Power is the great equalizer in combat sports. It doesn't matter how much of a technical advantage a fighter has on paper, if he doesn't mind his manners against a big puncher he has every chance of throwing the fight away. Just ask Dan Henderson, who has defeated far more experienced and varied strikers on the feet by merit of them engaging him in the only type of stand-up fight he is guaranteed to win.
Johny Hendricks is the typical one punch banger—not an awful lot of skill or technique, but possessing the ability to throw his weight into one of his punches so well that he can end the night early if it connects. Hendricks, like many other great one sided punchers, has yet to round out his game or show much in the way of technical striking.
Hendricks' stand-up game is so reliant on swinging his left hand that there isn't a great deal of strategy to speak of. The subjects we shall talk about today instead are:
- Martin Kampmann's errors against Hendricks
- The flaws in Hendrick's left hand.
Kampmann's errors against Hendricks
Johny Hendricks' most recent win came against the highly touted striker Martin Kampmann by way of a brutal one punch knockout—furthering Hendricks' reputation as a man to be feared on the feet. Almost all knockouts can be attributed to mistakes made by one party—and as those of you who have been reading my pieces for some time will know—every fighter in the world is making mistakes all the time.
That isn't just something I say to belittle the level of striking in MMA, it is just genuinely impossible to cover every prospective target at every moment, even when sticking to textbook form. Kampmann's mistakes were, however, of the kind that can be easily fixed or avoided.
To begin with, Kampmann answered Hendricks' first rush by running straight backwards until he collided with the cage. Those of you who read my piece on Stefan Struve's failings or my Hunt vs. Struve postfight breakdown, will know that this is a cardinal sin.
Getting an opponent onto the ropes or fence removes one direction of escape and forces the opponent to pick a side to escape to or cover up. It isn't coincidence that Anthony Pettis keeps doing awesome stuff off of or against the cage—just count the number of times he deliberately maneuvers his opponents to there.
Kampmann's second great sin in that bout was bouncing. Bouncing on the balls of one's feet might work in competition karate, where the distance between the combatants is enormous, but in actual fights it is a dangerous game.
When you see experienced boxers bounce, they are usually bouncing from one leg to the other or setting up something with a brief bounce. Kampmann, however, chose to bring both feet off of the mat and bounce in rhythm right in front of someone who was desperate to rush him.
Hendricks charged Kampmann while Kampmann's feet were already off of the mat and Kampmann was bouncing towards Hendricks—meaning Kampmann had no escape. Check out this gif and watch Kampmann's feet.
Kampmann also did absolutely nothing to control Hendrick's lead hand throughout the fight. In a southpaw versus orthodox encounter, he who controls the hands controls the feet. A fighter will not step his lead foot outside of his opponent's if he has to leave his lead hand behind—it's just a daft idea because the opponent can still attempt a lead hook if he has outside hand control.
Furthermore if a fighter does step outside his opponent's lead foot but leaves his hand inside of his opponent's, his rear hand will have to travel through the space that is occupied by his lead hand, making finding the target a hard task.
One of the reasons that Josh Koscheck was much more successful than Kampmann was his willingness to hand fight with Hendricks. Using one's lead hand to control the opponent's essentially acts as an early warning system on when the opponent is going to lunge forward through the greater distance of a southpaw versus orthodox (or Open Guard) encounter.
The Flaws in Hendricks' Left Hand
Johny Hendrick's left hand is not pretty—you don't need to have any kind of martial arts pedigree to come to that conclusion. Despite Hendricks being stocky and strong, it is possible for almost anyone to punch with great power if they commit to throwing their weight into a punch as much as Hendricks does.
Hendrick's left-hand swing makes Dan Henderson's right hand look like textbook boxing technique. Hendricks is completely unguarded throughout—swinging his lead hand low and throwing his head forward as he lunges with his punch.
The result is that Hendricks leaves himself entirely unguarded against his opponent's left hand as he lunges forward. Leading with the face and dropping the lead arm is tactical suicide against an opponent with a tight, powerful counter left hook. Here is the great Nonito Donaire countering Vic Darchinyan's lunging left.
Hendricks' method of leading with his face leaves him utterly exposed to left-handed strikes from his opponents. Against Josh Koscheck—who seemingly can't make a fist with his left hand—this simply led to Hendricks getting his eyes gouged when he lunged in.
As the bout with Koscheck progressed, Hendricks showed a willingness to sit back and throw punches with better form, and even combinations, but most were almost entirely devoid of a lead hand punch. Doubling or tripling up with punches from the one hand is a fantastic way to catch opponents off guard, but if it is all a fighter does, it becomes very predictable, very quickly—just look at Patrick Cote.
Aside from his great wrestling and dirty boxing game, Hendricks truly seems to be one of the most limited fighters on the feet at 170 pounds. Without even the threat of a good lead hook or jab to hide his intentions and owning a sub-70 inch reach, Hendricks shouldn't be able to knock out good fighters out in the open.
It is more a matter of complacency and poor strategy on the part of his opponents which allows him to excel. The highly touted striker-but-punching bag in most of his bouts, Martin Kampmann was starched in under two minutes because he opted to bounce around and back straight up against Hendricks' whirling dervish. For Jon Fitch it was much the same.
Even if his opponents don't attempt to counter Hendricks' overhand left, they should at least know that he is limited enough that if they simply circle away from it, he will be stumped for ideas while they are put in a better position to land their own punches.
If there is one thing Carlos Condit has shown that he knows how to do, it is circle away from a southpaw's left hand. For all the talk of him running from Nick Diaz, he simply ruthlessly exploited a basic fault in Diaz's boxing fundamentals over and over. Don't forget to check out my article "The Achilles Heel of Stockton's Pride" before UFC 158 where I talk about this at length.
If Hendricks can get Condit to stand in front of his left hand, with right hands or low kicks he will have shown massive improvement and potential for championship level growth as a fighter. If Condit is simply able to move away from Hendricks all night, we will have to re-evaluate Hendricks' potential at this stage in his career.
Hopefully UFC 158 will answer some questions about Hendricks' potential and future in the welterweight division.