I've been pretty vocal in my praise of UFC 114 and this is the first of what I hope to be five Judo Chops celebrating that wonderful event.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, no matter how stupid the majority of MMA fans, and even Bloody Elbow commenters are, I continue to find gems in the rubble. Like this FanPost from MasonBeer -- "Are "Smart" MMA Fighters Destined To Be Boring?" Which continued the recent discussion about whether or not wrestling/Greg Jackson/brains are ruining MMA.
But as fun as that FanPost was, this lowellthehammer identified something that really hasn't been appreciated enough, the newfound ability of Rashad Evans to set up take downs with strikes:
There was a point in the fight Saturday when Evans hit Jackson with a right body shot followed by a left hook and as soon as Rampage went to counter with a hook Evans timed him perfectly and bowled him over with a double leg. Watching a sequence like that to me is the furthest thing from boring, and I hate how MMA fans as a whole seem incapable of noticing and appreciating the nuances of the sport, presumably because they're too busy rushing to their laptops to bitch about the latest fight that ended in a decision because the almighty finish is the only thing that matters at all anymore.
Rashad Evans started out as one of several wrestlers who combined great skill in that one aspect of MMA with real explosive athleticism. And like Josh Koscheck, Rashad entered the spot light as a much derided "lay and pray" fighter. But then, like Koscheck, Evans discovered he had real striking abilities, reeling off a string of ground and pound and stand up finishes against Jason Lambert, Sean Salmon, Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin with only a dull decision win over Michael Bisping and a tie with Tito Ortiz in the mix.
But that's when Evans ran aground. He made the mistake of trying to beat Lyoto Machida on his feet and lost his title.
Since then he's gone back to his roots and emphasized the wrestling aspect of his game. Some fans may view this as a step back, but Evans showed at UFC 114 that he's making the biggest leap an MMA fighter can make. It's one thing to master striking, wrestling and grappling. It's a whole 'nother level to combine the three phases of the game into an integrated attack.
Only the very best fighters are able to do this. When I think of fighters who use really blend their game, I immediately think of B.J. Penn, Fedor Emelianenko and Georges St. Pierre. Rashad Evans appears to be on the verge of joining this truly elite company and that could be trouble for UFC champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
Let's look at some gifs in the full entry.
Gifs by Chris Nelson.
First let's look at Rashad's opening salvo in the fight, a bouncing double jab followed by a hard right hand to the jaw. Rashad's stance and foot work are extremely unconventional and are really the kind of technical mistakes that only an extremely gifted athlete can get away with.
But nevertheless, the move worked beautifully. The bouncing double jabs missed but allowed Rashad to get inside on Rampage. More importantly when Jackson slipped the second jab, he moved his head directly into Evan's incoming right hook. Note how Jackson was looking to land a hard right uppercut counter to Evans' jabs. Rashad clearly studied the style of fighting Jackson has used since he was trained by Juanito Iberra.
Here's the money shot. Late in the first round, Evans fires a looping right hand that makes Jackson cover his head. Rashad seizes the opportunity to fire a right hook to the ribs and when Rampage looks to counter with a right hook, he ducks way down under the hook and EXPLODES into a text book double leg take down to side control.
When you see what Evans was up to with the take down, his seemingly sloppy striking foot work becomes much more explicable because it allows him to step his right leg forward and really drive into the take down. One thing many fans don't realize is that wrestlers turned MMA fighters typically have to reverse their wrestling stance for MMA. In a wrestling match Evans would have his right leg out in front so he can use it to shoot forward for the take down. The necessities of striking in MMA force him to put his right leg and hand back so he can use his strong side for power shots.
Most importantly for Rashad, the combined impact of these two sequences was to make Rampage worry about two things at once when Rashad lept in with strikes -- he could be setting up a big punch or setting up a big take down. It's very hard for anyone to defend against two opposite dangers at the same time.
All in all, it's a lovely sequence and truly is the sort of fine wine that MMA fans should savor at leisure, long after the drunken booing yahoos have forgotten what it was they did on Saturday night and moved on.
As always, I don't train and have no combat sports experience of any kind so I'll be delighted to learn from those of you who know better than I how to explain the action in the comments.