UFC 129 provided many fighters with choice highlight reel material. Flying triangles, arm-trap triangles, belly-to-back slams, left hooks from hell and a jumping crane kick knock-out previously not thought possible outside of the fictional world of Mr Miyagi.
One finish that was perhaps less spectacular due to its more subtle devastation was the short elbow KO delivered by Ivan Menjivar to Charlie Valencia. Before that win Menjivar’s claim to fame was that of being Georges St. Pierre’s first
victim opponent but such a strong performance in Toronto, Canada will ensure the veteran (and now fellow GSP team member under Firas Zahabi) another bout in the world famous Octagon.
What was interesting about the short elbow was its set up from clinch which is still a position in MMA that is largely underutilised outside of the occasional knees or throws. Anderson Silva and Jon Jones have shown how effective and damaging the clinch can be and its been a slow and gradual process for the majority of fighters to improve their game.
After the jump I’ll be breaking down the fight ending blow illustrated with animated gifs.
First we see Menjivar and Valencia in a fairly typical over-under clinch against the fence. Menjivar doesn’t have a deep over-hook on his right side but then Valencia doesn’t have that deep an under-hook either. Some grapplers believe a shallow under-hook to prevent a deep over-hook is the best position to have until they can get double under-hooks to hold high at the neck or low at the bottom of the spine. Trouble often occurs by holding the middle of the back with double under-hooks as this is where the most space is available for the opponent to get his double over-hooks in deep allowing them to counter with their own throw. It’s hard to see as the other side isn’t visible but I believe Valencia is controlling Menjivar’s left arm at the wrist, to stop being punched in the face and to stop Menjivar getting an under-hook. As you see though Menjivar is able to use the resistance and grip on his wrist to bring his elbow around to strike Valencia. A better form of control in this instance is to grip at the bicep with a C-cup grip where your four fingers are together, and your thumb wraps around the other side. In another words imagine you’re using crab hands.
Menjivar doesn’t land cleanly though and mostly hits Valencia with his forearm which is a common problem when throwing short elbows from the clinch. It can be easily corrected though by pulling your shoulder back before you throw the elbow, giving you a few more inches of space for the elbow to come around in an arc and the bone of the elbow to make contact with the temple, orbital bone, cheekbone or jaw or to slash across the skin to create a rip or cut.
Because of Menjivar’s forearm making contact its now actually wedged between him and Valencia and a small battle ensues of Valencia trying to push into Menjivar while Menjivar uses his trapped forearm as a brace under Valencia’s chin while using his right hand to push on the top side of Valencia’s head before connecting his hands to double brace and push Valencia away. Valencia tries to drop down for a take-down but his head is so out of position he doesn’t get far and Menjivar easily over-hooks to use a whizzer as part of his take-down defense. An excellent illustration of a key concept of the clinch – control the head, and you control the body.
As Valencia comes back up Menjivar is still pushing on his head this time giving him enough space to land another short-elbow flush on the face. Worse still because Valencia is pushing into Menjivar to resist, he moves right into the elbow increasing its impact. Joe Rogan can be heard on commentary saying you can see the elbow break Valencia’s nose and it certainly looks that way from the replay. Valencia’s best option in hindsight would have been to disengage after failing to get low for a take-down as he ended up doing the equivalent of walking right into a punch but from the shorter range of the clinch game. Menjivar grounds and pounds Valencia on the ground but at this point its academic, the elbow was the real fight ender.
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