It's a hopeful new era for the sport of kickboxing. With quietly growing ratings and a pair of triumphantly exciting shows on Spike TV, Glory has brought back to kickboxing some of the excitement that has been missing since the heyday of K-1 in the 90s. The organization's most recent event, Glory 12 was from the inception meant to be about Giorgio Petrosyan, a showcase with which to introduce Americans to the Floyd Mayweather of kickboxing, the greatest kickboxer of our time.
And then Petrosyan was knocked out, for the first time ever. Riding a 42-fight unbeaten streak, Giorgio was the heavy favorite to win the entire tournament. Aside from the man who beat him, he had beaten the other two tourney competitors before, and would likely do so again. Glory 12 was about Giorgio Petrosyan and, in many ways, it still is. All the talk surrounding the event is about Giorgio's loss, arguably the first legitimate one of his 80-fight career, and that's understandable; when Anderson Silva lost to Chris Weidman, his own antics were to blame. Weidman was just a footnote in the legendary fall of a legendary man. Were Floyd Mayweather to be knocked out in his next fight, you can rest assured that Mayweather would still be the center of the news stories. It's understandable, but perhaps it isn't right.
In mourning for Giorgio, we overlook the accomplishments of the man who bested him. 30 year-old Andy Ristie, formerly of Lucien Carbin's world famous Fight Factory gym, seems to be just now coming into his prime. He not only knocked out Petrosyan, but went on to finish the second best lightweight in the world the very same evening. We are right to lament the potential fall of an all-time great, but we should also celebrate the rise of his successor.
Hence this breakdown. Fraser Coffeen and I (with gif assist from Zombie Prophet) aim to praise the new lightweight king the best way we know how: by analyzing his fights. To Andy Ristie!
AGGRESSIVE COUNTER FIGHTING
Connor Ruebusch: Watching Ristie, I am reminded of the boxers of Brendan Ingle. Kell Brook, Herol Graham, and of course "Prince" Naseem Hamed were all known as exciting, unorthodox fighters, bearing the Ingle trademark of lowered hands. They also had a penchant for putting themselves in seemingly bad positions, abandoning traditional stances in favor of fluid, shifting footwork designed to catch the opponent when he tried to capitalize. Ingle's fighters made this style work because they were all aggressive counter punchers, not hanging back and waiting for openings, but striding into the fray and creating them.
Andy Ristie has a similar style. Against Petrosyan and Roosmalen, he rarely held on to his stance for long, happily shifting from southpaw to orthodox and back again, looking for various ways to land his powerful left hand.
Ristie gave Petrosyan a surprising amount of trouble from the first round of the fight. Here you can see Ristie switch from orthodox to southpaw. The way that he switches stance is clever. Rather than simply walking forward, he forces Petrosyan to respect the space between them by lifting his knee high as he steps suggesting a teep or long knee. Petrosyan backs off, but not much, quickly recognizing the feint for what it is. He stays too close, however, to the very long-armed Ristie, and eats a wide left hand for his trouble. Petrosyan doesn't typically fight other southpaws, and this constant stance changing seemed to inhibit his ability to get into a rhythm with his opponent.
Fraser Coffeen: Before this fight, a lot of people were talking about how Petrosyan was a nightmare stylistic match-up for Ristie. In fact, it was the exact opposite that was true, and Ristie knew it. Petrosyan won his fights by forcing opponents into his game, taking their aggression and turning it into a technical fight. Ristie ultimately refused to be drawn in, and he reaped the benefits. In that clip, you see Ristie being aggressive, coming forward and pushing the pace. Obviously, it paid off for him in the end, but you also can see here how it is a risk/reward kind of tactic. Yes, Ristie closes the distance and lands on Petrosyan, but what is also of interest to me is the very end of the sequence, where Ristie throws the big left and stumbles off balance. Because he was just hit, Petrosyan was not in position to capitalize, but it was a risky move that put Ristie in a precarious position. But when you're fighting the best in the world, no risk = no reward. Ristie saw that, and went for it, perfectly fighting the right kind of fight for Petrosyan.
Connor: Petro struggled to avoid Ristie's southpaw left hand because he typically avoids strikes by slipping to his left. Above, you can see him doing this well, slipping to the outside of Ristie's right hand and putting himself in the proper range to counter with a right hook or left straight. This movement is not so useful against a left hand.
Fraser: This is also an example of what I was talking about that Petrosyan does well. In this small sequence, Ristie is getting into a straight kickboxing fight, with less movement and angles. And he's not succeeding.
Connor: Here, Petro executes the same slip to avoid Ristie's southpaw left. The punch misses, but this can't be called successful defense for the reason that it does not facilitate any offense. True, Giorgio makes Ristie miss, but he does not put himself in a good position to capitalize on the mistake. He is leaned too far back to generate any power, and his hands are not lined up for any meaningful punches. He would have been better served to slip to the right, outside of Ristie's left hand, but he has consistently shown an inability to do so. Ristie was the first man to force Petro into poor positions, and the first to punish him for it.
Connor: And here's the knockout. Ristie came out guns blazing at the start of the third round, and made Petrosyan, who had been noticeably unable to establish a groove, more uncomfortable than ever. With yet another quick switch to southpaw, Ristie kept Petrosyan purely defensive with a quick right jab, and when Petro took his eyes off his opponent and ducked his head straight down, he did so right into a tight left uppercut. Live the punch was almost invisible. In slow motion replay, it's clearly the hardest punch that Petrosyan has ever taken. He did not take it well.
