Sunday, 14 June 2015

Velasquez vs Werdum - Cordeiro Crowns Another King

Fabricio Werdum's history in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is as illustrious as any. From battles with the legends of the PRIDE Heavyweight division, to being viciously knocked out by an unknown Junior dos Santos, and submitting the greatest Heavyweight of all time in the first round.

Although known primarily as one of the best grapplers in MMA, Werdum's time at Kings MMA under Rafael Cordeiro has added another layer to his skillset - a very effective striking game. Werdum displays the trademarks of a Cordeiro fighter - the clinch knees, the kicks, the constant aggression, and the less-than-stellar defense, but his incredible ground game allows him to throw those kicks and knees freely without fear of being taken down. Travis Browne succeeded in catching a couple of Werdum's kicks, but immediately threw the leg away as if he didn't know what to do with it.

Werdum's evolution as a fighter is fairly unique, as his striking and grappling capabilities have allowed him to get by without needing to pour serious development into his takedowns or takedown defense. Cain Velasquez presented a new challenge to him however, as he doesn't need to take you down to overwhelm you with his wrestling. The question for Werdum was how he would respond to being pushed against the cage and hit repeatedly. We'll take a look at his response later.

After two dominant performances in as many fights, Johnny Case has become an exciting prospect and was expected by many to finish Francisco Trevino. Unfortunately, an eye poke late in the first round turned a dominant striking performance into a ground war. To Case's credit, he displayed intelligence and composure in choosing to take the fight to the mat after the eye poke left him with noticeable difficulty gauging distance and landing strikes. Trevino, for his part, seemed content to mouth Case off while getting taken down at will and hit in the face.

Case's use of the uppercut was especially notable. One of the most underutilized - and often poorly executed - strikes in MMA, the uppercut sees most of its use in the clinch or as a lead punch, whiffing and leaving the thrower open for a counter.

Case would back Trevino up to the cage and feint until he put on earmuffs, then split his guard with an uppercut. This is a good example of why an earmuff guard doesn't work well in MMA - the small gloves leave large openings down the middle and to each side. To effectively protect your face in MMA, your forearms must be in the way of your opponent's punches.

He also found success in using the uppercut as a counter. Trevino often ducked his head when charging in, which left him wide open for it. Case would slip onto his back foot and use the weight transfer from front to back in his slip to seamlessly throw the uppercut.

Case displayed impressive proficiency in the grappling throughout the fight as well, hitting takedowns at will and at one point, passing to side control after defending an omoplata and immediately taking Trevino's back. Here, he locks up a guillotine and Trevino turns his neck toward the crook of the elbow to take some of the forearm pressure off. In doing so, he aligns his hips perpendicular to Case's and compromises his base. Case scissors the right leg of Trevino, which is already turned inwards, and elevates the left leg, completing the sweep.

Yair Rodríguez took what appeared to be a showcase fight for Charles Rosa and put on a showcase of his own, displaying an entertaining, flashy striking and grappling style that left Joe Rogan unable to contain his unabashed excitement.

He took advantage of Rosa's bladed stance with side kicks to the knee and leg kicks. The bladed stance makes it more difficult to check kicks as your shin is facing away from your opponent, so you have to lift it up and turn it in order to check. Rosa attempted to check some of the kicks, but failed to turn his leg in time. Rodríguez timed his side kick as Rosa was stepping forward and had his weight on the front leg, increasing the impact and balance disruption. He also targeted the inside of the knee on his leg kicks to further throw Rosa off balance.

Here's some of that flashy striking - He throws a soft leg kick, mainly as a feint, and as Rosa reaches down to catch it, he jumps while switching his hips and comes up with a headkick. He also landed a side kick to the face and attempted a flying kick.

Every time Rosa had side control, Rodríguez would dig a forearm under his throat to create space, sneak the near side knee in between himself and Rosa, and invert to retain guard. Notice in the last one he uses the forearm in the throat and pushes off the cage to bump Rosa, who then bases out on his hand, and immediately pushes the arm to create space for his knee to slide in.

