The term "southpaw" has its origins from the baseball slang of the 1880's. Baseball diamonds were often arranged so the batters would face east, to avoid looking into the afternoon sun. The pitcher's left hand, or paw, would therefore be on the southern side, hence the term "southpaw".
Throughout history, being left-handed has been considered a negative, the Latin and Italian word sinistra (from which the English 'sinister' was derived) means "left." Listening to boxing trainers talk about southpaws one might get the impression that southpaws suffer from some sinister rare disease. There is an old boxing idiom, "southpaws should be drowned at birth." Boxing trainer Mike Smith of Gleason's Gym said, "Nobody wants to fight a southpaw in boxing, it's like a plague," says Smith. "When I take them out to fights, like the Golden Gloves, I never let them warm up in a southpaw position. Then when he gets in the ring, the trainer and everyone's like 'Oh my god, he's a southpaw!"
A 2004 study by Charlotte Fauriet and Michel Raymond of the University of Montpellier II in France, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, argues that there is a link between left-handedness and fighting. The researchers hypothesize that left-handed inheritance is likely to be associated with violence, because violent left-handed people would be more likely to benefit from the advantage in fighting. They found a positive correlation between murder rates and percentage of left-handed people in several traditional societies: The more left-handed people, the higher the homicide rate. The researchers argue that left-handed people are not more violent than right-handed people, but that violent left-handed people are more likely to be successful than violent right-handed people.
In boxing being a southpaw is certainly an advantage. Southpaws are not feared because they are thought to be lepers with a contagious disease, or violent murderers like Jack the Ripper. No, they are feared because of their abnormal positioning against an orthodox right handed boxer. It is not easy dealing with a southpaw boxer as all of their punches come from opposite directions than what boxers are trained to expect. To a "normal" orthodox fighter, the southpaw's attack just feels wrong. The jab comes from the "wrong" side, so does the hook and the rear cross.
In contrast to boxing, kickboxing has been more accepting of southpaw fighters, from Central Kickboxing comes this good discussion of the views of the two different sports:
Sports have nearly always embraced left-handed athletes. In hockey, teams want their forwards shooting at the net, so the left and right wingers tend to shoot in opposite directions. In baseball, we see batters and pitchers testing each other. Boxing however, appears to discriminate. Southpaws have trouble getting fights. Climbing up the ladder is a door-slamming experience. Fighters don't want to prepare for a southpaw and fans don't want to watch a southpaw. There have been championship bouts featuring a southpaw against an orthodox and some have been good. The ratio however, doesn't match the lefty to righty ratio in the general population. In the heavyweight division, there has been only one southpaw champion, Michael Moore.
The sport of kickboxing loves southpaws. Unlike boxing, the jab can be followed by kicks, knees or even spinning punches. In the 12 years of the K-1 promotional company's Grand Prix, four southpaws have made it to the championship match: Jerome LeBanner, Andy Hug, Mirko Filipovic and Akio Mori. Of the 24 places available, these four men have occupied 8, or a full third. Compared to the general population ratio, southpaws do quite well in kickboxing. Compared to a sport that one would expect to be similar (ie. boxing), southpaws do extremely well.
In a kickboxing ring, it is not uncommon to see two southpaws square off. Jerome LeBanner has fought Andy Hug, Mirko Filipovic, Rick Roufus, Jan Nortje, Akio Mori and Vitali Ahramenko. Each of those fighters has his own list of fellow southpaws he has met in the ring. Given the discrimination southpaws face in boxing, the success of left-handed fighters in kickboxing is a giant billboard to fighters to learn to kick or at least to learn to block kicks. There hasn't been an exodus yet, but the future could bring one.
It's not just orthodox fighters who have trouble dealing with southpaws. As UFC 106 shows, Luis Arthur Cane clearly had serious problems adapting when he found himself facing a fellow southpaw. Now let's look at some gifs.
On the right (gif by Chris Nelson) we see the first real exchange of strikes between the two fighters. Cane starts things off by lunging forward with a jab which Nogueira expertly parries with his left hand. Then Nogueira counters with a jab of his own that connects and turns Cane's head to his right, perfectly setting up the hard over hand left
hook that follows. Cane pulled back his right hand after throwing the jab but didn't get it into the proper position to protect his face from Nogueira's power hand.
The gif on the left shows that pattern repeating itself through out the fight. Cane isn't the most scrupulously defensive fighter to begin with, but he obviously wasn't ready to deal with this kind of power coming at him from his right side. Nogueira was quick to capitalize once he realized Cane's defense was so porous. In addition to the hard left that sent Cane reeling to the floor, Nogueira tags him at least six times with hard lefts to the jaw in the sequence selected.
I've been stymied in my attempts to find good info on how southpaws should protect themselves when facing other southpaws, but this piece from "How to Box" has a strong recommendation for the kind of guard a southpaw should employ and it's advice that Cane would have done well to have heeded:
As a southpaw you should adopt a high/classic guard (lead hand up under your right eye, rear hand up along the side of your jaw). One of the difficulties of fighting a southpaw is that the lead hand of you and your opponent are aligned. This is why most orthadox fighters do not throw their jab against a southpaw. Jabs are usually deflected off the gloves and the face is not an available target. Fighting in a speed stance/philly shell is not a recomended approach. With your lead hand lowered to your waste you will be making yourself very vulnerable to your opponent's jab. Think of Rocky: what's the one punch you can't miss Balboa with? The jab, cause he keeps his right hand low. It's a movie, I know, but probably the best illustration I can think of. So, again, adopt a traditional/classic guard. Also, having that lead hand up, will help prevent damage from head butts (which you will experience as a southpaw).
If Cane wants to contend for a title in the UFC's stacked light-heavyweight division, he'll want to figure out how to handle southpaws. In addition to Nogueira, he could find himself opposite Rich Franklin, Anderson Silva or Lyoto Machida and if he hasn't learned to keep his guard up, this won't be his last short night in the Octagon.
As always the point of the Judo Chop is to learn, so if you have some experience or good links to share, please pipe up!
A.F. of The Boxing Bulletin sent along some videos of vintage southpaw vs southpaw boxing action. He said Nogueira's technique reminded him of Vic Darchinyan, Here's Darchinyan's victory over southpaw Christian Mijares: