Last night Chris Weidman emerged as perhaps the number one contender in the middleweight division, dominating and stopping the dangerous Mark Munoz. The fight was largely a ground clinic, which was not surprising, Weidman is known to have a brilliant Jiu Jitsu game. The surprising part was that Weidman was able to take down an NCAA champion wrestler within the first thirty seconds of the fight.
As wrestler's go, Weidman is very good, but the true strength of Weidman was his mixing of striking and grappling. It certainly won't hurt his popularity that he scored perhaps the elbow knockout of the year to end the bout. In today's brief Judo Chop we will cover two moments of the fight:
- Weidman's controlling of Munoz's posture to get the takedown.
- Weidman's incredible counter elbow
As I have already mentioned, Mark Munoz is on paper a better wrestler than Chris Weidman and should at least have made Weidman struggle to put him on the ground. Munoz came out of his corner as he always does, in a low stance, back hunched, ready to throw punches. When he was squatted low like this it would have been very hard for Weidman to get in on his hips and get a takedown. In order to get a takedown on Munoz it was necessary to have him stand upright - but a good wrestler is not going to do that when he is thinking about wrestling. So Chris Weidman came out and immediately threw two head kicks in rapid succession.
Notice in the first still how Munoz's hips and hands are lowered, and he is bent at the waist, ready to drop his hips on Weidman or change levels and attack with a takedown of his own. In the second still Weidman throws a front snap kick to the face, forcing Munoz to stand straight up - which is necessary to shoot a takedown at Munoz's hips. Munoz is a disciplined wrestler, however, so he immediately went back to his crouch (middle left still). Weidman then attacked with a hard high roundhouse kick aimed at Munoz's defences (notice how he lands with the very end of his foot and did not set it up. The purpose of this kick was to make Munoz stand straight up, it is very hard to block hard roundhouse kicks from a crouch without absorbing punishment and being thrown around in ones stance. This time Munoz came back in with his posture ready to block or catch high kicks - very upright with his elbows and hands far away from his formerly untouchable hips (bottom left still). From here, as he moved in to close the distance for a striking engagement, Weidman shot a takedown - notice how Munoz is upright and does not react during the shot. The change in posture was slight, but the change in mindset and preparedness is clearly visible.
In any competition where takedowns or foot sweeps are legal, playing with the opponent's posture is key. Growing up in a karate environment I was not unfamiliar with this principle as a child. Kicking high and hard will force the opponent to "rise up" in his stance, leaving his legs undefended for a sweep. Here is a nice example of a high kick to a foot sweep in karate competition - notice that the kick is not intended to land but rather to force the opponent to stand up and brace his upper body for kicks.
Of course neither Andre Bertel or his opponent are experienced wrestlers or world class athletes, but the principle of balance and the need to brace against attacks applies to everyone. As Ryan Hall observed in his wonderful description of the hip bump sweep in Brazilian Jiu JItsu; no-one is magical, if you play with anyone's base their balance will change and it will expose new opportunities. Hall's example was that even Rickson Gracie would be forced to put his hand to the mat to stop a hip bump sweep, ours is that even an NCAA champion can be made to stand bolt upright if he is bracing to block high kicks.
The elbow strike counter that everyone is talking about (but I can almost guarantee no-one in the MMA media is explaining) came early in the second round and was again not chance or athleticism but a cerebral exercise. Weidman threw a right hand lead at Munoz - who is very much a slow striker on the feet - followed by a right straight to left hook in the next engagement. Clearly Weidman was showing Munoz the right straight, waiting for Munoz to counter. The classic counter for the right hand lead is to slip to the outside of it and land a right hook or straight simultaneously. The right hand lead without any set up or movement is slow compared to the jab, and therefore easier to counter - Weidman was almost definitely throwing it repeatedly to make Munoz step in to counter.
This certainly worked because as he extended his arm a final time, Munoz dived in to counter with a right hook. Weidman turned his extended arm over and landed a beautiful elbow as Munoz stepped in. We have talked before about how elbows are only effective if a collision is made - both opponents must be stepping inward or it will simply be a glancing impact - and Weidman did a masterful job at assuring Munoz's aggression for the exchange.
Notice in the first frame that Weidman is throwing a right hand lead, Munoz is purely defensive however. Weidman threw yet another right hand lead in the next exchange in order to cement the idea of countering in Munoz's mind. In the second frame Weidman extends his hand as if to strike and Munoz is already moving in on a hair-trigger. As Munoz comes in, Weidman turns his hand over and strikes with the elbow on the same side that Munoz thinks is done striking (bottom left still). Weidman ducks his head and Munoz's counter right hook swings over the top, carrying Munoz's weight forward as he falls to his knees. The genius of this fake is that once the right arm is extended, a second attack is never expected off of the right hand side - the arm has already been "fired".
The idea of deliberately missing a punch and turning it over into an elbow is not new - Choki Motobu, the legendary karate brawler, told Jigoru Kano about it in a discussion during the late 19th century. Unfortunately for Motobu, Kano was not excited by street fighting techniques - more in the discipline and spiritual development that Gichin Funakoshi's Shotokan school promised. Consequently Shotokan received the Kodokan's support and Motobu died penniless.
Chris Weidman, who many still had severe doubts over following his woeful performance against Demian Maia, has reminded everyone why he is such a force to be reckoned with in the middleweight division. WIth the kind of grappling that he brings to the table and such a cerebral striking game, I can honestly say that I'm more interested in seeing him fight Anderson Silva than I have been in any middleweight for quite some time.