In the aftermath of one of the most exciting fight nights ever there's a lot to talk about. While fights like McGregor vs Holloway and Brandao vs Pineda (which I will be writing about) were great, they can't quite match the explosion that occurred each time a shocking finish punctuated a fun fight. So let's talk about the highlight reel moments and break down the finishes from last night.
Update: Ovince St. Preux vs Cody Donovan
This Strikeforce import made a hell of an impression in his second UFC fight. I didn't see this whole fight and only manage to find this gif so I'll talk about the things I see in it:
St. Preux does a nice job reversing the takedown here. You can't really see it from this angle so you'd have to watch the replays they show after the fight but try to see the whizzer he has on the right arm of Donovan. As he goes down, he rips hard with that whizzer so that he lands on his side and is able to quickly pop up onto his knees while still pulling with the whizzer. Donovan lands on top of St. Preux's hips, so he is able to pull down on the arm and pop up with his hips to roll Donovan onto his back. In the scramble, Donovan manages to to quickly thread his left knee across the stomach of St. Preux and use that to establish a guard. However, he fails to control St. Preux's posture and foolishly tries to strike his upright opponent from the bottom position. With the right arm neither controlling nor blocking, Donovan leaves an opening for St. Preux to land an unblocked left hook that rocks him and follow up hooks that finish him. The lesson here: break down the posture. If you can't do that, use your hands to control or to block: not to strike.
James Vick vs Ramsey Nijem
I didn't watch this whole fight either and have no analysis to add. The choke is already in before the gif starts and there aren't any major adjustments going on, just the finish:
Well, this was a quick one. In a match-up between two men who each have over 30 career fights, the older veteran Brown was laid out by the younger veteran Siler in under a minute. So what happened that went so horribly wrong for the former WEC champion? Balance, posture, positioning and footwork. First, enjoy the gif:
You can see how Brown was moving forward with an abundance of aggression and momentum. Siler retreats and tries to circle then throws a short right uppercut as he gets backed against the cage. Brown drops to the floor and Siler pounces for the finish, landing two hard shots with his right hand that clearly put Brown to sleep before he wakes up and reaches for the ref's leg. So how was that short uppercut, the first clean punch of the fight, able to essentially end the fight?
In the above image, I've drawn some reference lines to help explain. First, let's look at Mike Brown. I would normally point out that his feet are facing the wrong directions and he's completely square to Siler but you can't really tell here so just take my word for it. On top of being fully squared and exposing his center, Brown is leaning way over his feet. Look at the vertical red line on the left frame. That represents the absolute farthest distance his head should ever travel in that direction. As it stands, his balance is compromised and he is basically falling forward. Next, look at his back. You can see that it rounds when it should be straight. As a result, his head is looking downwards and the blue line represents the angle he would need to be looking at to see his target. Notice that even attempting to look at that target takes his eyes completely off of Siler's hands, which are below his head. There is really nothing going right for Brown at this point. Now, look at Siler. He is also partially squared but his feet are still in better position than Brown's and he has some semblance of a stance. Most importantly, look at the horizontal reference line drawn at the top of his rear shoulder. You can see that Siler's left shoulder is above that line, which would normally be good if he wasn't square enough for Brown's punches to bypass that shoulder and if he wasn't defending a left hook. Also note that his chin is above both shoulders while his positioning is compromised. If you showed me just that image, I would guess that Brown was about to land a sloppy left hook on the exposed chin of Siler.
However, looking at the second frame on the right, Siler does a very good job landing a counter right uppercut. Look at the horizontal reference line again and see that his rear shoulder has come upwards and slightly above both the left shoulder and the chin. Also note that his head has moved to the right (his left) so that Brown's fist now occupies the space where his head used to be. Both of these things are accomplished via shifting the weight from the right hip to the left hip. This is extremely important because it gives the puncher both leverage, natural shoulder protection and natural head movement without compromising balance or posture. Notice how Siler is upright while Brown is still bent forward. This knockout really shows the value of posture, positioning and proper mechanics, as well as proper punch selection. The right uppercut is the perfect counter to an opponent leaning forward and ducking down, so Siler lands it with devastating effect.
