Esther Lin / MMA Fighting
UFC 154 provided some exciting stoppages, a questionable decision and a brilliant five round title fight. There was also a ton of technique on display and as always Jack Slack breaks down some of the best bits.
UFC 154 was an event that I had been looking forward to for some time as Georges St. Pierre made his return against a dangerous challenger. St. Pierre's hiatus had been so lengthy that I had never actually written a post fight piece about him, despite considering him the best rounded fighter in MMA. St. Pierre returned and looked as good as ever but other exciting finishes came courtesy of Johnny Hendricks and Cyrille Diabate.
Kampmann's Defence Lets Him Down Again
Martin Kampmann is one of those fighters who is peculiarly flawed in a way that is intrinsically entwined with his greatest strength. Just as Frank Mir is a fantastic top player but lacks the wrestling ability to get many opponents underneath him, Martin Kampmann is a counter puncher who lacks quality defense and footwork. Anyone who had seen his previous few matches could have predicted that Kampmann would have real trouble in this fight against a truly prolific power puncher.
Kampmann's greatest faults are that he is a slow starter (something which is hard to change with any technique aside from circling the cage and getting your feet underneath you while out of range before you start looking to fight as Anderson Silva does) and that he struggles with pressure. Rick Story and Diego Sanchez both absolutely exposed this flaw in Kampmann's game as they simply waded after him swinging hideous hooks at him. Kampmann picked them both apart in the middle of the octagon but routinely backed himself onto the fence, where he ate hard shots from both men which wobbled him.
Similarly Thiago Alves and Jake Ellenberger had great success catching Kampmann early and then continuing to pile on the pressure - but Alves is mainly an arm puncher and Ellenberger was exhausted and out of ideas within the opening minute. Certainly neither man hit as hard as Johnny Hendricks - where Kampmann could get away with his mistakes against those men, one connection from Hendricks' money punch was enough to cost Kampmann the fight.
The first time that Hendricks attacked Kampmann was immediately after a failed Kampmann high kick - and Kampmann reacted by backpedaling until he hit the fence. If Hendricks had followed he probably could have landed some hard punches on Kampmann and got an easy takedown, but it was early in the bout and he simply let Kampmann change direction and run.
The finish came as Kampmann committed a great sin in technical striking - bouncing for no reason. After having a high kick blocked Kampmann bounced from his front foot to his back foot and as he bounced to his front foot again, Hendricks was already on top of him. Bouncing as Kampmann did takes both of a fighter's feet away from contact with the floor and prevents him from reacting as quickly. As Kampmann's reactions aren't the sharpest anyway it got him into a heap of trouble.
1. Kampmann throws a high kick.
2. Kampmann plants his foot on the 'L'.
3. Kampmann bounces onto his back foot, behind the L.
4. Kampmann bounces his lead foot forward again and Hendricks is already charging in on him.
Notice that as Kampmann caught bouncing in he has little time to react or move and Hendricks is able to land a short left straight that ends the fight.
Bouncing is something which is hard to pick up in stills, so I highly recommend reviewing the fight or checking out this gif to see how Kampmann is not grounded as Hendricks attacks him.
Diabate's counter to the Bum Rush
The bum rush shouldn't work in any sport, but unfortunately it does. There are phenomenal strikers out there who can show up the best technical fighters in the world but struggle against a simple rushing slugger. Cyrille Diabate is not one of those people. Chad Griggs tried to turn the tide of his UFC career by bum rushing Diabate from the bell: literally sprinting at him.
The first attempt at a rush was met with a hard knee from Diabate. On the second attempt Diabate ran away. On the third, Diabate backed up again, but stopped and unloaded a short left straight on Griggs which put Griggs on the mat and marked the beginning of the end of the bout.
