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Wrestling breakdown: UFC Brasilia’s Brandon Moreno vs. Jussier Formiga

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Exploring the impressive gameplan that allowed Brandon Moreno to outfox ace MMA grappler Jussier Formiga

UFC Fight Night: Formiga v Moreno Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC

Last week, I broke down some of the tactics and concepts that have made Brazil’s Jussier Formiga one of the most effective MMA wrestlers and grapplers the UFC has ever seen.

Before that, I focused on his bout with Deiveson Figueiredo and explored how Formiga has formed an effective game of striking and clinch or takedown entries with only a few simple tools, with the caveat that his game’s simplicity is a double-edged sword.

Ahead of Formiga’s UFC Brasilia bout with Brandon Moreno, I felt that the tendencies of the 26-year-old from Tijuana would play into the game referenced in each article.

Against Sergio Pettis, it was the closed stance (orthodox vs. orthodox) jabbing battle which led to Formiga’s most comfortable wrestling entries. Given how much of Moreno’s excellent performance vs. Kai Kara-France revolved around his jab from orthodox, it seemed he would be playing right into the veteran’s hands.

After praising the strategy of Formiga and writing off Moreno as one-note, I’m back to eat my words and shed light on how Brandon Moreno outfoxed the crafty grappler. It’s a case study on how process-drive, systematic games are vulnerable to precise counter attacks.

UFC Fight Night: Formiga v Moreno Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC

How Brandon Moreno disrupted the game of Jussier Formiga

Punishing the Process

As predicted, the jabbing dynamic between the two was enormously important.

Right away, Formiga started to unveil his design, entering striking range with his own entry fakes and jabs, drawing out the jab of Moreno. In response, he either conceded range, or parried with his rear hand.

The idea was that Formiga would show the same look over and over, a simple, safe look that would require Moreno to extend beyond the jab if he wanted to generate any offense. It would work toward two goals - draw out more committed, rear-hand offense from Moreno and either pull-counter with clinch entries or shoot reactively, and mask the eventual single leg entries on the lead that would come from feinted jabs.

It’s classic Formiga, predictable but hard to stop, unless you’ve truly done your homework and have the tools and competency to deal with it.

Brandon Moreno showed he was the man for the job.

There were many, many specific reads Moreno had prepared that led to this victory, but none was more important than the jab-hook threat of his lead hand.

VIDEO CLIP: Brandon Moreno neuters Jussier Formiga’s striking game by attacking one key weakness

Depending on the range, Moreno was able to feint the jab and lead with his left hook, or jab into range and follow up with the left hook. More often than not, especially in the first round, he caught Formiga flush as his hand lowered to parry.

On its face, this new threat made Formiga hesitant to enter hooking range. That meant that Formiga would be less likely to create his own entries, and therefore less able to program reactions to get to his takedowns, and that when Moreno lead, he was less willing to hop back into range for counters or clinch entries.

Once Moreno had established that jab-hook threat, he was able to nail his rear straight whenever Formiga made a commitment to anticipating the left hook.

Even when Formiga did get to his usual left hook-to-underhook entry, Moreno was well-schooled. He dipped under the hook and either countered, or grabbed an underhook of his own.

In one instance, Moreno even hit an outside trip off the resulting bodylock position.

UFC Fight Night: Formiga v Moreno Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC

A Scholarly Scrap

While Jussier Formiga has some limitations to his game and can be stumped at times, he’s not entirely rigid in his combat cognition. On plenty of occasions, he either found ways around Moreno’s approach or came up with some new looks, seemingly on the fly.

The element of surprise was a benefit to Moreno, but as situations extended and they began to enter new territory, his lead narrowed.

He had success backing up Formiga while double jabbing, but in one instance, he got greedy, adding in a third lead hand strike to attempt to put Formiga against the cage or circling into a power shot.

As Moreno released the third jab, Formiga planted, dipped under the strike, and came back up with a mean left hook.

VIDEO CLIP: Jussier Formiga’s clinch\counter attempt leads to an opportunistic submission opportunity

Moreno’s drilled reaction to duck the returning hook of Formiga was still there, but this time, the range did not work in his favor.

Formiga’s accidental collar tie pushed Moreno off his base and to his knees, Formiga snatched up the guillotine from front headlock and pulled guard on what looked like a deep attempt.

Moreno eventually broke free and worked effectively by stacking in guard, but a Formiga upkick created enough space for him to scramble.

As soon as Moreno backed off, Formiga worked to his knees and attacked a head-inside single, quickly turning the corner. Moreno was sprawling straight back with his hips square, giving Formiga the window to peak his head out and cover in back mount.

VIDEO CLIP: Formiga takes the back after scrambling to the single off an upkick

Moreno had clearly taken notes from the Joseph Benavidez rematch, cutting hard in toward one side while attempting to put his own back flat on the mat, fighting hands all the while.

However, Formiga quickly hooked under the armpit with half a seatbelt grip, scooting his hips out to that side so he could cover to mount.

While Formiga didn’t have great success striking in the first round, he did make some key reads. If Moreno was going to be double jabbing and jab-hooking, that meant that his path to level changing was relatively unobstructed. The most important thing was that he was close enough to get a clean bite.

Early in round 2, off the double jab of Moreno, Formiga showed a cross-counter before dipping across for a head-inside single. Standing with the leg pinched between his own, Formiga clotheslined the head while circling Moreno away from his base leg for a beautiful finish.

UFC Fight Night: Formiga v Moreno Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC

The Culmination

After both fighters essentially showed their hands, the third round saw many of the fight’s dynamics reach their conclusion.

After being rattled in the pocket several times, Formiga essentially conceded range, struggling immensely to manipulate distance vs. Moreno.

VIDEO CLIP: Brandon Moreno’s gameplan was in full effect early in round 3

It was clear that Formiga was not going to win this fight on the feet, he’d need to find reliable wrestling entries.

Instead of leaning on carefully programmed looks from the outside, Formiga chose to manipulate timing. Given his impressive speed, an unexpected entry can serve the same purpose as a well-designed entry.

VIDEO CLIP: Jussier Formiga times single leg entries right after exiting close range

Formiga has excelled in the past and landed with power off clinch breaks. Brandon Moreno and or his coaches had clearly studied Formiga in detail, we saw Moreno back out of clinch exits with striking defense in mind once or twice in this bout.

In the third round, off the clinch break, Formiga appeared to reset before bursting into the single. Moreno’s instinct was to left hook on the entry, and his bladed stance gave Formiga and easy road to the back. Unfortunately, Formiga could not hustle to that same seatbelt position when Moreno sat back and he lost the position.

In the second instance, Formiga was broken down to his knees on the shot, but on their way back to the feet he was able to clear the underhook and shrug to the back once again. Moreno rolled through and sat back, and Formiga stuck tight, controlling with the seatbelt.

Moreno sat up tall and turned toward the other side, and Formiga slipped in a half nelson to stifle any further posturing or turning in that direction. With Moreno stuck in place, Formiga scoot his hips out on the other side and covered to mount once again. That’s wrestling for MMA in a very literal sense.

I applaud Jussier Formiga for working against a masterful gameplan and finding strong control positions in every round, but Brandon Moreno earned this victory. If you enjoyed the fight, hopefully this breakdown leads to an even deeper appreciation.