No fighter is defined by a single technique, but every great fighter has a signature weapon. For Alex Pereira, that weapon is the left hook.
As a kickboxer, Pereira developed a reputation as a devastating puncher, and a great many of his most devastating punches were left hooks. Unfortunately, that reputation, though well earned, has too often obscured Pereira’s true depth of skill. He is a more subtle, more creative, and more adaptive fighter than his violent highlight reel might lead you to believe.
Pereira can fight going forward and going backward, and he is just as comfortable fencing in open space. He can swarm, but he can also counter. And at 36 years of age, he is still adding new elements to an already impressive game, of which the left hook is still the perfect encapsulation, showcasing both his crushing power and his versatility.
It turns out Alex Pereira’s left hook is every bit as flexible as the man himself.
Alex Pereira’s left hook: Off the Jab
A knockout punch is only as good as its setup. In this case, the fight-ender was precipitated by two things: a jab to the body, and circular footwork.
The body jab is a vastly underutilized tool. You might be fooled into thinking that a jab isn’t powerful enough to make an effective body punch, but in fact the opposite is true. In general, jabs carry considerable stopping power thanks to the fact that the whole stance is built around them: a fighter turns side-on in order to hide his center-line behind his lead arm. He adjusts his feet constantly to keep that barrier between himself and his opponent, and by doing so continually threatens the opponent’s own center-line with his jab.
Thus the lead arm is shield and spear both. And the very fact that the fighter’s entire body is lined up behind it means that even a lightly thrown jab is all but impossible to walk through. It has structural integrity. All the better when the target is center mass. You can see the effect on Strickland at the start of this clip: he walks into Pereira’s jab like it was the end of a steel rail. Oof.
The effect of this shot goes beyond the moment of impact. Just before firing the left hook that ends the fight, Pereira changes levels slightly, sitting down into his stance. For him, the effect is that of a spring, loading his legs with explosive power. For Strickland, it’s an evil lie. What he sees in Pereira’s level change is a tell: a suggestion of the body jab he absorbed just moments before. He reacts accordingly, parrying the punch with his right hand. Only the punch he’s parrying doesn’t come at all, and the very act of defending leaves his chin wide-open for Pereira’s signature shot.
Pereira’s footwork is the final piece of this puzzle. See how he steps back, then pivots to his left. Once, twice, three times. Each backward step draws Strickland in, and each pivot creates an angle to which he must adjust laterally. But there is a gap between these two responses. Every time Pereira cuts an angle, the distance between the two closes for just a split-second–a split-second in which Pereira is facing Strickland while Strickland is not facing him. In other words, Strickland is made to square up and stand smack in Pereira’s effective range.
In that position, every defense becomes a gamble, and one bad bet is all it takes.
Alex Pereira’s left hook: On the Counter
The left hook can be a devastating lead, particularly when paired with the jab, but it also makes for an excellent counter punch. And Alex Pereira is no one trick pony. Here is a particularly slick example from Pereira’s last fight, against former light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz. A counter left hook in its purest form…
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