Rodríguez throws a spinning elbow that grazes the side of Rosa's head as he ducks in. Rodríguez finishes his spin in a great position, immediately grabbing an overhook on his right side and pushing Rosa's head with his left forearm while he gets his base under him. From here, he grabs the far arm and uses the bicep control and overhook to off-balance Rosa while he sweeps his hip out, throwing him with an Uchi mata.

Rosa gets the takedown but makes the mistake of attempting to dive on Rodríguez with all his weight. Rodríguez brings his right knee tight to his body to prevent Rosa from wrapping the left arm around him, while switching his hips out to his left, causing Rosa's weight to travel past him instead of onto him. From here, he kicks out with his left leg to continue Rosa's forward momentum, before clamping down with it and rolling on top of him.

Rodríguez showed a lot of holes in his game - namely his striking and takedown defense, but he also showed a lot of potential and creativity. At only 22 years of age, Yair Rodríguez has a bright future in the sport.

Cain Velasquez makes no secret of his strategy - he wants to pin you to the fence and hammer you with punches and knees. To get you there, he'll back you up with a double or triple dipping jab or a jab-overhand. He'll charge you head first like a truck. But the same thing that makes him one of the most relentless pressure fighters in the game leaves him vulnerable - he'll charge you head first and if you meet it with a punch, he'll charge straight into it.

This early exchange sets the tone for the rest of the fight. Cain charges in behind his jab and Werdum plants his feet and throws. He doesn't do much damage, and Cain succeeds in getting him to the cage, but Werdum has made it clear that he won't just accept being pinned against the cage - he's going to make Cain work for it and hurt him while he's doing it.

For Werdum, the first round was all about him trying to keep his back off the cage.

Whenever he found himself pinned against the cage, Werdum would lock up a collar tie and attempt to pull Cain past him while stepping off-line. If Cain followed him, Werdum would slam a knee into his body, If he broke, Werdum would catch him with punches as he charged in to regain the clinch.

Werdum also threatened with takedowns from the clinch.

Werdum ties up Cain's left hand and head and keeps his head close, leaving Cain able to throw only uppercuts without much power on them. He pulls Cain into a knee, which is slipped, but it causes a break and he keeps his grip on Cain's wrist and uses it to follow up with punches.

Werdum's effectiveness in the clinch had Cain breaking it and made him reluctant to clinch, forcing the fight into the open as Cain abandoned the strategy of clinching and tried to exchange with Werdum. This exposed some of his bad habits and highlighted why Cain is not suited for a striking battle in the center of the Octagon.

Cain gets caught throwing a sloppy kick and retreats straight backwards without angling off, allowing Werdum to catch him with followup punches.

These exchanges show some of the flaws in Cain's defense. Punching without much setup, leading with his face, lack of mobility and standing straight in front of Werdum, and poor head movement as he throws his strikes.

These holes are nothing new - he got tagged standing right in front of Nogeuira and charging in on JDS in their last 2 fights, but none of his opponents have had Werdum's success in the clinch in order to exploit them, excepting JDS who caught Cain before he was trapped against the cage.

After round 1, it was largely Werdum looking to initiate the clinch and Cain looking to escape it.

In round 3, Cain started trying to take Werdum down. The first time, he nearly got swept before regaining his base and looking to stand above Werdum and land ground and pound, but Werdum used a crafty escape to stand back up. He catches a punch and holds onto the wrist as Cain attempts to pull it away, only to let go and stand up as Cain steps back to rip the hand away. Almost like telling your little brother to pull on your hand as hard as he can, before letting go so he falls on his butt.

The finish came as Cain shot another takedown straight into a guillotine. He tried to hop over the legs to side control as soon as Werdum wrapped up his neck, but Werdum got his legs around Cain and locked it up tight, forcing him to tap.

Ironically, Werdum's cardio played a big role in his win and his decision to train at altitude at length before the fight payed off. Cain's ring rust and reluctance to come to Mexico earlier than 2 weeks before the fight showed. This presents some interesting questions for a potential rematch in the future, after Cain gets an impressive win or two, but Werdum has shown he has the tools to keep his back off the cage and fight out of the clinch, which is the most important aspect of winning a fight against Cain Velasquez.

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