Junior Hammerhands: An Amateur’s Analysis of Cigano

 

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Since his debut, Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos has been a prominent figure among his fellow gargantuan pugilists in the UFC’s Heavyweight (206lbs – 265lbs) division. Since knocking out Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90 via hellacious uppercut, Junior carved a path through the division, finishing most who the UFC placed before him, and eventually won the championship. After losing the title to Cain Velasquez in 2012 then losing a second time to him in 2013, we saw an evolution in his striking. Junior became more tactical; instead of trying to decapitate his opponents, he became more patient, targeting the body and dressing up his power shots.

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Junior wins the title against Cain Velasquez by TKO

Today, a crazed fanboy’s analysis on the Brazilian heavyweight fighter.

Winning six of his first nine UFC bouts by KO/TKO, Junior certainly had an air of invincibility around him. He became the most feared fighter in the division primarily with two punches: his deceptive uppercut, and his very furious overhand right.

Dos Santos has always had very excellent timing with his uppercut. Using it to knock out Werdum and to deliver massive amounts of damage to Roy Nelson, Junior’s uppercut deals considerable damage to whomever he hits with it. Against Werdum, Junior fired the blow while his opponent was moving backwards to maintain a safe distance, and leaning into a hesitant right. Against Nelson, Junior aimed his punch to fly past the guard that Nelson was maintaining to protect his face. Unfortunately, Nelson also crouched his stance to make himself a smaller target, effectively leaning into the punch and increasing its force exponentially. Junior timed that punch against both fighters while they were were leaning in, yet performing two completely different actions. Both highlight worthy performances were excellent displays of his very impressive fight IQ. Junior’s right uppercut has proven to be a very powerful weapon, and as such, is something that his die-hard fans are always looking out for in his current fights; he tends to throw it from time to time, but hasn’t had as much success with it lately since he is a much rangier fighter now.

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JDS KOs Werdum with his uppercut

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JDS decimates Roy Nelson’s brain cells with one punch

Dos Santos’ overhand right is another tool of octagon murder that he uses to either finish fights, or significantly damage his opponents. Using it to great effectiveness against Mark Hunt, Cain Velasquez, and Ben Rothwell, it has become a staple of his arsenal. Using only his gorgeous shot selection against Velasquez and Hunt, Junior dropped both men with it to further remind everyone of his ridiculous power. With this punch, he won the Heavyweight title of the world, and put a tremendous beating on one of the highest level strikers to fight in the division. Against “Big” Ben Rothwell, Junior set up his overhand with a well placed jab, then followed up the combination with a push kick right out of the film “300” that sent the 264 pound fighter flying several feet backwards. The punch is  without a doubt one of the most powerful he has, and many agree with that sentiment with good reason.

 

 

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(jab ->overhand )–>push kick

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JDS drops the overhand hammer on Mark Hunt

Junior has made a bit of a stylistic change to his jab in his more recent match-ups. Against Stipe Miocic and Ben Rothwell, Junior was very committed to targeting the body, often throwing the jab to maintain distance and to accumulate body damage over time. The tactic proved effective, as both men visibly slowed as the shots to the body began to pile on in addition to the other strikes Junior was landing. By targeting the body with his jab, Junior creates many an opportunity for variance in his striking. His opponent may choose to lower their arms in order to protect their body, and consequentially become vulnerable to the overhand right, or any other punch that may be flying towards their head. With that same hand that Junior targets the body, he may also throw his left hook, useful  when his opponents get too close. He made great use of that hook against Miocic, who maintained a constant forward pressure against dos Santos in their explosive five round battle. Using it to counter Stipe whenever he rushed in to strike, Junior managed to drop the Cleveland fighter and almost finish him, using his excellent timing yet again.

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JDS drops Stipe with a blinding left hook

One of the largest holes in Cigano’s game has always been his footwork; he has always been shown to have very ineffective defense when his back is pressed against the cage. Velasquez(twice), Miocic, and to a small degree, Mark Hunt were able to exploit this flaw against Junior. When in that position, he tends to initiate a clinch or fire back a counter or two, causing Junior to take damage in the process. In his second and third bout with Cain Velasquez, Cain put an immense pressure on Junior, taking years off of Junior’s MMA career with an unrelenting pressure that many fans say caused Junior to never fight the same again. Stipe also put a similar pressure on Junior in their bout, and in their impending rematch, a fight for the Heavyweight Championship in May 2017, he may attempt to use the same tactic again. Junior must treat the fence similarly to a boxing ring’s ropes, to be avoided at all costs. If he allows himself to be cornered by the former Golden Gloves boxer, he will surely take damage, and possibly be finished by the power puncher. Junior must make use of lateral movement to steer clear of Miocic’s ring-craft and footwork or lose in the coming high stakes match.

