The Ultimate Fighter is back, featuring middleweight and bantamweight tournaments to earn UFC contracts. The two teams are coached by UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, and former title challenger Brian Ortega.
At 185 pounds, the eight-man tournament began with a matchup between Team Ortega’s Andre Petroski and Team Volkanovski’s Aaron Phillips. Fighting out of Renzo Gracie in Philadelphia, Petroski should be one of the favorites to come through the bracket, based on his wrestling pedigree.
Andre Petroski’s Wrestling Credentials
A Pennsylvania native, Andre Petroski was a fairly highly regarded recruit coming out of high school. Pennsylvania is consistently the toughest state in the country when it comes to high school wrestling, and Petroski was extremely successful. He was a three-time state placer, taking 5th, 3rd, and 2nd. On top of that, Petroski made the podium on multiple occasions at the national Beast of the East tournament – an objectively more difficult task than any single state championship. Based on his background and trajectory, Petroski was a talent who was likely to threaten for Division 1 All-American honors if he continued to improve.
Petroski started for the University of North Carolina as a true freshman, posting a winning record at 174 pounds. His career looked promising, as he placed at the prestigious Southern Scuffle holiday tournament, taking 7th. He wrestled unattached in his second season, taking a redshirt year. Redshirt seasons are typically allocated for younger wrestlers to develop, but something may have been amiss. That was Petroski’s last year at UNC, in his third season he wrestled at Bloomsburg back in Pennsylvania. It’s hard to say what the reason was – he may have had an issue breaking into the lineup due to changing circumstances with the roster, there could have been an academic issue, or something more personal.
Bloomsburg was still a Division 1 program, of course, and athletes often find more success after returning to compete closer to home. Unfortunately, it did appear Petroski was having issues, as he ended his season at Bloomsburg with a losing record. Petroski transferred to a third school, wrestling for Kutztown in Pennsylvania – a Division 2 school. Petroski had a solid season at Kutztown, qualifying for the NCAA Championship and producing well for his team, but it was far from what many would have expected from him in his fifth year of collegiate wrestling.
Petroski uses basic threats to take down Aaron Phillips
MMA seems to be a great fit for Andre Petroski. He was 7-1 as an amateur and is 5-1 as a pro thus far, his one loss coming to the highly touted Aaron Jeffrey, who will be on the next set of Contender Series events.
In his fight against Aaron Phillips, Petroski demonstrated an understanding of a few basic “wrestling for MMA” concepts that I’ve laid out in the past. Check out my breakdowns on Frankie Edgar, Merab Dvalishvili, Curtis Blaydes, and Joey Davis to get a better idea of the interplay between level changes, rear hand strikes, and takedowns.
It’s a fairly straightforward concept. In order to shoot a takedown, the offensive fighter needs to change levels and drive forward. The best defense, as covered in my breakdown of Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling, is comprised of “head, hands, hips”. The threat of striking attacks can usually elicit counters, or the use of a higher guard, which could potentially take away the “head and hands” layers of defense. In a nutshell – if the defending fighter thinks a punch to the head is coming, they will react in a way that could leave them exposed to a takedown entry.
It’s easier said than done – the offensive fighter needs to show striking threats that resemble their preferred takedowns. This can be most easily accomplished by punching the body, or throwing power rear hand strikes up top, which require a change in levels.
Take a look at how Petroski laid the groundwork for the only takedown he needed in the fight.
VIDEO CLIP: Andre Petroski sets up a takedown vs. Aaron Phillips
Petroski began by showing Phillips a number of level change fakes, using stutter steps and twitches with his hips and shoulders. With the level change fakes alone, Petroski was communicating to Phillips that something was coming, which made Phillips hesitant.
Later on, Petroski pulled the trigger, changing levels into a committed overhand. Because it was the only real attack he had shown in the round, Phillips could only assume moving forward that the level change meant an overhand was coming, not a takedown. This was great for Petroski, who would be able to exploit Phillips’ habit of backing up while standing tall in response to rear hand strikes.
Ultimately, this works because the mechanics of an overhand and certain takedowns are so similar. When analysts, coaches, and athletes talk about “disguising” their attacks, this is one way to accomplish that.
Much like former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, Petroski used the motion of the overhand to set up his knee pick entry, from which he was able to work through his crackdown and single leg finishes.
Observe the mechanics of the motion. Even up to the point that Petroski is releasing the overhand, the two stills are essentially identical. Aside from the prior knowledge that Petroski is a wrestler, Phillips had no reason to believe the knee pick was coming, and he reacted in a pure striking context.
After sitting Phillips on his butt, Petroski was able to get height, shelve the leg and cover to side control. From there, he heeded his coaches’ advice and waited for Phillips to sit into him – allowing him to isolate the far arm underneath his lat, setting up a nasty choke and neck crank.
VIDEO CLIP: Andre Petroski submits Aaron Phillips in the first round
Petroski connected his hands underneath the neck on the other side, then high-stepped over to mount to get leverage. He arched his back and used his lat to compress and crank, forcing Phillips to tap.
Coach Brian Ortega remarked that Petroski had just learned this move very recently, which speaks well of his potential improvements moving forward. This is not the first time an Ultimate Fighter contestant has made such rapid gains and immediately applied them in a fight. TUF Latin America’s Enrique Barzola finished Cesar Arzamendia with a punch to the body from the stacked position, in the same episode that he was taught it by his coach Efrain Escudero.
From my perspective, this is what makes The Ultimate Fighter worth watching. Young, developing fighters are paired with world-class coaches and look to peak as quickly as possible for multiple competitions in a short period of time. It’s a great test of a fighter’s potential, and moments like this can often tell us a lot more than an isolated regional victory could. I’m looking forward to Petroski’s continued run through the bracket, and I’ll be on the lookout for any other fighters of interest competing this season.
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