Randy Couture has long been the best game planner in MMA. Going all the way back to his brilliant upset deconstruction of "The Phenom" Vitor Belfort at UFC 15, it's clear that Randy Couture takes an analytical approach to the fight game.
His bout against James Toney was no exception. Before the fight he discussed Toney in terms of, "an interesting problem to solve." Well you have to give Couture an A+ on this assignment.
It's a tribute to his disciplined regimen and life style and state of the art training and nutrition that Couture is still fighting at this level at his age. Much younger fighters like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Fedor Emelianenko, B.J. Penn, and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filopovic are all showing signs of fading in their early 30's.
Fans, coaches and fighters will want to go ahead and pre-order his upcoming Victory Belt book: Xtreme Training: The Fighter's Ultimate Fitness Manual. Not that you'll be able to fight like Randy when you're 47, but you can at least learn from the MMA fitness guru and avoid the early 30's burn out that afflicts so many fighters.
But really, James Toney didn't present that big a problem for Couture.
I admit I bought into Dana White's hypejob for UFC 118's "freakshow fight" between multi-time multi-divisional UFC champ Randy Couture and multi-time multi-divisional boxing champ James Toney. I somehow fooled myself into thinking that Toney's miniscule chance to win could actually translate into reality. But alas, Randy Couture reprised the lesson we all learned in 1993 at UFC 1 -- if you can't grapple you can't fight.
But those of us who love to try to understand the techniques we're seeing in Mixed Martial Arts did get to see one rarely seen technique executed to perfection: the low single leg take down.
Ideally I like the Judo Chop to focus on the key move in a fight and in this case, Couture's low single leg was definitely the turning point after which Toney had no hope of victory. Well maybe that happened the minute the contract was signed.
Of the major disciplines involved in MMA -- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, Judo -- I've found wrestling to be the most subtle and nuanced, but the more I learn about the techniques involved, the more I can see and appreciate the fights I'm watching. Even a boring clinch against the fence can become intriguing if you're watching who's got underhooks and who's pummelling for better position. So this fight is a good one to study to learn more about a very fundamental wrestling move that rarely works in MMA, but does have a place in the arsenal.
"It went exactly according to plan which is a rarity in our sport. I was pretty happy to see it go that way... Range was a big factor, especially against a guy with the striking skills James has. You don't see too many guys shoot a low single in mixed martial arts. And I knew the low single would work and make it difficult for him to counter punch me or catch me coming in. I got the mount position and he didn't have any idea how to get out of the mount. I had the choke once and he was propped up against the fence. I had to adjust and let him off the hook, but he gave it to me again."
Here's wikipedia describing the move:
The single leg takedown (often shortened to single leg or single) involves grabbing one of the legs of the opponent, usually with both hands, and using the position to force the opponent to the ground. Typically, the lower part of the leg is pulled in one direction, while the torso or shoulder is used to press the body or upper part of the leg of the opponent in the other direction. There are several varieties of single leg takedowns. Some hold the leg by the ankle and are often known as ankle picks, while other varieties include high crotch, which hold the leg high up in the crotch area. Single leg takedowns can also be executed in combination with a leg trip to the other leg, which additionally destabilizes the opponent. Single leg takedowns can be countered by sprawling, and, where allowed, in combination with knee strikes to the head of the opponent.
In the full entry we'll look at an animated gif and hear from Randy Couture at the press conference describing the move in more detail and more.
Here's Randy Couture talking about the fight at the post fight press conference:
Exactly how I saw it in my head. I had no illusions of standing around and trading any kind of blows with James. I had to pull out the old low single from college and dust it off because it's pretty hard to counter-punch that. You have to be within arms length to really hit a double leg and guess what, he's got arms. He could hit me with them. I thought I could get to his feet and put him on his butt with the low single leg.
Through training camp, I had a couple doubts about whether the low shot was going to work and I was going to have to try get into range to set up a good double leg or run him into the fence and try the clinch.
But today especially, in the locker room, working with Ray... the low shot just felt sharp and in my mind I felt it was going to work. I felt it was going to be the key.
Interviewer: It seemed like it was kinda from a little far away, it wasn't the strongest take down we've ever seen from you, were you concerned ..
That's exactly why you don't see a lot of guys shoot that shot because it's pretty easy to counter. You shoot it from a longer distance away. You have to get pretty low. A good grappler or a good wrestler is going to step out of that. I'm catching his heel and hopefully getting some pressure on his knee to force him to his butt. I didn't think James would have a counter or an answer to that. You don't see that shot very often in MMA. Good grapplers counter that pretty easily.
Franklin McNeil: When he came out and I noticed his stance, did you notice his stance right away? It looked like a conventional boxing stance. Did you salivate at that point?
