We thought we got lucky with UFC 165. We were naive then. We thought that Alexander Gustafsson and Jon Jones had just given us the best fight of the year, and perhaps capped off the best card of the year as well. Well, we were dead wrong. UFC 166 refused to be outdone, even by the incredible boxing match that took place the same night, and delivered thrilling fight after thrilling fight, starting and ending the night with knockouts, and filling the space between with technical brilliance, incredible displays of heart, and lots of glorious, adrenaline-pumping violence.
So let's get into the nitty-gritty, not-always-pretty, but so-far-from-shitty details of the evening's best fights. Starting with...
THE TECHNICAL HOCKEY FIGHT
Featuring: Gilbert Melendez
What a fight, right? Questionable medical decisions aside, Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez put on one of the greatest battles of heart, will, and skill in quite some time. Unfortunately for Diego, he had heart and will in spades, but the skill was pretty firmly weighted in Gil's favor.
A while ago, BE's own John "Not the Face" Nash wrote an article comparing the unusual pugilistic prowess of Nick Diaz to 19th Century bare knuckle great Daniel Mendoza. I was unfairly harsh in my criticism of this article, but I would submit to Mr. Nash that perhaps Gilbert Melendez is a better example of old school techniques and tactics.
As far as technique, Gilbert is certainly a throwback. A while ago I wrote about his hooks lacking power because of his reliance on forward momentum (a hook derives its power from backward, pulling movement). While not ideal for modern punching, Gilbert's forward lunging blows are quite reminiscent of the punches thrown by early 20th Century boxers. Tell me that Gil's lunging, yet balanced movements and softball-pitch right hands don't remind you of the punching technique of George Dixon?
While his blows might appear imperfect and outdated, Melendez is actually much less open than he appears. Sanchez had a very difficult time landing clean punches on him. This is due to a handful of defensive techniques he uses, some of them as old school as his punches.
Take this deflecting forearm block, for example, straight out of Jack Dempsey's Championship Fighting. By extending his left arm and slightly flaring his elbow, Gilbert could block the long-range looping rights of Diego Sanchez before firing back with his own right hand. Inside blocks like this aren't used much anymore, but as you can see from the comparison (and in the George Dixon video linked above), they were a significant part of classic boxing, and still exist in the curricula of many traditional martial arts (LINK).
The best thing about Gilbert's use of the left arm as defense was its versatility. At range, he would execute the forearm block-what Dempsey called a "glance-off." When Diego came in to throw tighter right hooks, he would go to a more typical modern boxing block, covering the side of his head with his bent arm. Watch his defensive left hand at work in this GIF. At other times, Gilbert would attempt the glance-off only for Diego to rush into close range, or he would miss a jab and Diego would step inside.
In those instances, he would craftily turn the extended arm into a collar tie, and yank Sanchez' head down into his right uppercut, as below.
1. Gilbert misses a jab, but his left arm and shoulder deflect the force of Diego's right hand.
2. Recognizing his momentarily strong position, Gilbert turns his missed punch into a tight grip on the back of Diego's head and smashes his head and body with a couple of right hands.
At other times, Melendez would use his footwork to negate Diego's wild but predictable punches. Note the arrows in the diagram below.
1. Gilbert paws with his jab prompting Diego to rush in with a right hook.
2. As Sanchez steps to the outside of Gilbert's left foot, Gilbert repositions himself, forcing his opponent to overstep and present the vulnerable inside angle to Gilbert.
3. Moving further to the inside of Diego's foot, while keeping his own foot focused on Diego's center line, Gilbert hits him with an accurate 1-2.
4. Diego attempts to counter with his right hook, but it falls short as a result of the angle.
Here, the real subtle effectiveness of angles is revealed, because Diego is actually well within range for the right hook, and yet he is not in the right position to land it. Because Gilbert was able to keep Diego from facing him effectively, the TUF winner was unable to connect with his desperate punches.
Gilbert combined his various methods of defense and counter attack to drop Diego in the final seconds of the first round, first deflecting punches, then slipping left hands, and then taking a moment to reposition himself, utilizing the inside angle to drop the iron-chinned southpaw (GIF).
And that, my friends, is how you win a hockey fight with superior technique.
FURTHER LESSONS IN POSTURE
Featuring: Jessica Eye, Sarah Kaufman
This women's bantamweight bout was an early contender for Fight of the Night before Melendez vs. Sanchez blew it clear out of everybody's minds-especially Diego Sanchez'. This was a battle between two strikers, and once again posture played a key role in the way a fight played out on the feet. Namely, Jessica Eye's posture, and how both fighters had difficulty controlling it.
1. Eye and Kaufman square off.
2. As she has done all night, Eye attempts to keep her stalking opponent at range with her jab, but her chin lifts as the punch extends.
