Earlier this week I promised that I would perform a breakdown of the undercard of UFC on Fox 5 because it boasted so many exciting moments and bouts. I must apologize for the lateness of this piece - I have been away for much of the week. We may be a little removed from the event but I'm sure a great many of you have recorded the bouts so please join me in reviewing some of the action.
Denis Siver confounds Nam Pham
Denis Siver made a triumphant return to form at UFC on Fox 5 by trouncing Nam Pham from pillar to post over three rounds of extremely entertaining combat. For much of the fight Pham - whose body shots are some of the best in the sport - was completely perplexed by Siver's counters and combinations. The most important of these was Siver's lean back lead hook as Pham attempted to enter the pocket with a jab. Every time Pham began to move to the area where he does his best work, Siver would lead back at the waist and throw a lead hook. This is the same hook that Cung Le threw repeatedly at Rich Franklin during their bout.
Two instances of Siver leaning back and off to the side away from Pham's jab while swinging in a left hook.
Pham's right hand came higher and higher as the first round progressed - Siver's famous lead leg high kick and the lean back left hook kept Pham from throwing his right hand at all. Braced to receive a strike from his side at any moment, Pham became a sitting duck for Siver's right straight. When Siver opened with his left hook Pham would block it and brace his body so as to not be thrown around by the force of the hook. This left him standing bolt upright with his forearms elevated and apart when Siver threw his right straight. Siver being Siver chose to "close the door" on his combination not with a left hook or jab as is good boxing form, but with his trademark left high kick - preventing Pham from returning with a counter.
Pham's right forearm was so elevated and defensive throughout the bout that Siver was able to land another signature combination of his several times. Throwing the left high kick Siver leans to his right as he returns his left foot to the floor, delivering a left punch inside of the opponent's forearm, still elevated from the block.
1. Siver throws his infamous left high kick - Pham's right forearm is braced for the impact.
2. Before Pham can begin to mount an offense Siver drops his left leg back and throws a left hand inside of Pham's still elevated right arm.
Daron Cruickshank's Double Attack
Daron Cruichshank's bout with Henry Martinez was something of a coming out party as Cruickshank not only dominated but managed to use some flashy techniques while doing so. This is something that young fighters should probably pay notice to - spinning techniques will get you invited back to the UFC even if they aren't an integral part of your game. The story of Cruickshank's game was his double attack (something I have discussed before in The Curious Case of Mirko Cro Cop and Jimi Manuwa's Face Breaking Double Attack) which kept Martinez playing catch up with his defense.
To recap a double attack is the threat of two attacks - the defense to one of which will open up the target for the other. Sergei Kharitanov's right body hook to right hook to the head is an excellent example - perhaps the best is Cro Cop's left straight to left high kick. Both the aforementioned fighters would pound away with one of the two attacks until the opponent was over-committing to it's defense, then hit them with the other attack.
Cruickshank put into action a double attack very similar to the one that Cro Cop used at points in his career focusing on using the roundhouse kick to the body to bring the opponents hands down, then throw the roundhouse kick to the head. From the beginning of the bout this much was obvious as Cruickshank threw two roundhouse kicks off of the bat then returned to it throughout the first round. Notice that Cruickshank connected in a variety of ways - sometimes low on the body, sometimes under the arm as Martinez attacked (which will really take the wind out of an opponent) and sometimes with the ball of the foot rather than the shin.
The final panel above is a kick with the ball of the foot (koshi in karate terminology) which winded Martinez badly. Kicks with the ball of the foot lack the thudding connection with the bodyweight that a well trained Thai style roundhouse kick have, but they are longer and easier to sneak through an opponent's defense if you are good at them. Just watch Katsunori Kikuno beat up Eddie Alvarez on the feet to see how confusing the length and variable angles of such kicks can be.
As soon as Martinez was hurt by body kicks, he began to drop his hands and lean towards Cruickshank's kicking leg. For the first time ever I was tweeting along to the event and throwing out my thoughts as the fights progressed (of course I'll only include the correct ones!).
Gotta watch out for that high kick...— Jack Slack (@JackSlackMMA) December 8, 2012
Winding Martinez early, Cruickshank followed Martinez to the cage and swarmed on him. In a particularly nice sequence he threw a hard kick to the head through Martinez forearm, stepped back and stepped in as if to throw a roundhouse kick again - instead switching to a front kick with the ball of the foot to the body. I've already dropped Katsunori Kikuno's name once, but this is a vintage Kikuno tactic - he will fake a roundhouse kick and go to a front kick or vice versa over and over in his fights.
Cruickshank showed discipline in attacking the body rather than just the head while trying to finish - this is where so many fighters gas out or get caught while swinging wild. Ray Robinson said a good fighter goes to the body when his opponent is hurt and it's certainly true. If the opponent recovers from his hurt state (as Martinez did) at least you have put some "money in the bank" by committing to body shots while he is concerned about surviving.
1. Cruickshank throws a head kick.
2. Steps in to throw another roundhouse kick.
3. Instead throws his right leg straight forward into Martinez's midsection.
With a clearly hurt and over matched opponent Cruickshank did the smartest thing that a young fighter on the undercard can do - he began throwing eye catching spinning techniques. In the late going of the first round Cruicshank threw a spinning back roundhouse kick to the leg. This technique is remembered fondly among K-1 fans as the Hug Tornado. Watch Andy Hug versus Mike Bernardo to see how it is really done.
