Some Quick Analysis of Gustafsson's Best Work

I don't have a whole lot of time to write a complete breakdown of Gustafsson before his fight tomorrow, as much as I'd like to. However, I wrote about him previously so I decided to share it with you. This is by no means a complete analysis of Gustafsson as a fighter, merely some observations based on some highlights. Let's get right into it:

Rising Star: Alexander Gustafsson (via UFC)

Skip to 0:40 and you'll immediately be introduced to one of Gustaffson's favorite tricks: a lead right hand combined with a step with his right leg. I'll delve deeper into his favorite followups for this technique later, but for now let's just appreciate how beautiful the knockout is. Watch how he hops to his right slightly, plants and explodes forward from an angle to smash his right straight into the face of his opponent. This is the definition of circling then catching an opponent as he turns. Pause at 0:43. If you get it at the right time, just as the punch lands, you'll see that his opponent's feet are facing off to his sides and in no position to do anything. This is what allows Gustafsson to explode forward with so much momentum. It isn't a feat of speed, it's a feat of timing and creating openings.

Fast forward to 1:40 and you'll see the same right hand lead make an appearance. Notice that this time, his opponent is savvy enough to retreat instead of attempting to counter from a poor position, but not enough to circle instead of backing into the cage. Gustafsson uses a cool trick here, he keeps his forward momentum going and steps his right foot all the way through to switch stances and move off to the right. From southpaw, he throws a jab that beats the cross Diabate tries to counter with. With Gustafsson's body blocking the exit to the left, Dibate tries to circle away to his own right. Gustafsson anticipates this and turns fast enough to drop him with a left hook that he circles into.

At 2:01, we see that Gustafsson has backed Hamill into the cage. Hamill, being a wrestler, is prone to ducking when he panics and feels cornered. Gustafsson capitalizes on this habit by leading in with an uppercut (still a right hand lead while stepping forward, noticing a pattern?) that comes in from the side. He uses the momentum from the step to shove Hamill into the cage and land a second sneaky right uppercut in the space created. He then lands two more free shots as Hamill circles out. This is great footwork because it shows him coming from an angle to land a well picked shot then using his footwork to put him in position to muscle Hamill in the clinch and land followup shots.

In the next sequence starting immediately after, we see more of Gustafsson's rushing footwork. Notice his long steps as he blitzes forward. Committing to attacks like that is only safe when the opponent is incapable of or unwilling to counter. Gustafsson gets away with it because he always uses lateral movement at the beginning of these rushes. In this example, he leads with a left hook as he hops inside Hamill's jab, then is safe to run forward because Hamill is already on the defensive and in no position to counter. Note his use of the uppercut as the second punch in this exchange to ensure Hamill stands upright instead of shooting. This forces Hamill to run backwards or circle, but he only has the skill to move straight back. Another extremely important detail of this exchange is where they end up. See how Gustafsson runs straight at him using straight shots as he backs up. As soon as Hamill stops moving and starts ducking, Gustafsson switches to uppercuts and starts moving to the side so that he can end up on Hamill's side in the clinch and use it to turn him.

The finish of that fight is just a series of well picked shots. Gustafsson is a man who knows how to use the right tools in the right situations. He uses uppercuts to split the guard when Hamill is in front of him and a right hook when Hamill tries to circle away. Punch selection and footwork are related. When you're in a good position like that and you don't want your opponent to escape, using the right punches will keep the opponent from moving in a direction you don't want him to move in. Angles are best when used to specifically land certain punches that you see openings for. In this fight, Gustafsson constantly uses his angles to land uppercuts when he normally throws a lot of straight punches. Look at the final punch he lands to drop Hamill. Hamill's feet are pointing off to Gustafsson's sides while Gustafsson has his lead shoulder, hip, foot and fist all contained in a plane that splits Hamill's body in half down the middle. This is the most picture perfect example of an inside angle that you're ever likely to see.

