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 breakdown analyzes Rory Macdonald.
Being touted as a fighter that represents what's to come- the ones that can "do it all", Rory is believed to have a very deep bag of tricks.
This is precisely why analyzing Jake Ellenberger is Part 1 and Rory Macdonald is Part 2. Due to Rory's comprehensive skill set, there is so much more than Jake to dissect, analyze, and expose. Basically, Rory is a generalist that is also a specialist in a few categories. In this breakdown, I try to reveal both his specialist strengths and his generalist flaws in his last three fights.
*Since Rory has such a diverse skill set, I'll have to change up / play with the format a bit.
The strengths of Rory are discussed, but his more exploitable tendencies are discussed in much greater detail. There is a constant discussion of technical flaws, and in the end there is a discussion of general strategy for Jake and the matchup.
How the fight went : Rory pretty much threw his deep bag of tricks at BJ, with little to no effective response in return. The fight metric supports this: it was 116 significant strikes from Rory and 24 from BJ. If we were to include non-clinch strikes it's probably a bit more than a dozen, and ten of those would probably be jabs. Rory dominated in a spectacular fashion showing a diverse set of attacks, but despite this fact, Rory actually showed many tendencies that could be exploited by Jake.
Tendencies against BJ:
1. Utilize the Jab: He is willing to trade or throw counter jabs often; he back-pedals out or circles out against leaping punches- either stiff arms or jabs as he is backing up. He uses his jab to interrupt BJ's combinations and rhythm. He will throw jab feints to test movement very often, about 2-3 feint per jab ratio- doing so makes him much more unpredictable.
He also throws effective step / leap in jabs, and although he protects his jaw-line with his shoulder quite well, he sometimes over-extends himself and he has a tendency to lower the right hand guard when doing so. His superman jab to low right kick was also quite effective. In short, literally anything he did with the jab was pretty successful in this fight.
2. Cage Use: Rory got backed up and clinched against the cage several times, but reverses with ease. Also, when he is close to the cage, Rory will throw badly positioned and off balanced left kicks with poor hand positioning.
*First time he threw a left kick he showed some cage awareness; the second time he did not.
3. Others: Two-three times a round he would slip left to throw a body shot, a few times he'd counter / step in with left elbow as BJ came in- worked beautifully. Sometimes he will disengage the clinch and throw a heavy right elbow.
4. Kicks: Rory chambers his right kicks *for anything about waist level. For high kicks, if he is in the long kick range he will tend to just throw it. If he is in medium kick range he will chamber it and see the reaction of the opponent and then shift his hips in order to deliver a high kick. It landed a few times against BJ, but it also got jammed several times.
He also misses several times and was able to defend himself by stiff-arming out and pushing BJ's shoulder with the right hand. Bj was actually so lost by Rory pulling this off that he just doesn't engage when Rory misses a kick and does the same maneuver again.
Rory lands his low kicks if he sets it up. When he goes straight for it, it generally fails by getting checked; he also threw a few really bad feints that didn't convince BJ and goes for the low kick anyways. He generally hits BJ with some effectiveness as long as he is not doing it when backing up.
Problems in these tendencies:
*He must either correct these habits or strongly caution against using them when facing Jake.
Jake hesitates with kicks in chamber; at times either getting stuffed, landing off balance or out of position. He relies on the stiff arm in a southpaw lean to get out.
For example, the reason he could easily play around with his chambered right kicks and not get punished is because BJ was already smothered by mainly his jabs, legs kicks, and off the clinch strikes. The truth is that his understanding of range and timing of his chambered kicks is moderate (I only say moderate because many others either don't kick or can't kick). Every kick he throws is rather technically moderate other than the ones he set up with his punches.
Several times against BJ, he put up his kicks into chamber but he couldn't fire it off, the result is resorting to stiff arm -push defence. You don't want to be doing this against Jake. The stiff-arm and push will help you out, but not only will u probably get taken down, it'll be hard to stuff Jake's explosiveness.
BJ only got his left shoulder stuffed because he didn't know how to react to a) the chamber kick b) this exact defence. More importantly, BJ does normally leap in with a right hook *nor is he super explosive. Jake however, is very athletic and will right hook you any chance you give him. He would probably just shift his head into / under the stiff arm, and his left shoulder will whip back as he shoots forward with his hook. A slow and out of position stiff-arm reaction off a failed kick isn't going to work nearly as well against Jake as it would against BJ. Before going into it further, it's important to first see the relevant variables.