The first thing I noticed when I got into the cage and settled in was he was wearing those things on his feet. A huge thing when shooting a low single, you're used to doing it against wrestlers who are wearing shoes, it's something I can grip. So when he had themo things on his feet, I said ok this is going to be better, he's got something I can grip. If it gets dicey or he tries to step out of it, I've got something I can grip other than his sweaty leg or his sweaty foot.
The only reason I would have salivated over the boxing stance was that I'd trained a lot with Ray and Gil on trying to set up that kickboxer's range and trying to kick that lead leg both inside and outside and I knew he was going to try and throw that right hand anytime I picked up my foot. The counter to that is a right hand and he's got a pretty good right hand. I didn't spend time even thinking about it.
Here we see Toney in the classic boxer's stance (more on stances below) with his legs narrow and his lead shoulder out in front leg and Couture is in a more typical MMA stance with his shoulders nearly square to his opponent.
Couture paws with a jab just to bait Toney into reacting. Toney crouches. Then Couture seems to be doing that again but this time shoots behind the feint. Note that he drops down but doesn't dive. His left leg bends at a 90 degree angle at the knee, he sinks his hips and he shoots off his extended right leg. Then he grabs Toney's lead left leg. He hooks his right hand behind Toney's heel and pushes with his left nearer the knee.
In Randy's excellent book, Wrestling for Mixed Martial Arts, he breaks down how to execute the low single as well as how to defend it.
For those that are curious here's Oklahoma State University wrestling coach John Smith describing how to defend against the low single leg take down (as transcribed by Curt Clapier):
Here are the key points to defending the low level single leg.
1. Make a left turn.
2. Grab his ankle with your left arm.
3. Come up. Lift your head up immediately. Once you commit to make that left turn you have to go. You have to go. You have to grab his ankle and beat him in the race to get your head up. If you don't then you are going to have problems.
4. As you come up you have to switch arms. Meaning you have to switch and put your right arm underneath his ankle and lift his leg as you raise your head and come up.
Again, John Smith stress that you have to com up with your head fast. Once you commit to turning that corner you have to go. You have to beat him to get your head up. I hope this helps you as much as it did me.
Maybe we can take up a collection and send some of John Smith's videos to James Toney.
Here's Smith demonstrating the defense via FlowWrestling:
Here's a sambo instructional from Somerset Sambo on how to do the low single leg -- with some transitions to ankle lock submissions thrown in:
Here's wikipedia on the classic boxing stance Toney employed:
In a fully upright stance, the boxer stands with the legs shoulder-width apart and the rear foot a half-step behind the lead foot. Right-handed or orthodox boxers lead with the left foot and fist. Both feet are parallel, and the right heel is off the ground. The lead (left) fist is held vertically about six inches in front of the face at eye level. The rear (right) fist is held beside the chin and the elbow tucked against the ribcage to protect the body. The chin is tucked into the chest to avoid punches to the jaw which commonly cause knock-outs and is often kept slightly offcenter. Wrists are slightly bent to avoid damage when punching and the elbows are kept tucked in to protect the ribcage. Some boxers fight from a crouch, leaning forward and keeping their feet closer together. The stance described is considered the "textbook" stance and fighters are encouraged to change it around once its been mastered as a base. Case in point, many fast fighters have their hands down and have almost exaggerated footwork, while brawlers or bully fighters tend to slowly stalk their opponents.
Left-handed or southpaw fighters use a mirror image of the orthodox stance, which can create problems for orthodox fighters unaccustomed to receiving jabs, hooks, or crosses from the opposite side. The southpaw stance, conversely, is vulnerable to a straight right hand.
North American fighters tend to favor a more balanced stance, facing the opponent almost squarely, while many European fighters stand with their torso turned more to the side. The positioning of the hands may also vary, as some fighters prefer to have both hands raised in front of the face, risking exposure to body shots.
Modern boxers can sometimes be seen tapping their cheeks or foreheads with their fists in order to remind themselves to keep their hands up (which becomes difficult during long bouts). Boxers are taught to push off with their feet in order to move effectively. Forward motion involves lifting the lead leg and pushing with the rear leg. Rearward motion involves lifting the rear leg and pushing with the lead leg. During lateral motion the leg in the direction of the movement moves first while the opposite leg provides the force needed to move the body.
Here's a good description of the differences between a boxing stance, a kickboxing stance and an mma stance I found on Sherdog:
Boxing stance tends to have lead leg forward and rear leg behind with a narrow stance shoulder width or less. Your lead shoulder and rear shoulder should be inline that is your medial deltoid of the lead shoulder is facing your opponent. This makes sprawling harder.
A kick boxing stance would have legs farther apart, more than shoulder width and your more squared off to your opponent. Your lead shoulder and trailing shoulders should form a 45degree angle to your opponent whereas the boxing stance is is perpendicular.
The mma stance varies but can nearly parallel to you oponent, both shoulders facing your opponent.
The easiest way to see the difference is to first stand in boxing stance, perpendicular to opponent then move your trailing leg out until it becomes parallel with your right shoulder.