At UFC 136, we saw Frankie Edgar wrap up his trilogy with Gray Maynard with an emphatic exclamation point, knocking the undefeated Maynard out in the 4th round in order to gain a degree of closure and retain his UFC Lightweight title. But it wasn't an easy night for Edgar, who very nearly saw his title slip away during a Maynard onslaught in the opening round. Both men were able to land serious blows on their opponents, using combinations of punches to great effect. And for both men, the punch that really started it all was the same.
Along with the hook, cross, and jab, the uppercut is one of the punches that forms the foundation of a fighter's boxing skills. At UFC 136, Edgar and Maynard both utilized this punch with great success, but they did so in different ways. In this Judo Chop, we'll break down the mechanics of the uppercut and see what these two Lightweights did in common, and where their techniques differed.
Before getting to the fight, let's look at the basics of an uppercut. Here's the description, courtesy of Fight Night: The Thinking Fan's Guide to Mixed Martial Arts:
The uppercut is a close-range boxing-based punch that travels in an oblique (vertically upward) trajectory. It can be delivered with either hand with the primary targets being the chin and solar plexus. The uppercut is a potent punch to use when applying the dirty boxing clinch or in conjunction with hooks... The rear uppercut to the head is the most prevalently used version of the punch in MMA.
There is a lot to like about the uppercut. It can be a devastating punch, with great knockout potential, as Junior dos Santos proved in his UFC debut against Fabricio Werdum. There are a few reasons for this. First, the momentum of the fist coming up with the weight of the body behind it gives a lot of power behind the blow. Second, defenses are more geared towards blocking punches down the middle or from the side. By coming up from below, the uppercut can break through those defenses. Third, if it doesn't get the KO, the uppercut can set up a devastating hook, as an uppercut forces the victim to lift his chin and potentially expose his head.
Let's see how these techniques are delivered by Edgar and Maynard in their UFC 136 title clash.
Full breakdown with gifs in the complete article.
Gifs by BE reader Grappo.
We start with Maynard landing the first truly significant blow of the fight - an uppercut that buckles Edgar's knees. Maynard uses the rear uppercut, throwing with his right hand. He throws it with a lot of power, and is clearly looking for the big shot here. Notice how Edgar's hands are in good position to strike or to block a hook, jab, or cross, but leave a gap up the middle to his chin. Maynard finds that gap perfectly, sending Edgar's head popping up.
One source of power for Maynard here is his footwork. As he throws, he steps forward with his lead leg, moving to Edgar's side. This accomplishes a few things. By moving to Edgar's side, he gets very close to the champion. That proximity allows him to keep the uppercut relatively tight, committing his power to the upwards motion, and not to closing the distance on a far-away target. While he steps with the left lead leg, Maynard also keeps his right leg planted, using that rear leg to generate more power into the punch.
Here's a second angle that further shows Maynard's nice timing. As he steps in, Edgar begins to throw a right hand. But this just leaves his head further exposed, and Maynard takes excellent advantage of that opening. Notice too how Maynard sees Edgar's right hand pulled back, and after connecting with the uppercut, Gray uses his own left to block his face from Edgar's right. Because Edgar is rocked, that right hand never comes, but it's impressive to see Maynard blocking it in order to remain safe. Finally, watch Maynard's hips here. He does a good job after landing the punch of quickly rotating back towards Edgar and getting his hips squared again to continue the attack.
A few seconds later, Maynard continues the assault, again utilizing uppercuts well. Here, Edgar attempts to regain his feet and back away from Maynard to create some distance. But as Edgar stands, Maynard drops his left hand onto the back of Edgar's neck, securing a dirty boxing clinch. He sneaks in a quick uppercut before Edgar ties up the right arm and Maynard transitions to a Thai clinch. That uppercut comes fast, but is delivered with good technique. Despite the scrambling going on, Maynard has his feet firmly planted when he throws the punch. Also, watch his hips again, as you can see Maynard rotate his hips to add more power from his base into the punch.
As the round progresses, Maynard continues coming forward, but Edgar begins to avoid the shots. Here, Maynard throws an uppercut-hook combo. As I mentioned before, this is a common and effective combo, as the uppercut forces your opponent's head up and leaves him exposed to the left hook. Unfortunately for Maynard, this one doesn't land. Edgar throws his own left, and his arm blocks the uppercut. Maynard seems to get a bit of the hook, but without the uppercut having landed, the combo is not very effective.
Throughout the round, Maynard becomes very reliant on the uppercut, beginning to use it without much of a set-up. Here we see him head-hunting with an uppercut near the end of the round. This time, Maynard is really telegraphing the punch. As he comes in, he keeps that right hand low, and his right shoulder a bit further back. He also uses a slower, and more obvious wind-up. These motions give the punch more power, but they also make it more obvious that it is coming. As Maynard throws, you can see Edgar slightly move his head back and to his right in order to avoid the blow. He's too slow to fully avoid it, but it saves him from the clean KO Maynard is going for. Contrast this with the first gif and you can see what a better job Maynard does at throwing the punch with surprise in the first gif.
Despite his early success, Maynard didn't get the job done, and in round 4, Edgar came back, using his own uppercuts to gain the advantage. Here's a very quick, tight uppercut that drops Maynard. Like the second example above, Edgar throws this punch coming out of a scramble. As both men come to their feet, Edgar uses his right hand to keep Maynard's head in position, then throws a fast uppercut. One big difference you see here is speed. Frankie's hands are very fast, as is his set-up. He barely has his hand in position for the clinch before the punch comes in. He also does not wait to load up the punch, instead throwing it quickly from his side. Finally, you can see from his body movement that he does not throw as much power behind it. The punch drops Maynard because of the precision - Edgar lands it right on the chin, so that even without Maynard's big power, the damage is done.
Immediately after this punch, Edgar swarms on Maynard. As Gray comes up, he is bent at the waist and his head is low. Edgar quickly connects with an uppercut, forcing Maynard to bring his head up. Watch Maynard's hands as he comes up - he keeps them low, leaving them to defend more incoming uppercuts. But with his hands low and his head high, he is a perfect target for the hook, and Edgar uses a pair of hooks to drop him again and end the fight. This is something of a variation on the more traditional uppercut-hook combo Maynard used above, but it is the same basic idea - Edgar's uppercut moves the head into position for the hooks to end it. Beautiful footwork by Frankie here as well. As he delivers the uppercuts he moves off to Maynard's right, just as Gray did in the first clip. Then, when he switches to the right hook, he totally switches his momentum and moves to Maynard's left to get more behind those hooks. Great adjustment there, and the kind of little detail that makes this a fight ending combination, and Edgar a champion.
In the fight, both men have success with some very similar uppercuts, though you can see a difference in their approach. In Maynard you see an uppercut based on power and textbook technique - he's looking for the dos Santos style one punch KO. In Edgar, you see a greater reliance on speed and mixing the uppercut into combinations. And ultimately, it's Edgar's speed and accuracy that win the day.