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UFC 245: Usman vs. Covington - Moves to remember

A technical and tactical analysis of UFC 245’s main card fights.

UFC 245 event is in the books, and now that the hype has settled a bit, it’s time to focus on the technical aspects of the fights. Colby Covington’s volume punching was once again on display, as was Kamaru Usman’s increased body work. Petr Yan showed off his impressive clinch work, and Alexander Volkanovski highlighted his impressive pressure footwork.

With three title fights on the line there’s only room to focus on the main card for this breakdown. No time for prelims. But, before jumping straight into an analysis of the main card fights there are several points that need to be made...


AMANDA NUNES HAS VERY HIGH FIGHT IQ

Unlike Max Holloway and Colby Covington, who lost their fights, Amanda was able to beat her opponent because she was able to make adjustments. When she realized Germaine de Randamie was just too dangerous to fight in a striking war, she turned the fight into a wrestling match, took Germaine down repeatedly, and won the fight. This is what smart fighting is all about.

Fighting at a championship level is not about fighting to please Dana White, the fans or the UFC. It’s also not about fighters trying to prove that they are tougher than their opponents. It is about winning, and using a diverse set of MMA skills and tactics in order to beat specialists of specific arts.

IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT

Colby Covington is too tough for his own good, and cannot make adjustments. Don’t get me wrong, he was very successful at times—and showed a lot of heart. But, when I look at his fight record, I see a fighter who wins by mixing wrestling with strikes. Covington does not have a single win by standing KO. Although he is a volume striker at this point in his career, he has no power. He was able to connect on Usman several times and Kamaru didn’t even take a step back.

In his fight against Usman, Colby did not attempt a single takedown, not even when his corner advised him to. He was obviously trying to prove a point, that he is a better striker than Usman. But, there are no points to be made when you are losing the fight.

I’m not saying that Colby would be able to take Usman down; it’s never about the takedown. It is about the threat of the takedown. The threat opens up the MMA game. Mixing takedowns with high volume striking is a very difficult task, and Covington excels at that—it’s worked for him in all his previous fights. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At least, not during a fight for the belt.

Colby’s decision was obviously influenced by his excellent performance against Robbie Lawler. Thing is, he used takedowns and strikes to win that fight.

KAMARU USMAN IS A COMPLETE FIGHTER, WITH STRIKING POWER

I may have predicted on Twitter that Kamaru Usman would win this fight, but Usman came prepared for a different fight than the one he got. He was expecting Covington to wrestle.

From the first round, it was obvious that Usman had done his homework. He used strikes to the body in order to wear Covington down, and launched all attacks with vicious intent and power.

An instance where two fighters took the same risk, by changing their fight style in a title fight. And only one got his hand raised.

Usman proved that he can wrestle for five rounds against Woodley, and that he can strike for five rounds against Colby. There does not seem to be any fighter on the current UFC roster that has the skill-set to beat him. If there is a chink in Usman’s armor, that would be his striking defense. He does not use head movement and although he has a great chin, toughness is a resource that does not last forever.

ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI’S GAME IS A MODEL FOR SHORTER FIGHTERS

Volcanovski fought a perfect fight in his winning effort against featherweight all-time great Max Holloway. He used low kicks, head movement, creative and aggressive footwork to press the action and throw Holloway off his game. It was a very interesting fight, and I’ll examine some of the key sequences below.

FINAL POINTS

  1. Germaine de Randamie is a great striker. Forcing Amanda Nunes to fight as a wrestler is no easy task. But, Germaine’s takedown defense is lacking.
  2. Petr Yan is a beast, and one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC today.
  3. ‘The Immortal’ is back. There is no such thing as a boring Matt Brown fight.
  4. I was very impressed with Geoff Neal’s beautiful left kick to the head and am feeling compelled to at least share a screen cap image:

Now let’s get to the deeper analysis.


KAMARU USMAN VS. COLBY COVINGTON

Technique #1: A tale of two stances

Let’s do a quick examination of both fighter’s stances. See in the photo above, how Usman’s head is behind his left knee, and Colby’s head is in-front of his right foot. These two different stances have strengths and weaknesses due to weight distribution.

