There are few more memorable instances of the jab being utilized so effectively and frequently in mixed martial arts as the technical clinic that Josh Koscheck was treated to by UFC welterweight demi-god, Georges St. Pierre. Throughout the fight St. Pierre took Kosheck off guard by actively circling into Koscheck's powerful right hand and performing what is known as a Safety Lead. The general consensus among coaches has been that if an opponent has only one power punch you should spend your time circling away from it - something which many one handed power punchers learn to expect. St. Pierre's circling toward's Koscheck's right seemed counter-intuitive, but as he performed a perfect Safety Lead he was able to hide behind his shoulder all night as he punished the challenger at every turn. Today we will look at St. Pierre's ridiculously accurate jab and the Safety Lead.
Here is what the great Edwin Haislet had to say on Safety Leading:
Leading with the left hand, guarding with the right while moving to the left, makes negligible any opening that ordinarily results from a straight left lead...
Assume the fundamental position. Shuffle forward to attack. As the hitting range is approached, jab with the left hand while stepping to the left, and at the same time force the right arn out into the position of a leverage guard, Carry the left shoulder high to protect the chin from the opponent’s right hand. Hold the right hand in readiness for the opponent’s return jab.
The important points in jabbing while circling towards the opponent's power hand then are that the lead shoulder be high, the head be slightly off line, and that the distance be kept appropriate so that they struggle to reach you. St. Pierre performed this masterfully. Below are the two variations of jab that St. Pierre used throughout the bout:
1. GSP approaches Koscheck.
2. GSP steps his left foot out to the side and jabs in at Koscheck from almost forty five degrees to the challenger's right. This is the Safety Lead - notice how GSP's shoulder protects his jaw and his lead foot is turned in.
3. GSP has Koscheck worried by feints.
4. GSP thrusts straight in with a long jab. Notice how side on St. Pierre is - this maximises his reach but takes away his ability to throw his right hand.
Here is another example of GSP's Safety Lead just seconds after the one above:
1. GSP appraoches.
2. St. Pierre steps off to the left - landing the jab again from an angle. The black mark indicates where GSP's foot began.
In moments of defense, however, St. Pierre would concede to circling away from Koscheck's power hand. These moments were few and far between though as Koscheck gritted his teeth through the continued damage to his eye and attempted to charge the champion. Notice that as Koscheck backs St. Pierre up towards the fence St. Pierre extends his lead hand into Koscheck's face to slow him down and then circles out to the right. Notice that St. Pierre keeps his hand closed where Koscheck, Chuck Liddell, Jon Jones and many others have been happy to let the opponent run his eyes onto their open fingers. Not an active foul but seen by many fans as poor sportsmanship.
By the second round St. Pierre added a new trick - the inside low kick. He performed this as he stepped off as if to do a Safety Lead. Stepping to the left, drawing up and inside low kicking is a technique which is very popular in Kyokushin karate competition.
1. St. Pierre approaches.
2. St. Pierre steps off at forty five degrees as if to circle and perform the safety lead but instead steps his right foot up to his left as Koscheck covers.
3. St. Pierre lands a hard inside low kick.
Finally in the fourth round St. Pierre introduced his left hook - the same technique which he used to drop Thiago Alves. It is a testament to Koscheck's grit that he remained standing while taking flush hooks from the champion. Below St. Pierre uses the classic faked jab to lead hook set up.
1. St. Pierre steps his lead foot out as if to perform the Safety Lead yet again. Notice that he keeps his toes turned in.
2. As Koscheck covers GSP drops his lead hand.
3. Driving off of his lead foot (which is turned inward) St. Pierre swings in the hook onto Koscheck's jaw.
The fight was an absolutely beautiful demonstration of basic set ups being used in perfect sequence. Every time that Koscheck became accustomed to what St. Pierre was showing him, St. Pierre would add one more technique to the mix and throw Koscheck off yet again. This was truly science against power, and the power puncher came out looking badly hurt while the scientist came out fresh and unharmed. There was plenty of subtlety in the fight which I haven't even touched on such as St. Pierre's feints (very hard to capture in screen shots). St. Pierre would fake three jabs just to land one hard one, or would jab and then feint twice just to make Josh Koscheck cover up and tire himself. The one criticism that could be made of St. Pierre's performance was that he didn't commit to his right hand at all. (G)
The Safety Lead carries a fighter to his left, placing the opponent in front of his right shoulder - producing a shortened path for a hard right straight - yet when St. Pierre attempted right hands off of the Safety Lead he cut them short and didn't look as if he even intended to connect. The same was evident against Jake Shields - St. Pierre's right hands there were looping and clumsy - where the rest of his game was brilliant. During the course of learning to box well it seems that St. Pierre has forgotten the functional, biting right straight that he had early in his octagon career. With St. Pierre returning from injury soon I hope to see the most rounded fighter in the sport add the right hand back into his game and live up to his promise of finishing more opponents. Of course it remains to be seen whether St. Pierre will even be able to counter the tradition of great fighters (and athletes) never being the same after a knee injury.