Saturday, 12 September 2015

UFC 191 Breakdown - The Importance of Adjustments

                                                     Photograph: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

After a string of dominant wins over developing or overmatched opponents, the only fight left for Demetrious Johnson at Flyweight was a rematch with John Dodson, the man who dropped him multiple times and nearly took 3 rounds from him in their first encounter. The big question coming into this fight was which man would be able to take the information gathered in their first fight and turn that into a gameplan to win the second. Johnson had noticeably improved with every bout, while Dodson barely squeaked past Zach Makovsky in his last fight, but the holes in Johnson's game that allowed Dodson to hurt him were still present, notably his habit of switching stances right in front of his opponents.

Once again Demetrious Johnson showed that the more time he spends with you in the Octagon, deciphering your style, working out your triggers and reactions, and getting your timing down, the more decisive his victory will be. Johnson's rematch of a close fight with Joseph Benavidez resulted in an early knockout and, similarly, his rematch of a close fight with Dodson turned into a technical clinic.

The rest of the PPV was lackluster, but the prelims shined with John Lineker and Francisco Rivera putting on a show in a fast-paced, all out brawl. Raquel Pennington showed off a vastly improved clinch game before taking a choke served to her on a silver platter by Jessica Andrade, and Ross Pearson frustrated Paul Felder, maneuvering him around the Octagon and countering Felder as he gave chase, en-route to a well-contested decision win.

After a tough fight against Daniel Cormier, Anthony Johnson rebounded in typical fasion against Jimi Manuwa, in a matchup tailor-made for an impressive AJ knockout. Capable defensively but not particularly fleet of foot, Manuwa had no answer for Johnson's particular brand of pressure. Every strike he threw as Johnson pressed forward and walked him down seemed only to tip the balance further in Johnson's favor.

Playing a game as offensively focused as Johnson's at a high level requires sound defence, and Johnson's defence was on point. Johnson carries his "handsy" approach to offense into his defence as well, carrying his hands out in front of him and using them to parry, stuff his opponent's hands, and post on the head. He also displayed some slick head movement and proved very difficult to hit clean, even while walking Manuwa down and countering nearly every strike thrown at him.

The finish comes early in the second round as Manuwa ducks a left hook and attempts to secure the clinch, but Johnson retracts his left arm and uses it as a frame to keep Manuwa off him. Johnson tries to uppercut off the frame, a favorite of his, but Manuwa sees it coming and pulls away. Johnson exits the clinch in southpaw and checks Manuwa's left hand before throwing a kick to the body, as Manuwa counters with a leg kick. As they recover from their kicks, Manuwa steps back into his stance, while Johnson drops his front leg down and hops into orthodox, while posting his now lead hand on Manuwa's head. This post removes the threat of a counter while Johnson is hopping into his stance, allows him to measure his distance, briefly blinds Manuwa to the incoming right hand, and keeps him off balance, forcing him to take an extra second before recovering from his kick. This extra second is all Johnson needs and, already having recovered his base, he uncorks the right hand on an unprepared Manuwa. Caught with no time to react and a compromised base, Manuwa can do nothing but eat it.

Anthony Johnson unveiled an aspect of his game yet unseen in his UFC run at Light Heavyweight when he timed a Manuwa left hook and completed a takedown. While he has clearly made a committment to rounding out his game, the major flaw that cost him in his fight for the Light Heavyweight title is still present - his penchant for over-commitment.

Johnson slips a left hook and tries to bomb on Manuwa without any of the timing or finesse he showed in the fight-finishing sequence. That whiffed overhand is the same one that allowed Cormier to repeatedly slip underneath Johnson's punches and secure his hips.

Overall an impressive performance for Johnson, in which he managed to dominate another feared striker, but not one that should inspire confidence in his chances in a rematch with Daniel Cormier.

Demetrious Johnson completely shut down John Dodson's game for 25 minutes. Every time Dodson hurt Johnson in the first fight, Johnson was standing in or traveling through punching distance. In this fight, Johnson made sure to spend as little time as possible in a position where Dodson could lay hands on him, moving around outside Dodson's punching range and quickly darting in to find the clinch when he felt threatened.

In the first sequence, Dodson checks Johnson's hand and jabs his way into punching range. Johnson immediately changes levels and looks to grab hold of Dodson. Dodson keeps him away, but his attack has been stifled. In the second sequence, Dodson attempts to feint his way in with the right in order to unload a left, but Johnson is too far away and Dodson can't get close enough to hit him.

Dodson was able to take advantage of Johnson's habit of backing up in a straight line occasionally by ending his combinations with a leg kick, but he didn't have enough success threatening Johnson with his punches to make it a viable long-term strategy.

Johnson was 100 percent committed to pressuring this time around. Dodson stormed out of the gate in the first round, taking the center of the Octagon, and within 10 seconds Johnson had maneuvered himself to the center and pushed Dodson back. He would briefly retreat when Dodson showed a spark of offense, before immediately resuming his forward motion.

Although he wanted Dodson's back to the cage, he didn't want to walk through punching range to get there, so he used sweeping kicks to push Dodson back. Dodson would backstep and attempt to avoid or parry the kicks, which only served to aid Johnson strategically, as the kicks need not land in order to effectively pressure Dodson. Dodson had success the few times he stepped forward as Johnson kicked, but he seemed reluctant to counter the kicks.

