Luke Rockhold connects on Jacare. Via the Strikeforce Grand Prix Semi-Finals Main Event Photo Gallery at Strikeforce.com.
One of the best fights on this weekend's Strikeforce Grand Prix show ended up being the Middleweight title fight between Luke Rockhold and Jacare, Ronaldo Souza. Over 5 closely contended rounds, these two turned in an excellent contest. While there is a bit of differing opinion over the judges' decision, you can't deny that Rockhold put on an impressive performance in the biggest fight of his career.
One of the keys for Rockhold in victory was his use of kicks, and no kicks in the fight were better than his flashy and terrific jump kick/spin kick combo to close out round 1.
Here, we'll take a look at Rockhold's footwork and technique to see exactly how he pulled off these impressive strikes. Let's dive in.
From the beginning of the fight, Rockhold demonstrates superb striking technique through his use of footwork. Rockhold fights as a southpaw, meaning that his left leg is in the rear power position, and his right leg is in front. Jacare fights orthodox, putting his stance opposite Rockhold's, and setting each fighter's lead leg on the same side. In this situation, you gain an advantage by positioning your lead leg so that your foot is to the outside of your opponent's. By keeping your foot on the outside, you can throw kicks with more speed, and defend better. Rockhold maintains that dominant foot position right from the start. Here's an early low kick that shows this advantage - watch how Rockhold keeps his right foot to the outside of Jacare's left, and how that allows him to get the kick off much faster than Souza could.
Gifs and full analysis in the complete entry.
Gifs by BE reader Grappo.
Later in the round, Rockhold uses that same right low kick shortly before the big combo. Again, notice how he keeps his right foot to the outside of Jacare's left, giving him both a speed advantage and a better angle to hit the kick. He also gets some extra power by stepping through with the kick. Rockhold is moving forward, and on the kick, he brings his rear leg up to his lead leg at the same time that he throws the kick. This gives him forward momentum, and allows him to cover a greater distance. This step also serves the purpose of further backing Jacare up and getting him trapped against the cage, limiting his defensive options on the next attack. Also worth noting is that Jacare does not even slightly bring his left leg up to check the kick. He tries to move back to avoid the kick, but is much too slow.
With Jacare now anticipating the right low kick, Rockhold mixes things up with a beautiful jump switch kick. The beginning is almost identical to the last kick - right foot outside, quick step forward with the left foot, and a fast right kick. But this time, he follows up with a jumping left kick to the head. Rockhold's technique is interesting here, emphasizing speed over power. Often with this kind of 2 kick combo, the attacker will throw the 1st kick, let his foot land, then throw the 2nd. Rockhold doesn't wait, instead throwing the left while his right is still in the air. It sacrifices the base of his right foot being grounded, but makes up for that with the sudden speed. One thing I really like here is Rockhold's extension on the left kick. He has long legs, and makes the most of them by fully extending that kick even in midair.
Last thing to point out, and a step that really shows his mastery of this technique, is Rockhold's textbook foot positioning when he hands. At one point, Rockhold is completely in air, with neither foot on the ground. But when he brings that right foot down first it is perfectly in lead position, and when the left lands he also brings it right back to the rear power position. This is a small detail, but it's crucial as it means Rockhold maintains his base to either escape a counter strike (and notice how he immediately steps back in anticipation of a counter), or continue the attack, as we'll see in a moment. It's those little details that separate a wild flashy strike, from a calculated but unconventional attack.
When Jacare doesn't counter, Rockhold continues the attack with a supremely confident spin kick. It comes incredibly fast, and is hard to see the exact motions that make it so good. Rockhold begins by turning his body towards his left, in the direction of his power leg. Typically, this is the set up for a spinning back kick, where Rockhold would bring his left leg up during that turn and drive it into Jacare's midsection. The way Jacare blocks by keeping his elbows low indicates he may have been anticipating that back kick. But Rockhold does not throw the back kick. Instead, he brings the left up while spinning, plants it in front, and continues the rotation. At the end, he throws a right kick to the body. When throwing a kick, you want to move your hips and leg like a whip, and the extra momentum Rockhold gains from the spin adds to the whipping motion of that right kick. It also clearly confuses Jacare, who has a tough time defending as he can not anticipate where or when the kick is coming. And once again, watch Rockhold's feet at the end - perfect positioning with his lead leg forward, his rear leg back. This allows him to immediately continue the combo, stepping forward with punches before Jacare slows him down with a double leg.
Overall, this is the kind of flashy move that will draw a response, but it's also executed with beautiful, subtle technique, particularly in Rockhold's use of proper footwork to maximize his advantage at all times. To show that kind of precision only nine fights into his career is impressive, and leaves me wondering what the future holds for the new Strikeforce champion.