Thursday, 30 July 2015

UFC 189 McGregor vs Mendes Analysis : Is The Hype For Real?

Conor McGregor has silenced the doubters. The question looming over McGregor's head since before the Aldo fight was announced is answered. But what about the takedown? Well, Chad Mendes showed that McGregor can be taken down. McGregor showed Mendes that he can get back up. After months of being overshadowed by the great Irish hype, Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald stole the show with a contender for fight of the year and one of the greatest UFC championship fights of all time.

UFC 189 featured what is very likely the most exciting main card in the history of the UFC. After a few lackluster decisions on the Fox prelims, Matt Brown and Tim Means kicked off the show in the prelim maint event, with a fast-paced brawl ending in a submission win for Brown. Every proceeding fight ramped up the excitement until Conor McGregor brought it to a crescendo as he touched Mendes with that left hand and finished him off with ground and pound to the adulation of 16,000 roaring fans.

Earlier on the card, Gunnar Nelson shook up what was thought to be a modern look at the traditional "striker vs grappler" match.

Thatch started out feinting his way in to gauge Nelson's reaction and began to add kicks to Gunnar's trailing leg as the feints pushed him back.

After taking a few leg kicks while retreating, Gunnar decides to counter. Thatch throws the leg kick and Gunnar takes a small hop-step back, bracing his leg against another kick. He raises his shin to check the kick, before using his hands to fight off Thatch's attempt at grabbing his head. Thatch's hands are now out of position to block due to his failed clinch attempt and Gunnar nails him with a short overhand as he retreats. Notice Thatch landing in a southpaw stance after throwing the second kick.

Thatch likes to give his opponent different looks by switching his stance often. He'll do this mid-combination, after a combination to come back in with one from the opposite stance, or at distance when he feels he is far enough away to safely switch. When switching from a distance, he takes a step back with his lead foot while pivoting on his rear foot, ostensibly putting him at a safe distance and an angle that makes it difficult for his opponent to capitalize.

Both men are hand fighting and a forward step fron Nelson promts a switch from Thatch. Thatch pivots on his rear foot and Nelson takes a small step to keep up with him. Now Thatch is facing Nelson's center, while Nelson is facing off to the side of Thatch. As Thatch steps forward, Nelson takes a sharp hop-step forward and to his left, eliminating Thatch's angle and putting him in position to be hit. Nelson lands on the ball of his feet ready to immediately spring off and leap in further diagonally with the left hook, catching Thatch off-guard as he steps and leaving him with no time to react. Nelson's diagonal movement as he throws the left hook shortens the path of his straight and lines Thatch up for it, and he smashes his fist through Thatch's head and follows up on the ground.

Nelson slices through his guard like butter and moves to knee on belly, followed by mount. Thatch controls Nelson's left arm to remove his ability to base out on it and bridges. Nelson just bases out on his right arm across his body and switches his hips to his right as Thatch's hips turn in the opposite direction, preventing Thatch from rolling back underneath him and securing the back.

Nelson turns Thatch over and secures the body lock. Thatch has his right hand tight to his head, preventing Nelson from slipping his hand in for the choke. He uses some hard hammerfists to force a reaction and Thatch responds by sitting up to get away from them. As he comes back down, Nelson punches through his arm and locks up the choke. This is similar to how Benson Henderson finished the rear naked choke on Thatch - he used a heel kick to the body to make Thatch sit up and locked up the choke as he sat.

It was clear from the get-go that the handfight would play a significant role in the fight between Lawler and MacDonald. They took the first round to feel each other out, playing with angles and experimenting with the handfight. Both men looked to land their jab and straight, while Rory repeatedly went to a front kick to the body that we'll see pop up later in McGregor's fight.

Rory slaps the lead hand down and steps into an outside angle to land a straight, taking his head off-line to avoid a jab from Lawler, but Lawler circles his hand out and comes up with a counter hook, landing simultaneously. As he does this, Lawler steps out with his lead foot, taking back the outside angle. He presses forward and steps deeper outside and Rory allows him to take the outside angle to land a jab from inside.

Rory controls Lawler's lead hand and Lawler circles it out and throws a front kick, stepping down into an outside angle and parrying the MacDonald jab as he lands his straight.

In the first sequence, Lawler reaches out to check MacDonald's lead hand, allowing MacDonald to sneak a quick jab in on his unprotected chin before he covers the hand. In the second sequence, MacDonald pumps a couple jabs at Lawler's open hand, retracting it low every time. Lawler times it and steps into a jab as MacDonald retracts, before slipping MacDonald's counters.

Both fighters began to open up more in the second round. Lawler started using pivots more in his attack and looked to set up the straight left, while MacDonald looked to maintain distance with his jab. Lawler started to block the fronts kicks of MacDonald, so he went with a straight to the body which landed hard a couple times.