After beating on Pickett for a large part of the first round, McDonald found himself on his back in the second. All that ended up doing was giving him the opportunity to show that he's dangerous no matter where you take him. Let's look at the setup to the triangle choke finish.
In the first frame at the top left, there is a lot that needs to be observed. This wasn't a wild and lucky triangle attempt; this was set up, timed and executed very well. The first thing to look at is the two red reference lines. One represents the plane of the hips of Pickett, the other represents the hips of Mcdonald. The important thing is that these lines are NOT parallel to each other; McDonald has moved his hips offline and angled them. Next, look at the circle on the bottom right of that frame. You can see there that Mcdonald is controlling the left arm and head of Pickett with his arms. This both helps him keep his hips offline and ensures that he can counter if Pickett tries to posture up, which is important later. Finally, look at the position of McDonald's left knee in the armpit of Pickett. He has moved it all the way up with the help of the angle of his hips. It is ready to bypass the right arm at a moment's notice and has very little distance to travel to do so. Also observe that Pickett is in the middle of throwing a punch.
In the second frame on the top right, Pickett is withdrawing his punch. The beauty here is that Mcdonald times it so that he swings his leg over as Pickett is moving his arm away, making it very difficult for Pickett to defend. At the same time, he brings his right leg higher up on Pickett's back as he lifts his hips up and tries to lock his ankles.
In the bottom left frame, Mcdonald has succeeded in locking his ankles and still has control of the left arm. From this position, he is easily able to position his left foot under the knee of his right leg and secure the triangle position. Also realize here that he has squared his hips up and put them back inline with Pickett's to do so, and observe that Pickett is standing up and trying to posture out of it. This is where the arm control becomes so important. McDonald has kept his firm grip on the left arm and is now beginning to straighten it out and threaten to break the arm if Pickett continues to posture up. Now, enjoy this gif of the finish:
With the triangle firmly established and the left arm under threat, Pickett is in a lot of trouble. He realizes that he will not be able to simply posture out of the triangle, so he instead tries to escape by stepping over to spin away from the choke. He wants to rotate away from the biting leg on his right side. He is hoping to loosen the choke in the transition and possibly pass the guard in the process. Unfortunately for him, McDonald is savvy and the choke is already very tight. McDonald simply has too much control and is able to roll with Pickett and tighten the choke. Unfortunately, you can't really see it in this gif, but McDonald does a really good job transitioning to a very dangerous finishing position after losing the armbar. With Pickett's posture broken, McDonald adjusts by shifting his hips to his left (the opposite of the angle he used to initiate the triangle) and underhooking the right arm of Pickett. This completely breaks down Pickett's posture and he uses the grip to keep the left arm tight across Pickett's body as well, further decreasing the space inside the legs. Pickett is hopeless at this point and is forced to tap out to an incredibly technical triangle choke.
There honestly isn't much to break down after this fight. Essentially, Matt Brown hits hard and knows how to chase guys down. His clinch is something to fear and he's very good at using hooks to line people up for his other punches and to enter the clinch. However, for all they're worth as tools to guide the opponent's movement, they can also knock people out. As Brown rushed in, Pyle makes the mistake of squaring up as he retreats. He then tries to duck for a takedown without taking his head offline as he goes down. As a result, he ends up standing right in front of Brown and eating a pretty short right hand that leads to the finish. My only complaint is that I didn't get to witness any of the brutal clinchwork of my favorite welterweight. Enjoy the gif:
Oh boy. I'm going to skip the obvious cardio issues and illegal knee of Overeem and instead talk about a flaw in his game that I think really illustrates fundamental concepts of MMA striking, and really striking in general. Before that, hats off to Travis Browne. He survived the knees, he survived the guillotine, he survived the ground punches and everything Overeem threw at him. I personally was convinced the fight was over after some of the shots he took but he endured and ended the fight in a knockout that is rivaled only by the come-from-behind knockout earned by Bigfoot previously.
