Technique Recap: Michael Johnson, Dustin Poirier, Miesha Tate, Chris Weidman, Anderson Silva

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

BE's striking specialist Connor Ruebusch breaks down the best and worst moments of technique and strategy in the Technique Recap of UFC 168.

I know you've all probably forgotten about UFC 168, Chris Weidman, and Anderson Silva altogether in your breathless anticipation for UFC Fight Night 34: Tarec Saffiedine vs. Hyun Gyu Lim, but pray, recall the events of last weekend if you will, and join me for yet another Technique Recap.

INTEGRAL DEFENSE

Featuring: Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is now the first fighter to be featured twice in a Tech Recap. This man just keeps impressing with his slick boxing skills, and seems to have overcome the stigma of being known as a one-dimensional fighter, having now defeated two very different but equally dangerous grapplers in Joe Lauzon and Gleison Tibau with footwork, feints, and good old fashioned pugilism.

In my Recap of UFC Fight Night 26 I covered the methods that Johnson used to open up the center line of Joe Lauzon and sneak straight punches through his guard. Of course, Lauzon's apparently complacency rendered Johnson's dominant performance in that fight a little less impressive to some, despite the slickness with which he controlled the fight. So this time around, it was nice to see Johnson dominating a fighter who was more than willing to throw back, and more capable of taking the fight to the ground, Johnson's supposed kryptonite.

Despite Gleison Tibau's ready counter punches, Johnson was able to attack almost at will, due to the fact that his defense is built into his strikes. I call this integral defense.

Johnson_finish_medium
GIF

1. Johnson circles to Tibau's left, chasing his centerline.

2. He steps in with a jab, slipping to his own left as he throws it. The angle isn't great, so I've included an inset from the replay that shows Johnson landing his own jab while slipping Tibau's.

3. Johnson pivots to his left, and suddenly finds that Tibau's center line is exposed. While Tibau struggles to turn and face him, he pops out a jab...

4. ...followed by a straight left. Tibau is out of position, but his attempted counter right hook would have missed regardless, as Johnson's head moves over his right hip with the motion of the left hand.

Johnson's head movement is not an afterthought. Rather, it is integral to his offense. Every time he punches, his head moves off of the center line, making his cranium a constantly moving and ever-elusive target. Watching him wade into the pocket without fear and taking minimal punishment was a treat, and hopefully he will be rewarded with a step up in competition.

FIGHTING IN THE POCKET

Featuring: Dustin Poirier, Miesha Tate

Sometimes we, as fans, have a tendency to dismiss outright that which doesn't fit perfectly with our preconceived notions. This was certainly the case with me when it came to Dustin Poirier, who I had always considered a well-rounded but altogether unimpressive fighter. This impression was only confirmed in my eyes by his recent loss to one of my favorite mixed martial artists, Cub Swanson. In that fight, Poirier seemed to me a workmanlike fighter with a bevy of defensive liabilities, awkward striking, and so-so footwork.

I still see some of those problems when I watch Poirier fight, but I'm here to admit that I was wrong about him as a fighter. Just because his methods don't align perfectly with the fundamentals I espouse doesn't mean he isn't a guy who can get things done in the cage. This past weekend he got things done in a big way against Diego Brandao, and proved to me that he is a fighter with a thought-out, practical style.

In particular, Poirier demonstrated a surprising savvy in one aspect of striking that goes overlooked by most MMA fighters, namely, in-fighting. Many fighters will enter close-range and do one of two things: lock up in a clinch and work to score or defend a takedown, or immediately try to disengage. Poirier showed confidence and comfort on the inside against Brandao, actively working to keep the fight at that range and landing punishing strikes while Brandao struggled to escape.

Poirier_distance_medium

1. Poirier shuffles his feet and fakes his jab, looking for openings.

2. He throws a nice lead left-a "soft" punch of the variety that Floyd Mayweather and Eddie Alvarez are known for throwing-but Brandao slips and the shot misses its target.

3. Poirier's missed punch has left him in an orthodox stance rather than his customary southpaw. Instead of letting Brandao escape while he adjusts, he stays in orthodox and uses his already extended left arm to keep the right distance between himself and Brandao.

4. Poirier retracts his left hand and throws a short overhand right from his orthodox stance as Brandao attempts to straighten up and back out of range.

Here, Poirier shows an impressive ability to adjust to changes in range and angle on the fly.