Lawler takes a wide pivot around MacDonald and pounces with a jab as MacDonald turns to face him.

In the first sequence, Macdonald controls Lawler's lead hand and steps into an outside angle. Lawler begins to circle his hand out, which lowers MacDonald's lead hand to set up a straight left. The straight misses, but Lawler pivots toward MacDonald's center line as he throws it and follows up with a wide right hook. He then steps outside to land a straight and steps in with a right hook that grazes MacDonald, but he drops his right hand and gets caught throwing a left straight with his head up.
In the second sequence, they reach out to meet hands and Lawler circles his lead hand out with a right hook. MacDonald eats it and leans into a straight right, giving Lawler no time to react and cracking him on the chin.

They reach out to meet hands and Lawler circles his lead hand twice, feinting the hook. This draws a probing jab from MacDonald and on the third circle, Robbie circles his hand into a right hook over top of MacDonald's jab.

Lawler found a lot of success with the 1-2 in the second round. In the first sequence, he again takes a pivot around MacDonald and cracks him with the 1-2 as MacDonald turns into him.
In the second sequence, he tries to hook around MacDonald's extended hand and misses. MacDonald backs up and sidesteps, opening up his stance for a second, and Lawler pounces with the 1-2 as MacDonald steps forward back into his stance.

MacDonald, for his part, found success with the 2-1. Lawler would slip inside the straight right and line himself up for the jab.

Lawler opened up even more in the third round, as did MacDonald's face, but a headkick late in the round put him on wobbly legs.

MacDonald throws a straight, which Lawler slips, only to run straight into a headkick. He blocks the kick on his forearm, but the force of the kick combined with Lawler moving directly into it results in him getting rocked. MacDonald follows up with a hard front kick, driving the ball of his foot straight into Lawler's stomach. He continues to walk Lawler down and pick him apart, being careful not to charge in recklessly as Lawler is always dangerous.

MacDonald flashes the straight and launches into a flying knee. Lawler tries to slip the straight and ends up running right into the knee and MacDonald follows up with some vicious clinch elbows. After nearly getting caught by a counter right hook, MacDonald backs out of the clinch and takes an angle, stiff-arming Lawler and patiently waiting to pick his shots.

MacDonald comes out for the fourth round more reserved, but he quickly drives Lawler to the cage with a combination and goes to work, mixing the front kick to the body with flurries of punches and clinch knees and elbows. However, after spamming a couple headkicks and another clinch barrage, Lawler escapes to the center and MacDonald lets up on the pressure, allowing him to regain his composure.

MacDonald spent the later part of the round alternatively trying to force the headkick and standing in the pocket with Lawler while getting outstruck.

Lawler looks to continue his momentum from the end of the fourth round, starting out the fifth round by moving forward and walking MacDonald down. MacDonald starts out trying to stay out of range and potshot, but after eating a couple punches he gets drawn into exchanging.

In Each of these exchanges, Lawler steps forward with a punch and MacDonald tries to counter without adequate defense. He doesn't slip the punches, block them, or back out of range and return, he simply charges into them. Finally a straight left from Lawler busts his nose open and forces him to fall and cover up. Lawler follows up with ground and pound for the TKO victory.

McDonald spent far too much time in the pocket with Lawler. At the start of the fight, he was more mobile, moving and staying at the end of Lawler's range, although he still got drawn into exchanges. By the end of the fight, he would eat a punch, back up a little bit, and then come right back into the pocket to be hit. McDonald is not a striker who does well when his opponent can hit him - his defensive skills are more suited to retreating and resetting to resume his attack. He relies primarily on his control of distance to defend strikes, something that he periodically abandoned against Lawler. He also makes use of the high elbow to defend overhands while backing up. There isn't much in the way of head movement or catch-and-pitch style counters in his reportoire. His offense is also better suited to pot shotting from a distance than counter-punching in the pocket, something which Lawler excels at.

Coming into the fight, it was predicted by many (including me) that MacDonald's wrestling would be a key to his victory, but Lawler shut that right down. Recognizing that instead of turning the corner on his double legs, MacDonald likes to pull the near leg out and turn toward that leg while driving his opponents hips over it, Lawler would crossface hard and turn his hips away from MacDonald as he sprawled.

I would have liked to see MacDonald go to the body more. He was landing the front kicks in the beginning and when Lawler started blocking them, he went to the straight, which he landed hard twice before abandoning it. Lawler's pawing lead hand invited McDonald's signature switch kick as well.

Conor McGregor immediately ran out as soon as the bell sounded, taking the center of the Octagon and forcing Chad Mendes to the cage. He leapt in with a knee, giving up a takedown in the process. McGregor didn't show off a capable offensive guard in this fight, but he did reveal something important about his skillset on the bottom - if you give him an inch of space, he'll run with it and get back to his feet. Mendes isn't controlling his hips from this position and McGregor kicks him back and stands up, eating a couple punches in doing so.

