Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Rizin FF - Day 1 Breakdown

Many, including me, looked on with a skeptical eye at the efforts of Nobuyuki Sakakibara to resurrect the spirit of Pride through his new promotion, Rizin FF. And for good reason - on paper this card was marred by a lack of talent and a lack of quality matchmaking for the talent it did have. But after the initial fight, excitement kept mounting as each new fight brought action and thrills, until the headliner between Shinya Aoki and the half-mummified ghost of Kazushi Sakuraba. In the end we were left with an enjoyable, action-packed card that delivered the entertainment of fast-paced MMA along with the nostalgia of the ring and kicks/knees/stomps to the head of a grounded opponent.

While the card was low on established talent, a number of truly interesting prospects delivered impressive performances, including 22-1 Anatoly Tokov, who starched his opponent within a minute.

Japanese prospect Yuki Motoya put on an impressive showing in the opening 5 minutes of his fight with Felipe Efrain, showing off slick footwork and dominating his opponent on the ground before his willingness to plant his feet and duke it out got him knocked out.

Motoya threw a couple leg kicks to get Efrain thinking about them. A few seconds later, he feints a forward step behind a lead hook. Expecting a leg kick, Efrain attempts to check, but Motoya pumps a jab and pivots around him, before cracking him with a hook from his new angle. Efrain backs up and Motoya follows, feinting with his lead hand to draw a counter right and sneaking a jab in below it as he pivots off to avoid a follow up.

Here Efrain demonstrates his craftiness. He leads with a straight and Motoya responds by covering up and ducking his head. Taking note of the big gap this guard leaves up the middle, Efrain changes levels and fires off an uppercut. Motoya, expecting an overhand, covers up and ducks right into it as the uppercut splits his guard. He's able to recover quickly and catch Efrain with a counter hook just after the uppercut lands though.

Motoya feints before stepping in with a double jab, sidestepping as he throws each jab. This gives him a weak outside angle and shortens the path of his straight, and he cracks Efrain with it. This angle shortens the path of Efrain's straight too, but Motoya doesn't have to worry about it as his rear hand is occupied attempting to parry the jabs.

The finish comes as Motoya throws a slipped jab and pivots to his left. Instead of pivoting to re-align his stance with Motoya, Efrain takes a step forward with his back leg. Motoya attempts to counter while his stance is square, but he's able to get his feet under him and they both miss punches. This leaves them in the perilous position of standing in front of each other with their hips torqued for a lead hook. Efrain's weight is loaded onto his back foot from the uppercut and he doesn't have time to reset his weight and then throw the hook, so he launches himself off his front foot with a shifting hook. This, along with his tighter and less loopy trajectory on the hook saves him time and allows him to get off first, catching Motoya on the chin and putting him down.

One of the pivots Motoya had shown earlier in the fight would have been perfect here, but instead he chose to keep his feet planted and throw, and paid the price for it. By trading hooks without any kind of guard, you are essentially putting all your chips on the table at 50/50 odds, hoping yours connects before your opponents. This risk can be mitigated with an "answering the phone" style guard, the opposite forearm placed horizontally in front of your face, a slip, a change in rhythm, or by simply throwing something else, but all too often we see fighters knocked out trading hooks.

Akiyo Nishiura had a lot of success early feinting in and out and disrupting Hiroya's timing. Nishiura's feints disguised his attacks and allowed him to snipe Hiroya from the outside without being countered. He used front kicks from a square stance to keep distance. He would disguise them by hopping around and lifting both legs before throwing with one.

In the second round, he started throwing a lead uppercut that was hidden by his stance. He keeps his hands at his hips while moving around at range, allowing him to leap in and bring the lead arm up directly from his stance without needing to move his hips or lower the arm first. This has the added bonus of delivering the uppercut below his opponent's field of vision.

Hiroya had trouble landing on the lead as well as the counter, as Nishiura would backpedal or pivot off whenever he stepped in. Nishiura also had success countering Hiroya's more predictable entries.

Hiroya steps in deep with a straight to the body. Nishiura easily reads it and attempts to counter with a left hook. The hook misses, but the rotation of Nishiura's body as he's throwing it causes Hiroya's straight to miss as well. Nishiura steps back on his right foot while stif-arming Hiroya's head away and pivots deep on that foot, avoiding the left hook by Hiroya and countering with a hook of his own.

Down two rounds to none, Hiroya stormed out at the start of the third intent on bringing the fight to Nishiura. Here he closes distance quickly while Nishiura's stance is squared, leaving him little room to step in as he punches, and allowing Hiroya to time him on the way in. Hiroya's newfound aggression lead to him being able to cut off the ring much more effectively as well.

