Thursday, 30 July 2015

UFC Fight Night Berlin Weekend Breakdown - Jędrzejczyk vs Penne and Pitbull vs Weichel

Since coming off a hard-fought victory over Claudia Gadelha in a title eliminator, Joanna Jędrzejczyk has looked nothing short of a stone-cold killer. That continued Saturday in Berlin as she brutalized Jessica Penne en-route to a late third round TKO victory.

Coming into the fight, the narrative was that Penne needed to take the fight to the ground and the more time she spent on the feet, the worse it would go for her.

While Joanna is an elite striker with an excellent all around striking game, Penne has two punches she's proven to be effective with.

A jab and a straight. Interestingly, both her jab and her straight are telegraphed massively nearly every time she throws them. They're also telegraphed in distinct ways, so her opponent knows what she's throwing before she even moves her hand. She'll take a step directly toward her opponent and throw the jab, or step diagonally outside the opponent to throw the straight. Sometimes she'll change it up and step off diagonally with a throwaway jab and follow up with a straight, or throw a poorly-executed kick behind a lead jab/straight.

When she tries to throw more than a 2 punch combo, she tends to lose her foot positioning, causing her follow up shots to fall short and have no power on them.

It was no secret that Penne needed this fight on the ground to win, but to get it there she had to venture into the clinch, where Joanna does some of her best work.

Here she attempts a head and arm throw, but Joanna sinks her hips down and widens her base to avoid being thrown. Penne follows up by attempting to reap Joanna's left leg, but this fails because of the cage. The throw Penne is trying to execute would take Joanna backwards, but with the cage behind Joanna, Penne would be better off either dropping her weight and pressuring straight down on the head/arm, or turning her hips into Joanna and trying to take her the other way. She realizes this and switches to trying to sweep Joanna's leg with her instep, but this leaves her without a solid base and Joanna easily pushes her away. As she pushes Penne away, Joanna braces her left arm on Penne's shoulder and smashes her with an uppercut. Penne flails with her right arm and Joanna takes the opportunity to lock up the collar tie and pivot around her, turning her into the cage.

Penne attempts another head and arm throw, but Joanna succeeds in keeping her base low and rides it out, ending up on top.
Penne often succeeded in getting Joanna on the cage, but Joanna made her life difficult from a seemingly disadvantageous position. Joanna makes excellent use of head positioning in grappling engagements. Against Esparza, she would stick her forehead in the cheek while angling off after Esparza shot, allowing her to stay on her feet and land punches to her grounded opponent. Against Penne, Joanna was constantly jostling for head position in the clinch to reverse position and set up strikes.

In the first sequence, she pushes up on Penne's head and drops her base, allowing her to get her head lower than Penne's. From here, she scoots her hips out the side and braces her forehead on Penne's cheek, effectively allowing her to control the position despite Penne's double underhooks. She keeps her head tight to Penne's face as Penne tries to shuck it off. Penne steps toward Joanna, who braces a hand on her face. As soon as Penne throws her knee, Joanna is ready to push off the head and land an elbow. In the second sequence, Joanna pushes the head off with both hands and intercepts Penne with an elbow as she tries to move her head back in.

Here Penne hits the head and arm throw after striking into the clinch, but Joanna is already on her knees turning into Penne as the referee breaks them for the end of the round.

At the end of round 2, Penne had another spurt of offense that was interrupted by the bell. Penne goes for a trip, which Joanna defends, but in doing so she bases out heavy on her right leg and Penne is able to break her posture down and wrap a ridiculously flexible leg around her far hip. Joanna's underhook prevents her from taking the back, but she's controlling the right wrist and working for a triangle as the referee breaks them.

The striking at distance was pretty much all Joanna as well, as she made excellent use of distance control, angles, and feints to pick apart and demolish Penne.

Joanna's sense of distancing is excellent. She stands on the outside of Penne's range and pulls back as Penne reaches for her, before coming back in with a counter. Note Penne's signature telegraphing.

Joanna made excellent use of pivots and angles both offensively and defensively. In the first sequence, she pivots to her left mid-combination, landing a left hook as she pivots and leaving Penne out of position to return. In the second sequence, she posts on Penne's collarbone and pivots to her left, sending Penne's knee flying past her and cracking Penne with a hard elbow as she turns into Joanna to reclaim her position. In the third sequence, Penne shoots a terribly set up and executed takedown and Joanna posts a forearm on her face while pivoting to her right, sending Penne's momentum right passed her and cracking her with a straight right that she's out of position to defend, before swarming.

Penne charges forward with a combination and Joanna pops her with a left hook before pivoting off-line to her right. Penne has to stop for a moment and change directions before following her, and Joanna grazes her with a shifting lead uppercut as she reaches for the clinch, before grabbing an underhook and bicep control and pivoting hard to the left, turning Penne into the cage.

