Sunday, 10 July 2016

UFC 200 Weekend Breakdown Part 1 - Joanna Champion vs Claudia Gadelha

The UFC went all out for international fight week once again, this time in a bigger way than ever before.  Two cards packed with exciting action fighters, each topped off by a brilliant main event, served to build tension in the lead-up to what was undoubtedly the best card of all time.  Unfortunately UFC 200 became yet another entry in the saga of Jon Jones' rapid downward spiral.  After popping for banned substances, Jones was replaced by an unprepared, underweight Silva.  Fortunately UFC 200 had enough talent to stand strong independent of Jones.

I planned to outline how Jones was able to keep Cormier on the outside, dig into him with body shots as he came forward, and used the clinch to kill Cormier's pocket work.  Or how Cormier was able to kick with Jones and make the distance striking competitive, setting up his entries into the pocket, where he'd then go to work landing his thunderous uppercuts from the collar tie.  But you have to work with what you're given, and what the weekend did give us is a plethora of fantastic, competitive fights, thrilling finishes, and more than a few stinkers.

We'll start with Friday's superb Strawweight championship matchup between Joanna Champion and Claudia Gadelha.  Gadelha had already proven she belongs in the cage with Joanna in their previous matchup, losing by controversial decision.  The odds were near even this time around, marking the first time since her fight with Esparza that Joanna hasn't been a massive favorite.

The fight started off on a surprising note - as Joanna came in jabbing repeatedly and circling to her left, Gadelha was able to time her and drop her by leaping in with a Jab as the champion was starting hers.

The clinch is where Gadelha did her best work in their first fight and that was no different here.  While the clinch was relatively even in their first fight, Gadelha owned it for the first couple rounds.

In their first fight, Gadelha would take Joanna down against the cage only for her to immediately wall walk back up.  This time she made sure to take Joanna down away from the cage.  The high body lock she used allows her to control Joanna's posture and turn her upper body in the direction she wants it to go.

Gadelha was also more willing to break the clinch to land punches when she couldn't achieve advantageous positioning, something that was missing from her game last time.

Here Joanna pushes her face away, looking to land an elbow as Gadelha attempts to force herself toward Joanna, but Gadelha instead pushes on the tricep and pulls Joanna inward with a collar tie to redirect the frame.  As soon as Joanna removes her crossface, Gadelha lands an elbow and jumps on her with a combo, before shooting under Joanna's return.

Gadelha showed off continued improvement in her clinch entries.  Against Jessica Aguilar, she repeatedly landed clubbing hooks with the point of impact on her forearm, so her arm can easily wrap around the head into a collar tie.  Here she combines that with a hand trap to get in, and the arm wrapping around the head nullifies Joanna's counter attempt.

The clinch work wasn't all Gadelha, however.  Joanna did a good job of making her work and landing shots when opportunities presented themselves.

Gadelha has Joanna's wrist pinned, which opens up the right side of her body.  Joanna moves her arm away from Gadelha's body, taking Gadelha's arm with it, and digs a knee into the open torso.  Gadelha shoots immediately and Joanna lands a hard elbow to the side of her ear.  Not liking that very much, Gadelha tries to muscle Joanna up and fails, before eating another elbow.  Gadelha got the better of the clinch early, but Joanna forced her to work hard for it, which contributed to her gassing later.

Joanna was able to counter Gadelha's body lock trips with an uchi-mata a couple times, but Gadelha would either roll through or come up on a takedown to reverse the position.

Joanna hasn't been put on her back too much in open Octagon, but she's looked more than competent on the bottom from what we've seen.  She was able to use an underhook to come up on a single as soon as Esparza took her down and she quickly got out from underneath Letourneau as well.

Here Joanna has butterfly guard and slips in an underhook on her left side as Gadelha punches.  She hips out toward her left underhook, slips her left butterfly hook out, and uses her shin to kick Gadelha's leg back, putting her in half guard.  From there she turns toward the underhook and escapes to turtle, where she's able to build her base back up and stand.

