Igor Vovchanchyn's Striking [Now Without Jump!]

With the recent departures from BE I'd love a chance to throw my hat in to the ring and write for the big sister site of my small HKL home. Have included the whole thing for some extra BE love but please check out the original at HKL too:

Cheers, Jack

With no major UFC or Strikeforce event on the cards for a couple of weeks, those of us who are uninterested in The Ultimate Fighter will have to find other ways to entertain ourselves. One of my personal favorite activities at a time like this is to dust off the videos of legendary Ukrainian mixed martial artist, Igor Vovchanchyn. Igor's power was paralyzing, his style inspired tension until the match's conclusion, and his ability to leave bigger men in crumpled heaps gave birth to fear and admiration in equal measure.

One of the most fascinating features of Igor Vovchanchyn's life is that he was essentially a kickboxer when he entered mixed martial arts. Despite this being thought at the time to be a handicap, Igor went on an unparallaled winning streak against bigger, stronger, wrestlers and grapplers - becoming the single consistent exception to the "grappler beats striker" rule of early MMA.

Vovchanchyn is always given the credit he deserves as a terrifying power puncher, but he is rarely celebrated, as he should be, for his technical ability. Many observers simply see the wide swings and assume that Igor was a barn-burning brawler and no more. But brawlers had never had results knocking out grapplers - striking wide was an invitation for a clinch or takedown. Limited in the number of punches or combinations he threw, Igor had means of dragging grapplers into exchanges wherein he could knock them out nonetheless. In this series we shall examine a few of Vovchanchyn's slickest tricks.

Back-step Punching

Anderson Silva has famously said that any man alive can fight well going forwards, it is fighting while going backwards that separates the men from the boys, and this is certainly true. Chuck Liddell, Anderson Silva and even the not so hard puncher, Muhammad Ali shared the ability to drop a man to his knees while they themselves were on the retreat. Igor Vovchanchyn pioneered this technique in mixed martial arts and it has caught on with top level strikers since. In the "Mister Powerman" tournament's final round, a young, trim Igor Vovchanchyn knocked his opponent out cold with the first punch he landed by drawing him in and punching him while on the retreat.


Just as when you are walking it is natural to swing your right arm forward with your left foot, when stepping backward and punching, the right hand should punch as the right foot touches down and twists the right hip forwards. Punching while going backward is generally frowned upon as it is believed that one cannot get his weight behind his punches if he is moving away from them. The secrets of this back-step punching are manifold:

  • One is moving away from his opponent's strikes, meaning one is unlikely to get hurt even if the strikes connect.
  • The opponent is moving onto one's own strikes. Meaning that even a partial punch does not need weight behind it because the opponent's weight is behind it.
  • Even experienced strikers tend to flail when they are chasing - watch Shogun Rua chasing down Lyoto Machida to witness this fault even at the highest level.

Vovchanchyn navigated his way through dozens of bare-knuckle promotions with this technique scoring him free power punches, then brought it to PRIDE, where he still had great success with it. In both of his matches with the aggressive power puncher, Gary Goodridge, Igor was able to keep the larger man off of him by tagging Goodridge with punches when he surged forward. Igor was often criticized for not using straight punches often, but against Goodridge he used them in his back-step punching to keep Goodridge off of him while he scrambled to his feet. Igor's use of a ram-rod straight, followed by a looping hook while on the retreat effectively stopped wrestlers and grapplers from clinching him, while punishing them for chasing.
It is worth noting that Goodridge had competed at the top level of K-1 at the time, and was rarely caught coming in by even the best strikers - often overwhelming them with his power and aggression. The smaller gloves utilized in MMA often mean that it is easier to sneak back-step punches in, and often they are felt more due to the lack of padding over the fists as they are thrust out for the opponent to run on to.
Punching while on the retreat is still not common place among Mixed Martial Artists, and while the over-all level of striking in mixed martial arts continues to improve, there are still very few who use elite tactics to draw their opponent in such as Igor did. Anderson Silva effectively drew the mediocre striker, Chris Leben on to his own back-step punches, but Silva carried a reach advantage that Vovchanchyn rarely held, and was able to fire his punches almost square on to Leben without fear of retaliation. Fedor Emelianenko, who Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten compared favorably to Vovchanchyn, utilized backstep hooks to land free punches on over-aggressive opponents, particularly in RINGS. Emelianenko dropped Chris Haseman with the first retreating punch he threw, and had great success in hurting the larger, Matt Hughes trained, Kerry Schall at the beginning of their match with retreating punches.

Jack Slack's first ebook - "Advanced Striking: Tactics of Kickboxing, Boxing and MMA Masters" will feature in depth breakdowns of the techniques and gameplans of 20 of the world's top fighters with demonstrative photography, and will be available around Easter.

Jack Slack breaks down striking strategy and technique at his

He can also be found on Twitter @JackSlackMMA

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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