We have a good deal of ground to cover in the coming days with Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar meeting for the featherweight title at the weekend but it is definitely worth lingering to think about the action which we saw at UFC on Fox 6. Compared with UFC on FX 7 this card was a dream with plenty of finishes and excitement where FX 7 was just a blur of tedious and controversial bouts. UFC on Fox 6 was not itself free from controversy as Clay Guida picked up yet another decision by bouncing around and failing to engage on the feet, then tackling Hioki and simply hugging Hioki's hips to survive the many submission attempts that Hioki made on the ground. It is not worth criticizing Guida however, for his tedious performance, as he has been relegated to the undercard and is just one fighter - the problems which are evident in Mixed Martial Arts judging will only be alleviated when we get judges who actually understand the game or at least know how to play guard.
That brief negative note aside, we have plenty to talk about and only a couple of days to dwell on it before we get caught up in the hype for UFC 156.
Anthony Pettis' Striking Clinic
I was more excited for this fight than almost anyone and though it was short it really delivered. Earlier in the week I stated that whoever could take away the other's kicks would inevitably have the advantage, but obviously to take away an opponent's kicks it is necessary to have the better boxing and footwork. I came to the conclusion that while Cerrone's hands were pretty inaccurate and looping, Pettis' hands had been consistently under-rated, and I feel he showed that again in this fight. The real story of this fight, however, was Pettis' footwork.
From the beginning Pettis' charged in and dipped out to his left, landing a right hook on the slow starting Cerrone's jaw.
Moments later Pettis darted in again, hopping off to the left and forcing Cerrone to turn into some punches before disengaging.
The genius of this bout and of much of Pettis' game is in his footwork. It can be seen in his bouts against wrestlers where he uses his footwork to stay away from takedown attempts, and in his striking - spending most of the time either backing up to invite punches that he can counter, or pushing his opponent onto the cage where he unleashes his best offence. Every time Pettis wasn't up in Donald's face, where Donald's looping punches were inaccurate and ineffectual, Pettis was out at range where he could see Donald's kicks coming from a long way off.
When Donald did run in to kick Pettis had plenty of time to react - checked the low kick and fired back a nice jab. It's not typical to get much power on punches while on one leg, but a stiff arm punch is enough to stop someone from continuing their attack, even though it's unlikely to knock them out.
Now Pettis had switched to southpaw, constantly threatening the left high kick which he is known for. From here he used the same combination which he used (from orthdox) against Ben Henderson. Using a lead hook against Cerrone's guard, Pettis held Cerrone in place as he stepped out to his right, shortening the path of his left straight. From here Pettis landed a nice right hand as he pivoted off (bottom two stills).
Pettis was having great success connecting punches and Cerrone was getting frustrated - from here Pettis used Donald's constant wariness of the left high kick to sneak two left middle kicks in under Cerrone's guard.
Cerrone, hurt, backed towards the fence - where Pettis does his best work. I do not say that because of the two techniques which Pettis has pushed off of the fence for, but rather because a great deal of Pettis' most memorable offence has come from this position. His punching salvos against Henderson, his spinning back kick against Clay Guida, and at UFC on FX 7 a nice left high knee as Cerrone ducked into it.
Putting an opponent's back to the fence takes away one direction of movement completely - the opponent can no longer retreat, which means he is forced to do one of the following:
1) stand there and cover up
2) move out to the left
3) move out to the right
This makes it a great time to throw a powerful kick - whether it be a back kick or a roundhouse kick or some other, flashier move - two of the three options laid out above will always make the opponent eat the brunt of the kick's force (standing still or moving into it) while one will allow him to escape the brunt of the kick's power but ideally still get hit. Obviously some opponents will be predictable or telegraph their escape plan, but even kicking at random as the opponent's back is to the cage gives you a 2/3 chance of making them eat a hard kick.
As Pettis closed in on the injured Cerrone - now reeling from the body kicks and a hard knee to the head - he covered Cerrone's lead hand, eliminating his jab and stepped in with a nice left straight. From here he pushed Cerrone into the cage - kicked off of the fence with his right leg and brought his right knee up the centre of Cerrone's flailing hands. Another beautiful piece of not just athletic skill but intelligent ring craft from Pettis. The thing that fans don't realise about Pettis is that he can do these things because he routinely moves opponents into the position where he can attempt them.
The finish came from another hard body kick but in truth it was just the end of a brilliant striking clinic from Pettis. When he wanted to punch he was close enough that Cerrone's long limbs made it difficult to fire back with any effect, when he didn't want to punch Pettis was out at range where Cerrone's kicks were telegraphed and easy to check. Ignore Dominick Cruz's stutter stepping fanciness, Pettis has perhaps the most intelligent strategic movement in MMA.
