Thoughts and reflections on a great night of fights.
Jon Jones: King of Adaptability
There's no denying it, there is no fighter in the world of MMA who does a better job of adapting his fighting style to gain the advantage. But not only is he smart enough to make the adjustments to his style, but he has the requisite diversity of skills required to allow him to implement them. GSP may have been the master game planner, but Jon Jones is, in my estimation, the best there has ever been at mid fight adaptation.
While this fight played out mostly as I predicted, with Glover looking fairly competitive and dangerous in the early going before Jones adjustments and attritional game wore down the older, less athletic fighter, it was a good deal more impressive than that assessment would suggest. Glover came out strong and put on the pressure, doing his best to ignore Jones distance game and cut right to the chase with hard shots, several of which caught the champ clean. But by midway through the first round Jones had already established that Glover's game was far less suited to assaulting him in the southpaw stance. Taking this to its logical conclusion, Jones proceeded to bait Glover in by showing orthodox, before stepping back into southpaw and threatening with the classic, Cro Cop double threat of a straight left to get the head moving, or a left kick to punish the head movement.
By the third round Glover was getting a little desperate, but still finding occasional success. Specifically, when he was able to back Jones against the fence, the champs now somewhat notoriously limited defensive acumen really started to show and Glover was looking like he might have found a way to turn the tables. But this led Jones to his second big adaptation, that being to back Glover up and pin him against the fence. With his back to the fence and his feet squared up Glover's much vaunted power no longer worried the champ who proceeded to introduce Glover to the meat grinder which is his elbows.
In addition, we now know without a shadow of a doubt that Jones has one hell of a chin to go along with everything else. Glovers left hook is not to be messed with and Jones came back strong, very quickly after every hurting shot.
My only complaint... Jon Jones needs to be docked a point. Please, someone have the balls to do it. I'm sick to death of his eye pokes. He actually doubled up on an eye poke tonight. That's just messed up.
Anthony Johnson: Rumble Power
I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone look quite that strong in the octagon as Johnson did. Or at least outside of gross mismatches or huge size differentials. Phil Davis is a world class wrestler and a serious athlete who was shrugged off like a tiny child over and over again with what was approaching disdain by the end of the fight. I didn't make a pick for this fight, couldn't decide how I was going to go. Last night I spent some time catching up on some of Rumbles performances since he left the UFC to look for clues, but nothing I saw told me he could do that to Davis as easily as he did, from start to finish.
Someone in the BE crew described Johnson as an outstanding frontrunner and that was certainly a big feature of the performance as he was a less consistent threat after initially looking like he might end the fight in the first. But to bully Davis like he did made a huge statement. The only question now is who the hell is he going to fight? With the next two presumptive title challengers essentially sewn up who do you make him fight in the mean time? With the vast majority of the division a huge step down from Davis and everyone above him tied up in titles, title eliminators or injuries it's hard to say. I figure either they give him an action fight against Manuwa or they give him another top five test against Glover, although he might be out awhile after the beating he just took.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
It's become something of a meme among technical analysts (At least the guys who I regularly read) that the most under utilized weapon in MMA is the body shot. There are few sentiments that I agree with more and it was gratifying to see just how well utilised it was across so many of tonights fights. Here's a look at some of them.
Max Holloway: Spinning Shit Messiah
Someone on the BE crew said Max Holloways spinning back kicks weren't all that. Claiming that they were thrown too often and whilst appealing to the casual observer, not nearly as effective as they are often purported. My gut instinct was that this was total crap, but deferring to the more expert opinion I held my tongue and realised that as a casual observer I must have clearly been suckered in by the razzle dazzle of an ineffective technique.
Four out of five hard shots to the liver and a victory over a more talented, more athletic and more highly touted prospect later and I am happy to say that I feel vindicated in my original opinion of thinking that Max Holloway has the best spinning back kicks in MMA. Better than Jones, Siver and even Barao. Because they are contextual. They're always thrown for a reason and never just for the sake of it. He conditions opponents to moving to his left and nails them in the body for doing so. But beyond the set up, his technique is flawless because of how tight he can throw them; he doesn't need to adjust his stance and he doesn't try and use it to cover absurd distances. It's just another regular range striking technique, the same as everything else, just like it always should have been.
Fili looked every bit the up and comer early, but his high octane style was always going to struggle against Holloway's economy of motion and commitment to body work. I had tried to convince my betting friend on adding Holloway to his accumulator, but alas, it was his loss for not taking the underdog money.
Takanori Gomi: Surviving the Triple Threat Gas Attack
Joe Rogan accused Gomi of being out of shape for this fight, as he was sucking hard a mere two minutes in. Personally I think there was a lot more to it than that. I think that Gomi is a fighter who hasn't had great cardio for a long time, who hasn't fought in a year, is coming to the end of a long and punishing career, who has the least economical movement of almost any fighter you're likely to see and who was repeatedly eating front kicks to the body in the opening round. Heading back to the corner he was trying not to show it, but his hand lingered over his ribs and he looked like a man who knew he had to dig awfully deep.
It was a painful prospect, the idea that Gomi might gas and become easy pickings for the drastically underwhelming Valli Flag, but the Fireball kid was canny enough to know exactly what to do. How does the old saying go? "Do unto others before they do unto you". Well after will have to do in this case as Gomi had the perfect answer to his failing cardio as he went hard and often to the body of his opponent until he had brought him down to his level of exhaustion. The left hook to the liver which would eventually lead into all of the brutal facial damage reminded me of a Gomi at the peak of his powers. It clearly couldn't be sustained, as he desperately hoped that the fight would get cut short by the obviously blind eye of his opponent, but the flash back to better times was still enjoyable.
So it was no simple question of being out of shape for the fight, rather a Triumvirate of Gasdom. Poor cardio, wild exaggerated movements and getting kicked right in the solar plexus. Speaking of which...
Jim Miller: Straight through his fucking chest
Miller was expected to win this fight, but I certainly didn't imagine him landing the perfect straight left hand to the body. The solar plexus is almost unrivaled as an unprotected target. Almost nowhere else on the body is there so little to separate your opponent from the soft squishy bits inside you. I once landed a softly thrown front snap kick with that kind of accuracy and the sensation of having your toes inside a dude is... well... enlightening to say the least and gratifying when you see them quickly crumple to the floor in something which transcends pain.
It was only marred by Mario. Oh Mario why!? Why acknowledge the illegal shot and then do nothing about it? Left a sour taste in the mouth after what should have been a very satisfying Miller performance
Chris Beal: Feint of Doom
We were all very impressed with the perfect flying knee knockout. The timing and athleticism on display was sublime and the flush connection coupled with the walk away made it a perfect storm sort of KO. But I'd like to acknowledge something else that Beal did which made this beautiful moment of violence possible.
Moments before landing the flying knee Williams had voluntarily backed himself up against the fence. He began to circle out but Beal was in no hurry to let him off the hook and moved with him. As he did he feinted a punch, on which Williams bit oh so hard; stopping in his tracks and ducking his head deep. Had the camera showed it I have no doubt that Beal's eyes literally lit up and he proceeded to follow his circling opponent with renewed vigor in his step as he deliberately planned to end his debut in stunning fashion.
And that's what makes it such a great KO. He didn't just throw a random flashy technique and hope for the best. He wasn't spamming a high risk, high reward move until it eventually landed. He baited his opponent to show him a hole and then drove a truck right through him. Brilliant.
There's more I could talk about, Rockhold's sick Jitz and the super fun scrap of Benavidez and Elliot spring to mind, but I'm tired and this is unlikely to be well read so I'll leave it there.