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Bad things tend to happen when Junior gets pressed against the cage

Dos Santos was my first ever favorite UFC fighter. After watching him knock out Werdum in a blurry youtube video, I was hooked on his boxing intensive style. It was violent, and angry and so damn fun to watch. To top off his already enchanting fighting style, he is one of the nicest MMA fighters alive, and a generally happy dude. Always smiling and with naught but respect for his fellow fighters. Junior was the fighter that made me obsessed with the UFC, and having the chance to watch him fight for the title again in May is something I’ve been fervently waiting for. No matter who wins that fight, there will surely be fireworks, and absolutely no one expects a disappointment match.

 

 

 

 

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From Knockout Artist to Bumbling Technician: Johny Hendricks

Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks, former 170-pound champion of the UFC, was the stuff of legend before his first championship bout against then Welterweight champion, Georges St. Pierre. Before that, every fight was approached the same from a striking perspective. Akin to an enraged berserker, Hendricks would lunge into his combinations, and with the blessings of Newtonian Physics behind him, put a decent beating on many who stood before him. After his fight with GSP, and the partnering of the UFC and USADA(United States Anti-Doping Agency), his ability to knock his opponents senseless declined. As a result, many speculated that Johny was only a force to be reckoned with at 170 pounds because he was taking performance enhancing drugs(PEDS).

Whenever the absence of his knockout power was brought up, fans were quick to assume that  USADA was the reason behind his diminished strength. This writer believes that the demise of his night-night power was a combination of several factors, one of which being the change in his striking technique. In his UFC debut against Amir Sadollah, Hendricks was aggressive even in retreat, firing his looping left as soon as he was pushed against the cage, rushed the clinch, and put Sadollah down with uppercuts.

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Throughout his early UFC career, it seemed that Hendricks managed his distance by hopping backwards at the first glimpse of danger, then coming forward with a thundering combination of punches, grabbing a clinch, or pushing to the cage with his punches for a take-down. You first see Hendricks lunge into his strikes against Ricardo Funch in UFC 107, engaging in an exciting back and forth first round against the Brazilian, after which he dominates the remainder of the match with his wrestling. The first time he does it to viciously finish his opponent was against Charlie Brenneman at UFC 117. In the flurry that marks the beginning of the end, Hendricks leaps into Brenneman with a powerful overhand left, after which he begins a terrifying onslaught, moving forward whilst throwing power shot after power shot.

 

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Johny again reminded the world of his power with his stunning dispatches of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann. Against Fitch, they danced for a few seconds, Hendricks repositioned himself in the center of the ring, then uncorked a violent overhand left that swiftly knocked out the American and sent him reeling backwards. The bout was over in 12 seconds. Against Kampmann, more of the same. In the first few seconds of the fight, Johny attempts that thundering combination I mentioned above and finishes it with a rare head kick attempt. Johny then repositions himself to the center of the cage and fires a catastrophic right hook followed by a left straight, both of which land flush, all while Johny is moving forward. Johny rushes in to finish an already dazed Kampmann to finish the fight by KO in 46 seconds.

 

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Hendricks dispatches Jon Fitch with an overhand left while Fitch is in the backpedal

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Right Hook -> Straight Left

Fast forward to almost two years later and two of the most powerful strikers at 170 pounds face off at UFC 171: Lawler vs. Hendricks. On paper one would expect a violent brawl, unlikely to pass the first round. In reality, the fans were treated to an immaculate display of technical pocket fighting for five rounds. Something had changed in Johny. Where Johny had previously lunged into his punches to pursue KOs, he was now lunging into his leg kicks after his punches, adding a tremendous new flavor to his style. Instead of lunging from the outside to close the distance and begin punching, he was now wading into the pocket and throwing shots with more efficiency, pursuing only take-downs after his lunges from far away.

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 Combinations like these are rare from Johny these days

Johny was now fighting with more patience and tact, and this in turn stifled his power. As of late, he has used his combinations to shoot for take-downs instead of striking solely to strike.Below are some of the tactics and gifts he uses in order to pull off wins, old and new, and some of the holes in his game that his opponents usually exploit.

  • Take-down Defense – Taking down Bigg Rigg is no small task. That is in part due to his high level wrestling background. A four time NCAA Division I All American Wrestler, not many have the collegiate wrestling pedigree that Johny does in the UFC. His take-down defense is one of the reasons he has no problem keeping his hands up to protect his head. This only adds to his ability to just constantly walk through his opponents without fear of being stopped. Notice Johny stuffing a take-down whilst in the middle of a punching combination in the gif below.

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  • Take-down setups – Johny has been shown to be very adept at using his striking to push his opponents to the fence in pursuit of a take-down. In many fights where he is at a striking disadvantage (Carlos Condit, TJ Grant), Johny uses his punches to rally forward, causing his opponents to backpedal into the cage, lest they be slept, where Johny then shoots for a double to drag his opponent to the ground. It has been a staple technique in Hendricks’ arsenal, and a tool he has used much more recently after his performance began declining in the UFC.

