Sunday, 2 August 2015

UFC 190: Rousey vs Correia Breakdown + WSOF 22

                                                                               Photograph: Buda Mendes

Bethe Correia got the brawl she wanted against Ronda Rousey at UFC 190, only it didn't quite work out the way she had planned. A massive underdog coming into the fight, her loss was a foregone conclusion to many in the MMA community. Debate abounded, not about whether or not she had a chance, but about how long Rousey would choose to let her last.
The narrative that Dana White used in attempt to sell this fight as competitive was the old "Anything can happen in MMA" line, but that becomes much less convincing when your over-matched challenger has such an issue with punching form that she's unable to generate much power due to insufficient weight transfer.

While not the best card, UFC 190 provided some entertaining fights - Reginaldo Vieira and Dileno Lopes put on a show for the fans and Shogun came back from the brink of unconsciousness to pick up a perfect win on which to retire.

The most interesting fight on the Pay Per View card in my eyes was the opener and it did not disappoint. A long layoff after a narrow loss to Joanna Jędrzejczyk proved to be exactly what Claudia Gadelha needed to improve her striking as she took on top 5 Strawweight Jessica Aguilar (and make no mistake about it, despite the UFC's ranking her at #15, Aguilar is a top 5 Strawweight).

Gadelha's offensive and defensive boxing looked far better than we've seen from her previously. Joe Rogan couldn't help but comment on the disparity in head movement between the fighters and his observation was right on the money - Aguilar kept her head bolt upright until she felt a fist connect with it while Gadelha was slipping and taking her head off line well.

Gadelha displayed a vastly improved lead hand. She's always used her forearms well in defense, but now she's combining a forearm block or a slip to avoid a punch with a check hook to take advantage of the opening created by making her opponent miss.

She also showed off a great dipping jab, which allowed her to connect with the jab and simultaneously slip Aguilar's attempts to counter it.

Gadelha clearly learned a thing or two from her last fight - here she hits Aguilar with the same uppercut that dropped her against Joanna. Aguilar was keeping the lead shoulder high with her arm in tight looking to defend the overhand, but Gadelha goes up the middle with an uppercut. She sets it up with a jab and slams it in as Aguilar ducks in slightly with her own jab.

Here Aguilar shows the dangers of leading with an uppercut. In fact, this sequence works as a microcosm of Aguilar's striking as a whole - it lacks coherence and fluidity. In previous fights, especially against Kalindra Faria, she was looking to establish a dual threat with her level changes - get them worried about the body punch, then introduce the takedown and leave them not knowing what to expect whenever you change levels. It fails, however, because Aguilar's body punches look nothing like her takedowns. She'll sit down a bit on her lead leg to dig in the body punch, but on her takedowns she steps in deep with a penetration step, gets much lower, and explodes up.

You can see this lack of fluidity in her uppercut. Gadelha used the natural motion of her dip on the jab to conceal hers, but Aguilar just drops her hand to her hip straight out of her stance and eats a huge overhand for it. Gadelha was unable to capitalize immediately, however, as in her excitement she ran after Aguilar instead of cutting off the cage and trapping her.

The clinch is where Gadelha did her best work against Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and she's adapted her boxing to help get the fight there. As Aguilar moved in to punch, Gadelha would often counter with clubbing hooks aimed around Aguilar's head so the point of impact was on the wrist or forearm. The force from the hook pushes Aguilar off-balance and Gadelha's hand lands right on the back of her head, ready to grip it and pull her further off balance into a knee. Gadelha felt confident in the standup and only went to the clinch this way to land a knee and continue her combination on the break, but she could easily catch an underhook with her other arm if she wants to secure the clinch.

Gadelha's takedowns highlight some of the flaws present in the wrestling of Joanna Jędrzejczyk's recent challengers. First, she's comfortable striking in the pockett, this lessens the distance her shot needs to cover in comparison to Carla Esparza and Jessica Penne, who look to shoot from the outside. She slips the Aguilar jab and takes a deep penetration step with her left leg while her right prepares to drive through. She steps through with her right leg and continues her momentum, pushing off her leg and driving Aguilar back and up in the air. Contrast this with Esparza, who shoots to the ground and kills her own momentum, before having to post a leg and attempt to regain it.