From this southpaw stance, Colby can jab faster—including double jabs. Covington can also launch faster roundhouse kicks with his back foot, shoot for takedowns and sprawl. What he cannot do is defend low kicks and (easily) retreat to safety at the end of his combinations.

Usman, on the other hand, is somewhat open for takedowns—but he can also launch stronger attacks with the right hand. He needs to step in to land his jabs, but this makes his jabs stronger. He is also able to use non-telegraphed straight punches to the body and straight snap kicks, as will be examined below. Kamaru is very efficient from this stance, as he is able to land the harder punches and cover more distance.

Technique #2: Kamaru’s straight punches to the body & how to counter them

Kamaru Usman’s straight body punches were extremely impressive. These punches are very effective against southpaw opponents, due to the fact that the opponent’s liver is closer. In fact, this is an ideal punch when fighting against fighters in an opposite stance.

Kamaru used the standard straight punch by changing levels:

He also used a modified right hook/uppercut punch. Notice, in the photo below, that the punch digs into Colby’s ribs:

There are many ways to counter a straight punch to the body from an opponent in an opposite stance. Here is my favorite one:

This is a snap kick with the back leg. This is not a Muay Thai style teep kick. It is a very powerful attack (which I stopped using, after injuring my foot several times—due to the recommended defense I’ll get to in just a moment).

Technique #3: Kamaru’s straight snap kick

Usman used a great combination of straight punches and right snap kicks to the body, in order to slow Covington down and force him to fight with his hands down. The problem in defending this kick is, that it uses no telegraphing motion. This makes it difficult to see it coming. Conor McGregor is a master of this kick.

There are many ways to defend against this kick, but most of them involve using the hands. As mentioned above, one of the best defenses to the snap kick is based on stick-fighting’s “defanging the snake” principle. This principle focuses on attacking the incoming limbs rather than blocking them, thus destroying these weapons and rendering them useless.

The video below displays how to use the front shin – or preferably the front knee – to smash the incoming foot. This enables the hands to stay high, in order to defend.

Technique #4: [Right Jab], pull back, right hand

This is a simple, yet effective boxing counter. In good boxing, all defensive maneuvers load the hips with power through weight distribution, in order to launch counterattacks. Such is the case here, and Usman drops Covington with a right hand. Leading into this exchange, ‘Chaos’ was already in bad shape, fighting with a broken jaw and after being on the receiving end of numerous attacks to the body. All of which probably made Usman’s punches that much more effective.

Technique #5: A tale of three combos

Colby got destroyed by a simple left to right combo on three different occasions. The first sequence took place at the end of the third round. Colby complained that he was poked in the eye in this sequence. As photo #1 shows, the “poke” seems in fact to be a jab landing on his eye. This happens with MMA gloves. A knuckle to the eye can obviously do some damage. But it was not the alleged eye poke (or lack thereof) that was the problem.

In all three attacks above, Usman throws a left hand to close the distance. Colby has the tendency to move his head to the side in order to avoid the first punch. This leaves his chin exposed. That enables Usman to land the follow-up straight right and do damage. The right hand is a great weapon against southpaws, and Usman used it in a very efficient manner.

Technique #6: Colby’s punches in bunches

In the combo above, both fighters miss. Colby follows up with a right hand and connects with a left hook that seems to momentarily stun Usman. The hook landed on Usman’s forehead.

As mentioned, Usman’s defense is a bit lacking. But, he has a solid chin and (correctly) keeps his chin tucked. This makes incoming punches land on his forehead, which is more durable than the actual jaw itself.

Colby is a good volume puncher—great at throwing consecutive, rapid-fire punches at his opponents, in order to overwhelm them. He is able to do some damage, but he has no knockout power—and power is a game changer when it comes to fist fights.

Technique #7: More punches in bunches

Round two at the 0:32 mark

Take a look at a beautiful combo by Covington. This one also seemed to stun Usman. Colby drops his level, lands a left to the body and comes back on top with an overhand right.


PETR YAN VS. URIJAH FABER

Technique #1: Creative clinch-work

Petr Yan is a dangerous fighter. He is also very creative in the clinch. In the sequence above, Petr controls Uriah’s right wrist and launches a right foot sweep. Faber pulls his right foot back, thus leaving space for Yan’s left knee. Petr disengages and attacks with a left hand and a right hook.