1. Diabate knees to counter the first charge.
2. Diabate runs from the second charge.
3. Diabate stops after retreating from a third charge.
4. Diabate unloads a left straight on Griggs as Griggs sprints after him.
MMA fans should know how well backing up and then firing works as Lyoto Machida has made an entire career out of it, but it's always nice to see someone else utilize this skill (albeit on not nearly as good opposition). Check out this gif a few hundred times - perhaps leave it open on your desktop all morning as I have.
St. Pierre's Triumphant Return
Georges St. Pierre returned to action after a significant lay off at UFC 154 and looked simply sublime in doing so. What is more, he faced a scary moment as he ate a tricky Carlos Condit high kick and recovered from guard. The most significant thing that St. Pierre showed in this fight was that he is far more than an athlete, he is a true fighter who also happens to be an incredible athlete.and the exciting bout which he dominated should serve to eliminate some of the negative reputation that he has received in his last couple of performances.
The ground game was excellently broken down during the bout by Joe Rogan and I could not do that any more justice if I tried - even without Mike Goldberg reading out irrelevant statistics and talking about Anderson Silva over the top of me. What was extremely interesting was the role of ringcraft throughout the bout. I predicted in my Carlos Condit Cheat Sheet that Condit would not be able to go back to the fence unpunished as often as he did against Nick Diaz. Mike Winkeljohn was completely honest with his fighter between rounds, telling him that he couldn't get lazy on the cage, but St. Pierre's ringcraft was simply masterful.
Very few fighters can actually cut off the cage - it's almost circular and the corners are so slight that you can't trap people in them. Yet Carlos Condit, like his former opponent Martin Kampmann, routinely ends up with his back against the fence. St. Pierre came out and took the centre of the cage, unlike his fight against Koscheck, then pressured Condit with hard jabs. St. Pierre stood close enough that he could choose to either step back away from flurries, or step in, muffle Condit's kicks and put him on his back.
This is the position most of the stand up portion of the bout was fought from. GSP closed the range enough that kicking would be giving up a takedown for Condit, punching would be exposing himself to the tie up and Condit was almost completely on the defensive.
GSP's standard offense from here was the jab - and it looked as brilliant as ever as he landed it freely, snapping Condit's head back and immediately moving in on Condit's hips against the cage.
Condit's inability to stay of the cage cost him thoroughly in the first few rounds. Every time he got a flurry going though, GSP would back away. This allowed Condit to get to the centre of the octagon from time to time. In the second round GSP picked up a fantastic takedown off of a Condit kick.
I wrote previously about Carlos Condit's love of unorthodox techniques, but that he rarely actually lands with them, they instead set up the orthodox techniques which he goes back to after establishing the weird techniques in his opponent's mind. In the second round Condit attempted a spinning backfist, followed by a front kick to the face in the centre of the octagon, and as he went back to a normal kick, GSP simply scooped it up, blocked Condit's standing leg and ran through for a takedown.
This was how much of the fight was fought - if Condit was along the fence he couldn't do anything without risking the takedown, and any time he was out in the centre of the cage he was pressured back on to the fence through the superior boxing of St. Pierre. Condit hardly embarassed himself though and gave St. Pierre the biggest jolt since his loss to Matt Serra courtesy of a lovely high kick.
The secret to this landing was that any time a fighter ducks, it is normally to assume a defensive position. Condit rushed in with a left hook and ducked as he stepped forward with his right leg, GSP dropped his guard and began to move away as Condit came up from his crouch with a high kick that caught the champion on the temple and dropped him to the ground.
The bout was brilliant and neither man looked bad despite the one sided nature of the decision. It also provided us with plenty of fun moments from the head kick, to GSP's excellent jab, to the wicked switch which Condit hit on St. Pierre, and the return of St. Pierre's right hand in a proper form rather than the mess that he threw against Shields. Condit will likely learn from the experience and GSP has been through 5 exciting rounds to shake off his ring rust - so there's plenty of life left in the division even though the title has now been unified. Which is probably good because most sensible fans have realized that none of the real champion vs champion super fights are ever likely to take place.