I'm probably not the only one who feels overwhelmed by the number of UFC cards lately. Even on Saturdays with no UFC, I find myself desperately flicking between channels to catch all of the various boxing matches, WSOF, and Invicta events I can get my hands on. The worst thing is that an event will go by with very few truly interesting moments. Such was the case with the Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale, and so I have combined that analysis with my breakdown of the best moments from last weekend's unexpectedly awesome UFC Fight Night 33 card.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for my round-by-round analysis of Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva, by the way. That fight was just too awesome to compress down into a short Tech Recap segment, so it's getting the spotlight treatment tomorrow morning. But I digress--on with the analysis!
Featuring: Jessamyn Duke
When it comes to the UFC's very young women's bantamweight division, serious prospects are somewhat hard to come by, so who isn't excited about the potential of Jessamyn Duke? The Richmond, Kentucky native is comprised of that special combination of styles and attributes that practically guarantees excitement: she is a tall, rangy kickboxer with a tricky, dangerous guard to back up her striking (though she could have used a few tricks from this videoo to finish a triangle in the first round).
In her UFC debut, Duke convincingly beat her TUF 18 cast mate Peggy Morgan on the feet and on the ground, despite a bulldog choke gone wrong in the third round. In the process, she threw some pretty weird looking punches, letting her elbows flare out in exaggerated fashion, particularly on her left hook.
She's already caught some criticism for this, and that's perfectly fine: for the most part, the elbows should stay relatively low during every punch, the left elbow only coming up during the follow-through for the hook. Lifting the elbow too soon reduces power, and telegraphs the punch to the opponent. However, I'd like to take this opportunity to examine why Duke may have been throwing her punches the way she did. And I think that question can be answered with a simple image.
That's Peggy Morgan after absorbing three rounds' worth of Duke's awkward punches. There's some pretty grisly damage showing here, in particular the massive hematoma surround the outside of Morgan's right eye. This is the result of Duke's high-elbow left hook, and it's damage that a more traditional hook might not have caused. The key is fist orientation.
Duke's hook seems intended to aim at relatively long range with the top of the index knuckle. A typical hook would land with either the front of the knuckles of the fist, or with the side of the first knuckle at long range. The problem with landing a long hook this way is that the impact can end up being absorbed by the thumb or the entire side of the hand, risking injury to the thrower and reducing the potential for damage. If you rewatch Chris Weidman's left hook knockout of Anderson Silva, you'll notice that, despite the punch's effectiveness, it did not land cleanly, connecting partially with the knuckle of the thumb and index metacarpal.
By lifting the elbow and turning the fist over a bit more, a fighter can ensure that the hard point of the knuckle connects with the target. This type of hook is common in Cuban boxing systems, and is quite similar to the "casting punch" made famous by Fedor Emelianenko and Igor Vovchanchyn (GIF). A punch landed this way feels less like a mallet to the head and more like a ball-peen hammer. Both hurt, but the latter is obviously more likely to cause swelling and cuts, and break facial bones.
Again, Jessamyn's elbow comes too high on a regular basis, and her overall punching form could use some work, but if her intention is to damage the faces of her opponents then it's hard to argue that she wasn't effective.
Featuring: Nate Diaz, Gray Maynard
In my pre-TUF Finale Judo Chop I made note of the difference in footwork between Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz. Maynard, I said, had consistently shown better footwork than Nate, whose latest pair of losses were marked by his inability to keep up with fleet-footed opponents. Though he had struggled to put all the facets of boxing together in the past, I half-expected Gray Maynard to dance circles around Diaz. Little did I know that Nate had been putting in some solid work between fights, for the notorious Stocktonian unveiled some much improved movement this time out.
1. Nate paws with his jab, and Maynard catches the feint with his own lead hand. Here you can see Nate crossing his feet, which is not ideal, but his hand-fighting has occupied Maynard's eyes and he is able to safely reposition his back foot in preparation to take an angle.
2. Back foot in position, Nate takes a step to the outside with his lead foot. Maynard feints his jab and begins to change levels, attempting to counter Nate's step with a takedown.
3. Nate cracks him coming in with a straight left, a beautiful punch thrown with absolutely no telegraph. Maynard's feet are unplanted as he dives right into it.
4. Maynard tumbles to the ground and spends the next thirty seconds getting brutally beaten up by Diaz the younger.
I have long admired Nate Diaz's willingness to work the inside angle as a southpaw. He is happy to keep his lead foot on the inside, where he can easily land his excellent right jab. He has shown an inability to adjust in the past, however. By stepping straight forward to the inside, you risk giving the opponent a dominant angle-all they need is a slight turn and they're in the perfect position to counter. Moving forward against opponents with good footwork requires the ability to move on diagonal lines, which means stepping outside the opponent's foot to trap them and keep them in the line of your strikes.
Nate not only did this very well to start off the finish, but continued to keep Maynard in his sights long after referee Yves Lavigne should have stopped the bout (though I don't blame him for giving Maynard more than one chance to come back).
1. Badly hurt, Gray Maynard tries to circle away, but Diaz is relentless.
2. Nate throws his signature one-two, not only catching Maynard with both punches but moving to Maynard's left in the process.
3. As Maynard stumbles back in a desperate bid to get out of range, Nate throws a leaping right hook, moving diagonally forward and to his right again to keep Maynard in the pocket.
4. Nate switches to orthodox almost incidentally as he collides with Maynard against the cage. But now he is positioned perfectly to throw a straight right if Maynard attempts to circle further in the direction he was going, and Nate's lead foot and hand firmly block the other route of escape.
There's still a lot of polishing to be done here, but a Diaz brother with adaptable boxing is a scary thought in and of itself. One thing is clear: Nate Diaz's steps and turns are improving by leaps and bounds.
