Rafael Dos Anjos, Pressure Incarnate

 

As is expected of anyone with a grappling background in Mixed Martial Arts, Rafael Dos Anjos (27-9, MMA, 16-7 UFC) did not start his UFC career as a world class striker. With wins over some of the greatest Lightweight strikers of his generation in Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, and Benson Henderson, Dos Anjos is an elite striker in the eyes of many. Under the striking tutelage of world class coach Rafael Cordeiro, Dos Anjos went from a grappler who strikes, to a dominant, well rounded fighter, often pressuring his opponents to the cage, and often keeping them there with strings of punishing combinations.

In his most recent bouts, it is the grappler’s striking that has won him the attention of the martial arts media as well as the that of the UFC’s top brass. After amassing an 8-1 streak in the promotion Dos Anjos was granted a title shot against Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (20-7 MMA, 7-6 UFC), a wizard at striking who could grapple with the best of the organization. Because Dos Anjos was a heavy underdog, not many had him beating the “Showtime” fighter. What resulted was one of the most one-sided title fights in the division’s history, with Dos Anjos winning all five rounds in decisive manner.

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RDA pressured Pettis with fast and powerful striking throughout their entire match

RDA’s most definitive striking tool is surely his power body kick. Using it to punish Jason High (21-6 MMA, 2-3 UFC) early in their bout, seeing him throw it is an indicator that he wants to pressure his opponent by inducing fatigue. Paired with the kick is always a step or two backward from the opponent, to which Dos Anjos responds by pressing forward, gaining inches towards the fence on each exchange. Landing four body kicks within the first minute of his championship bout against Pettis, Dos Anjos had his opponent against the fence for the majority of the first round, mixing his body kicks with combinations to the head. In RDA’s subsequent match against Donald Cerrone, more of the same. After absorbing a knee to the body (to which Cerrone stepped backwards), Dos Anjos landed a flush body kick which folded Cerrone, then sent him careening to the fence with a violent combination of punches.

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Willing to stand and trade with any fighter the UFC puts before him, the second tool that RDA employs for his pressure fighting is his excellent punching skill. Not necessarily using boxing, as his style is more reflective of a Muay Thai style of punching, RDA is able to attack from all angles. Fighting as a southpaw, RDA can set up his left leg and body kicks to torque his body and load substantial power into the strikes following those kicks. When caught off guard and defending strikes, RDA is quick to raise his forearms up to protect his face, not fearing a take down as his defensive grappling is among the best in the division. However, the high guard of RDA is not impervious, as Eddie Alvarez (28-5-1 MMA, 3-2-1 UFC) was able to sneak a punch around his guard in their match, finishing the Brazilian after a series of flurries.

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Stumbled by a right hook past the guard of RDA

Dos Anjos’ overhand left is one of his more daunting techniques. Using it often to stun his opponents and reset his position, very few fighters have been able to absorb it without effect. Because the overhand makes Dos Anjos vulnerable to counters, he is likely to use it as a counter himself or to punctuate combinations. What RDA’s striking lacks in power, he makes up for in volume and ferocity, usually draining an opponent’s will to fight by piling on pressure and combinations.

The former Lightweight Champion’s grappling pedigree has become somewhat forgotten since he started dominating his opponents in the striking arena. Using it to supplement his superb striking, it is not uncommon to see Dos Anjos land a sharp combination with his hands, pushing his opponent back, then shoot for a take down once the fight has reached the fence. On the ground, RDA is able to employ several tools to ensure that he remains in dominant position, hiding his scrambles with punches from top position, wrapping the legs to avoid escape, and holding his opponents to the cage to prevent them from trying to stand. In Dos Anjos’ most recent fight, against Neil Magny, he was able to kick Magny’s feet from underneath him and send him to the ground. On the ground, Dos Anjos was able to maintain his position by holding Magny’s head to the mat and punishing him with elbows during every scramble attempt. After taking mount position, RDA applied an arm triangle choke to get the submission victory.

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RDA’s first submission win in years via Arm Triangle Choke

Despite the change from fighting at Lightweight to Welterweight (170 lbs), Dos Anjos has not suffered in the unfamiliar territory, already on a 2-fight win streak in the division.  While unclear if Dos Anjos can compete with the best of the division, Dos Anjos is already a fantastic gatekeeper, and only his future fights can indicate if he can compete at a championship level against Champion Tyron Woodley and top contender Stephen Thompson.

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Bonus gif of pre-Cordeiro RDA winning by KO
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Mairbeck Taisumov, another Grim Reaper for the UFC’s Lightweight Division

 

Since his debut in the world famous martial arts promotion, Mairbeck “Beckan” Taisumov(27-5 MMA, 7-1 UFC) has displayed an impressive ability to learn from his shortcomings as a fighter. Since his first loss in the promotion to Wrestling/Jiu-Jitsu Artist Michel Prazeres, Taisumov has returned to the UFC with what appears to be an unstoppable striking skill that has propelled him to a five fight KO/TKO win streak.

