Bobby Green has been a very good fighter for a very long time.
A veteran of 14 years and 42 professional fights, Green entered the cage last weekend having finally reached what appeared to be his fighting prime. The opponent was Nasrat Haqparast, a formerly hot prospect who, while stagnant, remains a durable and dangerous test for any lightweight.
Now that the fight has come and gone, there is no longer any room for doubt: these are the best years of Green’s career, and this his best performance to date.
In a word, Bobby smoked his ass.
The statistics are staggering. Green outstruck Haqparast by 188 to 76 overall, landing more than twice as many strikes as his foe. That’s impressive in its own right, but the round-by-round numbers paint an even more astounding picture of the fight. It had an arc.
In round one, Green landed 38/71 strikes, compared to 17/51 for Haqparast. Certainly impressive, but the first round tends to be Haqparast’s slowest regardless of opponent. True to form, Haqparast upped his output and landed more in the second—not that it won him the round, because Green’s output literally doubled: 38/72 for Haqparast in round two against 71/141 for Green. Nothing to sneeze at.
But round three is where things got really special. It was probably the single best round of Bobby Green’s entire career. His output didn’t drop—in fact, he threw two more strikes than in the previous round, for a total of 143. Neither did his connect rate; once again, Green managed to send 79 strikes home, a full 55 percent of his attempts. But most incredible of all is the absolute havoc Green wreaked on his opponent’s numbers. Haqparast went from 72 attempted strikes in round two to 70 in round three, more or less maintaining his pace—and yet his connect rate plummeted, from 38/72 to a truly disheartening 21/70.
Just so we’re clear: in round three of this fight, Bobby Green landed 79 strikes against 21 for Haqparast. That is a differential of very nearly 400 percent. And he accomplished these incredible statistics while throwing and landing more strikes than at any other point in the fight.
Oh, and did I mention he spent almost the entire round going backwards?
But enough about numbers. Bobby Green didn’t beat Nasrat Haqparast on paper, he beat him in the cage, for real. To truly appreciate this performance, we need to look at some examples.
Dominating from a Distance
First, let’s look at one of the more basic sequences from the first round. It was clear from the jump that Green had Haqparast’s number, and the reason for that was his ability to dominate the battles for range and initiative.
1. Bobby Green dodges a low kick and runs his mouth like only Bobby Green can.
2. Walking Haqparast down, Green subtly shifts his weight back…
3. …enabling him to step in for a body jab. It lands, but Green has to reach for it.
4. So, as Haqparast’s guard drops, Green draws his weight back once again…
5. …and notes that Haqparast is now leaning forward, meaning that he can fire off another quick jab—this one to the face—without having to move.
6. The distance is still long for a balanced left straight, however, so as Green’s jab returns he executes a quick hop-step, closing the gap…
7. …to land an effortlessly clean cross.
This is just an excellent example of how, with careful execution, a fighter can dominate a bout with the simplest of techniques. The 1-1-2 is a staple of boxing, the kind of combination you learn on day one and spend years perfecting. Throwing one of those jabs to the body is another basic idea which will always work well, especially against a fighter like Haqparast, whose defense is almost entirely limited to a high guard.
But what really stands out here are the small adjustments made between each of the three punches. Although Green made Haqparast look like a heavy bag, the task was not really that simple. A heavy bag might swing around, but a real fight is a far more dynamic affair—and, of course, a live opponent is liable to hit back. Distance must be constantly measured and re-measured in order to land cleanly and avoid return fire.
Green does a marvelous job of checking his distance at every stage throughout a combination. Whether or not his first strike lands, Green will use it to gather information, and then make the necessary adjustments for the follow-up. Though the punches in this sequence come quickly, one after the other, Green spends a split second evaluating the position between each attack. When he needs to, he moves his feet before continuing. He doesn’t just stand there and punch, because no opponent is going to stand there and take it.
This was a real point of contrast between the two fighters. Haqparast spent most of the bout trying to simply walk into range. Wary of Green’s counters, he wanted to be sure he was near enough to land anything before taking the risk of actually letting anything go.
Green, on the other hand, understood that some punches work at a range where others do not. He also knew that, by using longer strikes to seize the initiative, he could buy time to get into range for those follow-up punches. While Haqparast’s cautious advances gave Green every opportunity to time his entries and catch him on the way in, Green struck first with the weapon best suited to that task—the jab—before applying the data gained to his next attack, all while Haqparast was stuck playing catch-up.
