UFC Fight Night London Judo Chop: Jimi Manuwa's Uphill Battle

Esther Lin | MMA Fighting

Jimi Manuwa faces his toughest opponent to date in Alexander Gustafsson, the Swedish giant who came THIS close to stealing Jon Jones' light heavyweight belt in December. BE's striking specialist Connor Ruebusch takes a look at how Manuwa could chop the big man down.

Jimi Manuwa is now in a position much like that occupied by Alexander Gustafsson when he first joined the UFC. Manuwa came into the organization as a hot European prospect (if you count Britain as part of Europe, that is) with an undefeated record, and crushed his first opponent in style. Since then, he's even beaten one of the same opponents as Gustafsson in Cyrille Diabate, though Gustafsson's victory was certainly the more impressive. Now, the UFC has seen fit to match Manuwa up with the Swede, who will serve as Phil Davis once did for Gustafsson himself, as a serious test, to determine whether or not Manuwa is a complete enough fighter to make a run at the title.

Manuwa, also like Gustafsson, is a striker first and foremost, but whereas the Mauler prefers to outbox his opponents, keeping them on the end of his long jab and dancing in and out of range, Manuwa is a straightforward killer. He throws every strike with evil intent, and his record is proof of his efficacy: not one of the Englishman's 14 opponents have managed to see the third round. Either Manuwa knocks them out, or they experience a sudden and debilitating injury.

This fight with Gustafsson will match Manuwa up with an entirely new kind of opponent, however--one who will not only strike with him, but has the ability to keep him well outside his preferred range. So today we're taking a look at the strategy and techniques that might give Manuwa the edge he needs to chop Gustafsson down.


Manuwa's right hand pretty much only exists to set up his left. His left hook is his money punch, and his left knee and round kick are no different. The mechanics of Manuwa's right hand, as a result, seem to have been neglected a bit.


There are two things of note in this still. First Manuwa is leaning into his right hand. Though he hasn't gone past his own feet, his head is directly over his lead foot--far closer to his opponent than it needs to be. Second, Manuwa has left his right foot behind. Trainer Luis Monda calls this keeping one's "back foot in a bucket." In other words, Manuwa throws his weight forward and drags his right foot along after him, rather than sitting down onto his right foot and driving off of it.

What does this mean? Well, for one, Manuwa's right hand lacks the power that it could have were he to throw it with tighter technique. The motion you see above always results in a punch that is pushed, not thrown. It also means that Manuwa is not in a position to throw a follow-up punch. His feet are too far apart, and his upper body too far forward to put a meaningful left hook behind that right hand.

Strangely enough, however, I think this mechanism could work to Manuwa's advantage against Gustafsson. As you probably know, the Mauler is a big fan of the right uppercut. Besides the jab, he probably throws it more frequently than any other punch. He's also become more and more adept at countering with it--Archie Moore considered the uppercut to be the only punch that was purely defensive in nature, perfect for punishing an overzealous opponent, and that is exactly how Gustafsson uses it (GIF). Watching that GIF, you can't help but notice the similarities between the positioning of Manuwa above, and that of Thiago Silva when Gustafsson dropped him.

How, then, does this benefit Manuwa?

I think this GIF, which I believe I've now used in at least three articles will answer that question sufficiently.


There, you see Joe Frazier knocking down Muhammad Ali as Ali goes to throw a right uppercut. Frazier's trainer, the great Eddie Futch, had identified prior to their historic first bout that Ali threw his uppercuts with sloppy form, visibly winding up his arm and standing up tall as he unloaded the punch. Ali's choice of weapon against a short, evasive swarmer like Frazier was wise, but his application of the technique left a lot to be desired, and he was knocked down as a result.

Jimi Manuwa may be no Joe Frazier, but he certainly has a pretty thunderous left hook, and Gustafsson's love of the right uppercut does not mean that his technique is perfect. Much like Ali, the Swede is prone to straightening his legs mid-punch, making it harder to absorb a punch, and his head is completely stationary as he throws. In fact, you can see in the previous Gustafsson GIF that he actually gets hit as he counters Thiago Silva.

But wait--I already stated that Manuwa is not in a position to throw his left hook after landing his right hand. If Gustafsson were to attempt to counter his cross with an uppercut, how then could Manuwa capitalize? Well...


In the Frazier GIF above, note that Frazier does not throw a punch prior to blasting Ali with his hook. He merely moves his head over his left leg, weighting that side of his body for a left hook, and then launches himself into the punch. That loading motion, which might seem like a brazen telegraph, actually served as a feint, convincing Ali that Frazier was throwing a right hand as he appeared to lean forward, which he attempted to counter in the exact manner that Frazier had hoped for.

This same approach is the key to Manuwa's style. As I said above, Manuwa's right hand exists solely to set up his left. Like so:

(Click to enlarge)

1. Manuwa strides forward, settling into his stance at the end of boxing range.

2. Dropping his weight onto his left foot to load up the left hook, Manuwa further sells the cross with an actual fake, extending his right arm as he cocks the left back.

3. Manuwa leaps forward into a left hook as Kyle Kingsbury's hands are occupied trying to parry the feinted right hand.

Granted, Manuwa would be better served were he capable of throwing powerful punches in combination. The fact that he is a one-and-done striker will seriously limit him until he learns to keep his balance when striking. That being said, Manuwa's methods are not unintelligent. His lack of combination punching ability is made up for by the fact that every one of his strikes is thrown to hurt, and he knows exactly how to use the threat of those power shots to set up others.

Were I advising Jimi Manuwa, I would have him feeding right hands to Alexander Gustafsson early, not necessarily trying to catch the taller man with the punch, but rather goading him into countering with the right uppercut he is so fond of. Once that punch makes it's appearance, Manuwa will have a very real window of opportunity to test Gustafsson's chin, and of the two, Manuwa is undoubtedly the heavier handed striker. Manuwa's problem will be getting into range, as he tends to just walk his opponents down, and Gustafsson has a quick and ready jab to keep him at bay. Still, if Gustafsson has a mind to counter strike, Manuwa's left hook will be waiting for him.

For more fight analysis and fighter/trainer interviews, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast that focuses exclusively on the finer points of face-punching. There's no episode this week, but be sure to check out our technique-centric recap of UFC 170. Please take a minute to rate and review the show on both iTunes and Stitcher.

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