Sunday, 10 May 2015

Miocic versus Hunt: The Best Offense is a Good Defense

Stipe Miocic put on an absolute clinic in all aspects of MMA against Mark Hunt in rounds one through three, after which the fight turned into a brutal clobbering of a man who had little to offer, offensively or defensively.

The rest of the card was weak from a name perspective, but turned out to be one of those events that looks poor on paper but provides an exhilarating night of incredible knockouts, impressive submissions, and fighters snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

Kailin Curran came into her fight with Alex Chambers looking to show that her performance against Paige Van Zant wasn't indicative of her capabilities and for two and a half rounds, she did just that. Walking the Australian down and blasting her with combo after combo, Curran controlled the pace of the fight.

The first round was deceptively close, as in between touching Chambers up with punches, Curran's porous head-up-and-stationary, hands-down defense allowed Chambers to tag her often, but Curran began overwhelming Chambers with volume in the 2nd and running away with the fight..

While her hands looked sharp, Curran demonstrated inexperience in her grappling game throughout the fight.

Here, she fails to control Chambers' hips from the clinch and allows her to pivot out. In the first instance, she has bicep control with her right arm and her left hand is on Chambers' right hip, leaving her left hips free to move around and pull Curran into knees. In the second, Curran has a crossface and a hand on the leg, but there is no pressure on Chambers' hips. Chambers braces a hand on the crossface, pivots out, and lands a jab.

Curran follows Chambers to the feet too quickly, getting up without a solid base. Chambers rushes forward and catches her with her feet square.
Between rounds 2 and 3, Curran's corner told her that the double leg was there for her and that Chambers had nothing for her on the ground, a questionable strategy against a grappler who's only reasonable chance of winning is by submission. Curran went out and hit the double, but ended up caught in a kimura attempt.

Initially, Chambers had a weak knee knee shield from half guard and her other leg was flat on the mat, failing to control Curran's hip or leg. Curran could have defended the kimura attempt simply by walking clockwise around Chambers' body. Chambers threw her left leg over Curran's head and used it to control her left hip, but she loses it and Curran eventually walks around. Chambers still has control of the arm, but Curran has walked around her head and removed the kimura threat, although she fails to pressure Chambers and leaves enough space for her to bring her hips up and lock in an armbar. This is where Curran makes a big mistake - Curran has her hands locked together with Chambers' left arm pulling on hers. Chambers needs to break the grip to finish from here. Curran steps her right leg up and stands, thinking that Chambers will keep her grip on the arm and allow herself to be slammed. Instead, Chambers releases the arm and uses her right arm to pry Curran's wrist above her locked hands. This causes Curran to stand up while Chambers remains on the ground, effectively straightening her own arm and removing the need for Chambers to break her grip.

Hatsu Hioki was putting on a clinic in orthodox angling against a southpaw before a Dan Hooker headkick ruined his night. Hooker was intent on forcing the outside angle by stepping his lead foot outside of Hioki's to land his straight left, but Hioki let him have the outside and used inside angles to land his lead hand. As a general rule, an outside angle shortens the path of your rear hand and makes it easier to land and an inside angle does the same with your lead hand, although if you have a deep enough angle where your body is facing your opponent's center line, it opens up both hands.

Hooker steps outside of Hioki's lead foot only to get cracked with a left hand. Pay attention to how Hioki defends the straight with a parry and a short slip to his right, as this becomes relevant later.

Here, Hioki sneaks onto the ball of his back foot and drives off of it, a favorite of Roy Jones Jr, extending the range on his straight and shortening its delivery. A few minutes later, Hooker gives it back to him by stepping down onto the ball of his foot after a feinted kick.

Hioki found a lot of success with a shifting left hand. He would throw a right hook to the head or body in order to turn his hips and shoulders opposite of his stance and then explode out with a left that acted as a straight, applying torque with his hips and shoulders and stepping his right leg up into southpaw, increasing the power and allowing him to cover more distance. Notice in the third instance how Hioki turns toward Hooker's center line after Hooker steps out into an outside angle, catching him off guard and forcing him to retreat rapidly.

Hioki also found success with a snap kick to the body and appeared to stun Hooker with it in the second round.

Remember Hioki's defense to Hooker's straight left? The finish comes as Hooker throws up a throwaway left hand, which Hioki parries and slips, only to slip straight into a headkick. Hioki grabs the leg as it comes down, but Hooker pops him on the chin with a short right and finishes up on the ground.

Hioki displayed his savvy striking, but Hooker impressed with his ability to capitalize on an opponent's tendencies, a far cry from walking forward and winging shots while getting blasted by Maximo Blanco. Hooker also showed great defense and composure from his back and managed to reverse Hioki's mount and get back to his feet on a couple occasions.