Mendes had a lot of success slipping the left straight of Conor and countering with an overhand.

Mendes counters the straight with an overhand, which misses, but Conor's straight puts him off-balance and right in the path of a left hook.

Conor steps forward and Mendes times his forward step with a straight right.

When Conor did have success with his straight left, it was when he got Mendes worried about the jab before throwing it.

Mendes was able to time Conor's straight left and hit takedowns as his hips squared.

Conor switches his hips and puts his right foot in Mendes' hip while framing his face to create space and kicks Mendes back. With Mendes controlling his right foot, he executes a rushed variation of a technical stand up to his knees and wall-walks while Mendes hammers him.

Mendes was doing great work boxing with Conor, but McGregor's kicks won him the fight. Time after time he would slam front kicks into Mendes' body and Mendes had no response but to attempt to catch them after they already landed. McGregor would pressure Mendes close to the cage and use the front kicks, spinning kicks, and body punches to prevent Mendes from stepping forward and pick away at him. Mendes, for the most part, would either circle towards Conor's rear leg or stand in front of him, allowing him to freely tee off with body shots.

You can argue the chances of "Full Camp Mendes" until you're blue in the face, and it's likely that we would see a different fight given a full camp for each guy with enough time to structure the camp around their opponent. But you don't take that many hard body shots and not gas out. And Mendes didn't.

Exhausted after the first round, Mendes quickly scored a takedown in the second and was determined to hold top position.

McGregor attempts to create space, but Mendes stays tight and smothers his hips.

Given all the talk about McGregor not being able to stop the takedown and spending 25 minutes underneath a wrestler determined to hold him down, it's ironic that Mendes' activity on the ground lead directly to his demise.

McGregor uses his forearm to push the left arm of Mendes back and throws his legs up, likely looking for a triangle. Mendes jams his forearm in Conor's leg and quickly slides his knee through to half-guard, wrapping his arm around the head and hunting for a guillotine. Mendes tries to step over to mount, but McGregor gets his left leg in between their bodies and uses it as a butterfly hook to push Mendes to the side and start turning into him. As McGregor turns into Mendes, his Alpha Male instinct kicks in and he tries to lock up the guillotine, but McGregor goes in the other direction and rolls out of it, allowing him to stand back up.

They stand up and Mendes staggers back, exhausted. McGregor digs a front kick into his body and slams a clean uppercut down the middle, but Chad is able to dig deep and find the strength to wallop Conor with an overhand right and a left hook. The Irishman eats it like candy and comes right back in. Chad heaves a defeated sigh and shoots a desperation takedown, which McGregor stuffs without issue.

The finish from here is elementary, as McGregor walks Mendes down and pounds on his head and body.

Dana White referred to UFC 189 as the "best UFC ever" and with so many eyes on the sport for the first time, it could not have delivered in a more entertaining or brutal fashion. Even boxing analyst Al Bernstein called it "one of [the] best nights of combat sports [he's] ever seen". In fact, Jose Aldo's injury didn't seem to detract from the card, instead serving to drum up interest for a future title fight.

So what does Conor's performance say about a potential fight against Aldo? First of all, it tells us that he's hittable - his straight can be avoided and countered effectively. With every fight, Conor seems to focus more on his pressure at the expense of his counters. No longer particularly difficult to hit, Conor is often happy to take a punch to land one of his own, with the expectation that his punch will hurt you more than yours will hurt him. So far no one has been able to prove him wrong.

No one's been able to deal with his pressure. No one's been able to take his left hand. But Aldo has the tools do deal with that pressure and avoid that right hand. His control of distance is excellent and he is one of the best in the sport at incorporating pivots into his striking, which will make it difficult for McGregor to trap him against the cage. Aldo also has a longer reach and far better defense than Mendes - in fact he is in all likelihood the best defensive fighter in all of MMA. He won't be perplexed by front kicks to the body.

We learned that McGregor's striking is as dangerous against the elite as it is against Dennis Siver. We learned that McGregor has a ridiculous chin. We learned that he can get up off his back and defend takedowns.

Ultimately, a matchup between Aldo and McGregor is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this fight is that both men seem to have an unbreakable will and a refusal to be bested. When Mendes came out of the gates with intensity to show Aldo he wouldn't be pushed around, Aldo ramped the intensity up to 10 and showed Chad that he would not be allowed to dictate the pace of the fight. When Mendes countered Conor's straight with his overhands, McGregor would walk back into range and resume throwing the straight, unconcerned about Mendes' devastating counters.

Regardless of who wins that fight, I know one thing for certain. I'm buying Aldo vs McGregor. And you should too.

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