Strikeforce: Houston. Photo by Esther Lin / STRIKEFORCE.
This weekend, at the Strikeforce Grand Prix: Barnett vs. Kharitonov show, King Mo Muhammed Lawal returns to action for the first time in over a year. The last time we saw Mo, he was down on the canvas, the victim of some nasty knees from Rafael Cavalcante that cost Mo his Strikeforce Light Heavyweight title. Now, Mo looks to get back into the title hunt as he faces Roger Gracie, while Cavalcante fights Yoel Romero on the undercard.
In anticipation of Mo's return after the first loss of his career, let's look at that Feijao fight and break down exactly what went wrong for the King.
Starting in round 1, you see Mo come into the fight with a clear gameplan in place for his stand-up - attack the body. This is, in many ways, a smart tactic, as body blows attack an opponent's cardio, making it harder for him to keep active as the fight progresses. Since this was a 5 round title fight, and since Feijao had shown some conditioning troubles in past fights, Mo's plan to work that conditioning makes sense, and the body blows are one of the best ways to accomplish that.
Full breakdown with gifs in the complete entry.
Gifs by BE reader Grappo.
In the first round, we see Mo using a variety of punches to the body. Here's a sampling:
1. Here, Mo uses an overhand right to begin the attack. He then throws rights and lefts, bringing the lefts up to the head, and the rights low to the body. He does a good job driving Feijao back until he's trapped against the cage, and those body shots are nice tight uppercuts, with Mo really digging into the body. However, Mo also leaves his head exposed in the attack, which is not a surprise considering he is throwing quickly from both hands. Feijao uses his Muay Thai skills to grab the exposed head in a clinch. Mo escapes with little trouble... for now.
2. This is a very different approach, with Mo using a single punch instead of a flurry. Mo begins far on the outside. He's crouching, keeping his base very low, and is dangling the left hand at his side with no tension. His body language doesn't indicate that he's ready to attack with punches. He then quickly steps in and hits a jab to the body. One thing I like about Mo's jab here is that he begins it low, and lowers himself further when he strikes. This allows him to get his whole body behind the punch and throw it straight out. If he doesn't lower his center that much, he'll have to punch at a downward angle, which doesn't get his body into the punch in the same way and lowers its impact. After the punch he quickly escapes.
3. This is similar to #2 in that it's a single left to the body. The key difference is that this one is a counter punch which Mo throws in response to Feijao's jab. Mo changes levels, ducking to avoid the jab, and once he is in this lower position, he fires a left to the body as we saw above. This one is a bit sloppier though, as Mo does not fully commit to the punch or throw it with as much impact, instead just kind of pushing it out there. Because he doesn't throw it as quickly, Feijao gets his left hand across his abdomen to block the blow.
4. Finally, we see Mo drive forward, again using an overhand right before switching to body blows. As in clip #1, the overhand pushes Feijao back, but this time Mo uses the left hand to attack the body. Feijao again grabs the Muay Thai clinch, but Mo lands another punch, then drops his hands in order to transition to a takedown, forcing Feijao to give up the clinch and defend the takedown.
While there are differences in these attack, there are also some commonalities to Mo's punches here, and it's those commonalities that pose a problem. In most of these exchanges (and indeed, throughout most of the fight) Mo keeps his left hand very low, all the way down at his waist. We've talked about this tactic a lot lately thanks to Anderson Silva, who has proved it came be used effectively. But Mo is not as advanced a striker as Silva, and his low hand leaves him exposed, as we'll soon see.
In round 2, Mo continues the attack, and here we begin to see it really pay off. On the left is an excellent example. Mo ducks Feijao's left hand and throws two quick left hooks to the body. Feijao tries to back off to escape, but the cage stops him. As Mo steps back, you can see that Feijao is visibly tired, which is exactly Mo's goal. The strategy is working.
On the right is one more example from late in the round, as Feijao goes for the clinch, but when Mo connects with a right to the body, Feijao immediately backs off in order to avoid any further punishment.
So with round 2 finished, things are looking good for Mo. He's used a variety of body shots to hurt Feijao, and to tire him out. If Mo can come come out for the 3rd and push the pace, Cavalcante may not be able to respond. The problem is, Mo is also becoming predictable in his strikes, continuing to use the same body punches. Against a very skilled striker like Feijao, this predictability is dangerous, as it gives your opponent time to figure out your attack.
And that's exactly what happens, as between rounds 2 and 3, Feijao's corner makes the needed adjustments, and he comes out strong. Here we see Feijao make two key adjustments. First, he changes his distancing, either positioning himself far outside, or getting close in for the clinch. Second, he immediately looks for that clinch, and as soon as he has it looks to land the knee. Feijao sets up the clinch with a right hand, which he throws as a looping punch, then tucks behind Mo's head to start the clinch. This is a good set up for him to use as Mo is hanging that left hand so low that he can't block Feijao's right as quickly. Once the right is in, Feijao brings the left hand up to complete the clinch, and lands a knee before Mo shoves him off. Feijao fires back with a jumping knee, which he again attempts to use to move to clinch (watch how he reaches his hands towards Mo's head on the jump), but Mo connects with a punch to prevent it.
Moments later, Mo goes back to the body, using the same inside hooks he did earlier. But with Mo's left hand low and punching, and his right hand on Feijao's head, his own head is exposed. Feijao keeps his arms in tight as Mo moves in so that once Mo abandons his defense, Feijao is already in perfect position to grab the clinch. He locks in the clinch, pulls Mo forward to off balance him, then sneaks in a knee between Mo's punches. That knee lands perfectly on the chin, hurting Mo and allowing Feijao to pounce and finish him off.
Looking at the fight as a whole, Mo came in with a good strategy that brought him initial success. But as the fight progressed he made two key errors: first, he continued using the same attack, allowing a skilled striker like Feijao to make adjustments without making any adjustments of his own in return. Second, he failed to protect his head, leaving the left hand very low to allow Feijao to secure the clinch.
Roger Gracie obviously presents a very different set of challenges from Feijao, but if Mo is looking to tighten up his striking, the lessons to take away from this loss are to keep that left hand up, and to mix the strikes up more. We'll see if his lengthy absence has resulted in any of these adjustments when Mo steps back into the cage this Saturday.