No One Fights Like Kyle Baker

Imgp1084_mediumI'm still working up my personal UWC: Man O' War wrap-up as getting all of the relevant details right without making it an onerous read has proven quite difficult. All things being equal, it was a fantastic event for the metro Washington, D.C. area and more importantly, the best showcase I've seen to date of the talent in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In fact, one of the fighters was so unique I felt the need to call some long overdue attention to him.

If you've never heard of Kyle Baker, I don't blame you. The truly hardcore fan who slurps up any morsel of local show product to be the first to discover any particular area's next big prospect are familiar with both Kyle and his brother Beau (more on them here), but even to most dedicated MMA fans Baker is not a noteworthy name. I don't know if that will change over time. To be sure, Baker is a very capable fighter and top Mid-Atlantic prospect after beating both "Binky" Jones and most recently, Levon Maynard at this past weekend's event. Unequivocally, I say he certainly has potential. But he has liabilities as well, most notably in his stand-up game which remains a serious Achilles heel Baker will have to address if he is ever to fight national and international class competitors.

So, do not be confused here: I am not touting Baker for his overall MMA ability, though it is certainly considerable. Rather, I want to talk about the way Baker fights and wins in modern MMA as his style is, I believe, something new and totally unique. Jordan Breen and I were talking about Baker and could think of no one who fought like him, which is saying quite a bit.

To put it bluntly, Baker has what can only be described as the functional equivalent of standing ground and pound. He hasn't always used the style. In fact, I've only seen him employ it in his last three fights, which indicates to me he's developed the style over time.

So what does it look like? Just as it sounds: its ground and pound from the standing position. Baker loves to clinch, put his opponent's back against the cage then use a very careful and suffocating blend of a controlling Greco clinch with a traditional Thai clinch with a splash of dirty boxing for style. You may say there are a number of fighters who already use such a style, but the devil is in the details. First, what separates Baker's style from a Couture-esque dirty boxing attack is that a) Baker's clinch battles aren't set-ups for takedowns, b) makes much more effective use of Thai clinch components with a premium placed on constantly attacking all areas of the upper body while constantly fighting for control while also forcibly moving his opponent. It's not that you haven't seen any component of Baker's style, it's that no one blends them all so seamlessly. Baker also doesn't employ any striking in the clinch where there is significant distance between himself and his opponents hips. Every attack is hip to hip, tight and in close to protect himself from bombs and to pressure his opponent against the cage.

Baker's style is predicated on his ability to defend himself when he can't work the clinch, and his well-roundedness is good enough at this level of competition. Where he excels, however, is in finding ways to close distances with opponents while using the clinch as a spider web. The key to his style is that Baker is constantly making sure he is in the dominant inside control position and while he fights for it, attacks his opponents with right hooks to the body and left knees to the liver. While opponents may try to escape as long as Baker solely pummels, they can escape. But by weaving in attacks while he fights for control he forces opposition into the clinch by making them assume defensive postures. And from there its just a slow grind. Baker wins from here because opponents can't keep up with both fights: as soon as they put out the fire of fighting for inside control, another fire of being attacked is started. Ultimately, opponents cannot fight both fires simultaneously and they eventually crumble.

While Baker does a superb job of off balancing his opponents by pushing, pulling, moving his feet and weighing on them, what winds up happening is that Baker's competition are slowly bludgeoned to death from the constantly moving clinch over the course of time. Try to imagine what it is I'm talking about: I'm not talking about Anderson Silva's clinch where its a desperate situation for his opponent. In Silva's clinch, it's about maximizing damage with every blow and finishing the fight. With Baker, it's about lulling your opponent into the clinch and finding a way to not let them escape while you slowly but thoroughly beat on them.

The other notable feature about Baker's style is how gritty the clinch battles become. Like ground and pound, the top (outside in Baker's case) player works for space and control to score effective punishment and poinits while the bottom (or inside) player tries to control space, protect himself from strikes and either separate or look for a submission. The combination of a fervent battle for control with the slow Chinese water torture of offensive damage creates a vivid scene - there is no end to it until the opponent fails. What is different about Baker is the committment to this scenario and position. He'll run the round or two or three in this position, searching for control and attacking the entire time.

Here's Kyle's fight against Levon Maynard from UWC 5. For those of you who saw last weekend's UWC stream, you know precisely what I am referring to. But what's interesting to me here is that we are constantly reminded of the evolving tactics, style and strategies within MMA - and not just by those at the top fighters like Lyoto Machida. Athleticism isn't only getting better in MMA, so is the complexity of gameplanning. And as an added bonus, the customization of style is following suit.

My only issue is what to call this style. Standing ground and pound is a good way to describe the style, but it's not a catchy name. Any suggestions in the comments section are appreciated.

Photo by Melanie LeGoullon

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