 

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Hendricks uses his footwork to circle around Condit and sets up
a take-down with his boxing
  •  Lack of Mobility – Despite his effective use of the back-step to effectively manage his distance, aside from the gif above, Hendricks doesn’t use much lateral movement. Colorful Karate striker Stephen Thompson effectively used this to his advantage by using his kicks to lull Hendricks into a false sense of security, making Hendricks think he was standing at a safe distance when he was actually within kicking range. When Hendricks eats shots, he has a habit of bobbing his head to half-roll with punches and throw his arms up to deflect anything else that may be coming for him.Thompson used his kicking to damage Hendricks from far away, while also pushing him to the cage where he quickly dispatched the former champion.

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In this fight, you could tell something about Hendricks’ explosiveness was dramatically different. He wasn’t as aggressive, and had been pieced up rather effortlessly by Thompson.

As Hendricks continues to adapt to the increasing troubles of maintaining his weight as well as remaining relevant in the ever-changing UFC roster, Hendricks must deal with life post IV ban, which he says is to blame for his recent lackluster performances. Whether his alleged use of PEDSs is also to blame for his performances have yet to be confirmed. He has had success in his most recent fight against Hector Lombard at 185 pounds, and his fans hope to see the resurgence of yet another fallen king.

Edson Barboza, Brazilian Assassin

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Edson Barboza Jr., deemed the best kicker in the UFC 155 pound division by Joe Rogan, has been likened to a fighting video game character, whose offensive capabilities have been maxed out. From his brutal inside leg kicks, to his thunderous spinning back kicks, there is naught but danger stored in those two legs of his. With the recent developments of his boxing under the tutelage of MMA striking coach Mark Henry, it seems that Barboza is on his way to becoming the most terrifying knockout artist in the sport.

Praised for his devastating kicks, Edson has never been one to get lazy on his opponent’s legs. A former Muay Thai Champion, he has consistently shown time and time again what makes him stand out from the other 155ers in the UFC. Displaying a brutal explosiveness matched by no other in the division, Barboza has the ability to finish any of his opponents in a striking battle, and as his boxing skills better, he is becoming more and more of a threat on the feet, stringing together combinations like the one below more frequently.

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Since his UFC debut against Mike Lullo, Barboza has shown with his phenomenal Takedown Defence and his ability to escape an opponents guard that he very much prefers to keep a fight standing. In his recent match against Beneil Dariush, he was able to perfectly time a flying knee to counter Dariush’s constant use of (Jab -> Takedown). After the third attempt, Barboza made the adjustment necessary to finish the fight in devastating fashion.

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Edson’s timing has been something of a nightmare in his more recent fights, and paired with his boxing skills, he is able to unleash his full arsenal without worry from other dynamic strikers. For example, his use of the lead left hook to counter Anthony Pettis in his exchanges with the former champion at UFC 197 were something to behold, throwing the lead hook to the head, and at one point, reminiscent of our Dutch Muay Thai friends, going to the body with it then following with a right kick to the body.

As Edson continues terrorizing the lightweight division, questions arise as to how he might fare against the other top tier lightweights; Is his take-down defense good enough to stifle Khabibs masterful use of his combo sambo roots? Has he made the adjustments necessary to defeat Tony Ferguson in a potential rematch? Does he have the necessary footwork to dance with Conor? Below are some of the attributes that make Edson a man to be feared in his division, and weaknesses that his opponents may exploit in a match.

Pros:

  • Fight IQ and Timing – able to make tactical decisions with very limited time, Barboza’s adjustments and reaction speed have never been better. An example of his high fight IQ being his spectacular highlight reel KO of Terry Etim and obviously, the adjustments he made to finish Dariush mentioned above. In the leadup to the KO against Etim, Barboza launches a combination at him beginning with a straight right punch to the body, ending the combination with a leg kick. As Etim believes Barboza now wants to target the body, Edson begins a spinning move, and Etim lowers his arms ever so slightly to protect his body from any spinning kicks but is instead greeted with a spinning wheel kick to the chin. A true master at his craft.

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     See Etim lower his arms to protect his body in the slow-motion shot
  • Explosiveness and Power – boasting KO power and endurance to be feared throughout an entire match, Edson’s power is nothing to scoff at. With spinning back kicks, spinning wheel kicks, and roundhouse kicks to the body, head, and legs, Barboza is able to severely punish his opponents for the slightest openings they give him. He is one of the few UFC fighters to finish a match via leg kicks, and is able to deliver them to the outside and inside as shown below with equal ferocity. As his boxing and footwork improve under Henry, there will soon be no safe way to fight Edson on the feet.

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Edson Barboza badly damaged the inside of Anthony Pettis’ leg in their UFC match

Cons:

  • Chin – Remember when I mentioned that Barboza has been compared to a fighting video game character whose offensive capabilities were maxed out? Edson Barboza has been shown to have questionable chin, being dropped by a Jab from former lightweight Donald Cerrone as well as being hurt multiple times in the first round of his bout with Jamie Varner. It could be that Barboza may not have the resilience to stand with strikers such as Mcgregor, who capitalizes on every opening that is presented to him in the cage with piston like precision.

Donald Cerrone Jabs Edson Barboza - UFC on Fox 11