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UFC 217: Jabs, elbows and high kicks: A breakdown of Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s game

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“Combat Course: Lesson’s from the Cage” presents a breakdown of Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s game. Learn MMA from the pros in action!

This post is both a tribute to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, one of the best pure Thaiboxing specialists to ever fight in MMA and a blueprint on how to use Muay Thai to compliment your boxing skills and win fights in modern MMA.

In her upcoming fight against Rose "Thug" Namajunas, Joanna will have her hands full as Rose has drastically improved her striking game and is pretty good at submitting opponents. Nevertheless, Joanna is one of my favorite fighters as she is a lean, mean striking machine.

The following analysis of her basic moves can help fans appreciate diverse approaches to the fighting game and enjoy fights more by identifying what each fighter brings to the table.

This “Lesson’s from the Cage“ series is more about substance than spectacle and focuses on competition tested techniques which can be used by trainers and athletes alike in order to raise their technical level.

On the other hand Joanna’s game is a good opportunity to help readers refresh some fundamental Muay Thai moves. That being said let’s start analyzing...

Part 1: Boxing

Author’s note: moves in brackets are opponent’s attacks.

Technique #1: The Jab

Joanna has one of the best jabs in MMA. She is big for her weight class and when she does not go full brawling mode, makes good use of her reach advantage. As you can see above in her fight against Jéssica Andrade, Joanna attacks with a jab and her head does not move infront of her knee which is a common mistake in MMA. Instead she opens her stance stepping in, delivers the jab and pulls her foot back to get out of trouble.

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Technique #2: Jab to the Body

Another great weapon in Joanna’s arsenal is a stiff jab to the body. She does not change levels when landing this punch but instead prefers the full-standing version in a manner similar to a jab to the face. She uses this move both as a single attack and to set-up follow-up strikes in combinations.

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Technique #3: Jab to Right Cross to the Body

In the sequence above you can see Joanna attacking with a jab, blocking her opponent’s vision and forcing her to lift her guard up, thus exposing her stomach area. Jędrzejczyk changes levels and finishes the combination with a right cross to the body.

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Technique #4:

In her fight against Claudia Gadelha, Joanna attacks with a jab and follows-up with a second fake jab. With a “single breath” she attacks with a modified jab/uppercut which ended up dropping her opponent. I call this a modified uppercut as she uses an old school bare-knuckle boxing variation.

As you can see in the screencap above, Joanna’s thumb is not facing towards her face, instead her knuckles are facing upwards, in an angle similar to that of a jab. This is a way to throw the uppercut without boxing gloves and works great from a distance.

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Technique #5: Jab Feint, Overhand Right, Jab

I love how Joanna often initiates attacks with a jab (jab-in) and also finishes with a jab (jab-out). To make this work you have to “sell” the jab, the punch must land often and with power. In the combination above she feints with a jab to close the distance, attacks with an overhand right and disengages again with a jab in order to check the distance and keep her opponent at range.

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Technique #6: Feints, Left Hook to the Body

In this sequence Joanna moves as if she is about to initiate a jab, threatens with a fake right hand and attacks with a liver shot (a left hook to the body). In order to go back to safety she uses the Muay Thai extended arm guard (photo 5) to push her opponent away.

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Technique #7: [Lead Right], Counter Left Hook

This counter is a classic boxing one. Karolina Kowalkiewicz attacks with a lead right hand (a high-risk move). In order to counter the punch Joanna slips, pivots to her left and attacks with a counter left hook.

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Technique #8: [Lead Left Hook], Roll Under, Left Hook

This is another classic boxing counter. Her opponent attacks with a lead left hook. Joanna rolls under and counters with a left hook of her own. Please notice in my breakdowns that a roll-under is different than a duck under, in that in a roll-under a fighter’s head will go back up before countering with a strike. In a duck-under the fighter will attack from a lower level or go for a wrestling move.

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Part 2: Clinching, Knees and Elbows

As a true Muay Thai fighter Joanna is used to fighting from the Thai-plum and its variations using knees and elbows. Here are some examples:

Technique #9: Sprawl, Stand-up, Overhook Clinch, R.Knee, R.Elbow

Carla Esparza shoots for a takedown and Joanna spawls using an overhook to push Carla’s hips away (photo 3). As they stand back up, Joanna utilizes the overhook clinch (left overhook, right forearm pushing opponent’s head away). From this position she attacks with a right knee and a right elbow.

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Technique #10: Thai Plum, Knees, Right Elbow

In a classic Thaiboxing attack Joanna uses the Thai plum control (double neck tie) to pull her opponent’s head down and attacks with knees. As her opponent is able to lift her head back up, Joanna keeps the left neck tie and attacks with a right elbow to the face. Please note that elbows in Muay Thai are like “knives” (used to cut opponents) and knees are “hammers” (knockout strikes).

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Technique #11: Thai Plum, Right Knee, Single Neck-Tie Pull, Left Hook

Jéssica Andrade shoots to grab her opponent’s leg and Joanna pulls back getting the Thai plum control. She lands a right knee and disengages with a beautiful move: she pivots to her left, letting go of the left hand, pulls her opponent to the right with the right neck tie and attacks with a left hook which is probably more of a slap than a punch. Joanna shows great coordination in executing this move.

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Technique #12: Back-Take from the Half-Clinch

Joanna attacks Karolina Kowalkiewicz with a right round kick to the body, immediately grabs her opponent in a left neck tie and uses her right elbow to push Karolina’s elbow out of the way. You need to examine the gif below to study this classic Muay Thai clinch reversal. Thai fighters use this clinch to attack with strikes but Joanna just uses the move to get her opponent’s back.