Fraser: In round 2, Petrosyan had started to settle into his groove a bit more I think, and while Ristie was doing well, it was starting to look more like your typical Petrosyan fight. Then, Ristie changed his style completely in round 3, coming forward very aggressively. From the moment that round starts, Ristie is all over Petrosyan. Petro has always been good at using the clinch to shut down a rampaging opponent, and he tries that here, but Ristie keeps his balance and comes forward. Watch Ristie's feet here - his ability to switch stances allows him to keep the offense up. He has no problem stepping forward into southpaw and throwing a shot, then back into orthodox for another shot. It's that ability to comfortably fight from both stances that lets him walk Petrosyan down while maintaining offense, and it becomes too much for the Doctor here.
ROTATION AND POWER PUNCHING
Connor: Ristie, like most Lucien Carbin fighters, is able to generate terrific power from his hips and shoulders. His footwork is a part of this, as he is perfectly willing to let his rear foot come forward on one punch only to throw a punch from the opposite side as that foot lands. This is the "shift punch" that I wrote about in yesterday's UFC 167 recap. This power was evident in both of Ristie's Glory 12 wins, but most of all in the bout with Robin Van Roosmalen.
Ristie's punches, often wide and loose in appearance, carry the full weight of his lanky frame behind them. His winging right hand here is thrown as more of a hook than a straight, his hips and shoulders twisting fully through the blow. Ristie also looks to be preparing for another left hand, perhaps an uppercut, after the right has landed; after Roosmalen falls to the canvas, Ristie completes a shift step forward, which would have put him in the ideal position for a powerful left-handed southpaw strike.
Connor: Once again, note Ristie's flexible stance and foot positioning. His feet move with every punch, weight shifting back and forth. The final uppercut (the same strike that finished Petrosyan) positively liquefies Roosmalen, catching him wide open mid-strike. As a very tall man, Ristie is also perfectly suited to uppercuts once on the inside with his opponent.
Fraser: That height is key, because Ristie really knows how to use it. As Connor said, it lends itself well to uppercuts, but it's also great for Ristie's other favorite weapon - the knee. He's used knees very well in the past, earning some spectacular KOs. Here, he uses the knee to keep Roosmalen in position. Twice in this sequence, Ristie lands a knee that sends Roosmalen into the ropes, and the last knee leads directly to the KO. Again, watch Ristie's feet on that last knee. After he lands the right knee, he keeps the right foot slightly forward. This allows him to then step in with the left foot when he throws the KO punch. This is excellent work in using a strike to both place your opponent where you want him to be (against the ropes) and yourself where you want to be (in southpaw)
Connor: Some have criticized Ristie for being oversized for lightweight, saying that he has an unfair reach advantage over his opponents. Indeed, he was noticeably taller than both Roosmalen and Petrosyan, and longer of leg and arm. It takes a certain skill set, however, to properly utilize reach. Long arms are hardly a boon when you don't know how to use them, as frequently demonstrated by Stefan Struve's awkward striking and uncomfortable defensive habits. Ristie is not merely successful because of his length, but because he knows how to use it. Here he is keeping the height-deficient Roosmalen out of range with jabs and teeps from the southpaw stance.
Fraser: That head movement you see from Ristie is a relatively new tool for him. Ristie is an ever-evolving kind of fighter, and here, you see him nicely using a Muay Thai style of head movement, moving at the hips to move just back and outside the range of punches. Anderson Silva has used this often in the past, and famously used it to poor effect against Weidman. Here, Ristie is using it well, and again, it plays off his height. He need only move back a small distance to avoid the shorter Roosmalen. By just moving his head, he keeps himself planted and ready for offense.
Connor: Not only is Ristie using the teep and the jab/stiff-arm to keep Roosmalen at bay here, but he's threatening him for even thinking about getting past those weapons. Ristie is very light on his feet, and often bounces around, ready to kick, switch stance, or move in an instant. But whenever Roosmalen looks to lower himself and come inside, Ristie immediately plants his feet and threatens with the left uppercut, or stiff left hand. This is a brilliant strategy against a shorter opponent, because it severely limits Roosmalen's options: either he can stay at the end of Ristie's attacks and get slowly picked apart, or he can lunge desperately for counters from long range, putting himself at risk of being countered.
Andy Ristie broke my heart, but he also won me over in a single night. In about ten total minutes of ring time, Ristie convinced me that he is more than capable of fighting at this high level consistently. He not only has the tools of a dangerous counter fighter, but the will and the capability to use them. Hopefully Giorgio Petrosyan bounces back from this, the only definite loss of his long career, but even if the lightweight king is done for good, Andy Ristie is more than worthy of sitting the throne in his stead.
For more fight analysis, listen to Heavy Hands, the only technique-focused podcast out there. This week's episode is an interview with Lyte Burly, boxing trainer and practitioner of 52 Blocks, the prison-born combat system native to New York. And next week, Heavy Hands is excited to offer an exclusive interview with Matt Brown, in which we will discuss the techniques that have brought the Immortal from the bottom of the division, to within arm's reach of the belt.