Miocic came out with the perfect gameplan against Hunt - frustrate and tire out the Samoan powerhouse in the early rounds by making him miss and making him pay, then grind him into dust once his energy has been sapped. Hunt does some of his best work countering the jab. Miocic does some of his best work off the jab. This meant that in order to accomplish his gameplan, Miocic needed to make his jab difficult to counter, and he succeeded wonderfully.

Hunt's modus operandi is slipping inside the jab with a cross-counter overhand or parrying and slipping outside of it with a left hook. In the first instance, Miocic checks Hunt's left hand as he jabs and uses his jabbing arm as a barrier while he retracts it. Hunt punches right through Miocic's arm, but he's able to get out of the way. In the second instance, Stipe uses the jabbing arm barrier and a dip to avoid Hunt's cross counter. In the thrid instance, Miocic's stiff arm stuffs Hunt's overhand and angles out to avoid the left hook. In the fourth and fifth, Miocic's distancing allows him to land the jab while remaining far enough away to avoid the left hook. Notice in the fifth instance how Miocic feints the jab and waits until Hunt slips outside to follow his head movement with jabs. Hunt keeps slipping further but Miocic's jab meets him every time.

Miocic taking advantage of Hunt's hunched posture with knees and uppercuts.
The story of the first 2 rounds was Miocic's incredibly sound defense. He managed to effectively nullify the offense of one of the Heavyweight division's most dangerous strikers.

Miocic's head movement is deceptive. He'll wade into striking range with his head straight up and fixed in place, with his chin exposed, but he's always ready to slip.

He's also great at controlling distance, knowing just how close he needs to be to land while still falling just outside of his opponent's punching range - as soon as his opponent steps forward, Miocic will slip or step back and counter. Notice how Miocic stuffs Hunt's right hand by closing the distance and exits by pivoting around him.

Hunt was able to time Miocic coming forward on occasion, but his greatest success came near the end of the second round as he hit an arm drag with his back to the cage, pivoted around Miocic, trapping him against the cage, and teed off while Miocic had no room to retreat.

Although Hunt caught him by surprise there, Miocic handled the few other occasions on which he found himself with his back to the fence well. He was able to slip or stuff a punch and then shift stances while reversing directions and circle past Hunt's open side.
Miocic's takedowns made Hunt wary of stepping forward, as he would often time that step and meet it with a single leg. The first time it happened, Hunt used a butterfly sweep to stand up right away. The next time, he spent a lot longer on the ground but managed to secure an underhook from side control to stand up. After that, Hunt's frustration led to him throwing more weight behind his punches, giving Miocic plenty of opportunity to hit takedowns, and fatigue prevented him from getting up quickly. Soon he was too worn down to offer any resistance and Miocic held him down and battered him.

Miocic displayed his proficiency in the clinch as well. Here he breaks on a takedown with an uppercut, exploiting Hunt's hunched posture and catching him by surprise. After that, he smothers Hunt's hands and arcs and elbow over top, before using the motion of his elbow to slip in an underhook.

The one aspect of Miocic's performance that I believe displays an exploitable feature in his striking is the way he was parrying the jab. Miocic often reached out far to parry the jab, exposing his chin. We recently saw Frank Mir knock Bigfoot Silva out with a jab to draw a parry combined with a left hook to the exposed chin, and Miocic got caught a couple times against Hunt misjudging a left hook as a jab and attempting to parry, as well as on a feinted jab-left hook from Hunt.

The story of rounds 3-5 was a man with nothing left taking unnecessary punishment. The referee had the perfect opportunity to stop the fight while Hunt was getting hammered in the third round. Urges to fight back were met with Hunt slinging his arm in Miocic's general direction, but making a feeble attempt at offense while getting beaten on doesn't qualify as intelligent defense. Instead of urging Hunt to fight back, the ref should have been calling for him to defend himself. He followed the referee's instructions by attempting to fight back, but his offense was for show only and the one hand in front of his face did little to stop Miocic's blows. Equally disappointing was the reluctance of Hunt's corner to throw in the towel. It's the responsibility of a fighter's corner to protect the fighter from unnecessary punishment and it became clear during the final rounds that Hunt was no longer in the fight.

The rest of the card saw Ben Nguyen pick up an impressive knockout of Alptekin Özkılıç in his UFC debut, showing solid head movement and combinations throughout and hitting a ridiculous switch on the All-American wrestler near the end of the first round. Brendan O'Reilly took a unanimous decision over Vik Grujic in an exciting, sloppy slugfest. Robert Whittaker demonstrated the importance off taking one's head off-line or otherwise defending it while trading hooks with his quick knockout of Brad Tavares, and Jonavin Webb got robbed of a win in an atrocious decision against Kyle Noke.

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