Alexander Gustafsson surprised everybody when he took Jon Jones to a closely contested decision. Last summer, the Swede became the first man to really make Jones look human. Now, with Gustafsson waiting patiently for a rematch, Glover Teixeira has the opportunity to prove it.
Almost no one is giving Teixeira a chance against Jones. Even though Gustafsson did take the shine off a bit, Jones is still the clear number one pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, is still undefeated, and still holds a substantial reach advantage over every fighter in the division but Gustafsson. Teixeira, on the other hand, is riding a 20-fight win streak, but doesn't hold the same level of impressive wins as Jones by a long shot. Most fans seem to be expecting this fight to turn out much like Jones' first title defense against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, in which Jones outmaneuvered and outwrestled the plodding puncher en route to a 4th round submission win.
Teixeira's no Quinton Jackson, though. In fact, all considered, he's easily the second most dynamic fighter in the entire light heavyweight division, with dangerous wrestling, striking, and submission skills. And being second to Jon Jones--in anything--is impressive indeed.
Jones might have the slight edge in dynamism and unpredictability, but Teixeira has a few edges of his own. He possesses a pressuring style on the feet that's likely to give Jones some trouble, and while he may not take Jones down with ease, Gustafsson already proved the effect that offensive wrestling can have on the effect of one's striking, and vice versa. Teixeira's relentless forward movement and powerful combination punching just might be the key to breaking Jon Jones. For the light heavyweight champion, Teixeira is like a grindstone: he will either grind Jones to dust with his heavy pressure, or merely hone the 205-pound king for his rematch with Alexander Gustafsson.
Today we're going to break down the key goals Teixeira will need to have in mind if he hopes to beat the champ, and the tools he has at his disposal to accomplish them.
GETTING PAST THE LEAD
For a long, tall fighter, Jon Jones isn't actually a very active jabber. He throws a wide variety of pot shots, including oblique kicks and side kicks to his opponent's legs, all of which serve similar purposes to the jab in maintaining the distance and wearing down the opponent. Nonetheless, he does throw jabs frequently enough that Teixeira will have to deal with his lead hand. In addition, Jones has a long-held tendency of jamming his opponents' forward momentum with a stiff-arm (fingers ominously extended), and Teixeira will need to get past this obstacle as well.
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1. Teixeira moves forward, pressuring Maldonado into the fence.
2. Glover waits for Maldonado's jab, and slips his head inside it as it extends...
3. ...simultaneously throwing a tight overhand right that loops over Maldonado's shoulder and clips his chin.
4. Weight loaded onto his left hip, Teixeira leaps into a follow-up left hook that staggers Maldonado.
This cross counter is particularly effective against opponents who, like Maldonado above, stay tall while they jab. Georges St-Pierre notably prevented Josh Koscheck from countering him like this for five rounds, using little apart from his jab in the process, but St-Pierre consistently dips with his jab, bringing his head to his right and his left shoulder to his temple, all while taking himself out of the direct path of the punch. When a fighter leaves his head in place while he jabs, he is very susceptible to this counter.
This has worked on Jones before, and not just against the unprecedented length of Gustafsson.
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1. Jones inches forward, sizing up Rashad Evans, who waits for Jones to lead.
2. Jones steps deeply into a jab--not only does his head stay centered but he falls forward, bringing his head dramatically closer to Evans, who slips inside the jab...
3. ...and cracks Jones on the chin with an overhand right.
To paraphrase the great Eddie Futch, Jones doesn't really throw jabs. He throws what he thinks are jabs, but they're actually committed straight lefts that use weight and momentum to generate power--similar to some boxers of old, but not ideal for range-finding or setting up power shots. This is because Jon is a pot-shotter, who rarely throws in combination. To him, the jab is a surprising strike that can stun or snap back the head of an opponent, not a tool to measure and enable power shots. With this mentality, he's ripe for a good cross counter on the side of the jaw; Glover's problem will be the fact that Jones doesn't need his jab to win fights, so if he gives up on it after eating a few counters, Teixeira's favorite counter will be largely mitigated.
Another opportunity for the right hand, however, will almost certainly present itself.
This is Jones' go-to defense whenever an opponent rushes him with strikes. It's been called a "Thai block," but I'll just refer to it as a stiff-arm. When Jones feels threatened, he will fall back on his physical advantages, extending his lead arm in the direction of the opponent and backpedaling. If he can, he will make contact with the neck or shoulder of the opponent and try to keep the on the end of his arm until they give up. If they don't advance quickly enough, he will simply hold his hand in front of their face, throwing a quick barrier in the way of their onslaught.
Though Jones' shoulders do a better job of protecting his chin in this defensive posture, there are still holes to be exploited. I've written about this before, but it bears repeating: a universal defense is almost never a good idea. In short, Jones' stiff-arm is a flinch reaction, which means he's not sizing up the situation and reacting accordingly, he's just throwing up his block and hoping that it works. Usually it does, but that's more a testament to the striking skill of his opposition up to this point than an endorsement of the technique's effectiveness. Gustafsson was able to use his jab to find holes in Jones' defense, and Teixeira can do the same with his right hand.
