It's Sunday morning and there is a ton of stuff to talk about. The best boxer in the world got knocked out with a beautiful counter, the UFC lightweight title was successfully defended, and Zuffa put on it's best card in ages and their first truly top tier card on Fox. Consequently I will be examining the televised card today and the undercard tomorrow with a little examination of the Pacquiao - Marquez match later in the week. We'll dive right into it because I'm still buzzing from the event.
Matt Brown stops Mike Swick
Mike Swick's defense looked incredibly porous in his last bout which led me to believe that he would struggle with Matt Brown's right hand in this fight. Matt Brown for his part must have suspected this because the majority of his leads in this bout were with his right hand. Swick did an excellent job of always circling away from Brown's right hand as he retreated, but this ultimately set up the knockout. Early in the fight Brown was having trouble getting Swick to stand still so he extended both of his hands to meet Swick's - preventing Swick from punching effectively, and backed Swick towards the cage. From here Brown turned his right elbow over to crack Swick on the jaw.
1. Brown checks both of Swick's hands. Swick backs away towards the cage in hopes of getting away from Brown's hand traps without dropping his guard.
2. As they reach the fence Brown pulls down on Swick's left hand with his right and turns over a right elbow strike to Swick's head.
After a period of clinch work and a return to open space, Brown managed to exploit Swick's commitment to circling away from Brown's right hand by following up with a stepping left hook (in the manner of Mauricio Rua). Swick was flustered initially because Brown's attack came as Swick was recovering from a failed right hook, and he simply couldn't get back to a defensive posture quick enough to have his hands in position while he retreated. Check out this gif.
1. Swick throws a right hook and misses.
2. As Swick recovers Brown throws a right hand between Swick's forearms. Swick retreats away from Brown's right hand...
3. And into Brown's loaded left hook as Brown steps forward to pursue him.
4. Brown lands another straight right as Swick falls, sealing the victory.
While the fight was short lived it was impressive to see Brown actively attacking with Jiu Jitsu and showing unusually measured striking. Swick's reliance on speed paired with his lengthy time off is not a good combination and he will certainly have to get out of the habit of swinging missed punches and expecting to be quick enough to not get punished for it if he hopes to get back to his previous form.
MacDonald exploits Penn's Faults
I'm going to get this out of the way now - B.J. Penn's loss was once again nothing to do with his conditioning or motivation but more to do with having fundamental faults and weaknesses that most good strategists can point to and teach their charges to exploit. In the lead up to this fight I pointed out Penn's inability to deal with low kicks and his weak constitution for body shots. Rory MacDonald came out and exploited both in brutal fashion.
From the get go Rory was kicking Penn's leg from the outside which works extremely well against Penn and the Diaz brothers because of their stance. They stand narrow to maximize their reach when they jab but consquently whenever they eat or even check a low kick they are almost turned around by the kick to expose their back. Furthermore if they do not lift their leg the kick will often connect in the back of their leg, on the tender hamstring rather than the thick flesh of the quadriceps. This bout and the main event were punctuated by numerous instances of low kicks forcing Penn and Nate Diaz to turn their backs and then struggle to get back on guard.
1. MacDonald and Penn square off.
2. MacDonald kicks Penn in the leg, Penn is almost spun around because of his narrow stance.
In the first round MacDonald wobbled the iron jawed Penn with a well timed counter elbow as Penn lunged in. This was a departure from the game plan of body strikes and low kicks but showed that solid timing and an unexpected counter can stun even the toughest of adversaries.
1. Penn is backing up towards the cage.
2. As Penn steps in MacDonald meetsh im with a short left elbow, putting Penn on rubber legs.
MacDonald's commitment to body work was obvious throughout as he used the left hook to the body with impunity. Each time he hit Penn with a body shot Penn looked a little less willing to throw his own punches. Anyone who watched Penn's fight with Georges St. Pierre already knew how badly Penn can over-react to body shots, as he willingly dropped his hands and took hard punches in the head to avoid getting hit in the body against GSP.
The body shot in the bottom right still (number 4) in particular was vicious. As Penn was struggling against the fence, hurt from a body kick, MacDonald landed a hard body punch that doubled Penn over. Gif of that HERE I certainly feel better about the lack of bodywork in MMA that I spoke about in a recent interview. It is a testament to Penn's toughness that he was able to make it to the end of the round, let alone the fight.
MacDonald's performance brought up the same holes that BJ's losses to Nick Diaz, Georges St. Pierre and Frankie Edgar all exposed but I fear that this bout will be written off for Penn as a lack of motivation, Penn fighting at the wrong weight, or a lack of conditioning. I heartily encourage fans to rewatch the fight and notice just how defenseless Penn can seem against kicks and a sustained body attack. Penn used to be one of the most rounded fighters in the world - he hasn't changed, but an inability to kickbox as opposed to just box is now a massive disadvantage in the upper echelons of MMA.
One of the main reasons that MacDonald is evolving so well and that Penn can't seem to work out why he was great anymore is that MacDonald has a stable full of training partners and coaches who won't lie to him about his performance. Penn, on the other hand, seems to constantly be surrounded by men who are in awe of his ability but can't or won't correct him when he is clearly having trouble.
Gustafsson struggles with Shogun
As much as I was on board with the Alexander Gustafsson hype train he looked anything but the technical striker he was vaunted as. As I observed earlier in the week, Shogun does not kick anymore and simply comes forward with the counter overhand right (or Cross Counter) and the stepping left hook (or "Cheat Punch"). These were the only two techniques that Gustafsson needed to worry about on the feet yet his defenses to these looked disappointingly inconsistent.