It was obvious from the early going that Martinez was going to stumble into a high kick sooner or later from the way that he was exaggerating his defense to Cruickshank's body kicks, and his constant leaning to his own left (into Cruickshank's right leg). Even after getting kicked in the head in the late part of round one (frame 1 below) Martinez continued to lean into the path of Cruickshank's kick (frame 2) despite his coach's warning between rounds to move his head to his right after his attacks. Martinez also continued to overcommit to defending body kicks by dropping his hands - as is visible in frame 3. Finally Cruickshank threw the high kick and it was the end of Martinez's night (frame 4). Check out the gif here.
Ramsey Nijem gets wild
A young fighter that I hugely enjoy watching develop is Ramsey Nijem, and his fight against the savvy veteran Joe Proctor was as back and forth as anyone could hope for. Nijem's striking has been the main area of weakness in his game throughout his career and he has clearly been working on improving this. Ramsey looked brilliant in timing Proctor with his jab and some low kicks, but every time he threw his right hand, both of his hands dropped, he lunged way over to his left and he had a really hard time following up.
Notice that every time Ramsey commits to throwing a power punch he throws himself right out of position - these are four different occasions in the bout but all look identical. The exaggerated lean is not a huge fault - it was a mainstay of Chuck Liddell (also affiliated with The Pit of course) and just last week we examined how Badr Hari used this type of dip to eliminate Alistair Overeem's left hand. The true issue was that both of Ramsey's hands came away from anywhere they could provide defense every time he tried to land his right hand.
Would like to see Ramsey's chin stay down when he steps in.— Jack Slack (@JackSlackMMA) December 8, 2012
This was fine out in the open but when Ramsey backed Proctor against the cage and began firing, Proctor was forced to fire back and Ramey's lack of defense caught up with him.
1. Ramsey jabs and steps in to throw his right hand.
2. Ramsey swings his right hand in with his left down by his waist.
3. Ramsey is completely over-committed and must now stand back up to continue his assault.
4. Bringing his body back to the centre so that he can continue his assult, Ramsey's hands are still low and he eats a short left hook which buckles him.
Ramsey Nijem went on to win the fight and it was a good showing from both men, but if Ramsey wants to start hurting people with his power punches rather than just using the good jab he already has, he must learn to stay safe while he is throwing combinations.
Rafael Assuncao exposes Mike Easton's striking with bad striking
This is a fight that was thoroughly confusing for most because Assuncao looked like he had no clue how to box but still made Easton look bad. Throughout the fight Assuncao stood with his chin high in the air and in the bizarre traditional Jiu Jitsu footing that resembled Francisco Bueno when he was running from Igor Vovchanchyn.
Assuncao's striking was not technically sound - he had very little defense when he did strike and his chin was always up in the air. What Assuncao really showed was that Easton has no way of actually working his way in to strike. Easton demonstrated a severe case of what I have referred to in the past as "Rashad Evans syndrome". This is where a fighter bobbles their head around constantly while outside of striking range, before standing bolt upright as they move in to attack.
Head movement means nothing when the opponent isn't trying to hit you, but if you keep your head still when you move in to attack the opponent could close his eyes (Assuncao actually did several times) and still pinpoint where your head is going to be. Every time Easton stopped bobbling his head and stepped in Assuncao would simply shove his jab out in Easton's face to stun him and then kick Easton's leg while Easton moved back. This happened over and over again.
As a stocky man Easton must learn how to eliminate the threat of his opponents jab if he ever wants to have success against a disciplined opponent on the feet. Assuncao for his part ate some winging shots while his chin was up and if he doesn't address his striking issues line, instead using this win to convince himself that he is an elite striker he could get knocked out sooner rather than later.
Yves Edwards an Jeremy Stephens share an interesting attribute - they both spent much of their career getting by on natural talent. Edwards, the far more experienced fighter, went through a career slump but has come out of the other side to become one of the savviest veterans you could have the pleasure of watching. With Stephen's last two losses wherein he simply looked like he didn't know how to land his strikes, Stephen's may well be entering a similar fall from grace as Edwards suffered when his athletic ability could no longer sustain his fighting style.
While much time is spent in any Jeremy Stephens fight as he misses his strikes explaining how he hits unusually hard and that punching power like his can't be learned, Stephen's creates such incredible power by sacrificing good defensive form on his punches. Notice below that his right hook swings directly across from way out on his right side to way out on his left side. His left hand swings back rather than into a good defensive position and he throws his body forward head first to put his weight behind his swing.
Stephen's punching form leaves him off balance and exposed - as you can see below on a missed right hook (figure 1) and a missed left hook which Edwards was able to counter off of (figure 2).
The knockout came from a short Edwards' hook for Stephen's low left hand and lunging, face led punching style built most of the power. Most elite strikers or even competent strikers could punch much harder if they threw their punches in Stephens' all-in style, but it is not conducive to a stable, lengthy career.
Edwards, for his part, had done his homework and was actively using level changes to evade Stephens' wide swings, keeping his left forearm elevated at all times. The sequence below showed the difference in technical ability between the two perfectly.
1. Edwards (a southpaw) is controlling Stephens' lead hand, leaving only Stephen's slower right hand to worry about.
2. Stephens draws his hand back to his chest and squares his hips - obviously looking to throw a lead hook.
3. When the hook comes Edwards dips underneath it.
4. Edwards skips out towards Stephens' back with a short left hook counter.
The knockout came when Stephen's threw another telegraphed swing and Edwards performed a drop away (in a similar fashion to that used by Denis Siver earlier on) to take his head both away from and below the path of the punch. As Stephens lunged in with his jaw exposed he met Edward's short right hook. The commentators played up the "both threw, one landed quicker" angle as usual but in truth Stephens wouldn't have landed to begin with - notice how Edwards ducks under the path of Stephens' punch. As Stephens' punch is uncontrolled and based in momentum it continues even after he has eaten a punch from Edwards that makes his legs give out. Check out the gif here.