Base and Balance:
* a shuffle or switch actually requires a good solid base and balance, not just fast feet.
Not as spectacular now is it ;).
Despite that you may believe that the first GIF is a slip- it may be- it's nonetheless pretty conclusive and surprising that Rory doesn't actually have smooth kick recovery, solid kicking balance, or a stable kicking-base in any kick that isn't a low kick. He actually does not have technical defence in any of his kicks aside from (sometimes) swinging his arms across.
* Two minutes into round one, Rory attempts a switch step into a switch kick and slightly off-balances himself- BJ did nothing and had a late reaction in moving back and therefore it cannot be that BJ moved out of range. It's a little funny that when he lost the timing he decides to switch back and perform a successful right low kick.
But even worse, with 1:19 left in round 1, he actually throws a roundhouse / upkick straight to BJ's downward elbow after attempting to set it up with a left hook. Rory proceeded to land in an awkward and off-balanced southpaw stance.*
These flaws appear most often in his left and right mid-section roundhouses:
It's one thing to not know your range, miss, and drop ur leg in the front, but another to consistently hesitate or be off- balance and out-of-position after it. Later on, even a hurt BJ almost landed a sternum right hook shot when Rory hesitated- proceeding to land in an out-of-position southpaw stance.
*Spoiler: Bad news is that this tendency is repeated and drew a similar reaction in his fight against Che.
This is a wonderful way to get hit with a heavy and clean counter: e.g. right kick to sternum, right hook to sternum, right hook to the face, left low kick to off balance, left hook over the stiff-arm, all of which Jake is capable of doing..It's not very difficult to execute a powerful counter when you see this but you have to recognize it and fire away without hesitation. It's apparent that BJ and his camp did not recognize this tendency. By all means, this is a dangerous tendency, and if Jake's camp picked it up during their studies, it'll likely spell some major trouble for Rory.
In regards to his display of successful Thai switch left kicks- they were actually executed to a very hurt BJ, meaning it's difficult to recognize just how well Rory knows the timing of this technique.
An Even More Concerning Tendency
The most concerning of all these exploitable tendencies is that when he gets backed up by BJ, Rory proceeds to throw a badly positioned and off balanced left kicks with poor hand positioning. Guess who else did this?
Almost déjà vu: Rory was pushed back towards the cage, and BJ tried to set up the entrance with a right straight to the body to back Rory up even more to follow with a left hook. Like Nate, Rory threw a simultaneous left kick during the setup / entrance. Though BJ's hook did not land heavy, Rory's hands were very out of position. *About the only good thing Rory did do here was that he had some cage awareness and put his forearm / hand on the cage to support his balance [another indication of non-stable base / balance].
But later on during the fight, he repeats the same kick and mistake with no cage awareness. BJ wasn't able to capitalize on this, but Jake has shown to be extremely dangerous here. Not only is he dangerous when he has you against the cage, he is much more dangerous if you try a silly kick like that. Rory absolutely cannot do anything that even resemble this tendency in his fight against Jake, unless he wants to sleep.
Twenty seconds in Rory got hit with a clean lead (left) inside kick. He showed an odd reaction in that he reached for it as if he tried to deflect it- with palm facing down (if it was for a catch then it would not be positioned this way)- this is a pretty good way to deflect if you want to break your hand.
**Moments later, Che's kick actually off-balanced Rory's stance so much that Rory switches to a southpaw stance and stiff-arms with his right hand to block out some angle to enter with. This worked in this instance as Che did not fire off strikes, but the explosive left-right/right-left hook combo would be quite appropriate in this position. Che actually almost threw a left hook AND a right hook (he telegraphed / hesitated both) but decided not to out of intuition. The fast regain of balance and footwork from Rory was what prevented the combination.
This is actually not so different from the kicking tendency mentioned earlier. The main difference is that Rory wasn't as off-balanced and out of position as he is with his kicking tendencies. **
Afterwards, Rory went on to take a low right kick again- he tried to throw some hooks which had little success, with Che coming forward with medium range strike of his own. Che used superior speed and understanding of straight strikes to back up Rory to the cage.
