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Wrestling breakdown: Gavin Tucker’s clinchwork at UFC 256

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Known for his outfighting, featherweight Gavin Tucker demonstrated the growth in his game by putting on a clinic in the clinch vs. Billy Quarantillo at UFC 256.

If you listened to the UFC commentary team, you would assume that Gavin Tucker defeated Billy Quarantillo at UFC 256 by sticking and moving on the outside, his best work coming when he avoided the pocket. Newfoundland’s Tucker came into the UFC as largely “just” an outfighter, hitting shifting combinations and doing his best TJ Dillashaw impression. However, after a two-year injury layoff, Tucker returned and demonstrated a sharp new area of skill in his game.

He was pressured hard by the durable and fit Billy Quarantillo, the younger fighter was attempting to smother Tucker’s outside work and make the fight as rough as possible, forcing close-quarters exchanges. It’s true that Gavin Tucker didn’t look like a comfortable pocket boxer, but he didn’t need to be. Every time Quarantillo pushed in or stood his ground against Tucker’s striking entries, Tucker seamlessly transitioned into an underhook and bicep post, the position from which he controlled the fight.

Clinch Entries

Tucker’s A-game is a mid-range kickboxing where he can control distance and pick his spots, or read his opponent’s offense and evade and or counter. Tucker’s clinching, more of a B-game, was forced out by Quarantillo constantly crashing in and attempting to neuter Tucker’s skill-set.

Tucker’s clinch entries came most reliably on the backfoot when Quarantillo loaded up with his rear hand. Tucker was able to post or jab to create space and time the big swing of Quarantillo, then dip his head and step inside of the arms. This gave him a clear window to pummel an underhook on his lead side.

When Quarantillo was even more aggressive, Tucker checked Quarantillo’s punches by posting on his biceps and putting up forearm frames for him to run into. Those inside ties were easily converted into a double collar tie, a great clinch position for heavy offense.

Gavin Tucker double collar tie Billy Quarantillo

VIDEO CLIP: Gavin Tucker’s Clinch Entries

Gavin Tucker was also able to create entries to the clinch on the lead. It’s important to note that Tucker was advancing in an open stance matchup, meaning the lead hands of each fighter are aligned. It’s much easier to take an outside angle with that sort of positioning, which is extremely helpful when looking for an underhook.

Typically closing distance with his 1-2, Tucker used the motion of a lead hook on the end of the combination as a pummeling hook rather than a punch. Essentially, any time Tucker didn’t have space to get off the punches he wanted, he wrapped around for a tie-up.

Once Tucker realized his advantage in the clinch, he became more deliberate about searching for tie-ups. After noticing Quarantillo’s habit of getting down behind his guard, Tucker was able to show his jab and draw up the arms of Quarantillo. After drawing that response, Tucker stepped in and grabbed the lead wrist, framing on the ducking head of Quarantillo with his free arm. Quarantillo had a bad habit of hunching over throughout this fight, allowing Tucker to exploit him in this way.

Over and over, Tucker was able to find wrist control and march into clinch range. Quarantillo had little to offer in terms of offense on the backfoot. When Quarantillo became more desperate and aggressive, Tucker found beautiful moments to show off his head movement, rolling under hooks and driving back up into the seatbelt position - an underhook across the back.

Quarantillo’s guard was static, and his footwork unresponsive. Every time Tucker was able to get a hand on him, he found his mark for step-up knees and other linear entries into clinch range.

Maintaining and Manipulating Position

More often than not, Tucker broke out of the clinch fairly quickly after his entries. However, keeping proper offensive position was still paramount. Head placement was a major key for Tucker. In the underhook and bicep frame position, Tucker wedged his head underneath Quarantillo’s to limit his opponent’s mobility and ensure his posture stayed as tall as possible.

When the two fighters started to move toward the cage, it was Tucker who used levers to effectively steer Quarantillo’s back to the fence. Quarantillo would attempt to work his whizzer and circle away at the last moment to turn it around, but Tucker reached across-body and inside Quarantillo’s leg with his non-underhook hand to stop Quarantillo’s momentum, sliding his underhook free to disengage entirely.