Another pressure tactic Johnson used with great efficacy was a shifting feint. Johnson would feint, causing Dodson to bite and back up to defend, before immediately stepping forward with his back foot to fill the space created by Dodson's retreat.

Dodson seemed far more reactive to Johnson's feints this time around, partly because Johnson was more committed to feinting, but there were numerous instances in which Johnson would feint a kick and hang out on one leg or with a square stance for a brief moment before stepping forward and Dodson had already backed himself out of range to counter attempting to defend the kick.

Dodson does his best work on the counter and effective feinting is a great way to dissuade an opponent from attempting counters. Johnson advances carefully, pumping out a jab and hook feint without committing to the shots. Dodson attempts to counter a punch that Johnson hasn't fully committed to and Johnson easily pulls away, making Dodson look silly. Johnson chooses to disengage, but Dodson's recovery left him open for a strike that Johnson could have pounced on.

Johnson feints his way in behind a jab and as soon as Dodson reaches his right hand out to check it, Johnson tags him with a straight and a shifting hook as he circles out.

If you ask Joe Rogan about the straight Johnson was throwing all fight, he'll break into a speech about how technically perfect Johnson is. Superb as he is, Johnson's straight is a simple mechanical adjustment prioritizing speed and concealment over power. Johnson sneaks onto the ball of his back foot and launches himself off of it instead of sitting down on it and rotating his hips into the strike. Sneaking onto the ball of the foot completes part of the motion of the straight before the strike is thrown, allowing Johnson to throw it with blinding speed but sacrificing the torque of a textbook straight; There is very little twist to Johnson's hips as he throws the straight, as they travel almost straight forward.

In a division filled with guys who move so quickly and are so hard to hit clean, any time or tell you can shave off your strikes greatly increases your effectiveness. From a fighter as fast as Johnson, a strike thrown like this is extremely difficult to time or counter, which is what made it the perfect strike to go to repeatedly against a guy looking to time and counter.

Here's Hatsu Hioki and Dan Hooker doing the same thing.

Dodson pulls away from the straight, but he backs straight up and Johnson steps through with a southpaw overhand left.

Dodson parries a front kick, leaving Johnson out of position and vulnerable, but a wave of Johnson's right hand causes Dodson to cover up and hesitate, wasting the opportunity. Johnson feints a jab and Dodson attempts to slip and counter, but pulls it after he realizes there's no jab coming. Dodson's inability to time Johnson left him overreacting to every motion Johnson made. Johnson forced Dodson to focus on defending and Dodson was never able to get his offense going.

By the end of the 5th round, Johnson was so confident in his striking that he would let Dodson come forward just to draw him into counters.

Johnson initially struggled to take Dodson down. Here he feints the jab to draw a counter and shoots under it, but Dodson angles off and forces the single before hopping to the cage.

It's impossible to discuss Demetrious Johnson without mentioning how excellent he is at fighting in those little transitory positions most fighters take for granted. Here Johnson has Dodson's left leg and Dodson is controlling Johnson's left wrist. Johnson weaves his right arm under the leg and uses it to control Dodson's right wrist, allowing him to free his left arm. While he does this, Dodson tries to elbow his head so he buries his face in Dodson's chest. As he frees his left hand, he hits Dodson with a left hook and shoots in on the hips immediately after Dodson straightens up to defend. Johnson picks up the single leg and lands a left hook as Dodson is focused on defending the takedown, then Dodson control Johnson's wrist, taking his arm away from his body, and Johnson hits him with a knee.

Johnson noticed that he was able to hit Dodson freely with his leg controlled against the cage and in typical fashion, once he found the opening he wouldn't stop exploiting it. Here he picks away with small punches. Dodson even smiles, as he knows they're more annoying than threatening. So non-threatening that he doesn't bother defending them, allowing Johnson to cut him open with a hard elbow.

Johnson again has Dodson's leg and weaves his hand under the leg to control the left wrist while he tees off with punches and elbows. Now that Dodson is worried about those strikes, he switches it up and shoots in on the hips. Dodson is able to defend the takedown, but he came closer that time.

Here Dodson is occupied with defending the takedown and Johnson makes him pay with a back elbow.

Johnson continues beating Dodson up from the single leg position, before shooting in on the hips and successfully completing a takedown. After this, the takedowns came easier each time Johnson tried.

Johnson is exceptional at adapting to his opponent's gameplan mid-fight. In the first fight, he found out that the clinch worked for him and stuck with that. Dodson came into this fight with a noticeably improved clinch game, but Johnson found that single leg position in which he could immobilize Dodson, tee off on him, and set up takedowns, and went to it over and over. He took the man who had given him his toughest challenge as champion and implemented his gameplan near perfectly while not allowing Dodson to get his own offense going.

At this point, there's a large disparity in skill, preparation, and fight IQ between Johnson and the rest of his division. With victories over 5 of the top 7 fighters in his weight class, 3 of whom he's beaten twice, there's nothing left for Johnson to do at Flyweight. The fight between Henry Cejudo and Jussier Formiga will likely provide a new contender for the Flyweight championship, but honestly neither are ready for Johnson right now and a fight between the champion and contender will likely go the way everyone expects it to go.

It's clear that Johnson has essentially cleaned out his division, now is the perfect time to look at a move to Bantamweight.

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