With UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Moraga approaching, the fight that I'm most interested in is Rory Macdonald vs. Jake Ellenberger. So I figure that it'd be appropriate that I do an analysis of each fighter.
This is my first in-depth pre-fight analysis, and I hope you enjoy it as much as my last article.
Format: The first part will detail Jake's tendencies from his last three fights. This includes the strategy his opponents employed, what he does effectively, and the mistakes by each fighter. Breakdown of techniques are included in between. The last section will discuss whether Rory has what is required to get the better of Jake in striking.
Known to have power in both hands, a good counter game and wrestling, he is believed by many to be a dangerous opponent.
True, but it's actually quite specific where he packs powerful punches. He has shown to be dangerous in a very specific punching range.
Jake's striking tendencies in his last three fights:
(Ordered by effectiveness)
1. Flings a jab out to draw in his opponents- he hopes that his opponent will come in and start exchanging with him.
2. Throws a stiff forward step jab- rarely lands, but backs the opponent up
3. Does an explosive, telegraphed long range lead with his right hand : low success rate, but also backs the opponent up.
4. Low kicks sometimes, usually no more than 1-2 per minute: usually lands.
5. He loves his hooks- with his right hook being his most effective punch- both has shown its effectiveness.
Jake's hook tendencies in last three fights:
a) Waits for you to come in, he ducks under the incoming punch -or takes the kick- and throws a hook in response. He is effective with either hand but more often and more so with right hand, and these reasons are precisely why people call him a good counterpuncher. This is his most effective tendency within his hook tendencies.
b) He shoots forward with a hook. When his opponent is willing to trade or does not interrupt Jake's rhythm, Jake proceeds into a left-right or right-left hook combination.
c) If you allow him and stay in exchange range, it becomes a 3 or even 5+ hook combo. When it's 5+ I call it "Juggernaut Mode" : happened many times in Kampmann fight.
Nate appeared to have a game plan coming in to fight Jake. His game plan looked like this:
1. Utilize a lot of movement
2. Use long range attacks:
a) Utilize straight punch range
Good strategy in theory, except three major problems:
a) Nate is not very good at the straight punch range - he is better at brawling in exchange range, which happens to be Jake's area of strength. This means that Jake is a bad stylistic matchup for Nate. His jabs don't land against Jake, and he telegraphs and throws a right hand after poorly feinting his jab. His inability to execute straight punches led to punishment.
b) He stopped following the initial strategy and went into chasing mode as soon as he caught Jake's low kick and off-balanced him; Nate landed a few punches. Moments later, after losing an exchange and getting countered as he went for a takedown (both of which he initiated), he changed to a kicking mode where he almost always backed up... A general principle is that when you are backing up it becomes very difficult to kick effectively. *See Jack Slack's Barboza article or just watch the Crocop vs Fedor fight.
c) Nate's kicks are predictable, relatively slow, and quite technically flawed. It lacks proper balance during kick recovery and often had no defence. Against an explosive power puncher, you are asking for trouble by kicking in this manner.
These three major problems is a recipe for disaster against Jake, and precisely why the fight ended the way it did.
How the fight ended:
Nate landed several kicks and was able to avoid the hook range, up until he got backed up against the cage. After Jake felt that he would get the better of the exchanges, he pressed forward, using a heavy and loaded base to back Nate up. Perhaps with "ring or octagon craft" *see Jack's article, he threw a missing left hook that shifted Nate to the cage.
To follow up, he threw the right straight to the body, setting up a left-right hook combination. The right straight to the body didn't really land, but the function was to have Nate back up against the cage and set up an entrance for his following punches. With the entrance set up and tactic being successful, Nate had no more room to move back. While already out of position, Nate decided to respond with a poorly executed roundhouse, simultaneously allowing Jake to unleash his best weapon- landing solidly with his right hook that ultimately ended the fight.
This was deliberate offensive execution that was combined with porous defence from his opponent.
Unless you know your range and timing really well, you should set up kicks. It would be wise to use punches in order to test their movement- if they shift back it's a good time to kick. *Jay Hieron executed this relatively well. This is because when kicked -with enough power- in this manner, the opponent is off-balanced: makes it rather difficult to lunge forward properly.
Even if you set them up, you better make sure that you are doing technically and strategically sound roundhouses. That is, you better reach your swing arm straight across with your other hand protecting your chin. Your jaw should also be protected by your swinging shoulder. All of this is particularly appropriate against a puncher, let alone an explosive puncher.
But instead, Nate swung out his arm down: a maneuver done for power. Nate's non-swinging hand was really just flinging around. These are text-book mistakes by most if not all accounts: the only people that can get away with this are kickers with great timing and understanding of kicking range.
Even competent kickers would caution against such technique against a power puncher- someone who will often opt to take the kick and lunge forward to knock you out. It would also be wise to recover your swinging hand to protect yourself after, or stiff-arming your opponent as you back-pedal and circle out [CroCop Style]. *This applies in particular to anyone who is not great at evading punches.
Other viable alternatives include closing the range into clinch range -as the opponent moves in- or throwing straight punches as you back-pedal. Of all the things Nate can and should do to follow his kicking strategy, the only thing he did with consistency was back-pedal, which is neither technically nor strategically sound in and of itself. When you become predictable and execute technically flawed kicks against a power puncher, you are asking to get knocked out.