**When Rory got backed up towards the cage- he tries to move out but Che trapped him with feinting a left hook. As Rory tried to move out the other way Che lands a *solid right hook, *this all happened while Rory switched into a defensive southpaw stance- a very similar one to the one he employs when he got off balanced with the kick.**
As Che rushes in for the solid hook, he also puts his body weight on Rory to engage a clinch battle, which Rory reverses and disengages *refer to clinch tendency earlier.
Shortly after, Che comes forward and throws several strikes, Rory decides to trade and loses the exchange. He went for a jab and got engaged into single-hand clinch where he realized his opponent has better understanding of strikes in the long range, medium range, as well as the short range. This made Rory opt for the takedown, which led to punishing Che on the ground.
Che lands two jabs and again Rory throws a right kick that misses and leaves him overly off balance. He realizes by this point that his striking with Che is not strategically sound, so he moves back to draw in a strike and then went for the takedown as a step-in-punch came in. From there he ended the fight with swift ground work and heavy ground strikes.
These two fights alone provide enough evidence to deem his tendencies consistent and exploitable.
*The last fight against Mike Pyle really only reassures Rory's strengths.
1. Competent straight puncher
2. Competent medium range strikes
3. Competent wrestling and grappling
4. Awesome ground and pound
Final Discussion of Exploitable Tendencies:
Rory throws his right kick from a really long stance and he has to make a dramatic rotation to throw the kick. Not having a solid base / balance makes a swift pivot in such position difficult, which also in turn make the kick much more slow and predictable.
Traditional martial art kickers can do this effectively for a few reasons- they chamber really well, they feint their hips*see Machida, they shift in and out a lot with their movement, and they have the balance (or tricks such as the side kick follow up) to recovery their kick.
Unfortunately, Rory has not developed such things. Also important is that the base and balance transfers to other things, such as creating more power or not getting backed up as much. They also help the pivot quite a bit and hence allow your strikes to be much more swift and powerful.
I'm not suggesting that a switch to southpaw defence with a stiff-arm cannot be used effectively. Rather, I'm pointing out the problems with how Rory does it. The problem exists because he uses it to compensate for his off-balance and tries to employ it off an awkward position.
Rory has not shown to be competent in striking from such a stance, an indicator that he does not have a comprehensive understanding of the angles and timings while in southpaw. This means that he is in a purely defensive mode- when you are not of threat and lack competent defence, the odds are really stacked against you.
General Strategy to Beat Rory Macdonald in Striking for Jake
1. Avoid straight punching range- this is what Rory "specializes" in. This is also the range that Jake is not particularly effective in.
2. Wait for him to kick, make mistake, and counter. He makes mistakes so often that it doesn't necessarily take patience to find it.
3. Back him up against the cage, if you see southpaw switch, immediately fire away with a left right / right left hook combination
4. It'd probably be wise to avoid the clinch due to elbows and his strong clinch. Jake also has a relatively weak understanding of Thai clinches.
After doing this striking analysis, the match up appears to be much more dynamic and exciting than previously thought. It's true that Rory will utilize his straight punches to stop Jake before he even starts. It's also probably true that Firas Zahabi would caution him against kicking. But in the past few fights Rory has shown the willingness to trade and test most of his ranges.
Even worse is that Rory consistently get backed up to the cage by opponents with a lesser base than Jake. And if Rory chooses to kick, he makes increasingly more exploitable tendencies. The amount of evidence in Rory's last two fights alone should allow Jake's camp to pick up some sound strategy.
There are of course many other ways to win the fight by each fighter. For example, since Jake can low kick and right hook effectively, he can use an inside low kick (to plant the opponent) into a looping right hook over a jab / hand in a similar way Dan Henderson uses his signature move *see Jack's article.
And finally, we should not exclude the improbable: despite Jake being very dangerous in mid-range, Rory may decide to test and trade with Jake in the medium range; Rory may even get the better of the exchange due to setups; Jake may just come up over Rory's straight punches and by-pass his shoulder defence. Perhaps Rory even made corrections to these tendencies in the past 8 months, and Jake can somehow establish good straight punches now. Such probabilities inherently exist as they are elite professional athletes.
This is exactly what makes this fight exciting. Due to the chaotic nature of combat sports and the styles that each fighter brings to the table, we can't be precisely sure of what we'll see. But what we do know is that both fighters have exactly what it takes to beat each other, and this is precisely why the art of striking is beautiful chaos.
Thank you for reading, you guys have been awesome. My next analysis will most likely be post-fight.