It's almost event time for UFC 155 but while there's still a few hours to waste (unless you're reading Killing the King: Junior dos Santos or Cain Velasquez: Easy to Hit again) I want to take a look at one of the exciting lighter weight fighters who will also be appearing on the card, Brad Pickett. Pickett will be meeting the solid striking and all around game of Eddie Wineland. Today we'll take a brief look at some of the quirks of Pickett's game.
The first thing to notice about Brad Pickett is that he is a fighter with a short reach among many longer, skinnier men at bantamweight. As such, much of his punching game must involve punching at close range and he doesn't jab often in his fights - at least not to any effect. The standard Pickett gameplan is to walk towards his opponent, duck their punches and come up swinging with right hooks and occasional left hooks. This is pretty evident in all of Pickett's bouts and his most recent performance against Yves Jabouin was no different - every time Jabouin engaged with his hands, Picket ducked and swung back - forcing Yves back on the defensive.
After Pickett had established the right hook as a constant threat and realized that Yves would always duck away from the punch and take his head low behind his shoulder, Pickett used the opportunity to fake an attack with his head movement and come in with an uppercut. This was the punch that put Jabouin to sleep.
This is a really simple set up that doesn't take a great deal of skill to master - just a bit of power to get the opponent over compensating against the swinging hooks. Urijah Faber performed the exact same set up on Brian Bowles, and in the boxing world the crafty Naseem Hamed used it to pick up his IBF featherweight strap from Tom Johnson. Wind to 9:20 to see the knockout, or enjoy the entire video and notice how Hamed is always springing out to the side of his opponents.
Of course Brad Pickett isn't Naseem Hamed, and Naseem Hamed never had to contend with kicks and knees which have by far been the biggest foil to Pickett's punching game. The major hazard of Pickett's crouched stance and use of ducking head movement while on offense is that while his opponents might be reluctant to kick as he pressures them (kicking while moving backward is inviting a takedown - watch Fedor Emelienenko completely shut down Cro Cop's kicking game with pressure alone to see that in action) they are more than happy to throw up a knee whenever he ducks in. Below Yves Jabouin catches Pickett stepping in, and Renan Barao gets Pickett slipping deep against the jab, then throws the knee to meet Pickett's dip.
Pickett has an excellent chin - as evidenced by the fact that after taking Jabouin's knee he went on to win the fight - but strikes like these are not great for a fighter's career longevity. While Jabouin didn't follow up, Barao was able to rattle off four or five unanswered shots where his sloppy defense in combinations had made him hesitant to engage Pickett in drawn out exchanges for most of the match.
Aside from eating knees on the way in - if an opponent can get to a reasonable distance from Pickett and begin kicking he is forced to stand upright. From here he often tries to catch kicks or parry them in the scooping Thai style in an attempt to turn his opponent's back but he is rarely successful with this. When he is busy checking and attempting to parry kicks, Pickett's head movement disappears and he becomes a much easier target. Even on offense he stands more upright if the threat of the kick is obvious. Against Renan Barao, Pickett forgot himself and charged in bolt upright onto a jab, then resumed moving his head just in time to eat the aforementioned knee strike in the next exchange.
What intrigues me about Pickett's match at UFC 155 is that Eddie Wineland has shown to love his jab and counter jab. In his bout against Scott Jorgensen, Wineland was able to simply pop his jab in Scott's face every time Jorgensen approached.
If he attempts the same sort of jabbing against Pickett he might very well play into the only game that Pickett has on the feet - ducking the jab and coming up swinging. Eddie Wineland met Urijah Faber just before the latter completed his transformation into a one dimensional striker (only swinging his right hook in every engagement), but Urijah's counter right hook troubled Eddie several times in the bout. When Eddie jabbed, Urijah would slip it and come over the top with a right hook.
Notice that Eddie Wineland circles to his left, pumping the jab. Urijah slips to the inside of the jab and lands a cracking right swing over the top. Counter hooks are Brad Pickett's modus operandi as well.
While I don't make predictions because there are far too many factors at play in mixed martial arts competition, it seems like this could be Eddie Wineland's match to lose. He could insist on trying to prove that his hands are better than Pickett's - and risk getting dropped or finished in the process - or he could use fakes to make Pickett duck onto hard knee strikes, and kicks to make Pickett stand up and become a far easier target for punches. With just a few hours to wait I'm pretty excited to see this bout unfold.