This fight showed that Jake has a tendency to lead with his right hand (3-4 times per round) and that it's an excellent time to counter him with straight punches. Jake practically misses all of his lead right hands, allowing Hieron to follow up with clean straight strikes.
But the most important lesson of this fight- Hieron disrupted the entrance and rhythm of Jake with his jabs. He would follow his jabs with well-executed low kicks or above waist level kicks.
His most interesting tactic was his high kicks- they pinned Jake's right hand in- making it very difficult to fire off his best punch. He actually did this quite often and Jake had little response for this.
With these tactics, he was relatively successful at maintaining distance and disrupting Jake's rhythm. Hieron lost the fight because of 3 main reasons (29-28 Decision):
1. Gets caught when he tries to lead with a non-straight punch 2. Gets caught when he goes for a takedown. 3. Just that he gets taken down by Jake.
If I had to hypothesize, these lessons inspired Nate to try and fight the way he wanted to fight.
Despite that Kampmann won, it had many lessons of what not to do against Jake. Martin let Jake go into "Juggernaut Mode" four times. That's once with a 5 punch combo, and literally three times with an 8-punch combo- most of which were hooks or looping punches. This happened because they moved into exchange range and not only so, Kampmann didn't do anything to disrupt it and he generally kept moving back in a straight-line. This is also how he got knocked flying against Hendricks.
You cannot do such a thing with Jake, unless you want to eat the floor.
The fight ended as soon as Jake was put into a Thai Plum. He did what many beginners do and it was reminiscent of how and why Rich Franklin got knocked out by Anderson Silva. In Jake's defence, his energy was low from going into "Juggernaut Mode" three times in 15 seconds. It's actually a little funny how he went into it. He was backed up against the cage and he disliked it so much he just decided to lean back and bring out the Juggernaut in him.
(Sorry, couldn't find Juggnaut #4)
From this fight, there are four lessons:
1. If Jake goes into Juggernaut Mode, and in general, don't move back in a straight line.
2. It'd be wise to interrupt him in his combos with straight punches, they are all looping punches that are slower (and have more distance to travel) than straight punches.
3. He got tired from going into Juggernaut Mode too many times
4. He did not instinctively know how to defend a Thai Plum.
From these four lessons, it's quite easy to see how and why Jay Hieron and Nate Marquardt implemented their game plan.
The blue print to beat Jake Ellenberger:
The blueprint to win can be derived from these three fights -which happened in a 1 year time frame. To win against Jake in striking, Rory would ideally have these traits:
1. Be better at exchanging in medium (hook) range. This is both unlikely and dangerous. Although Rory has good elbows and punches in this range- it can work, but I'd seriously think twice about using it.
2. Competent at throwing straight punches. Rory is quite competent at this and he knows his range well. He needs to have a good enough feint, safety lead jab, and counter jab for interruption *See any of Jack's articles about the jab. GSP will also help him a lot with this, and it was displayed against BJ. He throws more straight punches and jabs than any other technique. His 3.5 inch reach advantage is also pretty important here. Straight punches alone can and probably will cause Jake problems.
3. Be a technical and defensively competent kicker. A kicker that can go high to pin in his right arm, as well as go low to off balance him- a major factor will be whether he telegraphs his kicks (he doesn't much already). While Rory isn't a great kicker, he does set them up, and he does have tricky high kicks.
He punches out to ensure a safer exit and prevents counters with it; he also employs the stiff-arm tactic as he back-pedals. His tendency is more with swings across *with anything but low kicks, though most of the time his non-swinging hand is out of position (*very few have the discipline to always position it perfectly).
With low kicks Rory swings down and leaves both sides quite open- though it could be because he could get away with it. This is pretty unacceptable against Jake: the next breakdown will discuss this in much greater detail. It seems quite possible that they will develop his kicks even more for this fight. This will also probably play a big factor.
4. Have good movement, know when to circle out of exchange. Rory needs to pick his fight very carefully, though he tends to be patient and has competent footwork.
5. Can and will engage the clinch- prevent and eliminate the medium range as often as possible. Rory does engage in the clinch, though I'm not sure how well he can execute this against Jake.
Range and Strategy
There are three ranges in striking: long range, medium range, and short range. Rory is most competent in the long range and how well he does in this fight is contingent on the execution of techniques in this range. If this range does not work, he can engage the clinch.
Jake is almost exclusively competent in the medium-exchange range; the key for Rory is to pick Jake apart and defuse his hook bombs. Rory is one of the more complete strikers in the division- he does have the skills needed to win, and by all means this is not an easy fight for Jake.
I know for a fact that Tri-Star emphasizes a "chaos-removal strategy". Though Rory is not as extreme as GSP at employing this, it's pretty necessary here. I'm almost certain Blue Print points #2 and #3 will be strongly emphasized during his camp.
It just so happens that Rory's tools of strength are what counter's Jake's striking skill-sets. Jake should know this, and it appears that he is trying to get into Rory's head by trying to frustrate him over twitter and the media. Jake is most likely doing this with the hope that it will drive Rory into trading with him- a range that he has the best chance in.
Not a bad idea, but Firas Zahabi has probably thought all this out with much more intricacy.
Thanks for reading!