Technique #2: Creative clinch-work seals the deal

Yan uses similar tactics here, as in the previous technique. He uses wrist control and a foot sweep attempt. As Faber tries to disengage from a single neck tie, Yan drops him with a left kick to the head. This is a standard attack in Muay Thai when opponents pull back and down in order to escape the plum—thus leaving themselves open for a high kick attack.

Technique #3: Sweep from back and waist control

Petr controls Faber’s back at the waist line, performs a slick scissor-like move in order to switch his base, puts his right calf muscle & back of his thigh behind Uriah’s feet, and sweeps him. This is a rarely seen takedown. Yan was able to use this sweep/takedown twice on Faber during their fight.


ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI VS. MAX HOLLOWAY

Technique #1: Defense against a right sidekick to the thigh

Max Holloway attacks with a Jon Jones style kick: a side kick to the thigh from a southpaw stance. Volkanovski is able to time the kick, and counter with an extending overhand right, followed by a left hook.

Technique #2: Volkanovski’s pressuring footwork

Notice in the photos above, how Volkanovski is able to cover so much distance—and keep Max backpedaling by crossing his feet left and right, resetting his stance to orthodox and launching hooks from both sides. His head does not stay in the same spot, moves left and right, up and down. This is similar to Mike Tyson’s footwork and can be used by shorter fighters to cover more distance, and attack from an angle that makes it difficult for opponents to see punches coming.

Techniques #3 and #4: Effective use of low kicks

Volkanovski was very successful in landing punishing low kicks. In the two examples above, notice how he hides the kicks behind punches, and uses head movement in order to stay safe. This is the proper way to attack with low kicks.


MARLON MORAES VS. JOSE ALDO

Technique #1: Right hand to the body, left uppercut to the gut

In this sequence, Aldo throws a fake jab to close the distance, ducks under a left hand, and lands a right hook to the body and a left uppercut to the stomach. Beautiful combo. A left hook would be an ideal follow up technique.

Technique#2: Takedown reversal

Round 1 at the 0:23 mark

While many (including myself) had Aldo winning the fight, Moraes still had his moments. In this sequence, both fighters have over-under control when Aldo tries to move Moraes. Marlon reverses the position with a beautiful hip throw.


AMANDA NUNES VS. GERMAINE DE RANDAMIE

Technique #1: GDR’s palm-to-palm clinch

Germaine de Randamie used a beautiful palm-to-palm clinch to control Amanda. The great thing about this clinch is that the fighter can push their hands and elbows to touch the cage, which immobilizes opponents in a tight control.

Technique #2: Amanda Nunes’ counter to the palm-to-palm clinch

In the sequence above, Amanda slides her left hand between Germaine de Randamie’s clinch and gets double underhooks. Initially, Nunes drops down and connects her hands around Germaine’s hips, in order to go for an outside trip. The trip fails, but Nunes lifts her right foot to set her base, and performs a double leg takedown instead.

Technique #3: More clinch-work by Germaine de Randamie

In the sequence above Germaine de Randamie uses beautiful clinch transitions. She goes from a double Thai plum control, to a single neck tie. And when Amanda pushes her against the cage, Germaine transitions to an overhook and outside neck tie (neck push). This enables her to attack with a knee.

Technique #4: [Right hand], duck under, takedown

Round 2 at the 3:32 mark

This is the main problem with right hands, and especially lead right hands. All the opponent needs to do is change levels and grab the hip or legs for a takedown. Such is the case above. ‘The Lioness’ changes levels, cuts the corner and takes the ‘Iron Lady’ to the ground with a double leg.


FINAL WORDS

This was an enjoyable night of fights and a thrilling main event. The stoppage was (a bit) premature, as Colby was defending himself. But, let’s be honest here. He was hurt, and the fight was even in the scorecards in the first four rounds. Getting dropped and dominated like that would have meant Covington lost the fifth round. He lost the fight because of his own mistakes, and because he fought a very competent fighter in Kamaru Usman—who was well prepared to fight him.

Colby, however, is a very good and tough fighter who refuses to give up. Hopefully fans will get to watch him fight Tyron Woodley.

This was a great performance by Usman, who will probably be the champion for a long time.

That’s all for now. See you soon with the first part of a breakdown focusing on Conor McGregor’s game.

For a list of the author’s 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 black belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).