Technique Recap (Part One): UFN 27 & UFC 164

Esther Lin | MMA Fighting

Another week another -- three UFC events? Connor recaps the best moments of technical brilliance from the weeks 40+ UFC fights, including Condit vs. Kampmann, Koch vs. Poirier, and Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone.

Man, what a busy week! The UFC's second Fox Sports 1 card, though not the name-filled affair that the channel debut was, did not disappoint for compelling fights. UFN 27 made it a great week for fight fans. So let's ge-what's that you say? There was another event this week? Ben Henderson lost his title to Anthony Pettis? Wow, sounds like a solid week for MMA! There's so much to break down, we should real-okay, I'm going to have to ask you to stop interrupting my article, but just this last time... say what?! Another event on Wednesday? The next light heavyweight contender and a new top middleweight determined? Shut the hell up.

Okay, no, I've just checked the facts and you're right: there were three UFC events in the span of seven days. Three events. And despite a few truly abhorrent preliminary fights, none of the events were completely awful. In fact, ignoring those particular prelims, these three events all turned in some excellent, action-packed fights.

The only distressing aspect of such frequent cards is that I'm struggling to find the time to cover them all. The solution? Write one massive recap to cover all the best moments of teachable technique from over 40 fights. That's right; the Technique Recap is back for its second edition, and it's gonna be a long one, even split up into two parts.

You might want to grab a drink.

Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Donald Cerrone-Entering Range

Gosh, who knew that Rafael Dos Anjos' striking could be so... pretty? Though I picked Donald Cerrone to win, I mentioned before the fight that RDA had it in him to be very competitive with Cowboy on the feet, and boy did that turn out to be an understatement.

One thing really struck me about Dos Anjos' approach to Cerrone-namely, his approach to Cerrone. Dos Anjos did a masterful job of entering range with his feet and hips first, letting his head come last. As a result, he was surprisingly hard to hit, and was able to pressure Cerrone very effectively without having to worry about any unseen strikes.

Rda-cerrone1_medium

You can see what I'm talking about here. Dos Anjos is probing, moving in and out of range with feints and strikes. As he moves forward, his lead foot enters range well before his head. His elbows are in tight, and his hands are ready to counter or defend. His back is straight and his shoulders relaxed. When he sees a strike coming, he pulls his weight back to his rear hip and takes his head away from the strike as he exits range. His eyes are always on his opponent.

Cerrone, in stark contrast, has both shoulders hunched forward. He stands tall with his head directly over his lead foot and his elbows flared. When he defends, he tends to flinch, crunching forward and covering himself with his hands before pushing his opponent away, his eyes leaving his opponent. Risky.

RDA also used his hips excellently throughout the fight. He pressured Cerrone early, denying him the chance to warm up to the fight.

Rda-cerrone2_medium

1. Dos Anjos moves in, feinting by probing with his lead foot and dropping his elevation.
2. He rotates onto his lead hip, testing Cerrone's reaction.
3. Back to the rear hip again. His eyes never leave Cerrone, no matter where his head goes.
4. And he goes to the lead hip again, this time with a winging left hand that Cerrone barely manages to parry.

RDA's pressure was very intelligent in this fight. He never rushed forward (like he so often used to do), and only commited to an attack when he found the right position. Those positions were found by way of his constant head movement (hip movement, really). He constantly gave Cerrone a different look, making himself hard to hit and simultaneously presenting one attack while secretly loading up another.

And though it's not the topic of this breakdown, Dos Anjos' commitment to body work must be praised. His frequent kicks and punches to the body of Cerrone set up numerous punches to the head, and allowed him to land on a much taller opponent with stunning ease.

Of course, all these factors combined resulted in this knockdown that spelled the beginning of the end for Cowboy. (GIF)

Huge improvement for Rafael dos Anjos.

Carlos Condit vs. Martin Kampmann-Position and Openings

My fellow analyst Jack Slack uses a phrase that I'm quite fond of to describe the concept of finishing combinations with the lead hand: he calls it "closing the door."

Many times when a fighter throws his rear hand, his weight comes forward and his head ends up over the lead hip or, worse, over the lead foot. This puts his head closer to the opponent, and opens up an angle for arguably the most dangerous of punches, the lead hook.

Jack posits this opening as a doorway in need of closing. In his version of "closing the door," the fighter follows his rear hand with his lead, for example a left hook following a straight right. Properly executed, a left hook should put the head back over the rear hip and slightly off-center, taking away the opponent's opportunity for attack. While a left hand following a right is wise, I'd like to expand Jack's phrase to mean not only follow-up strikes, but any action which puts the body back in defensive position. Whether it's a left hook, a slip, a roll, or even a well-executed pivot, it is necessary to close the door opened by the cross.

This concept was explored in full by Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann in their rematch at UFN 27. After dropping the first round to Kampmann's wrestling attack, Condit began to pick the Dane apart on the feet.

