Junior Dos Santos accomplished several things at UFC 117:
- he showed that he can utterly dominate a top 20 heavyweight with his boxing and take down defense;
- he showed the grit and focus required to get a win over a guy who survived his early blitz; and
- he showed that boxing alone isn't always enough to get the KO or TKO finish in high level MMA.
FightMetric analyzed the fight and tallied up 130 "significant" strikes landed for Dos Santos vs 40 for Roy Nelson. 102 of Dos Santos strikes were to the head and ALL of them were punches. While it was an utterly dominant performance for Dos Santos, I came away thinking that the guy really needs to have a backup plan to succeed at the very highest levels of the sport.
We saw a similar tale, but with a very different ending, when Todd Duffee faced Mike Russow at UFC 114. CompuStrike counted 58 strikes landed for Duffee, all but 2 of them punches. All 56 of those punches were "power" punches. Sadly for Duffee, one of the only 11 strikes that Russow landed in the fight dropped him in the third round.
Obviously effective striking is a key part of any MMA fighter's arsenal and boxing is one of the most proven effective striking arts, but I contend that these two fights show the limitations of boxing in high level MMA.
Obviously Dos Santos and Duffee are not the world's leading exponents of boxing technique, but the two punch as hard as anyone in MMA and Dos Santos in particular has some real technical acumen with his punching. He's got good hand speed, excellent counter punching and fundamentally sound footwork. He also showed a strong chin on Saturday against Nelson.
Duffee has more flaws in his game, but nonetheless, his punches are very dangerous threats to finish fights. As I wrote after his loss to Russow:
He really needs to expand his offensive palette. He threw the jab/uppercut combination over and over and over again. Other than the handful of head kicks that he threw, Duffee acted like he was in a boxing match. And even in boxing they throw to the body. Russow's saggy gut was virtually begging to be punched and Duffee ignored it, drawn in by visions of a quick KO.
Adding kicks and knees to their stand up arsenal would dramatically increase Dos Santos' and Duffee's chances of finishing opponents at the highest levels. Being willing to take a fight to the ground and work for a submission or a ground and pound finish would also be immensely useful.
Just like jiu jitsu, boxing is a supremely effective discipline in MMA, but it's not so effective that it can be the only weapon in a fighter's arsenal, not at the very top levels of MMA anyway. Boxing has the big advantage over jiu jitsu of allowing a fighter to clearly dominate the action and rack up decision wins even without a clean finish, but as Todd Duffee learned, in MMA anything can happen and if you don't finish your man, you just might lose suddenly at the end of a fight you had "locked up".
James Toney thinks he will stroll into UFC 118 and knock out Randy Couture with his superior boxing skills. He has a chance, but not as good a chance as he thinks. Reportedly Toney is working to add defensive wrestling and jiu jitsu to his arsenal, but that is predicated on the assumption that his boxing alone is enough offense to win the fight.
And yes, Toney, as a pure boxer is literally light years ahead of even Dos Santos in terms of boxing technique. Unfortunately for Toney, the adjustments he needs to make to his boxing stance and the loss of numerous techniques like the shoulder roll and the bob-and-weave to avoid giving up easy take downs and eating knees to the face will distort his pristine boxing technique significantly.
This ain't boxing James, it's MMA. You might want to talk to Mike Tyson about that. He's got some understanding he'd like to share with you since he's a fan of MMA and you're not.