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Technique #13 [Thai Plum], Right Upwards Elbow

As Jessica Penne tries to get the Thai plum, Joanna uses her hands to push Jessica’s shoulders away and then lands a beatiful right upwards elbow. She goes for a second elbow but misses. This elbow counter against a clinch attempt is great move to keep opponent’s away.

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Technique #14

In the sequence above, Joanna’s opponent tries to get her in a Thai clinch and this time Jędrzejczyk uses both hands against the chin to push her away. She attacks with a right elbow as her opponent tries to pull Joanna towards her, using the momentum of the pull to generate force.

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Part 3: Kicks

Author’s note. I use the term “teep” to describe all front kicks. If the move is more of a Karate style front kick I call it a “snap-kick” and if it is a Thai style front kick I call it a “push-kick”.

Technique #15: Right Teep to the Head

Joanna has the most impressive teep kicks in MMA today. Her favorite one is a right teep with the back foot. In the photos above you can see two angles of her landing a devastating teep/push-kick to the neck of Valérie Létourneau

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Technique #16: Jab, Right Teep to the Head

Joanna attacks Valérie Létourneau with a jab and follows up with a right teep/snap-kick to the chin. Notice in photo 3 how high Joanna’s knee is. This adds momentum and snap to the kick making it more like a karate style variation. The move is a great way to attack opponents that use a high guard as the kick can slip under and through the hands. Also, before launching the kick, Joanna moves her right hand in a way that resembles a right cross and this is a good way to distract opponents from the incoming kick.

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Technique #17: Mixing Right Low Kicks and Right Teep Kicks

Joanna attacks with a jab and follows with a right low kick from a distance while keeping her chin down. Valérie Létourneau tries to counterattack with a jab-cross combo and slightly connects with Joanna’s forehead or nose. Joanna pulls back in a spring-like motion, comes back landing a right teep/snap-kick and then pulls back to avoid an incoming left high kick. This clip demonstrates how right low kicks and right teeps can work together with jabs and right hands to confuse opponents and keep them guessing.

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Technique #18: Right Inside Low Kick, Right Teep

Here, against Karolina Kowalkiewicz in a southpaw stance, Joanna attacks with a right inside low kick to Karolina’s thigh and switches immediately with a right front snap-kick to the body. I really like how Joanna mixes kicks in relentless combinations.

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Technique #19: Left Teep to the Head

Sometimes Joanna will go for classic left front kicks. Here, against Jessica Penne, she attacks with a left front snap-kick. Notice how for a split second, in photo 3, her feet are close together before she goes for the attack. Her opponent cannot really tell which foot is coming her way.

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Technique #20: Jab, Left High Teep, Right Cross to the Body, Liver Punch

In her fight against Juliana Lima, Joanna attacks with a jab and a left high teep. This looks like a push kick and lands flush on Juliana’s face. Joanna continues with a right cross to the body, feints a right cross to the head and concludes with a left hook to the body AKA “liver punch“.

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Technique #21: Jab to Left High Kick

Joanna loves attacking with left roundhouse kicks to the head. In this instance she uses the jab to distract her opponent and lands a beautiful left roundhouse kick. The jab is an ideal way to hide this kick by blocking her opponent’s vision. Also, as the hand goes down it help her hips turn in a whip-like motion to launch the kick.

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Technique #22: Right Low Kick to left High Kick

From a southpaw stance Joanna performs a subtle hip switch and lands a right low kick to the calf and finally a left high kick. Constant hip switching and also the way she uses her hands to make them look as if she is going for a punch before launching the kick is the reason her opponents get confused and cannot properly defend incoming kicks.

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Technique #23 [Right Teep], Deflect, Left Low Kick

Valérie Létourneau attacks with a right front kick and Joanna uses her right hand to block/deflect the kick to the right. This pushes the opponent out of her centerline and compromises her ability to defend incoming attacks. Although I would prefer a right high kick, Joanna uses another great counter which is to low kick Valerie’s landing foot.

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Technique #24

Jéssica Andrade goes for a left low kick. Although in photo 3 Joanna looks like she is blocking, her hand does not touch Andrade’s foot. Instead she pulls her left foot back, hip-switches and lands a right low kick to the incoming foot. This counter requires great timing.

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Technique #25

Valérie Létourneau goes for a jab. Joanna defends with a Muay Thai extending arm block and lands a right low kick. Joanna’s ability to fight with the chin down helps her avoid taking too much damage.

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Technique #26

I have analyzed this move before and I call this the “Matrix move“. Jéssica Andrade attacks with a very “telegraphed“ right low kick and Joanna just lifts her foot up and lands a left high kick as Andrade’s foot is still mid-air. A relaxed Joanna, when she is having fun is a scary and creative opponent. She is not the same fighter when she goes to full brawler mode.

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Technique #27:

In the final exchange of this article, Joanna attacks with a jab and pulls back to avoid a left hook by Jéssica Andrade. The punch misses and Joanna lands a beautiful left kick to the head, gets the clinch and lands a knee. Although Jessica is able to escape with an overhand right and a takedown, Joanna’s initial counter is what I consider beautiful Muay Thai and the work of a very talented fighter.

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Below you can see another angle of the kick. Notice how Joanna uses her right hand to check Andrade’s shoulder, keeps her away and lands the kick.

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Final Thoughts

As I mentioned before, Joanna is at her best when she is having fun. This is her most creative fighting mode. However. depending on her opponent, she can also fight like a brawler/grinder who gets out of position and over-commits to bloody striking exchanges. Nevertheless I am a big fan of Joanna and I am excited to watch her fight Rose. I am afraid though, that Namajunas may have the right tools to pull off an upset win.

See you next week with a breakdown of UFC 217. If you have not already done so please check my analysis of GSP’s game which was posted earlier this week on Bloodyelbow.

For a list of my previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.

About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).

Follow Kostas on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kostasfant and search #fantmoves for more techniques.

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