Shifting in Reverse
If you know Bobby Green, you know that, while he has a superb grasp of boxing basics, he is also a wonderfully weird, creative striker. Green is not a boxer; he is an MMA fighter. Where boxers have the luxury of knowing that their opponents will only ever throw hands, Green’s style of striking must account for opponents who blitz in threatening anything from a takedown to a flying knee.
Green’s answer to the essential unpredictability of MMA is to be an essentially unpredictable backfoot striker. He’s loose, flexible, and more than a little awkward. He often squares up, or shifts backward from one stance to the other, enabling easy movement in any direction and keeping his defensive and counterstriking options wide open.
1. Green stands with his weight forward, drawing Haqparast into range by presenting his face as a target.
2. When Haqparast edges into range, Green transfers his weight onto his back leg…
3. …loading up a stiff jab.
4. Green withdraws, now squaring his stance.
5. This lines up his left shoulder with Haqparast’s center line, enabling him to land a sharp left cross.
6. Now Green returns to a more neutral stance, realigning his right hand with the target.
7. Haqparast lunges in with a jab, but Green evades it simply by rocking back onto his left foot.
8. From there, instead of throwing a jab down the middle, he shifts backward into a southpaw stance and beans Haqparast with a snappy right cross.
9. Green expects Haqparast to barrel in after him, and targets him with a long left uppercut.
10. But Haqparast hesitates. Green avoids overreaching, and unloads his punch.
11. Now Haqparast does drift into range, however. Once again it is Green’s left foot penetrating Haqparast’s center line. So Green simply spears him with a left jab, before resetting on a new angle.
To really understand what’s happening in this sequence, we should first be clear with our definitions. Above, I have called Green’s retreating footwork a “backwards shift.” That sounds slick, but “shift” is really just a fancy term for… walking.
You know. Left foot, right foot. As you do.
While obviously a very natural way to cover distance, this is an inherently risky thing to do in a fight. There are many reasons behind the staggered stance adopted by virtually every fighter, but all you really need to know is that standing square is an excellent way to get put on your ass, whereas staggering your feet turns your legs into a pair of shocks. The back foot, in particular, acts as both kickstand and spring, maintaining balance and helping to dissipate the force of any blows to the head.
The problem with shifting is that it turns a stable, staggered stance into one that is wide open and square. There is simply no way to walk, whether forward or backward, without severely compromising the integrity of your stance, even if only for a moment.
So how does Bobby Green get away with it?
Well, first of all, he keeps his upper body loose. Green is always ready to move with a strike, rolling his head, bending at the waste, shucking the shoulder—all moves which help him to “ride” the force of a punch rather than taking it flush.
Then there are considerations like distance and timing. Green only shifts backward when he is already out of range. For example, in Frame 7 above, Green knows he is safe to abandon his southpaw stance because he can see that Haqparast has already fully extended trying to reach him with a jab and still fallen short. As for shifting toward an opponent, Green likewise looks for a weakness in the opponent’s position before compromising his own. It’s the same idea in reverse: if Green sees you stumbling backward out of your stance, he will quickly shift out of his own in order to capitalize. Shifting may be risky, but Green’s risks are all carefully calculated.
But by far the most crucial element of Green’s ability to get away with such seemingly haphazard retreats is what we in the insufferable tryhard community might call prophylaxis. In other words, he always maintains a threat.
You see, Green doesn’t just walk backward aimlessly. Quite the opposite: he does it while literally aiming right at his opponent’s face. More than that, Green usually follows through on his threats. While his feet are switching from one stance to the next, his straight punches act as suppressing fire.
Take another look at the sequence above, and note how Green always has a punch sighted up along the opponent’s center line. If this is difficult to pick out, you can look at his feet for some indication. Note that whenever Green’s threat is a jab (Frames 3 and 11), his lead foot is placed just inside that of Haqparast, toes pointed toward his crotch. The jab follows this line from above, and because Haqparast’s crotch is conveniently located directly south of his face, said jab presents a pretty formidable obstacle. When, on the other hand, Green targets Haqparast with a cross (Frames 5 and 8), he plants his lead foot outside Haqparast’s, with the toes pointed outward. This squares his body and brings the rear hand in line with Nasrat’s chin.