Too many mixed martial artists guess at range when striking. This is the reason we see so many whiffed overhand rights, even at the highest levels of the sport; think of how often you hear Joe Rogan talk about fighters badly telegraphing their takedown attempts, rushing in from long range without a set-up. The same applies to striking, where the more visible power shots must be set-up and measured for by distance-gauging techniques like the jab and the teep.

The difference between Poirier and Brandao is clearly laid out in this exchange. Brandao dodges a punch with head movement, which is admirable in and of itself, but moves so far out of the path of the strike that he ends up in no position to counter or escape. Poirier, rather than reacting to his missed punch with panic and allowing Brandao to escape, stays glued to his opponent until he finds the perfect range to uncork a powerful, accurate strike. Solid stuff from the Diamond.

Poirier showed even more inside savvy, not to mention admirable killer instinct, in the finishing sequence.

Poirier_finish_medium
GIF

1. As before, Poirier throws a lead left. This one lands, but glances off of Brandao's chin, once again leaving Poirier in orthodox.

2. Again, Poirier uses this extended left arm to keep in contact with Brandao. Keeping his elbow at an obtuse angle and the blade of his forearm under Brandao's chin, he is able to stop his opponent from changing levels, grabbing a strong clinch, or getting his back off the cage. This is called a frame, a useful technique common in BJJ but absent from most fighters' striking toolkits.

3. Keeping his frame in place, Poirier hammers Brandao on the beltline with his right hand.

4. After four vicious body punches, Brandao finally succeeds in shoving Poirier off of him.

5. Poirier closes the distance with a right hand from orthodox. By this point in the fight he has found his distance, and lands his strike while staying just out of the reach of Brandao's attempted elbow.

6. Poirier refuses to grant Brandao any space to breathe, landing punch after punch and keeping his man backed against the fence.

7. After some handfighting, Brandao succeeds in grabbing a double collar tie, but he is in no position to do anything with it.

8. Poirier senses the opening, and allows Brandao to pull his head down, quickly pulling the Brazilian's hips away from the cage and taking him down.

9. Instead of going to the ground with his gassed opponent, Poirier resets himself while Brandao stands up, once again using a left arm frame to measure his right hand.

Seriously, watch the GIF of this finishing sequence. Poirier was absolutely relentless in the final minute of this fight, attacking with body shots, punches to the head, and a well-timed takedown. Aside from the variety of his attacks, Poirier impressed me with his commitment. He sensed that Brandao was close to quitting, and refused to allow him any time or space to rest. I am officially a Dustin Poirier fan.

To contrast the Diamond's stellar performance, let's now take a brief look at Miesha Tate's, shall we say, less-than-stellar in-fighting against women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.

Miesha_swingin_medium

1. Miesha comes out just the same as last time, swinging for the fences. A wild right hand misses as Ronda attempts to maintain distance with her jab.

2. Miesha eats a glancing jab as she follows up with a left cross, literally thrown across her own body with her feet out of position.

3. Ronda tries for a distance-closing uppercut that can't find Miesha's chin.

4. As Ronda attempts to follow up with a left hook, a wild right hand from Miesha catches her on the chin and forces her to step back.

5. Now Ronda throws a lead right, quickly closing the distance. Miesha attempts to counter, but her feet are in the wrong place.

6. Miesha still has her feet planted, and she throws a straight right, but Ronda has already moved her head well out of the way and begun taking an angle while wrapping Miesha up in her powerful clinch.

Two things are clear from this exchange: one, Miesha didn't learn much from her last fight with the champ, and two, Ronda Rousey is starting to put together a solid boxing game based on the concept of closing distance and entering the clinch. The lead right to body lock is a staple of striking-to-grappling transitions, and the right uppercut to left hook is a clearly good way to enter into her favorite head-and-arm clinch, from which she can execute one of her many powerful throws. Miesha, on the other hand, refused to stop swinging with her feet in place, no matter how Ronda moved in or out, or side to side.

I like Miesha Tate as a fighter, but this fight only showed that she is seriously lacking in Fight IQ. Instead of banking on the fact that her weakness (striking) was less of a liability than Ronda's, she attempted to go strength-for-strength with the best female grappler in the sport. The only thing unpredictable about the outcome was the fact that it came in the third round, instead of the usual first. Miesha showed some stalwart armbar defense, but in the immortal words of Kurt Osiander, if you find yourself defending a nearly-locked-in armbar, "you f*cked up a long time ago."

