Many of us were hugely disappointed to hear that Gilbert Melendez will no longer be defending his Strikeforce title in the coming weeks. Melendez's dominance in his weightclass is one of the few remaining attractions of any Strikeforce card, as all the top talent has left and a few incredible prospects are left tied up in the dried up husk of a promotion with no-one left to provide a reasonable challenge. The entire Strikeforce debacle and how it is adversely affecting the development of upcoming world class talent such as Luke Rockhold, Jacare and Gilbert Melendez is something which I don't want to get too bogged down in today. Instead we'll look at Melendez's incredible performance against Japanese power house, Tatsuya Kawajiri.
Kawajiri himself is anything but a slouch - an average striker and an average grappler, Kawajiri's incredible strength transforms him into a truly dangerous fighter in both areas. Kawajiri has smothered some high level competition in his career only losing to top flight opposition such as Shinya Aoki, Takanori Gomi and Eddie Alvarez. Reportedly walking around at 185lbs and cutting to 155lbs by fight time (and since his debut at featherweight 145lbs), Kawajiri's physical strength cannot be overstated.
Despite Kawajiri's brief stint in K-1, his kickboxing is far from world class and he mainly served as another MMA fighter for Masato to embarrass. Kawajiri's meeting with Melendez demonstrates the difference between a powerfuloffensive fighter, and a technically correct offensive fighter.
Below is Melendez's first great counter from the fight, click the G to watch the clip in action in a new tab (G).
You will notice that in keeping with the improved SBNation layout, I have chosen to up my game and number my storyboards.
In both of the instances examined today it is important to watch Melendez's right foot.
1. Melendez steps deep with his left leg, faking a jab.
2. Kawajiri lunges at Melendez. Melendez pulls his lead foot back underneath him.
3. Melendez drives off of his lead foot and places his back foot way out behind him - creating enough distance for Kawajiri's left to miss.
4. As Kawajiri's head follows his missed lunging punch, Melendez drives in off of his back foot and drops Kawajiri with a short right hand.
This is a beautiful example of how effective a back step can be in baiting the opponent into attacking. A large backstep such as the skip backward or "backward burst" as Melendez used here, wherein you move the pushing leg under you first, is extremely common practice in point karate. This tactic is one that will be touched on in my upcoming book, Elementary Striking as it is an important alternative to the traditional back foot then front foot form of boxing retreat.
Throughout the fight Melendez continued to walk Kawajiri down, then take a step back which inspired Kawajiri to swing and chase him. Melendez would back up until Kawajiri had missed, then he would step in as Kawajiri was recovering from his heavy swings.
Here is another example from later in the fight.
1. Kawajiri lunges at Melendez. Notice that Melendez is in a coiled stance with his feet under him and his head offline. This is similar to the stance I refer to as the Blackburn crouch, which is in fact just an golden era boxing stance.
2. As Kawajiri's fist approaches, Melendez pushes off his lead foot, throws his right foot back and moves his entire body out of the way of Kawajiri's punch.
3. As Kawajiri's jab returns it comes back low - almost every fighter does this and there is always an opening for a right hand following a lunging jab.
4. Melendez's right straight connects over the top of Kawajiri's returning left hand.
To see back steps used to set up counters such as this I highly recommend watching some of the film available of Joe Louis and Giorgio Petrosyan. Muhammad Ali was also excellent at using his back foot placement to make punches fall short.
On the subject of old time boxers; later in the week Zombie Prophet and myself are teaming up for the first time to bring a browser crashing selection of gifs from the 1950s prize ring in our first knockouts of the decade piece! Keep your eyes peeled and set Bloody Elbow to your home page so there's no chance that you will miss it.
Jack Slack first ebook Advanced Striking covers the techniques used by 20 of the top fighters in boxing, kickboxing and MMA.
Jack Slack also blogs at www.FightsGoneBy.com