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Three Counters to look for at UFC Sao Paulo, feat. Teixeira, Almeida, Magomedov

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Bloody Elbow's Connor Ruebusch breaks down the countering techniques of Thomas Almeida, Rashid Magomedov, and Glover Teixeira, all three scheduled to fight at UFC Sao Paulo, November 7th.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It's doubtful that any one name will stand out to the average MMA fan when looking over the card for UFC Sao Paulo--excepting the main event, which is one of the most depressing in recent memory. That doesn't mean that the event is without value, however. In fact, it's stacked from top to bottom with excellent matchups, many of them featuring some of the most promising prospects in the sport today.

The last time we had a card this loaded with talent and interesting matchmaking was UFC 191. For that event, I broke down the three types of counters you could expect to see during that weekend's action, categorizing them based on rhythm or timing. This time, we're going to look at counters from a different perspective, and in the process celebrate the dynamic skillsets of tomorrow's best fighters.

These are three types of counter to look for at UFC Sao Paulo.


Thomas Almeida is only 24 years old, but his strike selection is that of a bona fide veteran. Though hittable early in most fights (owing to a hyper-aggressive, close-range style), Almeida makes excellent adaptations to each and every opponent.

Such was the case in Almeida's fight with Brad Pickett. "One Punch" landed dozens of damaging punches in the early going, knocking Almeida down with one of many left hooks, and flooring him shortly after with a brutal clinch knee. Almeida survived, but he needed to adapt quickly to save himself from further damage. His solution was to expand the distance slightly, avoiding Pickett's boxing range until it was advantageous for him to be there. Moving around Pickett with jabs and long kicks, he set up a magnificent, unique counter elbow.

1. Almeida stands at long distance, too far away for Pickett to hit.

2. As Pickett begins to step forward, Almeida does the same.

3. The distance shrinks rapidly, and Pickett loads up on an uppercut.

4. Almeida meets Pickett's forward momentum with a downward elbow, moving his head off-line in the process.

This elbow was a wonderful adaptation for a number of reasons. Almeida had already discovered his disadvantage in exchanging punches with Pickett; despite posessing solid combination punching of his own, Pickett's experience and quick transitions from offense to defense were too much for the young Brazilian. Almeida needed a strike that could be thrown with great power over a very short distance--too close for most of Pickett's punches to have any effect.  Because the elbow is half as far down the arm as the fist, an elbow strike requires much less distance to reach top velocity. By stepping in and countering Pickett's lead, Almeida also sought to avoid another dangerous exchange of blows, looking to run Pickett into a single powerful strike in order to maximum damage before the veteran could start stringing his shots together.

Not many fighters throw downward elbows, either. By pointing his hand straight down at the ground, Almeida created an arc for his counter that no other strike can match: short, downward, and straight. There aren't many reliable ways to block a strike like this, and the trajectory is so unusual that few fighters have those defenses adequately prepared.

Anthony Birchak likes to stand and trade, and he likes to cover distance quickly. Keep an eye on Almeida's elbows when he meets Birchak this weekend.


Kick counters are a tricky thing. Balance is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of punch resistance. In other words, an off-balance fighter is always easier to hurt than one who has his feet firmly under his body. Keeping that in mind, there is relatively little risk in attempting to counter a strike with a punch. Should you run into the strike you are attempting to counter, you will at the very least have a solid base underneath you to help with shock absorption.

Kicks are a a different matter entirely. Even the most technically perfect kick requires a fighter to stand on one leg, leaving his balance badly compromised. A successful kick counter requires perfect distance management to ensure that the strike being countered doesn't land mid-kick.

Enter Rashid Magomedov. Despite a boxing background, "Highlander" is an adept kicker, with a particularly dangerous left leg. A born out-fighter, Magomedov is happy to spend long portions of fights moving around just outside of his opponent's range, peppering him with long, quick strikes and goading him to lead with something that the Dagestani sharpshooter can then counter--often with the aforementioned left kick. Here's how he does it.

1. Rodrigo Damm moves forward in small steps, and Magomedov moves back, always maintaining the same distance.

2. Damm leads with a throwaway hook and steps off-line to his left. Magomedov recognizes the angle for a right hand.

3. As Damm moves into his punch, Magomedov performs a small switch, springloading his left leg for more short-range power, and at the same time posts his left hand on Damm's head.

4. Damm's arm extends, but Magomedov's head is already moving away behind his left shoulder as his leg flies up to meet Damm's unprotected ribs.

When Magomedov throws a counter kick, his entire body is involved in the strike, which allows him to make whatever small adjustments are necessary to protect himself while punishing his opponent. First, he uses his hands to check the opponent. Not only does he touch his fingertips to Rodrigo Damm's forehead above, but he leaves that arm extended as he follows through with his kick. This gives him a very solid feel for the distance between himself and his opponent, while creating an obstacle for the punch he is attempting to counter. Not only is his head protecting by his outstretched arm, but it moves away as his hips move forward, creating distance and bringing his left shoulder up in front of his chin.

Tricky as it is, Magomedov makes his kicks look like safe, compact counter strikes. Unlike his opponents, whose bodies and legs are punished whenever they extend their arms to punch, Magomedov's arms can play defense while his lower body dishes out the punishment. Look for Magomedov to use that left leg to poke holes in Gilbert Burns' unpolished defense this Saturday.


Finally, we come to Glover Teixeira. The cross counter has always been a big part of Teixeira's largely boxing-oriented offense. Though quite fond of the typical version of this attack (wherein the cross loops over the opponent's jab to hit him on the temple or jaw), Teixeira also employs an old school variation, throwing a short right hand to the body.

1. Teixeira stalks forward as Rampage Jackson backs up toward the fence.

2. Teixeira takes a step forward, his head centered.

3. As Jackson jabs, Teixeira pulls his head toward his left hip, slipping inside the punch . . .

4. . . . and bringing a short, powerful right hand with him.

5. After closing the distance, Teixeira attempts his real money punch, the left hook.

Much like Rashid Magomedov's counter kick, Teixeira's low cross counter takes advantage of an unavoidable opening. As his opponent's left arm extends to jab, the entire left side of his body is left open for the picking. So long as his momentum is committed to the jab, there is just about nothing he can do to protect his side. And while the liver, the most coveted target on the torso, is situated on the opposite side, a good blow to the left ribcage can damage the spleen, another vulnerable organ. No matter what lies underneath, bruised ribs aren't exactly fun either.

This variation of the typical cross counter is particularly useful against a wary, defensively savvy opponent. There are a lot of things a fighter can do to protect his head while throwing a jab. A slight fold at the hips, a short backward step, or even a cross-block with the opposite hand--any of these can thwart an attempt at a counter upstairs. The body, however, is much more reluctant to move. So long as Teixeira's opponent fully commits to his jab, he is wide open to a painful body blow.

Patrick Cummins' head-forward stance makes him a prime target for the normal cross counter, but any opponent of Teixeira's should be prepared for his right hand. Look for Glover to keep Cummins guessing with a few short shots to the body when the two light heavyweights square off November 7th.

For more on the prospect-stacked card that is UFC Sao Paulo, check out the latest episode of Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face-punching.