So how did he do it? By using a technique that I absolutely love: the front snap kick:
The first thing to look at is Overeem's stance. His weight is forward and he's slightly crouched, putting his head both forward and lower. If you look at the gif, you can see that Overeem's head is about chest height on Browne, not very far above Browne's hips. This greatly shortens the distance that the kick has to travel and makes it difficult to see coming. Now, Browne had thrown plenty of these kicks throughout the fight. It is very clear that they were a huge part of his game plan. This was very intelligent as Overeem has shown the tendency to get heavy on the front foot with his hands down in every UFC fight. The front snap kick is the perfect technique to capitalize on that stance with, especially when you take into account that Browne is already taller than Overeem.
Now, the flaw I want to talk about in Overeem's game is his blocking with the forearms. If you watch in that gif, you'll see him rotate his palms inward as he attempts to lift his gloves and forearms to protect his face. The problem with this is that he's not wearing kickboxing gloves. He's wearing very small MMA gloves and relying on them for defense. There is no natural or built-in protection to his stance. A gassed Overeem is standing there with his head an easy target, without the energy to move his head as he would have previously. He thus falls back on a defensive technique which might have been good enough in larger gloves but is essentially useless in MMA gloves. When a fighter has no energy left, he falls back on the most heavily ingrained techniques in his muscle memory. Overeem proved here that when his gas tank is draining, he's going to become very easy to hit since all he has left is blocking from a poor stance. There are simply too many openings left to go either right through that guard as Browne did, or around it as Hunt and JDS did to Struve. What I'm hoping to demonstrate here is that blocking is not a primary method of defense, it is merely a very flawed safeguard in case everything else fails. On it's own, blocking is essentially worthless as Browne proved. With larger gloves, simply blocking can be good enough but it is never ideal. As a matter of fact, the only fighter I can think of in MMA history who ever knew how to block and counter effectively is Rampage Jackson; and even he was using head movement while blocking to load up his counter punches.
Chael Sonnen vs Shogun Rua:
Another absolute shock. If you predicted Sonnen to win by guillotine in the first round then I hope you made a lot of money last night because you deserve it. Maybe you saw it coming when he used a guillotine to help him stand up earlier in the round after Shogun took him down (who saw that coming?) but I sure as hell didn't. Sonnen did a really good job locking it up in the transition as Shogun tried to perform one of his trademarks. From the half guard, Shogun locked up an underhook on both the leg and the arm.
In the first frame on the left, you can see both underhooks. Shogun also has his hips out to the side and is preparing to attack. Often, Shogun will transition to this position so that he can sit up, then rock back and use the space created to attack the left leg of Sonnen (gif taken from this article: http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2013/8/15/4528254/ufc-FS1-fox-fight-night-judo-chop-deep-half-guard-shogun-rua-chael-sonnen).
However, you can see in the second frame that as Shogun sits up, Chael gets his hips back and starts threatening with a guillotine. As a result, Shogun will not be able to maneuver his head where it needs to go for him to attack the leg. However, Sonnen has no control of his hips so Shogun steps his legs back and escapes the half guard. Unfortunately for him, Sonnen still has the neck as they stand up.
And he's able to jump guard to finish the choke. Chael's grip on the neck is nearly unbreakable and Shogun can neither crossface hard enough or get his hand in deep enough to loosen the choke and survive. Chael extends with his hips and rips on the neck, forcing Shogun to tap out.
Sonnen almost definitely planned for this. He caught Shogun in the middle of attempting to set up the technique every commentator and sports analyst had been talking about all night. That was some slick jiu-jitsu in the transition and Sonnen really surprised me with that win.
Well, that about wraps up the Finishes from Last Night. I hope this piece gives you a better understanding and appreciation of the techniques that lead to the most exhilarating moments from an action-packed card!