Back when I worked for Fighters Only Magazine, I would occasionally venture into striking breakdowns as part of a fight report, but this is the first time I think I’ve ever written any kind of specific article breaking down a piece of striking.
Usually I would leave it to the big names of the field like Jack Slack and Lawrence Kenshin but this sequence from Rico Verhoeven in the GLORY 22 FRANCE main event so caught my eye that I felt compelled to write about it.
Verhoeven is one of the most technical kickboxers out there right now. His combination work is outstanding, period, but especially laudable when counter-attacking. It is common even for seasoned professionals to throw one shot as a counter but Verhoeven consistently hits in combination when he counter-attacks, disrupting the opponent and opening him up for damage.
In the gif below we see a nice example of Verhoeven’s speed, skill and offensive-defense. It is a short clip but there are five distinct elements to it which combine to make it an effective sequence for Verhoeven.
(1) The Lean-Back
First of all the heavyweight champion perfectly reads Adegbuyi’s intention; he knows a big right hand is on the way. He reads and times it perfectly, hitting a precise lean-back to make the right hand go past him.
The execution is perfect and embodies one of boxing’s key principles: ‘better to make him miss by millimeters than by miles’. This is because making too big of an evasive maneuver, whilst carrying you safely out of harm’s way, also means you are not in a position to counter. But when you let that strike slip past by a tiny distance you are in a great position to counter your exposed opponent.
What makes this piece of defense an especially impressive and ballsy move is that Adegbuyi actually landed that right hand halfway through the first round with enough force to affect Verhoeven, making him move backwards and do a little bounce-step to find his balance. Yet when the same right hand is being fired off again, Verhoeven does not over-react or over-compensate. His response is cool, calm and fearless.
(2) Three For The Price Of One: Post, Block & Measure
After hitting his lean-back Verhoeven returns to his base in good posture, simultaneously ready to attack and defend. Here he embodies the principle of B.E.A.R – he begins in Balance, Executes his technique And Recovers to balanced position again. Being off-balance fatally compromises both offense and defense; no power in the former, no structure in the latter.
The left hand comes out, a stiff straight jab which he posts rather than pops and retracts.This jab is not intended to be a damaging blow or a precursor to a combination. Instead he is doing three things with it.
First, it is tactile. It measures the range for him so that his brain can do a split-second calculation of distance for what is to come next.
Second, it blocks Adegbuyi’s hands by fixing them in place. A common follow-on to the right hand is to throw a left hook. By posting on Adegbuyi’s gloves, Verhoeven is able to interfere with Adegbuyi’s hands. He is blocking that follow-on shot and, if the block isn’t effective enough to shut Adegbuyi down, it serves as a sensor. He will feel that left side rotating in for the hook and will react accordingly.
Third, it serves to push Adegbuyi’s bodyweight over to his left side. Adegbuyi has already over-committed to this right-hand blow and that has moved all of his weight onto his left leg. Verhoeven posts and pushes with his left arm, keeping Adegbuyi’s bodyweight in place so that he is heavy on his left leg, because he has plans for it.
(One could possibly add a fourth point, except I don’t see it clearly here in this sequence. My first Muay Thai school used to call it “taking his eyes away” – posting your hand basically into the opponent’s face, covering his eyes or just taking his attention away, in order to hide the kick you’re about to throw.)
(3) An Inside Job
Verhoeven is a big guy. For this fight he tipped the scales at 257.7 lb (116.9 kg) of pretty much solid muscle and super-thick bone density. Yet he moves with almost catlike grace in the ring, incredibly fluid and light on his feet for such a big man. People expect him to be a plodder winging big power-shots as he wades forward. Instead they find themselves watching a heavyweight who moves like a middleweight.
He is very quick. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in his leg-kick game, which is both fast and very tricky. Verhoeven has some really clever setups and attacks both legs both inside and out. His inside low-kick to the back leg is worth a breakdown all of its own but here we are looking at the inside kick to the opponent’s lead leg.
With Adegbuyi heavy on that lead left leg and Verhoeven’s post in place to measure distance and keep the weight there, the champion next fires off a hard inside low-kick which catches Adegbuyi right in the middle of the thigh. That is the sweet spot and it’s an area Verhoeven worked for the entire fight in order to hurt the leg and shatter Adegbuyi’s balance.
In this instance he throws the kick both to hurt Adegbuyi and also to lift the leg and sweep it a little out of place. Adegbuyi’s leg is popped outwards a few inches and that forces him to catch his balance and adjust. This is exactly what Verhoeven wants because it sets Adegbuyi up for the follow-on shot.
With Adegbuyi off balance, using a standard double-arm cover (which he did well to instinctively put up) and in the process of re-adjusting, he is wide open for Verhoeven’s incoming punch.
As Verhoeven has just thrown his left leg, thus transferring his bodyweight to his right side, it naturally follows that a punch from the right side is the next step in the combination – Verhoeven’s bodyweight is returned to balance at the same time as he flows into the blow, putting maximum weight and power into it.
(5) Inside, Out and Away
Adegbuyi eats the uppercut fully and as his head is rocked up and back he is planted on both feet and unable to defend his legs, so Verhoeven fires another hard inside low-kick to the left leg.
This one is harder than the one which preceded it and takes Adegbuyi completely off balance as Verhoeven circles out and away. He has won this exchange and, his combination completed, is moving off to reset and begin his next piece of offense.
Verhoeven won the fight by unanimous decision, marking his second successful defense of the belt. According to GLORY matchmaker Cor Hemmers his next challenger is likely to emerge via a four-man Heavyweight Contender Tournament, to be announced for an event in the near future.
Incidentally, Verhoeven’s win ties his record for most heavyweight title defenses with the UFC record (two) and exceeds the record for K-1 heavyweight title defenses, which stands at one (Badr Hari had one fight to win the title and made one defense of it).
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