Though Esparza was often touted as the "wrestler" of the Strawweight division, Gadelha has shown time and time again that her offensive wrestling is unparalleled at 115. Here she blocks Aguilar's right leg with her left and uses the double underhooks to pull Aguilar past it, forcing her to step out with that leg to retain her balance. Once Aguilar steps out, she changes direction and sneaks her left leg in behind Aguilar's right leg, blocking it, and dumps her over it.

Mixing up her striking and wrestling was a big part of Aguilar's success in past fights, but she was unable to get her offensive wrestling going against Gadelha. Aguilar has great timing at getting in on the hips, but she's always had trouble finishing. In the first sequence, Gadelha pulls her into the clinch with a whizzer and in the second, Aguilar fails to adjust and change direction on her shot, allowing Gadelha to crossface and hop back to the cage.

In the third round, Aguilar found success with short leg kicks targeting the calf and hamstring. Aguilar adjusted her leg kicks perfectly against a grappler - targeting the calf and hamstring prevents them from riding up the thigh and being caught, while throwing them without fully turning the hip over makes them more difficult to see coming and reduces the amount of time spent squared up, which is useful when every millisecond spent with square hips is a risk of being clinched or taken down. Jędrzejczyk made use of these kicks in her victory over Penne - Gadelha would be wise to take note of them.

Aguilar had Gadelha wary of the leg kicks and constantly bringing her leg up to check even when none were thrown, but she largely failed to capitalize on that with her hands. Although she did have some success catching Gadelha's overhand on her shoulder and firing back the straight.

Gadelha demonstrated vastly improved striking in a decisive victory over a top Strawweight. A title shot against Jędrzejczyk is likely in her near future. Their first fight was very competitive, but both fighters have unveiled new layers of skill in the proceeding fights - Gadelha with her improved boxing and Jędrzejczyk with her devastating clinch striking. It'll be interesting to see how the extra two rounds affects this fight as well - will it give Gadelha the opportunity to grind Jędrzejczyk down and tire her out, or will Jędrzejczyk be able to set a pace that Gadelha can't keep up with over 5 rounds? I look forward to the rematch.
Correia was actually moving fairly well against Rousey in the opening seconds.

Rousey charges forward with a sloppy 1-2 and Correia parries the jab and pivots away. Rousey is able to catch an underhook with her right arm and she uses it to stabilize herself, turning into Correia and pulling her off-balance. Rousey tries to grab a collar tie with her left hand but it slips off and she lands a right hand on the break. She charges into another 1-2 but Correia pivots away. Correia does a good job keeping her jab out and circling, making sure to pivot away from the charge.

But Correia soon falls into the same trap all of Ronda's opponents do - she sees Ronda charging in face first and knows she can connect, so she throws a sloppy overhand, leaning forward at the waist and taking her hips out of the punch. She also puts all her weight on the lead leg and fails to sit down on the punch - fine if you're Junior Dos Santos, not good if you're a fighter with little power who wants to avoid the clinch. This not only squares her up for Ronda to easily grab a hold of her, her front-foot-heavy overhand throws her off balance right into Rousey's clinch. Rousey grabs the collar tie and lands a few short uppercuts while Correia backpedals.

Rousey's ability to control the position here is partly due to her undoubtedly superb grip, but also largely because Correia has no idea how to strip off the collar tie. Correia backs up and throws her right arm over Rousey's, but she can't seem to decide what to do with it. She's not controlling the bicep/tricep, she's not trying to crossface or pop the arm up and shuck the grip off. They trade punches and Rousey lands a big knee that forces Correia to lower her arm and allows Rousey to wrap up the head. Rousey noncommittally steps into a throw and Correia steps back to avoid it. Correia tries to throw an uppercut with nothing but the strength of her arm powering it and Rousey allows her to create distance only to smash Correia with her own uppercut. They trade punches and Correia attempts to crossface, but in passing her arm over Rousey's head, she gives Rousey a clear route to circle around her. Rousey circles around, maintaining control of the head, and trips Correia's foot out from behind her.