VIDEO CLIP: Gavin Tucker controls clinch positions

Even when Quarantillo did get Tuchttps://streamable.com/80lpevker on the cage, the Canadian did an excellent job using collar ties to pull Quarantillo off-balance and pushed with the bicep from to blade his stance and open up a lane to escape.

Outside Trip Takedowns

The most impressive aspect of Tucker’s performance was how easily he swept and dumped Quarantillo to the mat from the clinch.

On the cage Tucker was often able to pummel for double underhooks and press his hips in tight, forcing Quarantillo to stand tall. From there he could hook outside the leg on the attacking side, scoop the leg up and use his underhooks to pull and turn Quarantillo toward that same side. Without a base supporting him, Quarantillo fell right over.

VIDEO CLIP: Gavin Tucker’s trips vs. Billy Quarantillo

Against the cage it’s much easier to secure a strong position and work procedurally toward a takedown, in open space you have to move quickly or catch strong positions in transition.

Gavin Tucker outside trip on Billy Quarantillo

As mentioned in the section on entries, Tucker rolled under the hook of Billy Quarantillo to pummel for the seatbelt position - an underhook across the back. Just as important is the outside foot position, a detail that analysts often point to in striking matchups in open stance. In this case, the outside foot position is what’s going to allow Tucker to block Quarantillo’s lead leg on the trip.

Tucker pulled the obliques of Quarantillo to his right, while stepping in deeper and pushing his knee into the back of Quarantillo’s. Just like the first double under trip against the cage, the point is for Tucker to force Quarantillo’s weight toward the blocked leg. The underhook pull doesn’t do this by itself, on the other side Tucker posted on the bicep and pushed to the same side as the pull, blading Quarantillo’s stance and making it easier to take out that lead leg.

Tucker completes this all in one swift motion as soon as he gets that seatbelt and the outside positioning to block the leg. This technique takes advantage of Quarantillo’s tall stance and slow reactions to clinch entries.

The most crucial detail - and the most difficult to pull off, is the footwork. Take a look at the last image, Tucker didn’t just let his rear leg trail. He walked it around to cut an angle as he pushed Quarantillo over his knee. This was accomplished by taking one big sliding step as soon as Tucker started to collapse his weight and fall to the side.

Tucker must have drilled this to the point of insanity, his execution was incredibly clean.

Chain Wrestling

Even when Tucker couldn’t pull off slick moves in one clean motion, he showed off the depth of his wrestling in transitions.

Many of his trip attempts caught Quarantillo off-balance and forced him to his knees or bent him over. Tucker immediately capitalized by switching his underhook to a grip around the head, connecting his hands through the whizzer.

Although Tucker didn’t look entirely strong or comfortable maintaining the front headlock, he made a brilliant read. Quarantillo’s stance had been an issue all night, so it came as no surprise that he was standing up out of front headlock with straight legs and a narrow base. Tucker retained his forward pressure and slid off the front headlock into a an outside tripping double leg entry.

Gavin Tucker double off front headlock

The outside trip entry allows Tucker to level change while falling forward and prevents Quarantillo from stepping back out of the attack.

Impressively, Tucker was able to hit this entry from the outside as well.

VIDEO CLIP: Gavin Tucker hits outside trip entry double legs on Billy Quarantillo

Feinting a shifting entry with his right hand, Tucker drew out the counter lead hook from Quarantillo, opening up a window to shoot underneath while Quarantillo was planted. He missed the mark on the outside trip, but it was a convincing enough setup that he had a clear shot with his double leg.

Gavin Tucker is 34 years old, and close to a decade into his professional MMA career. At that stage, many write off a fighter’s chances for major improvements. In this fight Gavin Tucker showed that he is still capable of growth. I’m looking forward to seeing how far he goes in the UFC featherweight division.