3. Kaufman takes advantage, coming in low and sticking her own jab right under Eye's sky-high jaw.
4. Followed by a right hand over the top that also has no trouble finding the taller woman's chin.
This is a problem in posture, and the artifact of a misunderstanding of punch mechanics. Eye understands that, when punching, it is best for the shoulder to cover the chin. To that end, she lifts her shoulder up and out of the socket when punching, not only diminishing her own power, but endangering the joint. Worse, however, is the fact that the motion compromises her posture and causes her chin to pop up, negating the entire purpose of the shoulder pop. The idea behind Eye's shoulder movement is correct as the chin should be protected by the shoulder, but the method with which she approaches this goal is obviously flawed, and it enabled Kaufman to put her on skates twice in the third round.
Kaufman, for her part, didn't seem quite comfortable with issues of posture either, though it wasn't her own posture that she was struggling to control.
1. Pressed against the cage, Kaufman makes some space with her forearms and reaches for a double collar tie.
2. Kaufman's hands are low on the nape of Eye's neck, and she can't manage to bend the taller woman over. Eye has free reign to rip off some punches, and she cracks Kaufman with an uppercut...
3. And then a right hook to the temple as Kaufman leaves herself open trying to knee.
4. And one more punch from Eye that forces Kaufman to release her clinch and disengage.
Sarah Kaufman is almost certainly stronger than the lanky Jessica Eye. She has the ideal build for a woman who wants to get into the opponent's face and bully them. She is not, however, strong enough to overcome simple physics. A collar tie, used in the Thai fashion, is a technique that relies on leverage. Observe the clinching form of Muay Thai champion Malaipet in this video.
Malaipet gets leverage over his opponent by laying his palms over the crown of his head, rather than at the neck, where there is just not enough leverage to overcome the strength of the opponent's neck, back, and hips. Kaufman lost by controversial decision, but perhaps she could have pulled out the win if she had been able to put her powerful frame to better use on the inside against her long-limbed adversary.
Featuring: C. B. Dolloway
What more can I say? Some of the most accurate, well-timed eye pokes I've ever seen. Rewatching the GIFs, it's almost loving the way Dolloway gently crams his fingers into Boetsch's eye (GIF 1, GIF 2).
Calm, measured, accurate... I guess if I had to choose one word to describe Dolloway's use of this technique, it would be deliberate.
ELEVATION AND MOVEMENT
Featuring: Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez
Well, unfortunately, the same problems that plagued Junior in his last fight with Cain were still all too present this time around. Perhaps those of us who picked Junior to win should have looked less at what could, and should have been changed since the first Cain fight, and more at the things that obviously hadn't changed by the time Junior faced Mark Hunt. Cigano spent the night attempting to use the fence to stop Cain's takedowns (apparently following the iffy advice that Kenny Florian offered up last week), but he was thoroughly and repeatedly mauled in the process. He looked absolutely flummoxed by Cain's offense, and that had a lot to do with the fact that Junior does not know how to change elevation or angle in response to an attack. Observe.
1. In a rare moment near the center of the Octagon, JDS launches a right hand at Cain's head.
2. Cain slips the punch, reaching with a counter right of his own that Junior leans and hops away from.
3. After a few seconds of continued backpedaling, Junior throws a jab at Cain, his head straight up in the air. Cain, learning from his previous failed attempt, slips the jab and executes a simultaneous cross counter.
4. The overhand punch sails over Junior's outstretched arm and meets the side of his head in a near perfect recreation of the punch that Junior used to drop Cain in their first fight.
(GIF) The problem with standing tall is that the risks far outweigh the rewards. Height can give a fighter a couple extra inches to avoid punches when moving backwards. Wladimir Klitschko is proof of this, his height keeping his opponent's punches from reaching his chin on the retreat. But the moment the fighter's movement is taken away from him, height becomes a handicap. This is especially true for Junior, whose defense is almost solely comprised of backwards movement and the threat of his power.
When, as above, he tries to counter punch, he ceases to move backwards, and as a result, his tall stance leaves his head a wide open target, with his knees unbent and therefore unable to help bear the brunt of Cain's considerable power. Junior's backward movement was also halted time and time again by the perimeters of the Octagon. His back would reach the fence, and he would stare, bewildered, as Cain's punches approached his face, trying to lean or move away from them but with nowhere to go. It is obvious in this GIF how little base Junior's stance leaves him, and how easy it is for Cain to find his head.
Still, this problem of elevation could have been mitigated, if not completely negated, were Junior to have moved laterally. This is a problem that he has exhibited for a long time, and one that I predicted he would need to have improved to beat the forward-moving Cain Velasquez. Unfortunately, Junior seemed blind to the advantages of taking angles, even when he found brief success with footwork a few times in the fight.
Ultimately, Junior was not equipped with the necessary gameplan to thwart a relentless swarmer of Cain's caliber, and so it's back to the drawing board, and back to the end of the line for title shots.
Join me and the other staff here at BE for more fight analysis throughout the week, as we prepare for Lyoto Machida's middleweight debut, and an exciting co-main event battle between two inconsistent but always entertaining strikers in Melvin Guillard (Mars, here we come) and Ross Pearson.
Or, for a more audible variety of fight breakdown, check out my podcast Heavy Hands. This week sees two special guest episodes released, one to discuss Tim Bradley and boxing for MMA with trainer Luis Monda, and the other exploring the evolution of the guillotine with BE writer T. P. Grant.