Here Gustafsson lets Shogun step in with his cheat punch. Shogun steps forward with his right leg as he punches with his left hand, covering a great deal of distance with a surprisingly powerful punch. Gustafsson is left stumbling to stay on balance as he moves with the punch.
Every time Gustafsson came in, Shogun would attempt the Cross Counter with his right hand - looping over the top. Rather than exploit this, Gustafsson simply kept jumping in and seemingly writing off the times he got hit as Shogun getting lucky without spotting the pattern. Most concerning was Gustafsson's failure to step off line as he kicked. When a fighter kicks he should always step out in the direction that he is kicking so that he is not right in front of the opponent, and he should certainly always keep his hands up for the worst case scenario.
Here is Gustafsson eating Shogun's right hand counter on the chin as he steps in with a kick head on. From here Shogun drove through and took Gustafsson down just as Jon Jones has done to many of the opponents who have attempted the outside thigh kick on him.
Gustafsson continued to let the shorter, sloppier striker exchange with him and ended up getting clipped with good counters several times while throwing out little of great affect. More worrying was Gustafsson's inability to deal with the wrestling of Shogun. Folks who have followed Shogun since his PRIDE days will know that Shogun used to love the takedown and ground and pound more than he loved to stand, but his wrestling has simply never been good enough to take elite opponents down consistently - hence the constant attempts to drop for leg locks from the clinch. Gustafsson's takedown defense throughout this bout looked down right sloppy and is a big worry now that he is first in line for a crack at the winner of the Jon Jones vs Chael Sonnen mismatch.
One of the few moments of brilliance sprinkled through this grinding bout was Gustafsson's use of the knee when Shogun came in close. Below Shogun runs it with a punch and Gustafsson meets him with a hard knee. This counter made the crowd cheer, but also slowed Shogun down. Machida has shown that Shogun can be hit with hard knees coming in, and it should be even easier for a tall man, but Gustafsson was reluctant to return to this tactic even with the knowledge that Shogun is a notoriously poorly conditioned fighter.
This was far from a bad fight, but as it was clearly supposed to be Gustafsson's coming out party and Shogun showed absolutely nothing new but still made Gustafsson struggle it was definitely the only disappointment of the card.
Henderson Shows How to Fight a Diaz
When the rest of the card has been fantastic main events can often fail to live up to expectations but in truth this one was even better than I expected. Benson Henderson fought the perfect fight against a Diaz; outside low kicks, body work and smothering in the clinch. It was a masterclass and you could count the number of times that Diaz hit Henderson clean on one hand. For those of you who haven't read my writings on it before; the Diaz brothers' stance is fundamentally flawed for competition which allows kicks. They, like BJ Penn, stand very narrow with their lead leg turned in, but even more so than in Penn's stance. This stance is excellent for engaging head to head - it narrows the target you present and it allows you to maximise the reach on your lead hand - but it is terrible for following an opponent.
Carlos Condit was accused of running but he basically exposed Nick Diaz's inability to cut off the octagon from his stance and Diaz's slow turning circle. By circling to the outside of the Diaz brothers lead legs it is possible to force them into a chase that their slow turning circle makes it almost impossible for them to win. Furthermore, they are so susceptible to low kicks that a single low kick to the outside of their lead leg can stop them in their tracks by taking them out of stance.
Benson Henderson returned to the low kick to the outside of Nate Diaz's thigh through the entire fight and every time he did so it collapsed Nate's stance and prevented the challenger from doing anything much but look confused. Had Donald Cerrone stuck to this strategy from round one he could have easily out struck Diaz.
Every time Henderson kicked Diaz's leg from the outside, it threw Diaz's lead leg across in front of him and prevented him from doing anything. Henderson even swept Diaz off of his feet with a kick in the first round.
Of course the constant mugging of the Diaz brothers leads fans to claim that low kicks don't bother the brothers - yet it was clearly true that Henderson was causing damage in this bout as when he began punching Nate's leg (yes, that really happened). Nate looked visibly stifled and indeed stumbled as a result of one hard jab above the knee as he was stepping forward. The jabs to the leg ultimately proved even more effective by setting up a hard left hand to the head.
1. Henderson hyperextends Diaz's knee as the latter steps forward.
2. Diaz falls forward, catching himself on his hands.
1. Henderson fakes the jab to the leg, Diaz picks his knee up to check.
2. Henderson cracks Diaz with a left straight to the jaw.
A final moment of excellence on the feet came as Diaz over committed to taunting with his arms out. Henderson had hit and run all match and as Diaz walked Henderson down with his arms extended, Henderson stopped in his tracks and caught Diaz with a hard right hook as he was walking forward with his hands down.
Getting the Diaz brothers to walk onto punches is a great strategy, especially as they get frustrated throughout the bout. The first to truly show the effectiveness of this strategy was the continually under-rated K.J. Noons.
Throughout the bout Nate Diaz showed all the gameness for which he is known and even had some moments of success in the clinch where he has previously been stifled, but Henderson's strategy and discipline in executing it was simply too much. Every time Henderson dragged Diaz to the mat he would land hard shots to the head, but more importantly to the body which started to show their effects later in the bout. Someone is going to knock out one of the Diaz brothers eventually, but better strikers than Henderson have tried to be the first and ended up getting into brawls that they simply couldn't win. Henderson's gameplan was certainly the highlight of the entire event for me and the fight is worth watching for the grappling exchanges alone!