One of the most effective tactics against a taller fighter is to attack his body. Punches have a shorter distance to travel than with an opponent of average height, and tall fighters often have a difficult time of protecting their bodies from an opponent who is naturally positioned to throw those strikes. In Jones' case, he tends to sway away from punches by leaning back, making his head a difficult target but leaving his body behind. And that extended lead arm leaves a gaping hole in his defense.
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1.Teixeira controls the center of the Octagon with Rampage Jackson against the fence.
2. A feint from Teixeira draws a jab from Jackson.
3. Teixeira executes a counter right, but instead of throwing over the shoulder he drives his knuckles into Jackson's ribcage.
4. It doesn't land, but Teixeira closes the door nicely with a pivot left hook.
Judo Chop: Fabricio Werdum's Set-Ups
Fabricio Werdum picked Travis Browne apart on the feet in Saturday's UFC on Fox main event. BE's striking specialist Connor Ruebusch breaks down the small details that made his big shots effective, and the difference between techniques and "moves."
The counter right to the body, once a very popular technique, isn't commonly seen today. This is unfortunate, because it is one of the most basic and reliable counters to the most common attack: the jab. Much like a liver shot as a counter to a right hand, the counter right to the body attacks the body on the same side as an opponent's attack, before they can recover their arm and use it to protect their torso. The advantage of the counter right is that it is usually a same-time counter--rather than slipping and then throwing, the counter right can be easily thrown with a slip incorporated, both decreasing the likelihood that the opponent will defend the punch, and often causing the opponent to run themselves into the blow, magnifying its power.
The real beauty of this punch is how effortless it is to target. The body is a huge target compared to the head, and an opponent like Jones in particular has an awful lot of real estate to protect. While accuracy is still helpful for targeting tender spots like the spleen and kidney, a thudding blow to the body will have an effect no matter where it lands, from the sternum to the ribs to the gut to the hip--a power puncher like Teixeira would be wise to invest in these fleshy targets early, rather than hunting for the KO from the outset.
Some have accused Teixeira of being a one-handed puncher, claiming his overhand right to be his best, and practically his only punch. These critics couldn't be more wrong.
Teixeira's best weapon isn't his right hand at all, but his left hook, which often follows the threatening right with devastating effects (as against Maldonado above). It's true that Teixeira isn't much of a jabber, but this is because he prefers to fight as an aggressive counter-puncher: he pressures his opponents, putting himself in position to strike and throwing the occasional pot-shot. When they start to sweat and feel forced to lead, he slips their strike and smashes them with a powerful combination, usually ending with his left.
Teixeira's hook is tricky because it comes from a low angle. I call this punch a "rising hook." Though it's not a shovel punch or uppercut, the arm itself rises throughout the motion of the punch. It's not the fist, but the flaring of the elbow that tends to telegraph a punch, and by keeping the elbow low Teixeira is able to hide his hook until the last second, when the elbow lifts and the punch follows through with every component locked in place (GIF).
This is actually easiest to see when Teixeira misses, because then the follow-through is evident.
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1.Teixeira has his weight loaded for the hook. His hand begins low.
2.Teixeira's hand comes up to the target, and at the moment of impact (this hook glances off the target) the elbow has just started to lift.
3. As the punch follows through, you can see that Teixeira's elbow comes up the rest of the way, and his body turns through with the punch.
Now, as for the notion that Teixeira doesn't use this hook, the idea seems to be a misinterpretation of Teixeira's last fight, a rocky fight with Ryan Bader in which Teixeira was dropped, but ultimately knocked his overzealous opponent out. In that particular fight, Teixeira almost exclusively led with his right hand, and twice Bader caught him with his left, sending him to the canvas once. Critics have latched onto this as a typical example of Teixeira's style, when in reality, it seems to have been an adaptation for Bader, who typically throws his jab from a vulnerable position, similar to that of Jones in the example against Evans above. Teixeira's trainer John Hackleman, an excellent gameplanner, likely had Glover striking for this very opening, as he responded to every left-handed twitch from Bader with an overhand right.
Unfortunately for Glover, Bader out-gameplanned him, and used a long left hook to catch him as he shifted to his left hip for the cross counter (GIF). Georges St-Pierre used the same adaptation to keep Koscheck from getting too confident with his cross counters in their second fight (GIF).
Teixeira has been lambasted, when instead we should praise Ryan Bader for an unexpectedly savvy boxing performance against a dangerous, aggressive counter-punching opponent. This new wrinkle of Bader's, combined with the fact that Teixeira probably didn't take Bader's striking seriously ("I think I had too much self-confidence, and this was a huge wake-up call") contributed to a lackluster performance that isn't a true representation of Teixeira's style, as indicated by his four other, much more impressive UFC victories.
Glover has the tools, but it's very unclear whether he has the wherewithal to use them. Much of the outcome of this fight hinges on Jones. Has he grown since the nail-biter with Gustafsson? Has he improved on the bad habits that were revealed in that fight? A grindstone can sharpen, or it can destroy; the quality of Jones' mettle will soon be revealed.
Check back tomorrow for my analysis of the light heavyweight champion.
For more analysis, as well as fighter and trainer interviews, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face punching. On tonight's new episode, Connor answers listener questions with boxing trainer Luis Monda.