So yes, by walking in reverse and constantly squaring his stance, Bobby Green does put himself at risk. But this positional weakness is made up for by a positional strength. In order to make Green pay for his footwork, the opponent has to chase after him without running face-first into a ramrod-straight punch, and Green rarely shifts without ensuring that either one hand or the other is in position to deliver that punch.
As they say: prevention is the best medicine.
Playing with His Food
Now that we have seen how fully aware Bobby Green is of his own positioning, let’s wrap up by examining how he picks apart his opponent’s.
Nasrat Haqparast is a great athlete. He’s lightning quick, plenty powerful, and tough as hell. As a result, he got to this point without ever having to develop much depth. He throws almost exclusively 1-2s, and without any of the nuance possessed by Green. For defense, he has a high guard. And, at the risk of selling him short, that’s about it. Whenever opponents managed to adapt to this straightforward approach—and plenty have—or simply refused to go away early, Haqparast was always able to overwhelm them with physicality and raw aggression.
It should go without saying, but that shit doesn’t fly against Bobby Green.
1. Green circles slowly to his right, mirroring Haqparast’s southpaw stance. Haqparast stalks after him in a square stance.
2. Once his right foot lines up with Haqparast’s center, Green’s jab follows the line to Haqparast’s chin.
3. A left cross follows, splitting Haqparast’s guard again.
4. Green brings the right hand out straight again, taking advantage of the opening, but Haqparast closes it by pinching his forearms together.
5. Green resets, sidestepping to the right once again. Haqparast follows.
6. Green waits for Haqparast’s right foot to center on him. With his stance more bladed now, Green sees a different angle of attack.
7. He sets up the attack with a simple pump feint. As before, Haqparast protects his face by pinching his guard tight.
8. At which point Green sneaks in a right hook…
9. …before slipping Haqparast’s counter right and circling out to his left.
The most obvious element of this sequence is just how easily Green takes apart Haqparast’s guard. Now, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with this method of defense. The high guard is popular because it works. But merely putting something in the way of the opponent’s fists is not enough to dissuade a clever and determined striker. To Bobby Green, that high guard is a locked door with a sign reading, “Go around back.” Sometimes he does just that, and sometimes he decides to just kick the thing down instead. Usually both, one after the other.
But there is far more to Haqparast’s position than the high guard, and Green sees it all.
When Haqparast initially enters range (Frame 1), he does so standing quite square, perhaps wondering which way Green is going to move and trying to cover all his bases by adopting a relatively neutral foot position. The downside, of course, is that a square stance does little to cover the center line, making it easy for Green to fire off a sharp 1-2 straight down the pike.
Afterward, as Green circles right, Haqparast seems wary of presenting the same target. He does not simply narrow his guard, but also blades his stance, trying to hide both his face and his center line. But, just as a square stance exposes the center, a bladed stance leaves the angles undefended. This is why Green, seizing the initiative with a simple, subtle feint, is able to not only wrap a hook around Haqparast’s guard, but easily escape to the same side after. By the time Haqparast pulls the trigger on his counter, Green has already slipped out of his sights.
This level of positional awareness is unbelievably rare in MMA. Bobby Green is a goddamn unicorn.
The analogy between fighting and chess is so well-trod that it no longer even counts as pretentious signaling. There are people who have never played chess in their lives that will tell you what a chess match Woodley-Thompson 2 was.
If, however, there is one aspect in which the comparison still rings true, it is this: in chess, you can’t move one piece without undefending another. And if you find a way to move one piece to protect two, it is all too easy to become overworked and overwhelmed. Every move is a compromise, even the compromises.
Fighting is the same. There is no such thing as a safe punch, or a perfect defense. Everything, every single action, creates an opening. The trick is to take advantage of those openings without getting punched in the mouth–something few chess players have to worry about.
In this analogy, Bobby Green is a grandmaster.
Or maybe he’s more like a really great chess hustler. Because grandmasters don’t talk shit while playing.
All the better for us. Bobby Green is a genuine technician, but unlike so many others of that ilk, he knows how to make it look good. Call it bullshit, style, swagger—whatever you like. The point is, it’s worth breaking down in detail, but it’s also fun as hell to watch.
This was the finest performance of Green’s career. Whether or not he can go on to even bigger and better things remains to be seen, but at this point one thing is clear: Bobby Green is the King, and you’re a damn fool if you don’t tune in to find out.
For more on UFC 271, including further singing of Bobby Green’s praises, don’t miss the latest episode of Heavy Hands, a podcast dedicated to the finer points of face-punching.
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