UFC 157: Machida vs Henderson - Open Guard 101

USA TODAY Sports

Jack Slack's last Bloody Elbow post event breakdown presents a look at the fundamental errors that prevented Dan Henderson from catching Lyoto Machida.

Here we are, my last post event breakdown at Bloody Elbow. UFC 157 was a pretty decent night of fights all around - Kenny Robertson showed us that there is always room for something we haven't seen before with his leg stretch submission from the back, Robbie Lawler (whom I have always had a soft spot for) demonstrated the proper way to punch a turtled opponent, and Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida competed in an uneventful fight which really showed how limited Henderson is on the feet. Frankly it was hard to see how a judge could score this bout for Henderson despite his securing a takedown in the final round - then I found out that this judge was Cecil Peoples and all became clear.

Lyoto's success in this bout can be attributed almost entirely to Dan Henderson's horrible footwork. It astounds me that someone who has been in the sport as long as Dan Henderson has no knowledge of basic Open Guard (southpaw vs orthodox) strategy.

I talk about this a lot, and it's one of the rudiments of strategy so you will hear commentators harp on and on about it too, but if a southpaw and an orthodox fighter meet, the advantage is almost always with the man who can work his lead foot to the outside of his opponent's - except at the highest levels where movement in either direction is commonplace.

When a southpaw and orthodox fighter are on a line facing each other, there is very little that they can hope to land - the jab is neutralized by the opponent's lead hand (just review Rashad Evans blocking a hundred Antonio Rogerio Nogueira southpaw jabs and do nothing to follow up to see that) and the rear hand has so far to travel that it is easily seen and avoided.

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Now when one fighter gets his lead foot outside of his opponent's, he can move slightly off line to a minor angle, placing his rear shoulder between his opponent's hands and lining up perfectly for a rear straight - the go to offense in an Open Guard engagement.

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The power on a rear hand straight makes it hard to parry with either hand without opening one's defense up to an opponent's combinations and this seems to be the main reason that Floyd Mayweather - among many other orthodox boxers - so rarely fights traditional southpaws. The southpaw left straight is simply such a devious offensive tool to prepare for. Here is a quick demonstration of just how effective this slight angle is by that great southpaw artist, Manny Pacquiao.

Allowing the opponent to get his lead foot outside of one's own in an Open Guard encounter is a terrible thing to do. It is one thing to not be actively searching to get the dominant angle all the time - that's tiring - but one should at least be trying to move away and prevent the opponent from getting his foot outside. Henderson spent the entire bout allowing Machida to place his foot in perfect position.

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Now that may not look like much but this isn't a boxing match - Machida didn't need to be close to launch effective offense as long as he had his lead foot outside of Henderson's. From here he would be able to throw his left leg on a shortened arc due to his angle and this he did over and over throughout the bout.

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Lyoto has his lead foot slightly outside of Henderson's, Henderson's lead leg is also turned in, inhibiting his own movement, this allows Lyoto to lunge forward with a hard body kick.

You are all aware I'm sure that Lyoto's signature knee strike is also performed by stepping outside of the opponent's lead leg and is pretty much a guaranteed takedown for his opponent if he attempts it with his lead leg inside of their own. It is not exaggerating to say that the position of his lead foot is the keystone of Machida's offense when he is in Open Guard - and is responsible for the vast majority of his success.

Henderson made matters even worse for himself by attempting to fight in a narrow stance - often with his lead foot turned in, preventing himself from kicking effectively with the back foot without first telegraphing a big step out with his lead foot. If Dan had taken a stance with his lead foot pointing at Machida and with his hips more open he would have firstly been able to move laterally with greater ease, but also not had to make the awkward run into his rear leg kicks every time that he attempted them.

His signature lead leg kick, however, was completely impotent in this bout. This again stemmed from allowing Lyoto to keep his foot on the outside for most of the bout. Just as it is impossible to land a hard hook on something which is outside of your hooking shoulder, it is almost impossible to land a hard kick something which is outside the line of one's kicking side hip. Henderson's narrow stance and allowing Machida the outside track at every opportunity compounded to make his lead leg kicks utterly worthless.

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The lead low kick can be used to great effect in Open Guard, especially to set up the rear straight punch, and Machida himself has done it numerous times, but starting with your lead foot inside of your opponent's is pretty much condemning the technique to fail.

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Henderson's striking success has come from dragging decent strikers into brawls or making them stand still in front of his right hand. The inside low kick with his lead leg has been responsible for the latter but without that weapon and with slow feet, Henderson had no way of making Machida stand still as he swung his hands at the air.

Dan Henderson is still a legend in MMA, no doubt, and could knock out any man within 50lbs of his weight on any given day, but a technical striker he is not. I have often expressed my opinion that Henderson's career resurgence came from fighting two legends with low fight IQ (Fedor Emelianenko and Mauricio Rua) who had all the tools to beat him but opted to swing at him as if they were entitled to a victory. Henderson's performance against someone who actually turned him and took away his only two tools - the inside low kick and the right hand - seems to confirm this assessment.

Does Lyoto Machida really look like the Dragon 2.0, ready to defeat Jon Jones? Not really, but that's a story for another time.

Jack Slack breaks down over 70 striking tactics employed by 20 elite strikers in his ebook, Advanced Striking.

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Look out for news on Jack Slack's new kindle book, Elementary Striking which will teach the basic techniques and strategies of striking in detail.

Jack can be found on Twitter, Facebook and at his blog; Fights Gone By.

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