UFC St Louis: Stephens vs. Choi was a mixed bag of exciting action and disappointing performances. Fighters like Michael Johnson, a technical athlete who always seems to find a way to lose bouts he is winning. And on the other hand, an impressive performance by Jeremy Stephens, who has evolved in one of these rare fighters that do great when they are the hammer and can come back when they are the nail. Fighters need to make adjustments in order to win and Stephens did just that.
Performances such as those are a combination of athleticism, talent and technique. As readers probably know by now, this series focuses on identifying combat-tested instances of technical interest in the chaos that is MMA fighting. In order to expand our understanding of the sport and determine a blueprint for success in the most complicated combat sport in the world, we will examine some interesting moves from the event that did not make the highlight reel.
So, here’s a breakdown of memorable techniques from UFC pros in action:
Fight: Kamaru Usman vs. Emil Weber Meek
Emil Meek attacks with a roundhouse kick to the body and Kamaru Usman, in a southpaw stance, is able to catch it with his right hand. This cross-grip way of grabbing a kicking leg leaves a fighter in an awkward position, however, and to avoid this Usman decides to go for a an elbow (or maybe a backfist) taking advantage of his energy-loaded stance. The problem for him, is that Meek also turns his back in an effort to free his trapped foot and decides to go for a spinning backfist. The two attacks meet in the middle and although Kamaru connects under his opponents armpit, Emil connects to Usman’s head, thus stunning him momentarily.
Here you can see Emil Meek open his guard and place his feet on Usman’s hips. He pushes Usman away and uses the momentum to immediately stand up. Although this is an essential technique it is rarely taught in grappling classes. In modern MMA grappling, escaping from the bottom is as essential as sweeping, passing or submitting opponents. The problem is that most BJJ coaches are not MMA trainers and as a result teach fighters to willingly stay on bottom and fight from their back. As a fighter you need to be able to open your guard and stand up if you believe that your opponent is too experienced or tough to submit.
This is not to say that a fighter cannot win from the bottom position, merely that fighting from your back because you simply cannot get up, means that you are on your way to a decision loss. Fighters need to drill constantly on escaping from the bottom.
Fight: Mads Burnell vs. Mike Santiago
Mike Santiago is in a southpaw stance and attacks with a left straight snapping kick. Mads Burnell blocks with his left arm by grabbing the outside of his opponent’s foot. He is able to catch the foot and shoot for a clinch/takedown. Notice the kinetic chain as Burnell’s right hand goes from the foot to Santiago’s hip. By studying sequences like these, fighters can find interesting ways to go from strikes to takedowns or the clinch, an essential skill in MMA.
Remember: MMA is not kickboxing or wrestling alone. These two arts complement each other beautifully and should be trained as such.
Fight: JJ Aldrich vs. Danielle Taylor
If readers follow my posts, then they know by now that Bruce Lee is a big influence in my work. I always look for applications of his “stop-hit” approach to fighting. A “stop-hit” technique is when you attack your opponent as he is initiating an attack. There is no blocking, only proper body positioning to avoid getting hit. The legs are great targets for “stop hit” attacks, and this is a prime example. Aldrich is in a southpaw stance and goes for a lead left hand. Danielle Taylor pulls back just enough to avoid getting hit, twists her hips and attacks with a right inside low kick to JJ’s right foot. Aldrich’s front foot is loaded with weight and the impact of the landing low kick makes her fall down.
Fight: Irene Aldana vs. Talita Bernardo
I really love overhand rights to left uppercuts. Here Talita Bernardo is with her back against the cage and Irene Aldana attacks with a fake overhand right, left uppercut, overhand right. Aldana wisely gets out of the way afterward, as overhands and uppercuts can leave her open for counters.
Fight: Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Paige VanZant
Paige VanZant goes for a switching fake right low kick to a left knee. The knee does not connect but her left hook finds its target and she is forced to pull back in order to avoid an incoming left hook from Jessica-Rose Clark.
Fight: Jeremy Stephens vs. Doo Ho Choi
The karate-style straight front kick to the face can be the kryptonite of the crouching, chin-down MMA stance (see Anderson Silva/Belfort). In this instance Doo Ho Choi utilizes his wide stance to launch a straight kick to Stephens’ chin using his right/back foot without telegraphed movement. This is a great kick. However the kick connected with the instep and not with the ball of the foot as it should.
Early in the bout, Stephens was consistently getting hit by low kicks. Until he started adjusting and countering. Here, Doo Ho Choi attacks with a right low kick and Jeremy catches him with a vicious right hand before the South Korean is able to land his foot. Personally I teach countering right low kicks with a left hook but a right hand can also get the job done, depending on the distance and body positioning. Especially in this example, where Choi does not turn his hips while launching the kick.
Here Jeremy Stephens goes for a right low kick to the calf and Doo Ho Choi steps in, connects with a right elbow and ducks under an incoming left hook. Beautiful counter by Choi.
It is very important for a fighter to keep their hand up and to the side of the direction they are moving, or at least be ready to preemptively duck-under incoming strikes. If they get hit by a punch as their head is moving towards it, the impact of the strike can be devastating. Here Doo Ho Choi attacks with a left hook, right cross, left hook. Stephens is able to weather the storm by covering up and attacks with a jab/left hook hybrid of his own. That attack makes Choi retreat to his left. Jeremy catches him with a right hand and drops him as Choi’s chin is moving towards the direction of the punch.
That’s all for now. Please join me next week for another breakdown. For a list of my previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.
About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).
Follow Kostas on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kostasfant and search #fantmoves for more techniques.
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