Joanna uses a knee shield from half guard to create distance.  She catches a frame on Gadelha's left arm as she brings it down for a punch.  Joanna leverages her frame on Gadelha's arm to free her other arm and push Gadelha's face away.  Gadelha pushes into her in an attempt to put her back flat on the mat, but Joanna crunches her body in and redirects Gadelha's momentum, sending her off balance.  Gadelha's overhook on Joanna's knee-shield leg hurts her here, as it allows Joanna to pull Gadelha as she retracts her leg.  Gadelha reaches to base out on the ground and gives Joanna an underhook, which she uses to come up on a single leg and back her hips out to the cage.

The striking was very close for the first couple rounds, with Joanna looking to jab and feint on the outside and Gadelha looking to catch her on the way in and out with counters.

Gadelha did her best work at range with counter combinations.  She wasn't comfortable enough in the striking to pick off individual shots and counter Joanna's jabs with overhands or hooks consistently, but whenever Joanna entered, Gadelha would follow her back out with 2-3 punches.

Joanna had trouble landing her jab in the early rounds, as Gadelha would parry it and attempt to counter.  However, Gadelha's parries left the right side of her face badly exposed.  Textbook parrying involves letting the punch come to you and using a small motion of the wrist to deflect it.  Gadelha reaches outward with her arm and drops her hands after connecting.  Joanna didn't do much to take advantage of it, but future opponents would do well to take note and hook off the jab, using 1-3 and 1-3-2 combinations often against Gadelha.

Joanna threw a lot of the quick, low leg kicks that bothered Gadelha so much against Aguilar.  Joanna snaps these out at the knee and doesn't turn the hip over, throwing them with a nearly straight trajectory, which makes them quicker and less likely to be snatched up for a takedown.  She avoided outside leg kicks than can ride up the thigh and be caught easier.  As Gadelha tried to follow the leg kicks back with takedowns or counter punches, Joanna would stiff-arm her away and continue hitting her.

Gadelha started off strong, but the grueling clinch work began to wear her down.  After the third round, her gas tank was running thin and Joanna started turning it up.  Gadelha's punching form doesn't help her there, as she leans forward at the waist and throws her arm at her opponent from distance, and in close she has the "Bethe Correia" problem, as her hips are disconnected from her shoulders.  This not only hinders her ability to deliver power, but also requires more effort to throw each punch.

Gadelha gassing doesn't rest squarely on her shoulders, as the champion had a hand in it as well.  Joanna went to work early with a piercing front kick to the body and kept it up throughout the fight.  Linear kicks such as this are a great weapon to use against fighters that try to rush you in a straight line.  They intercept an opponent's forward movement and make them hesitate at the thought of rushing forward.  Joanna's frequent stance changes in mid-range helped disguise the lead-leg front kick as well.

The last two rounds consisted of Joanna going to work with combinations, feints, and a sharp jab, while Gadelha attempted and mostly failed to counter with labored arm-punches.

Joanna used her feints to befuddle Gadelha and disrupt her sense of timing on the counter, leaving her swinging at air when Joanna avoided committing, and failing to react in time when she did step in.

Once Gadelha tired and was forced to stand at range for extended periods of time, the disparity in their footwork became clear.  Joanna would move into the pocket with strikes and pivot away, exiting on a different plane while Gadelha was still aiming for the plane she entered on.

Gadelha's defense is limited to "answering the phone" with her left hand while her right hand parries, and some dipping head movement.  As the fight wore on and her gas tank wore thin, Gadelha's head movement stopped and Joanna began to use lead straight lefts to split the gap in Gadelha's guard.

Here's a nice little setup from Joanna - she feints the front kick up the middle, moving Gadelha's hands out and to the center of her body, then throws out her left hand as she loads up a head kick, drawing the parry and kicking around it.

Gadelha was looked at as the champion's stiffest test coming in, and that proved true for the first three rounds.  Gadelha seems to be in the same position Jon Fitch found himself in for a time under GSP - a step ahead of the division, but a step below the dominant champion.  Joanna comes out of this fight looking excellent, demonstrating her ability to overcome adversity and triumph.

The strawweight division is full of interesting prospects, but not many seem ready to take on Joanna just yet.  Rose Namajunas is on a two fight winning streak with wins over Paige VanZant and Tecia Torres, but the latter came by way of controversial decision and she didn't show much for Joanna.  Joanne Calderwood has had a shaky run at strawweight, but she looked greatly improved against Letourneau, and a fight between her and Joanna would be fireworks.

This breakdown is split up into two parts because it has too many gfys for one page to handle, click here for part 2.