Once again, the fighters on UFC's Fight Night Atlanta card proved that big names don't guarantee an exciting fight, and that the middle of the pack can put on one hell of a show. Most of all, fight fans were treated to a number of truly dynamic fights, with wrestling, striking, and submission grappling aplenty. For this first part of the Technique Recap, we focus on the fighters who battled wherever the fight took them-standing, on the ground, and everywhere in between.
These are the mixed martial artists.
Featuring: Ramsey Nijem
Ramsey Nijem busted out, in my opinion, the single greatest move of the night in his decision win over Justin Edwards. The technique itself was, honestly, not spectacular. Not only was Nijem's form questionable, but his opponent's reaction turned what could have been a slick attack into a clumsy shove.
But it was Nijem's application of his technique, not his execution, that captivated me. This one sequence encapsulates everything fascinating and unique about striking in MMA. Let's take a look.
1. Edwards and Nijem square off.
2. Hopping his right leg forward, Nijem extends his left arm and swings his left leg out behind Edwards who covers up and misses a counter kick with his own left leg.
3. Nijem attempts to sweep Edwards' lead leg, but because of the kick he misses, only managing to push Edwards off balance with his left arm, now in a collar tie position.
4. Nijem switches to a knee tap to complete the takedown, catching Edwards leg before he can put it back down (circled).
5. Edwards stumbles to the ground, with Nijem hot on his heels.
6. As Edwards stands, Nijem connects with a barely legal knee to the face.
Wednesday night was probably the most excited I've ever been over a failed technique. Despite being unable to complete the attempted Osotogari, Nijem adapted at a moment's notice to succeed in sending Edwards to the mat. And, though he wasn't able to engage Edwards in a dominant position on the ground, he showed excellent striking instincts, taking advantage of a split-second opportunity to land a damaging technique. In Muay Thai, dumps and throws are very common, though the rules limit the techniques the nakmuay may use. Still, Thai fighters are taught that there is still value in a throw that fails to floor the opponent. The off-balancing is what matters, and even a split second of disrupted balance means a free knee or kick to a vulnerable opponent. I don't know that Nijem's ever trained in a serious Thai gym, but he showed an excellent understanding of this concept against Edwards.
There are a few other fighters known for executing throws and trips from striking range. Josh Thomson used a few in his final, razor-close fight with Gilbert Melendez (GIF). Yoshihiro Akiyama unleashed some of the most aesthetically pleasing foot sweeps you'll ever see against Jake Shields (GIF 1, GIF 2). And who could forget, my personal favorite, Lyoto Machida, who used his striking to create opportunities for brilliant sweeps against many of his early opponents (GIF 1, GIF 2, GIF 3).
Striking enthusiasts like myself might complain about the quality of kickboxing in this sport, but that right there is the true beauty of MMA.
FIGHTING TALL, FIGHTING LONG
Featuring: Cole Miller
Where has this Cole Miller been in the past? Sicilia had an obvious and, as it turns out, crippling size disadvantage against Cole Miller, but he was still expected by all but the most contrarian fight fans to have an edge on Cole Miller on the feet. Miller, known for his never-say-die grit and dangerous, tangly guard game, put together what would have been the best boxing performance of the night if not for TJ Dillashaw's clinic against Mike Easton shortly after, but that's the subject of tomorrow's recap. For now, let's give Miller his props for doing what so many MMA fighters fail to do: using his reach.
That's Cole Miller on the left. According to Wikipedia, he's 6'1". Sam Sicilia, on the right, is a full five inches shorter at 5'8", but you'd never know it looking at this image. That's because, contrary to what many would have you believe, length is far more important than height, and tall fighters can maximize their reach advantage by doing exactly what Miller is doing here: bending their knees, and getting low.
Being the lower fighter affords one both an offensive and defensive advantage. While the taller fighter's strikes go sailing his head, the lower fighter has a substantial advantage in leverage, which means shots that do land tend to hurt him less, and he is able to generate much more power in his own strikes. By getting low, Miller levels the playing field somewhat, while still retaining the reach advantage afforded by his long arms and legs.
One of the ways that Miller used his reach is with head control. Many fighters will extend their lead arms as they back out of range-Jon Jones does this in every fight-but this is more often than not a passive defense. Despite the very real threat of a finger in the eye, it doesn't take a great dill of skill to get around a casually extended lead arm. A level change and some decent footwork will put one right back in the pocket, safely inside the tall man's reach. Miller prevented this by using an active lead hand, jabbing, posting, grabbing, and pushing at Sicilia's head, neck, and shoulders to halt his momentum and allow Miller to get back to his own range.
1. Miller circles left, feinting his jab to get Sicilia to plant his feet.
2. As Sicilia plants, Miller steps off the center line and lands a cuffing right hand.
3. Miller extends his lead arm as Sicilia counters, catching his wild right hand on the outside of his shoulder.
4. Sicilia follows up with a wide left hook, which Cole blocks by rotating his body and folding his right arm close to his cheek. Notice that he retracts his left arm as he does this.
5. Now Miller, beginning to circle back to his desired range reaches out once again, this time on the side of Sicilia's head to which he wants to move.
6. Controlling Sicilia with this stiff arm, Miller is free to exit range, safe from any of Sicilia's attacks.
Naturally however, at a certain point the taller fighter cannot get lower than the shorter one, and this is where height as its advantage. While the short man has more leverage, the tall man is far more able to throw upward strikes, which punish the shorter man for even trying to change levels. Often the damage of these strikes is maximized by the shorter fighter's downward momentum.
Cole Miller didn't throw a single uppercut, but he didn't need them. Rather, his upward strike was his jab. Each time that Sicilia would lower his base and prepare to launch into one of his powerful punches, Miller would shoot a straight jab up into his face.
But it got even better; Miller had one more trick up his sleeve, and it proved to be absolutely devastating. The best way to avoid a straight punch is to move one's head to the outside of it. About half way through the first round, Sicilia seemed to have figured this out, and was attempting to slip Miller's jab, getting closer and closer to the optimal range for his shorter arms. Moving his head over his right hip, Miller's left arm would shoot straight past Sicilia's head. Unfortunately for Sicilia, this movement puts the head right into the path of the right hand. Matt Brown's knockdown of Mike Pyle is a good example of that concept (GIF).
Once Sicilia was worried about the upward jab, Miller began coupling it with a downward right hand. Creating threats from both angles meant that Sicilia had difficulty predicting Miller's next attack, and it completely negated any advantage Sicilia's height may have afforded him. After a few minutes of eye-blacking punishment, he stopped moving his head altogether and begin flailing at Miller's incoming fists with desperate parries. That's when Miller had him.
1. Miller, his lead hand lowered, stands before Sicilia. Enlarge the image and take note of the fact that Sicilia's eye is focused on that low left.
2. Miller feints his up-jab, the source of all Sicilia's woes, and the shorter man swats at the place where the punch should be.
3. Now Cole uncorks a crisp overhand right.
4. Which drops Sicilia.
Note to all mixed martial artists: this is what an overhand right is supposed to look like. Miller throws a tight, nearly straight right hand that, with just a bit of elbow lift at the end of the punch, cuts a sharp downward angle right onto Sicilia's jaw. Miller's deft rear naked choke on the still-stunned Sicilia was the icing on one beautiful cake of a performance.
That's all for now. Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two of this Tech Recap, and stay tuned to Bloody Elbow for more MMA coverage.
For more technical analysis and some fighter/trainer interviews, head over to the homepage of Heavy Hands, Connor's new podcast that focuses on the finer points of face-punching. Now available on both iTunes and Stitcher.