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Mairbeck Taisumov’s most recent win by KO

 

Showing promise in his UFC debut against Tae Hyun Bang(18-10 MMA, 2-3 UFC), Taisumov was  quick to display both his striking and wrestling  skills. Throwing combinations with both his hands and leg, as well as finishing several double leg take-downs, and successfully dealing damage with ground and pound, Taisumov won an easy three round decision fight. Despite the flashes of skills he showed, and the different “looks” he gave, this fight was not enough to indicate the caliber of a fighter that Taisumov was.

In his following match against Michel Prazeres(23-2 MMA, 7-2UFC), Tasimuov had what should be considered by all accounts, a “bad night”. Taisumov spent the bout being outclassed, taken down at will by Prazeres, and suffered two point deductions.  One for cage grabbing to prevent further take-downs, and another for an illegal up-kick to a downed opponent. When standing, he couldn’t seem to get comfortable enough to start throwing combinations until an attempt to rally in the third and final round of the bout, but that was soon put to an end by a take-down from Prazeres. This would be the last time to date that Taisumov appeared inferior to any of his opponents.

Mairbeck Taisumov first displayed his knockout power against Polish born striker, Marcin Bandel (17-5 MMA, 0-2 UFC) in Bandel’s promotional debut. Within about a minute into the first round, Taisumov circled to the center of the Octagon, waiting patiently for Bandel to come within range, and uncorked a straight right punch that sent Bandel tumbling to the canvas. What followed were three short punches to the head of his grounded opponent, after which the referee called a stop to the fight. This was the beginning of Taisumov’s war on the lightweight division. In the moment prior to Taisumov circling into position and throwing his straight right, he successfully defended a take-down attempt meant to capitalize on a leg kick he threw. He had learned from his previous bout that his take-down defense needed practice, and so he came better prepared than ever before.

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Mairbek Taisumov wins by KO via Straight Right and punches

 

In the following match, Mairbek Taisumov showed his audience for the first time why he was to be feared in that division. After a spectacular first round against Anthony Christodoulou(12-7 MMA, 0-2 UFC) where he used his excellent boxing and Muay Thai ability to pepper his opponent with strikes, Anthony Christodoulou’s team advised for him to stay in range with Taisumov and initiate grappling exchanges. The fight came to a violent end soon after Christodoulou attempted a take-down, to which Taisumov responded by defending it and seamlessly transitioning to a ground-and-pound position, quickly KOing his opponent.

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Mairbek Taisumov capitalzes on a naked take-down attempt

 

Taisumov has shown repeatedly that his striking is not to be taken lightly in the 155 pound division. He consistently uses his boxing to pressure his opponents, then exploits openings in positioning with powerful leg and body kicks. He has also displayed excellent perception for timing on leading with power punches rather than his jab, and knows exactly when to use his jab to lead his stronger punches. In his 2016 bout against Damir Hadzovic (11-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC), a violent striking battle ensued between the two combatants in the first round. Hadzovic, riding a six fight win streak, was expected to pose a challenge to the Russian. Instead, Taisumov landed multiple powerful straight right punches, pushed his man to the cage, and landed a violent uppercut that sent Hadzovic falling to the canvas, ending the fight.

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Jab -> Uppercut against Damir Hadzovic

 

From what he has shown in his short UFC career, Mairbeck Taismov is able to box extremely well, and is very comfortable using his ability to dismantle his opponents. However, he is not trigger happy, as he employs a method of controlled brawling when engaging. Taisumov prefers to keep himself at mid range, where his power punches can land with full force, but can retreat on the backfoot when necessary. He displayed this beautifully in his most recent bout, where he dropped his man with a beautiful right counter while evading a flurry. His leg work is also something to behold, as he rarely misses a chance to slam his shin into an opponent’s leg to hinder their movement. These are the factors that each opponent he faces must consider when thinking of a game plan to beat him, except, one must consider that his offensive wrestling is also nothing to laugh at. Rarely unable to finish his take-downs, Taisumov seems to enjoy dragging his opponents to the canvas only after he has sufficiently beaten them to a pulp on the feet.

 

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Taisumov displays his rapid power punching boxing skill

 

Despite his impressive performance in his last five  bouts, he is not a flawless fighter. Taisumov has yet to face anyone of world class striking ability, and the one time he faced a world class grappler, Prazeres, he was quickly outclassed. Being one of the more powerful strikers in the 155 pound divisions, it remains to be scene if Beckan can fight among the best of the Lightweight fighters, as he has yet to be called to action against an opponent in the Top 15 of his class. Fans are eager to see him test his mettle against the upper echelon of the Lightweight division, and are certain that he will put on a show against whomever he faces.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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 PEDs 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.