CLOSING THE GAP
Featuring: Bethe Correia, Julie Kedzie
The UFC's 33rd Fight Night event proved to be a tough one for fight pickers, with lots of upsets and closely contested fights, and this was one of the bouts that I called completely wrong. I fully expected Julie Kedzie's 28 bouts to play a role here over the inexperienced Correia. I mean-she doesn't even have a Wikipedia page!
Suffice it to say that I didn't know enough about either fighter to make this pick well, because Correia proved that it's not just the quantity of experience that counts, but the quality. And clearly Correia's six fights training under the "Pitbull" brothers Patricio and Patricky Freire prepared her better than Julie Kedzie's many bouts under Greg Jackson, whose coaching in this fight was more than a little suspect.
Really this fight, like so many others, was a story of range. The problem is that most battles of range involve one fighter vying to establish his/her preferred range while the opponent does the same, whereas in this bout Julie Kedzie really didn't seem to know her preferred range at all. Time after time Correia would pressure Kedzie from just outside punching range, prompting Kedzie to pump a jab that had no chance of landing, or throw a slick-looking but largely ineffective kick. And time after time Correia would wait for these strikes to extend and then follow the retracting limb into the pocket where her harder punches and clinch game could be put to work.
1. Kedzie throws a hard left teep that pushes Correia to the ground. This, by the way, is the one technique with which she found consistent success-she simply failed to follow it up with anything meaningful.
2. As Correia stands up, Kedzie throws a 1-2, but the combination is robotic; she does not step into range.
3. Correia is the one to close the gap, changing levels and following Kedzie's predictable jab back to her body...
4. ...and securing double underhooks right away.
Greg Jackson repeatedly told Kedzie both between rounds and from cageside during the fight to use her feints ("JUST KIDDING. JUST KIDDING. HAHA. JUST KIDDING."), which sounds like a great way to set up strikes. Kedzie's difficulty was that her feints were not backed up by anything. She was feinting jabs and throwing them from the exact same range, and so Correia had nothing to worry about. She could close the gap off of a feint or real strike with the same amount of risk, and she rarely paid for either.
Correia's striking needs some polish. She could stand to tighten up her punches a bit, and she would be well-advised to start throwing in combinations, but she fights from a solid stance, changes levels well, and isn't afraid to throw back in the pocket. Too often MMA fighters leap completely out of reach when the opponent gives any indication that they are about to strike. This will keep you from being hit more often than not, but look at it this way: if Correia had backed up in response to Kedzie's feints rather than getting low and following them in, she would have lost the fight. Instead, she fought smart and use her defense to create opportunities for offense, which is what fighting is all about.
Featuring: Shogun Rua
It was a good night for Pride fans. Though Mark Hunt didn't get his win, he put on an incredibly gutsy performance against the #4 heavyweight in the world, and just before that Mauricio Rua spent a mere 63 seconds reminding us all why we first fell in love with his particular brand of violence. Shogun barely needed a minute to put Te Huna away, adding a 19th knockout win to his resume. Even better than a simple return to the Shogun of old, this performance gave us glimpses of a new and improved Shogun, one that perhaps didn't get the chance to shine in a tough stylistic matchup with Chael Sonnen a few months ago.
To start the breakdown, I'll pose the same question that I did immediately after the knockout: since when does Shogun throw counter left hooks? I believe we owe the credit to Freddie Roach, celebrity trainer extraordinaire and one of the few remaining teachers from the lineage of the legendary Eddie Futch. You can see Freddie working with Shogun in this UFC promotional video, which shows the pair extensively practicing Shogun's left hook, a punch that Roach is well known for (he famously added a dangerous right hook to Manny Pacquiao's once-limited southpaw arsenal).
What stands out is how well grounded Shogun is in those clips. In his previous performances he has shown a tendency to push his punches, using mostly his upper body to generate power (GIF). Though Rua is a naturally heavy-handed fighter, Freddie Roach shocked many MMA fans when he declared that he didn't think anyone had ever taught Shogun how to punch. Roach promised that he had managed to improve Shogun's punching power, which many fans scoffed at, but it proved to be the truth. Roach bestowed upon Rua the true secret to punching power: leverage.
When looking at the freeze frames below, bear in mind that I selected this camera angle for the visibility of the feet. For a better view of the punch itself landing, you are encouraged to view this GIF, over and over and over. Te Huna's body is turned briefly into a liquid which falls to the canvas and then reconstitutes itself into a corpse. Enjoy!
1. Shogun's left foot is planted, his right heel slightly raised. This indicates that his weight is on his left leg.
2. Te Huna jumps in with a left uppercut. There are two things to notice here in Shogun's reaction: first, he turns his left hip and steps out to his left in a sort of mid-air pivot. This step transfers his weight to his right leg. Second, as his weight shifts his head moves, causing Te Huna's uppercut to sail by his cheek where it would have cracked him in the chin had his head remained stationary.
3. Shogun's left hook lands flush just as his left foot makes contact with the ground. Opposite to the first frame, his right heel is now planted, while only the ball of his left foot is touching the ground, the leg internally rotated.
4. The outward step also served to give Shogun the angle for a follow-up right hand, which he throws as Te Huna crumples to the ground. For good measure, take a look at his feet again: left heel down, right heel up.
Weight transfer and leverage are key to true power punching, and with just a simple understanding of these mechanics Shogun was able to transcend from a naturally gifted puncher to a truly potent knockout artist. What's more, he was equipped by Roach with the tools to counter an over-extended opponent using weapons he had never before shown.
For more fight analysis and interviews with fighters and trainers, check out Connor's podcast Heavy Hands. Tonight's new episode features an interview with trainer Wilson Pitts.