Condit-kampmann1_medium

1. Kampmann pursues Condit, who sticks him with a jab as he approaches the fence.
2. Kampmann, right hand always at the ready, throws a cross at Condit, but the Natural Born Killer times it perfectly, slipping and landing a right hand of his own. Both men are now in an "open door" position.
3. Condit rolls under to avoid a left hook. Instead of throwing the hook (he almost never does) Kampmann fumbles for a clinch.
4. Condit's head movement closes the door, loading up his right hand in the process. He lands a hard right hook as he pivots away from the cage.

This is good stuff here. For all of his awkwardness, Carlos Condit has a way of beating smoother fighters by way of superior application. Notice that when Kampmann's right hand has missed, he never returns to his rear hip, instead trying to save his compromised position by grabbing a hold of Carlos who, very wisely, returns to the rear hip immediately after landing his right hand. He closes the door, and denies his opponent the opening.

Kampmann really began paying for his willingness to stay on the front hip in the third and fourth round. Between rounds two and three, Mike Winkeljohn pointed out to Condit that Kampmann was dropping his right hand whenever Condit came forward, cocking back his right hand for a counter. He instructed Condit to capitalize by throwing left hooks, left kicks-anything from the lead side that would take his head off-center while catching the exposed right side of Kampmann's jaw. He even connected with a spinning backfist as Kampmann came forward with his right hand.

Now, not to criticize Mike Winkeljohn, who gave Condit the key to winning the fight, but the most important detail here is not the fact that Kampmann dropped his right hand. Telegraphing is generally a bad thing, and sure, a hand by your jaw might keep a shot from getting through, maybe. But position and posture are the most important elements behind any knockout. Kampmann's real problem was that he consistently came forward onto his lead hip with his usual right hand, and had no means of closing the door once again. To cement this point, I'll leave you the GIF of the finish. The left hook that first rocks Kampmann lands cleanly while both of the Dane's hands are high, but his head is forward and his weight is on his front foot (GIF). And when Kampmann does commit to covering up with his hands, Condit crushes his liver with another brutal left hook.

Body position is paramount. Hand position is entirely secondary.

Speaking of which...

Dustin Poirier vs Erik Koch-Distance Control

This was an extremely fun fight. Koch and Poirier were perfectly matched to deliver fireworks: two guys who don't necessarily have amazing abilities in one area or the other, but who always put everything on the line and go for broke in their fights. They also share a creepy resemblance to one another, though Koch, in deciding to grow some hair, practically gave Poirier the win in the alien life-form lookalike contest... as well as the win in the fight.

Neither Koch nor Poirier look particularly good when put on the defensive, so this fight was bound to hinge on who could be more effective with pressure. Poirier really showed up in this regard, and made it his goal from round one to walk Koch into the fence and lay his hands on him.

Poirier-koch1_medium

1a. Poirier steps in behind a throw-away jab, moving off-line to land his left. Koch catches the jab.
2a. Koch tries to counter Poirier with a jab but gets caught with a left hand over the top.
1b. Poirier moves in again behind a feinted jab (another feint seconds earlier had Koch flinching like crazy). Koch moves his left hand to intercept the perceived punch.
2b. Another left hand. This time Koch's jab doesn't land at all, going right by Poirier's head as he lands a hard cross.

Poirier showed good pressure throughout the fight on the feet, but the real key to his success in these exchanges was Koch's own lack of defensive know-how. In both instances Koch was far too content to simply plant his feet and fire at Poirier without first securing the proper position.

When it comes to distance control and defense, position is everything. In fact, when it comes to everything, position is everything. And clearly Koch is far too used to relying on his hands for defense rather than the position of his body. In frames 1a and 1b, you can see that Koch reaches to catch Poirier's jab before trying to counter with his own. In the first instance, the jab was thrown off-mark and didn't need to be defended. In the second, it was only a feint. In either case, Koch's hand movement was the only thing that changed in response to Poirier's attack. It was all he knew to do in response to a jab: catch it, throw a jab back.

These basics sound good, but of course the reality of countering and controlling distance in a living, active fight are much more complicated. The reality is that Koch could have kept both of his hands in guard and simply adjusted his feet to avoid the powerful follow-up shots, both of which caught him very clean. Much of the credit here goes to Poirier, however, who put Koch's back to the cage so that he was unable to create space by backing up, and limited in his movement elsewhere.

Regardless, Koch showed no signs of anticipatory movement. The jab is a crucial tool for distance control, but simply throwing it at the opponent willy-nilly won't do anything to save you when you allow him to steal away the initiative and merely wait in place to counter his punches.

Despite the fact that both men are coached by the great Duke Roufus, Koch doesn't seem to share Anthony Pettis' penchant for movement and position as a primary means of defense.

And like I said: in fighting, position is everything.

That's all for today, check Bloody Elbow later for Part 2, including breakdowns of Chad Mendes vs. Clay Guida, Anthony Pettis vs. Ben Henderson, and Glover Teixeira vs. Ryan Bader!

If you're in the mood for more analysis from Connor, except delivered by his sultry voice instead of his confusing writing style, then check out the new podcast Heavy Hands, which debuted Tuesday. Connor and friend Corey break down Machida vs. Davis, Overeem vs. Browne, and Matt Browne. Available on iTunes soon, a new episode coming Tuesday!

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