Shortly before Ben Henderson's first meeting with Frankie Edgar for the UFC Lightweight Title, I wrote a piece over at Head Kick Legend entitled "Out-Striking Frankie Edgar". My conclusions in that first piece were that the keys to Frankie Edgar's success were his lateral movement along with constant switching between pumping the jab and hitting his trademark knee pick. I also stated that lateral movement such as Frankie's is so unusual because it hasn't existed in combat sports for some time. The reason for this is simple, boxing and kickboxing have learned to adapt to overzealous lateral movement and to punish it.
Today we will re-examine some of the weaknesses that I had previously observed in Edgar's style, and additionally consider how far Benson Henderson's exploitation of these weaknesses was responsible for his victory. I find it very hard to get excited for the prospect of yet another lightweight title rematch, but as it's happening we had best make the most of it.
To summarise, today's topics they are:
- Using kicks to counter lateral movement
- Herding a mobile opponent onto punches.
Using Kicks to Counter Lateral Movement
The main reason that you will never see movement like Edgar's in K-1 or any other kickboxing organisation is that it simply doesn't work against an opponent with good low kicks. Any time you are circling as frantically as Edgar does, often outside of any distinct stance, your balance is constantly changing and you are in no position to take a kick to the legs. Inside leg kicks work especially well on opponents who are overzealous in their circling, as they catch inside of the trailing leg and begin to cause swelling on the tender inside of the thighs. Indeed many fighters, Dan Henderson is an especially notable example, use the inside low kick to stop their opponents circling away from them. His knockout of Michael Bisping and his knockdown of Mauricio Rua are excellent examples of halting an opponent's movement with a low kick to land a big punch. (G) (G)
Many of you will remember how effectively Benson Henderson used kicks to slow Edgar's movement. Even though few were connecting with cringe-enducing, Melvin Manhoef style force, the simple act of kicking acts as a deterrent of lateral movement. Here is something that I wrote in the Outstriking Frankie Edgar which I feel sums up Henderson's success in their first match:
"The objective of kicking Edgar's lead leg need not even be to hurt him, , and that is the time to barrel in and take him on in head to head exchanges where his lack of size and power will work to his detriment, rather than in the open where he is simply a smaller, faster target. Even BJ Penn, who has reportedly never formally trained kicking in his camps, found remarkable success stifling Edgar when he attempted some kicks in the later rounds of their second fight. Being BJ Penn however, he was reluctant to acknowledge any success that he had which wasn't boxing related and so it was pursued no further. Benson Henderson, however, has decent kicks, and perhaps the defensive wrestling to stave off Edgar's trademark running knee tap takedown should he get his leg caught."
As it turned out, Benson Henderson did kick almost constantly throughout their first meeting, and Frankie Edgar did catch a great many of the kicks after they landed. Henderson's takedown defence was for the most part strong enough to stop Edgar taking him down off of the kicks, and this truly made the difference in their bout.
When Edgar circled to Henderson's lead side - as a southpaw this was his right - Henderson would step up and catch Edgar with a right low kick as Edgar circled into it. When Edgar was circling to Henderson's left, Henderson would attempt to uncork a powerful roundhouse kick to the body or head. For his part, Edgar had spent time working on catching kicks and often after being kicked would have Henderson's foot in his hand and be unable to do anything with it.
The above is a clip from very early in the fight, with 1:54 to go in the first round, but it encapsulates what much of Henderson's strategy was. If Edgar was too far away for Henderson to simply kick and exploit Edgar's lateral movement, Henderson would attempt to force Edgar to move. In the first two stills (top two) Henderson rushes at Edgar with a combination. As Edgar circles out to Henderson's right, Henderson throws a right kick which connects hard on Edgar's arms as he circles into it's power. This kick was not landed on Edgar's torso, but the fact that Frankie was running into it's power was important to the later exchanges of the bout.
Henderson's right kick (and also his right hook) stopped Edgar's movement to Henderson's right side very early in the bout. From the second round onward Frankie Edgar circled exclusively to the left of the southpaw Henderson. This was, of course, circling into Henderson's power side. Above is a nice left kick that Henderson landed on Edgar in the third round as Edgar's movement began to slow. This is a great example of why circling into the opponent's power side is only advisable if you're setting something up, not something one should do for a whole fight.
Limiting Edgar's movement to one direction made predicting his rushes a much easier task for Henderson. The truth is that all of Edgar's movement is to disguise his rushes. All of Frankie's offence is done in running flurries that often lack head movement. Edgar, as a smaller fighter than almost everyone he faces, uses his circling to make these flurries difficult to see coming. Unfortunately once Henderson had limited Edgar's ability to move without punishment, Edgar's flurries became a lot more obvious.
From the second round Henderson began to jam Frankie's rushes. In the top two stills you can see Henderson connecting a nice right elbow as Edgar moves in. In the bottom two you can see Henderson connect a jab as Frankie steps up to kick. Without his movement, Frankie Edgar is forced to engage in head to head exchanges. He has neither the size, power nor head movement to do so comfortably.
It was in these close range, head to head exchanges that Henderson began to get ahead on the judges score cards as he roughed up the smaller man. It is worth noting that Edgar still had a good deal of success ducking for his knee pick, even on the much bigger Henderson, which just goes to show how effective Edgar's usual jab - jab - knee pick strategy is.
Herding the Opponent onto Punches
Something that Edgar has fallen victim to before is being herded onto his opponents punches. Where BJ Penn, simply let Edgar circle and was continuously playing catch up, Gray Maynard was the unlikely striker who played one step ahead of Edgar. When an opponent circles as frequently as Edgar, one can anticipate their movement and have them run on to strikes. Here is what I wrote in the original piece:
"Edgar's habit of dropping his hands as he circles is a bad one, and while Penn was inadequate at chasing him, instead trying to bait him in, Maynard's aggressive pressure in the first rounds of both of their title fights put him in position to punch Circling into the left hook without adequate protection has produced some fantastic knockouts in the past, despite the hook lacking power it is hard to see coming and much of the force is provided by the opponent's movement into it. Here is Mitsuhiro Ishida, whose chin is fairly solid, circling into a short left hand of Hirota (the arm which Aoki went on to savagely break). Notice how Ishida is almost immediately out cold, and that the hole through which Hirota's punch entered was not especially large - Ishida could still be seen to have his hands up, but still lacked protection.
I highly recommend checking out the original piece (if only because it is stuffed full of gifs), but few will have forgotten the slapping left hook that Maynard landed on Edgar in their second meeting, sending him to the mat. Or the right uppercuts that he used to exploit Edgar's constant ducking out to the side. Seeing Maynard - Edgar 4 might not actually be too bad for the strategical advancements both sides will have made. Of course that is only if it doesn't tie up a title. (G) (G)
At any rate, herding the opponent onto punches requires a great deal of aggression which can be countered, but certainly provides the most spectacular results. Henderson's kick centric plan to take away Edgar's movement and rough him up as he comes in seems a far safer option against a man with the fortitude of Frankie Edgar however, since no-one has yet been able to stop him from making it to the end of a bout, and he seems to get better the worse he is hurt.
While I can't say that this fight is among my most anticipated this year, I can say that I'm extremely interested to see how both competitors mix up their strategies to come out on top. I'm especially interested to see what Frankie can do if he again denied his lateral movement by Henderson's kicks.