Glover Teixeira and Rampage
Whenever I was asked to comment on this fight beforehand I said that I thought it would come down to how shot Rampage was. Glover's recent career has been marked by a massive fall off in technical variety. Where against Sokoudjou, Glover showed all sorts of punches and kicks, in his last three or four matches before Rampage it had constantly been the right hook followed by the left hook - terrible boxing form but it works against the standard of competition which he had been facing. Most were writing this off as a colossal mismatch but I always felt that if Glover did only what he had done against Maldonado and Eastman, he could play into Rampage's classic cover and fire back style.
In truth, the problem of a well known and dangerous counter puncher actually forced Glover to up his game and we saw a variety of offence on the feet which we haven't seen from him in years but it is still hard to believe that Glover would have had the same success against the Jackson of years gone by. Where Jackson used to cover and fire back, for the first two rounds of this bout he simply covered, then dropped his hands, gasped for air and walked around to his left, before getting back in position to cover up again.
In addition to not firing back, Jackson just seemed so much slower than he was even against Hammill and Jones. The first round knockdown came as Rampage ducked and covered against a right hook and ate a left hook while he was still down there. I don't think even Glover's most passionate fans would say that he is a fast striker, and yet Rampage still couldn't get out of the way of the same right, left combinations.
For the majority of the first two rounds Rampage was content with open mouth breathing and throwing single jabs in counter to Glover's stepping in. Rampage has never had a good jab and neither has Glover, yet we were treated to the bizarre spectacle of them both connecting on their jabs simultaneously a great many times throughout the bout.
In the last round Jackson actually started countering after he covered and he had decent success despite being much slower and more visibly tired than Glover, but it wasn't enough and Glover picked up a clear cut decision. The adjustments Glover made - trying to jab, adding some body shots, leading with his left and showing some kicks - give me some faith that he can at least have a crack at being an elite light heavyweight, if all we had seen was the right hook, regardless of how the fight went, I would have little faith in him cracking the upper echelon.
We can only hope that Jackson moves away from the sport because he clearly doesn't enjoy it any more and where his UFC tenure was largely spent as the great ground and pounder who chose to box instead, he has now lost most of his boxing ability, which was basically all that kept him relevant. Even until recently though, Jackson has always been good at stuffing takedowns, even stopping Jon Jones until Jones hyper extended Jackson's knee with an oblique kick. At UFC on FX 7, however, Jackson was unable to stop Glover's single legs even when it took the best part of 3 seconds for Glover to stoop down and pick them up.
The main event of the card was frankly brilliant. As someone who has not followed flyweight MMA very closely with the exception of some favourite fighters this bout gave me great hope for the future of the division. Demetrious Johnson showed to have no only some of the best cardio and pace in the game, but now also boasts one of the best chins. There are not many men at flyweight who could take shots from Kid Yamamoto and John Dodson.
Something which I really enjoy about watching Demetrious Johnson fight (and will comment on when I get around to writing my Killing the King piece for him) is his willingness to switch stances mid combination. Against Dodson, Johnson was often entering against his southpaw opponent from an orthodox stance, then switching to southpaw to follow Dodson.
Below Johnson leads with a right straight, stepping to the outside of Dodson's lead leg and Dodson tries to circle out to his left. Johnson steps forward and to the right with his right foot, draws back his right hand and lands a nice right hook.
Johnson used this combination to follow Dodson and keep pressure on him throughout the fight, and combinations like this - where he would connect as Dodson felt he was safe - likely played a part in wearing down the challenger. Here Johnson attempts the same combination again but this time Dodson backs up and circles in the other direction. Johnson enters with the right straight, steps forward with the right hook and lands a left hook as Dodson circles into it. Combinations like these are beautiful and they are something which traditional boxing and kickboxing will continue to neglect outside of the occasional individual like Gokhan Saki.
The icing on the cake of this wonderfully back and forth match was Johnson's answer to being pressed against the cage in the final round. Using a technique which is rarely seen outside of Muay Thai clinch sparring between fighters of significantly disparate skill levels, Johnson jumped his knees up on to Dodson's hips, used them to hold himself above Dodson's head and land a couple of elbows. While the elbows had nothing on them this was a great way to win points with the fans and the judges from a position where Johnson was being leaned on, and it was terrifically creative.
It seems that every world class fighter in MMA today has pressure on them to do something inventive and unique, and with men like Anthony Pettis and Demetrious Johnson about, it is certainly an exciting time to be an MMA fan.