Penne ducks a straight and shoots, but Joanna has her left hand low ready to underhook. Joanna grabs Penne's head and pivots to her left, raising the left arm with the underhook and pulling the head down and forward to disrupt her balance, and runs her into a short right that knocks her down.

Penne attempted to set up her takedowns with feints, but they were ineffective because her striking hadn't given Joanna anything to worry about and because the feints themselves were unconvincing. She would just throw her hands in the air before ducking in on a takedown and Joanna had no problem reading it.

Here Penne throws up her hands and changes levels, faking the takedown, before coming back up with a left hook. Joanna easily skips back, parries and counters, and pivots off-line to avoid a followup. Notice Joanna's composed reaction in comparison to Penne's jerky, exaggerated reaction to her feints.

Joanna executes a subtle feint, stepping forward slightly and lining up the jab. As Penne covers up, expecting a jab to the face, Joanna lunges in behind a body jab.

Another subtle feint. Joanna throws her right hand toward Penne while stepping forward, but pulls it back as Penne covers up and splits her guard with a jab.

Penne fakes a couple level changes and Joanna subtly changes levels with her, before continuing it and bouncing up and down in rhythm. Penne takes the bait with a jab and Joanna easily pulls back and returns with a counter.

As the fight progressed and Joanna established that Penne was no threat on the feet, in the clinch, or even when in on her hips, she began to open up more, teeing off on Penne against the cage at times.

Note the diversity of Joanna's attack. Feint, leg kick, head-body, before teeing off as Penne shells up. Penne shoots, but Joanna gets her arms in the way and pivots off-line, using her forehead to control Penne's head and pushing it away to land a chopping elbow.

As Joanna opened up, Penne's attempts to initiate grappling became more and more desperate.

The finish comes late in the third round as Joanna keeps her lead hand in Penne's face to force her to shell up. Penne is pretty much waiting to be finished here - she's completely stationary and her guard is protecting very little as she leaves gaps down the middle and to each side. Joanna controls Penne's right wrist, waiting patiently for Penne to make a move and expose herself to a counter. She stays shelled up, so Joanna nails her with a lead uppercut down the middle. This prompts Penne to move, and she circles straight into an overhand right. Joanna follows up with a knee and Mark Goddard mercifully stops the fight.

In her last two fights, Joanna Jędrzejczyk displayed incredible defensive grappling while demolishing two one-dimensional grapplers. With a striking game that appears miles ahead of the rest of the division and proven ability to fend off the ground games of the division's best grapplers, it's clear that anyone hoping to beat her must possess a complete game. You're not going to win a Muay Thai fight against her and you're not going to beat her with grappling alone. Claudia Gadelha had a lot of success in their fight - especially in the third round - by using knees from the clinch to stand Joanna straight up where she could then pounce on her hips for the takedown. Jessica Aguilar is another fighter who excels at using her striking in combination with her grappling. The winner of Gadelha/Aguilar will provide an interesting challenge to Joanna that not many in the division can replicate.

Elsewhere in the MMA world, Bellator 138 was headlined by a fight that received a disproportionate amount of attention compared to the incredible, relevant fight that preceded it, but the less said about Kimbo vs Shamrock the better.

But before we get to Pitbull vs Weichel, a prelim bout between Justin Lawrence and Sean Wilson provided an interesting stylistic matchup. Wilson came out intent on using the worst possible strategy against a mobile, karate-style fighter with a side-on stance and an active lead leg - fighting him on a straight line.

The fight was characterized by Wilson charging straight forward and Lawrence intercepting him with punches or pivoting off and tagging him.

For an example of an effective strategy against Lawrence's style, watch Max Holloway use pivots and lateral movement to befuddle Lawrence and deny his straight attacks.

The early moments of Pitbull vs Weichel were a battle to control distance, with Pitbull generally getting the better of the exchanges, as Pitbull tried to feint his way inside and Weichel tried to maintain distance and counter him on the way in.

That dynamic shifted near the end of the first round as Pitbull stepped in with a feint and Weichel threw a slapping left that knocked Pitbull's left hand away and followed it with a straight to his exposed chin. Weichel flurried and intercepted a level change from Pitbull with a devastating knee that dropped him and very well could have finished the fight had the round not ended a second later.

Weichel cracked him with another knee early in the second round and looked to follow up with punches. However, in his excitement to finish the fight, Weichel forgot his defense. He walks Pitbull down standing right in front of him with his head stationary, hands low, chin sticking straight up, and retracts his punches to his hip after throwing them. He tags Pitbull with a hard straight before throwing a jab that lands on the forearms and another straight that splits Pitbull's guard but misses his head. As Weichel retracts the straight low Pitbull throws left hook over top of it that land directly on his exposed chin and puts him to sleep.

Joanna felt free to tee off on Penne when she shelled up with her back to the cage because Penne doesn't have the striking aptitude, power, speed, or ability to actually throw a left hook required to hit a counter like that, but going all out and abandoning defense like Weichel did will often prove to be a fatal mistake against a power puncher like Pitbull.

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