Next weekend, Anderson Silva will once again defend his Middleweight title as he faces Yushin Okami at UFC 134. For Silva, there is no doubt how he will approach the fight – keep it standing, and use the best striking game in all of MMA to put the challenger down and out. In his five years of Middleweight division dominance, much has been written about Silva’s striking, but there’s good reason for that – he’s just that good. Today, we add to that discussion.
Anderson Silva has a wide range of standing techniques, but in this Judo Chop, we will take a look at perhaps his most devastating – the clinch. Silva’s clinch is without peer in MMA – he wrote the book on proper clinch technique. Literally. It’s called “MMA Instruction Manual: The Muay Thai Clinch, Takedowns, Takedown Defense, and Ground Fighting” and it’s an entire book by Silva almost solely dedicated to clinch work. It’s also an incredibly informative read. The sheer fact that he can write an entire book about an area of MMA that many fighters barely use further shows his skills.
Today, part 1 of our 2 part series takes a look at the fundamentals of Silva’s clinch game. We’ll break it down using the clinch work found in the first fight with Rich Franklin from UFC 64 in October 2006 – an absolute master class in proper implementation of Silva’s clinch game.
Full breakdown, with plenty of gifs, in the complete entry.
Gifs by BE reader Grappo
From the early stages of the Franklin fight, it’s clear that Silva is looking to utilize his clinch game. But one of the trickiest aspects of that clinch work is getting it started. To secure the clinch, you need to wrap your hands around your opponents head. But this is easier said than done, as moving in with your hands wide will expose your head and leave your defenses down. Here, you see Silva reach his hands out for the clinch, but Franklin fires back with a kick and two punch combo. Silva decides not to force the clinch and take unnecessary damage, so backs off for now. This seems like a small point, but it’s key – by waiting for the right opportunity, Silva minimizes his exposure to damage.
Not long after, Silva manages to secure the clinch using one of his favorite tactics. He throws the left hand out as if it’s a punch – since Silva’s a southpaw, that punch would be a left cross. But instead of connecting with the cross, he intentionally sends the punch just wide, extending his hand past Franklin’s head. He then cups his left hand on to the back of Franklin’s head. The first time he does this, Silva attempts to follow up with a right hook, but Franklin quickly ducks out to escape. Silva pursues, using the same technique again, and this time brings up the right hand quickly to complete the two handed clinch. He then pulls their bodies close and pinches his elbows together, momentarily throwing Franklin off balance and stopping the punches.
With the clinch locked in, Silva can begin landing strikes. Franklin defends by bringing his left hand up to Silva’s head, but doing this leaves his left side totally exposed. Silva takes advantage of this opening by landing knees to the exposed ribs. Notice the way Silva brings back his leg before throwing the knee. He then whips the knee around to the side, mimicking the motion of a kick, instead of coming straight up the middle. Contrast this with the straight knees Franklin throws, with no wind up or momentum. This motion allows Silva to put his whole body into the knee, and makes it a far stronger strike than the straight knee.
Besides opening Franklin up for knees, another advantage given by the clinch is Silva’s ability to control his opponent. With his hands behind the head, and his forearms tight against his neck, Silva can move Franklin’s entire body around with relative ease, using his head and Franklin’s own motion to drive him off balance. You see that here. As Franklin pushes forward, Silva steps to the side and pulls Franklin in the direction he’s already going. Accelerating Franklin’s motion in the direction he was already headed causes Rich to get off balance and stumble. As he stumbles, Silva turns him around, ending with Franklin in a terrible position, trapped against the cage.
At this point, Franklin has been thrown around, trapped against the cage, and has taken a lot of damage to his ribs. Silva is ready for the kill. He begins working the ribs again, and Franklin, in an effort to protect those ribs, drops both his arms to cover the body. With Franklin’s hands down, Silva pulls his head forward slightly in order to further expose his chin, then launches a knee right up the middle that lands clean on the chin. One key here is that Silva does not change the rhythm of his attack when he changes from the ribs to the chin. By keeping that same rhythm, he lulls Franklin into focusing solely on the ribs, leaving the chin exposed. Which, of course, was Silva’s plan all along.
Finally, here’s one last big knee. Franklin is hurt badly, and is again focused on defending the ribs, leaving his head exposed. Silva pulls his head down at the same time he brings the knee up, resulting in a devastating knee right to the face. And with that, Franklin is done.
As I said above, this is clinch work perfection. Let’s break down the steps Silva employed here:
- Use a missed punch to secure the clinch.
- Lock in the clinch to control your opponent. Use your control and his momentum to constantly keep him off balance.
- Work the ribs with knees in order to make your opponent focus his defenses on the body.
- Once the arms drop, mix in knees to the head and look for the KO.
Beautiful, beautiful stuff.
And just for fun, here’s one more clip of Silva using multiple techniques in a quick flurry with Chris Leben. Watch the speed with which Silva brings the left hand out to the head, transitions to a clinch, pulls Leben off balance and brings down his head, then blasts him with a knee. Every step is plotted out and flows easily from move to move, never giving Leben the slightest chance to escape or get back in the game.
Of course, Franklin would get another shot at Silva one year later, and in the rematch, he would come in with some new clinch defenses in place. Join us tomorrow for part 2 as we break down the rematch, the adjustments Franklin made, and how Silva overcame those adjustments.
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