Correia tumbles backwards and ends up trapped against the cage. Here she makes a fatal mistake. Correia's back is pressed against the cage and her feet are square. Correia can't generate any power from here and she has no rear foot to absorb the impact of blows. The fight is over as soon as she decides to brawl with her back to the cage. They wing sloppy punches at each other for a bit until both connect simultaneously with a hook, although Rousey's is the one that does damage as she is in her stance while Correia is squared up. Correia shoots a takedown, but Rousey gets an underhook, wraps the head, and lands a devastating knee to the body. Correia stumbles back and Rousey follows her with the left hook before planting a straight right behind Correia's ear that faceplants her.

So what did we learn from this fight? Not much. Rousey's clinch is devastating and the last place you want to be with her is pressed up against the cage. Rousey is still entirely hittable, but she doesn't need to avoid getting hit against the Bethe Correia's and the Miesha Tate's of the division. Nobody else in Ronda's division is capable of putting together a coherent gameplan and following it for more than 15 seconds.
UFC 190 provided both a legitimate contender to a dominant champion in Claudia Gadelha and the undeniable certainty that there currently exists no legitimate contenders to Rousey's crown.

Over at World Series of Fighting 22, Marlon Moraes put on a show against Sheymon Moraes, demonstrating his aptitude on the counter as well as the lead and at one point dropping Sheymon with a slick hook off a jab. He finished the fight in the 3rd round after dropping Sheymon in a flurry and pouncing on the back for the Rear Naked Choke.

Jake Shields was doing very well initially against Palhares, controlling the dangerous leg lock specialist on the ground and avoiding his leg attacks.

Here, Palhares bases out on his right arm and switches his hips, turning his back to Shields and attempting to trap one of Shields' legs between his so he can roll into a leglock. Shields keeps his hips elevated and away from Palhares so he can't grab the leg and rolls with him, preventing Palhares from trapping the leg, before immediately turning into him as they come to a stop. Beautiful leg lock avoidance.

After two rounds of controlling Palhares on the ground, Shields shoots a takedown and Palhares immediately locks up a kimura. Marcelo Garcia famously shies away from the use of the kimura, believing it to be a lower percentage move against bigger men. This makes sense for someone routinely competing against bigger men, but this disadvantage doesn't apply to Palhares, a treestump of a man competing against a less physically imposing grappler. His strength and explosiveness aid him in completing the kimura, as he violently elevates his hips and torques the arm, sweeping Shields and finishing from on top.

The talking point of this fight could have been Palhares' beautiful submission on one of the best grapplers in MMA, but unfortunately poor refereeing and Palhares being Palhares left the fight marred in controversy. Palhares repeatedly gouged Shields' eyes in round 2 from underneath him. Steve Mazzagatti repeatedly warned him for intentional eye gouging but wouldn't take a point or disqualify Palhares.

The finish was subject to controversy as well, as Shields took issue with Palhares holding the submission after the tap and expressed his disapproval with a late punch. There's been a lot of people calling for Palhares to be suspended or banned from MMA, but the blame shouldn't fall entirely on him. He did hold the kimura for a second after Mazzaggati stepped in. It wasn't particularly egregious, but it was still a second too late and given his history of holding submissions, unacceptable. But another factor that contributed to the submission being held was Mazzagatti himself. The fight is over when the referee breaks the fighters up, not when a fighter taps. Palhares has just flipped Shields over with a Kimura and is postured over his body cranking the arm and where's Mazzagatti? Standing 2 feet away from the locked in submission. Mazzagatti has to scramble over to the fighters after the tap, whereas if he was in proper position he would be able to recognize the tap and immediately break the fighters. Mazzagatti did the same thing when Josh Burkman choked out Jon Fitch, but Burkman realized Fitch was unconscious and stopped the fight himself.

Fighters need to be conscious of their own safety and if the Athletic Commissions and promoters themselves aren't going to take action regarding both Mazzagatti and Palhares, I wouldn't blame anyone for refusing to fight Palhares and refusing to allow Mazzagatti to officiate their fights.

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