Hiroya slips Nishiura's wild left hand and clips him with a jab. He follows as Nishiura backs up, keeping a jab in his face. A panicked Nishiura attempts to catch him coming in with a check hook as Hiroya loads up on an overhand. They connect simultaneously and both go down, although Hiroya immediately pops back up and Nishiura stays down.
Soon after, while Nishiura is still rocked, he steps in with his left foot from a square stance and brings his right knee up, looking for a kick or a knee, but Hiroya takes two deep steps in as his foot comes forward and puts him out with an overhand.

Kizaemon Saiga demonstrated respectable takedown defense for a kickboxer in his third MMA fight, although Hideo Tokoro's poorly setup takedowns helped with that.
In the first sequence, Tokoro parries a front kick and follows the leg back with a single leg, but Saiga is able to pull his leg out of reach in time. In the second sequence, Tokoro pivots to his left, drawing Saiga in, and shoots for a single. Saiga is able to get his hips back and uses his elbow to push Tokoro's head down.
Saiga caught Tokoro twice with a beautiful body hook-overhand combo. In the first sequence, the body hook brings Tokoro's hands down and he lifts his leg up to check in anticipation of a leg kick, before the overhand nails him and sends him reeling. Saiga comes in to follow up but Tokoro lands an overhand that stumbles Saiga while still clutching his body, in Scott Smith fashion. In the second sequence, Saiga slips inside of a jab and rips a hook to the body. Tokoro tries to pivot out to his left but ends up pivoting right into the overhand.

Saiga eventually got taken down, but he demonstrated impressive composure off his back. He was able to time a bridge as Tokoro stepped over to finish an arm triangle.
Saiga shifts into southpaw as he approaches Tokoro and throws a right hook, before cracking Tokoro with a left straight that wobbles him. He follows up by digging in a front kick to the body and blocking Tokoro's clinch attempt with his forearms. Desperate to get the fight to the ground, Tokoro rolls for a leg. He's able to catch a calf-slicer as Saiga tries to pull his leg out and uses it to come on top. He moves to side control and takes the back as Saiga tries to bridge while he cuts his leg through to mount.

The finish comes as Saiga turns over from mount. Tokoro catches the arm and hooks the leg with his left arm, rolling Saiga over for the armbar and getting the tap.

Odds and Ends

Hiroyuki Takaya and Daiki Hata put on a great fight, but one interesting moment stood out to me that I'd like to highlight.
Hata is standing above Takaya trying to pass his guard. Takaya isn't doing anything with his left leg, so Hata tries to step past it and sink down directly into half-guard, but Takaya gets a knee shield in, preventing him from passing. Hata tries to step his right leg in deeper around Takaya's left, but Takaya brings his left leg in and kicks out Hata's right knee to create space. As he does this, he posts on his left hand and uses his grip on Hata's head to pull him down and break his posture. He gets his legs out and moves his other hand to Hata's head, securing a double collar tie and landing a knee to the head before striking into the clinch with a combo.

It was painful watching King Mo stand stationary directly in front of Brett McDermott and attempt to anticipate his predictable, telegraphed punches with head movement and counters. Relatively new to MMA and brought in to lose, McDermott played right into it and kept trying to leap in with single punches, having no concept of feints, complex combinations, rhythm manipulation, or body strikes.

For an example of how well that would work against a well-rounded striker, watch how a slow, weak, and telegraphed leg kick disrupts Mo's timing and forces him to reset his stance.

Front kicks to the body have been catching on recently in MMA, much as front kicks to the face did after Anderson Silva's knockout of Vitor Belfort, but with more efficacy due to the stationary target the body provides.
Teodoras Aukstuolis taught Bruno Cappelozza that they can be countered, however, as he briefly caught Bruno's front kick as it retracted for just long enough to disrupt his balance and make him step forward on his kicking leg, instead of bringing it back into his stance. As Bruno's foot touched down, Teodoras immediately hit him with an overhand, giving him no time to retreat or move his head.
Vadim Nedkov jabbed Goran Reljic to the ropes, before following up with a straight that forced Reljic to react. He tried to circle out, but Nedkov stepped in and cut off his movement with a left hook that stood him in place for a straight to land. Nedkov followed up with ground-and-pound and we all felt a bit nostalgic as he went to work with soccor kicks and a stomp. Even if none of them really landed, it looked cool and made me hope that Rizin's upcoming card will provide all the soccer-kicking, head-stomping action we could wish for.

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