THE PHYSICS OF FIGHTING

Featuring: Chris Weidman, Anderson Silva

This fight and its shocking result have already been covered in some detail on BE. In fact, I wrote a somewhat controversial article about the check-heard-round-the-world that Weidman used to end the fight which you can find right here. In terms of striking technique, there wasn't a whole lot on display here, except for the obvious and now infamous incident detailed in that article. Indeed, Weidman and Silva both spent much of their time on the feet feeling one another out, and most of the serious action happened on the ground.

How the fight got to the ground is interesting, though. Anderson's Thai clinch, once a staple of his game and one of the most feared weapons in the sport, failed him spectacularly, almost leading to a knockout that, in retrospect, Anderson probably would have preferred to the eventual actual result of the fight. A minute into the first round, Anderson found himself in a position that, while perhaps not one of his favorite places to be, was certainly familiar. Weidman, like so many before him, was attempting to drag the great fistic virtuoso to the ground and Anderson was fighting off the attempt with his back to the fence.

Anderson_clinch_medium
GIF

1. Anderson has a tight overhook on Weidman's right arm (circled in green), preventing Chris from changing levels and gaining enough leverage to take him down.

2. Turning his hips to the left, Anderson yanks down on his overhook, momentarily pulling Weidman off balance and securing a collar tie with his free arm.

3. After exchanging a few knees, Anderson is still controlling Chris, torqueing his shoulder and breaking his posture using that overhook.

4. Weidman snakes his left arm across Anderson's biceps and under his jaw, using his forearm as a frame (circled in red) to create space between himself and Silva and, pulling in the opposite direction, finally frees his right arm.

5. Anderson, having lost the overhook, now grabs the double collar tie. Weidman uses his freed right arm to land an uppercut to the body.

6. Anderson throws a knee at the same moment that Weidman goes upstairs with a right hook. The former champ is knocked to the canvas by the punch.

Despite being bested for the first few seconds, Weidman showed impressive poise here, refusing to be tossed around Rich Franklin style. Instead of focusing on defending the knees of Anderson with his arms, and in the act succumbing to the lanky Brazilian's assault, Weidman never stopped looking to improve his position. Typically Thai fighters will try to square up in the clinch, in order to keep from being turned and to enable strikes with either knee; you can see Anderson doing that here. But Weidman reacted like a wrestler, not a nakmuay, getting into a strong stance and bending his knees, making it nearly impossible for Anderson to pull him into a clinch. What's more, Weidman found himself in a good enough position to punch back without having to fight off Anderson's double collar tie, his stable stance keeping him safe from knees to the head and allowing him to drop the challenger.

Just as in their first fight, Weidman knocked Silva to the ground with a punch to the jaw, except this one seemed far lighter than the first. There is the distinct possibility that, having been knocked out for the first time in his long career at such an advanced age, Anderson's legendary chin is now more gravel than granite. There is also the increasingly obvious fact that Chris Weidman packs some serious power in his hands. However, some have still questioned how the champ's soft little love tap of a punch managed to knock the middleweight GOAT to the canvas.

The answer is a simple lesson in the physics of fighting, taught to us by Professor Chris Weidman.

Recall that, in their first encounter, Weidman knocked Silva out while his feet were parallel. There were a number of factors at play in the knockout, but the then-champion's foot position was a critical error, leaving him in a position of no balance. When executing a sweep from the bottom (GIF) a grappler must trap the top man's arm, preventing him from posting and saving himself from being off-balanced. In the same way, a fighter on the feet must be standing in a staggered stance, with one leg in front and one leg in rear, in order to absorb a powerful shot. The rear leg acts as a post, keeping the impact of a punch from driving the fighter past his own feet and onto his back.

Whether by circumstance or design, Chris Weidman knocked Silva down in the rematch utilizing this, the same principle that earned him the KO victory in their first fight. With Anderson's right leg off the ground, he had no base to absorb the impact from the right hand of Weidman. Essentially, Weidman's hook pushed Anderson in a direction that he was not prepared to go, like an unwary high schooler being table-topped by two of his friends. It's possible that Anderson's legendary chin is fading at last, but balance and stability played a key role in causing a man capable of this to do this.

Well, that's all for this Technique Recap. I hope you other technique geeks enjoyed it as much as I did.

For another look at the strategies used at UFC 168, check out Connor's podcast Heavy Hands, featuring Cincinnati local artist Juice Lee.

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