Now we move on to the second highlight:

Alex Gustafsson Highlight [2012] (via MMACENTRAL801)

The first thing you'll see comes at 1:09 when he drops Thiago Silva with a beautiful uppercut. In this knockdown, his control of range is what's important. Gustafsson's reach and movement made Silva desperate to close the distance. As a result, he ducks and leads with a haymaker that Gustafsson has plenty of time to see and react to. The beauty of the footwork here is that Gustafsson is content to stay in a range JUST outside where he can be hit quickly. From there, he is ready to counter an opponent who is desperate to come forward or work to create an opening to rush through. In this instance, we see his control of range being used to take advantage of an opponent willing to lead. He uses a nice check hook as he hops back slightly after the uppercut as well, but Silva is already falling and it misses. So while there doesn't appear to be any real footwork going on here, it exists in the sense that it is used to keep Gustafsson at the perfect distance to counter or to lead.

Enjoy the jab knockdown at 1:20 for now, but I'll come back to it later when it's shown at a better angle. Instead, look at 1:26 to see Gustafsson once again controlling the range so that he can land easily while the opponent has to leap in. This is another example of his using footwork to maximize the benefits of his height and reach.

There's a lot to talk about starting at 1:40. Look very closely as soon as it cuts to the exchange and you'll see Gustafsson moving to his right in preparation to lead with a right uppercut on an opponent who is already retreating. He probably would have been better off with his right straight, but the important part is that he steps forward and switches stances (as we know he loves to do). From southpaw, he throws a rear head kick that cuts the opponent off from circling to Gustafsson's left. With the opponent's movement to the left halted, Gustafsson plants his left foot after the kick (switching stances again) and steps left with it so than he can get a better angle to kick his opponent in the head with a front kick. From there, he goes into the southpaw stance and pins Hamill against the cage to go for the finish (see above, I talked about this finish in the first highlight). This shows you how Gustafsson uses his footwork to both set up kicks and punches, while cornering the opponent. Switching stances is generally something that I don't like, but he does it so strategically in this exchange that I can only admire it. Note again how the strikes he use each have specific purposes. The uppercut keeps Hamill upright and retreating, the left kick cuts off his escape, the right kick does damage and pushes him into the cage, the uppercuts split his guard and do damage, the right hook cuts off his retreat to the other side and the final uppercuts finish the job. That's a brilliant combination to end the fight, perfectly tailored and adapted to the situation. He attempts a very similar sort of combination against Thiago Silva at 2:28, but it isn't as successful. It does once again show his use of the uppercut to force opponents to retreat though.

Back to that jab knockdown. If you go to 2:10 you see it from a better angle. Watch Gustafsson circle just out of range until Matyushenko leaps in with a desperate left. Gustafsson keeps his cool and has time to react because of his footwork, plus he has an outside angle at the time his jab lands. He gets hit too, but the important part is he only got hit because Matyushenko rushed forward so quickly that he got laid out by a jab. That's how to control the range AND use lateral footwork to take angles everyone.

Gustafsson vs Rua (via salvador valencia)

About 20 seconds in, he moves to a very far angle behind his jab. He actually moves outside a low kick (seriously, I don't think that kick lands at all, that's awesome!) that Shogun tries to counter with and manages to drop/trip him as he catches Shogun badly off balance.
At 0:56, you see him using that lead right uppercut again to close the distance, but this time he used it to punch into the clinch and land a knee.
At 1:03, you see him lead with a right straight to back Shogun against the cage and land a knee as he covers up. These two knees are the main reasons I decided to throw in this short video. Gustafsson often leads with his right hand and I discussed that it's safe for him because he takes angles beforehand. However, I left out that it's also safe because he uses that big step to rush into the clinch if his opponents try to stay in range and cover up. Against Shogun, who often defends by standing there and covering, Gustafsson exploited that defensive flaw by punching to close range then quickly transitioning to a clinch and landing a good knee. These are the best examples, but he frequently uses his rush to clinch up and avoid any counters. I talked about this a little when talking about the Hamill fight.
Finally, watch him use his jab to cut the cage off and corner Shogun at 1:08. With Shogun backed against the cage and stationary, he lands a beautiful front kick and uses the stance switch as he lands to retreat from the counter right.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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