UFC 158 St. Pierre vs. Diaz: The Jack Slack Breakdown
UFC 158 provided a good few exciting matches, and in today's breakdown I would like to focus on the three headline acts: Nate Marquardt vs. Jake Ellenberger, Carlos Condit vs. Johny Hendricks and Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz.
Nate Marquardt vs. Jake Ellenberger
This bout illustrated nicely a principle which I talk about fairly often—fighters will often adopt offensive techniques because they themselves find them difficult to defend. It is particularly notable in very offensive fighters that often their own favourite techniques work well against them as a result.
Nate Marquardt clearly learned from his low kick clinic at the hands of Taric Saffeidine on the last Strikeforce card as he came out against Ellenberger firing low kicks constantly. It looked as though he was attempting to set up high kicks as he would throw a lead leg low kick and then a lead high roundhouse kick or a rear low kick and a rear front kick to the face.
Marquardt's distancing and scientific striking has never been great—he has always done far better as a swarming brawler—and his kicks were simply too slow or too poorly hidden and Ellenberger was never there for the high kicks.
Marquardt briefly rushed Ellenberger, as he does so well, but Ellenberger—being a more than respectable counter puncher—was able to catch Marquardt on the snout and make him rethink the decision.
The danger of kicking without punches to keep the opponent from stepping in and of not keeping the hands in good defensive position should be ingrained in the memory of Nate Marquardt more than anyone else. It was precisely the reason that he was able to send Demian Maia flying in the middle of a kick. Heartwarmingly beautiful gif of that here.
Stepping in with punches during a kick works extremely well in MMA because of the poor level of set ups and defense while kicking. Fedor Emelianenko, Igor Vovchanchyn and others spent entire careers doing it.
As Marquardt backed himself onto the fence, he attempted a powerless low kick which Ellenberger simply stepped inside of and then started throwing a combination while Marquardt was still on one leg. Marquardt had no chance in a boxing exchange with only one foot on the ground, and fell to the floor as Ellenberger swarmed on him for the TKO.
Carlos Condit vs. Johny Hendricks
My personal favourite fight of the night, Johny Hendricks and Carlos Condit cooked up a storm. Before the bout I pointed out some of the flaws in Hendricks' style of hanging his chin out and never throwing his right hand. Against Condit though, Hendricks looked sublime.
Condit, I will state for the record, does not have good hands. He has decent power and speed but he is clumsy—his elbows flair, he loops punches rather than using his reach, and when he is done punching he leaves himself wide open rather than getting offline. Against Hendricks, every time Condit threw punches, he would eat the left hook right afterward.
It was extremely interesting to see Hendricks, so often the aggressor, play a catch and pitch game—which is certainly an excellent game for a fighter with the greater power and wrestling but a speed disadvantage. Hendricks would wait until Condit had finished a combination and then would attack with his punches—hitting Condit cleanly—and follow through to a takedown.
Here is an example of how Condit would typically lead with a kick or two, and then simply stand still while Hendricks fired back with much cleaner blows.
Hendricks' ringcraft was simply brilliant as whenever he wasn't the aggressor, he would let Condit come to him, reverse positions and become the aggressor.
When Condit got Hendricks to the fence, he attempted either his front kicks or flying knees and Hendricks would use this opportunity to reverse position and get Condit along the fence. The ring awareness that Hendricks showed is something you don't see much of in this sport outside of a few very gifted fighters and it was an exciting teaser of what is to come from Hendricks.
A danger which I spoke about at length in my last article, however, was briefly shown by accident by Condit. As Condit came in with a right straight, Hendricks fired back with his left hook, dropping his right hand as always and getting clipped with a short left hook from Condit. This lacked power, but due to Hendricks' dropped guard and throwing himself off balance to punch so hard, it dropped Hendricks to his knees briefly.
As I said last time, if Hendricks continues to drop his lead hand and head when he swings his left, he will constantly be in danger of the left hook—it is the job of the opponent to rise to the occasion. Unfortunately for Condit, he does not have a great left hook—certainly not tight enough to counter Hendricks with—and this was more a counter by chance than a counter by choice.
Hendricks doesn't look like he'll be too much of a threat to GSP (Condit's jab inside of Hendricks lead hand was landing just far too often) but Hendricks has shown a massive improvement over his previous few, one-note outings.
Nick Diaz vs. Georges St. Pierre
I'll say it again, Nick Diaz is a victim of Strikeforce and the UFC's marketing of him. Because Strikeforce was so intent on making him a card-selling star they matched him exclusively against strikers whom he could overwhelm with zero risk of getting taken down and blanketed on the mat.
One could argue: "Who wants to see Diaz blanketed?" but the truth is that the welterweight top twenty is stacked with talented wrestlers and Diaz hadn't fought someone who was going to try and take him down and pound on him since he fought Sean Sherk in 2006. He was hardly going to start stuffing takedowns with the best wrestler in the MMA world.
The really interesting part of this bout came on the feet as St. Pierre threw notably fewer kicks than Carlos Condit, and instead out boxed Diaz. St. Pierre's eschewed the usual focus on leading with the right hand lead against southpaws and instead went to work with his jab.
What St. Pierre did exceptionally well was to give ground to Diaz who will simply wade forward throwing punches anyway. K.J. Noons had great success in his first fight with Diaz by allowing Diaz to come forward, landing a good punch on Diaz, and backing up again before being drawn into Diaz's grinding combinations.
St. Pierre would allow Diaz to walk toward him, pop Diaz with a stiff jab, and duck the ever-present Nick Diaz right hook in the same motion.
I have said it before and I will say it again, Georges St. Pierre has easily the best jab in MMA. It is a offensive and defensive weapon and is brilliant in almost any context. Using it so effectively against a southpaw is just another example of how GSP can make the same weapon work in yet another circumstance.
The reason that Nick Diaz has so much success with the same entry against other opponents is that they will block his punches. If Diaz had begun connecting the right hook on GSP's guard rather than missing altogether he could have used it to turn GSP and to unbalance him and push him into left straights and further right hooks. Blocking shots allows Diaz to continue his combinations—getting out of there does not.
It would be a shame to lose such an entertaining fighter as Nick Diaz from our sport and I sincerely hope he can come back and put together a good streak of wins, but I doubt we will see him fight St. Pierre again.
To read more of my praise for Georges St. Pierre's jab, I recommend reading my piece on his "Safety Lead" against Josh Koscheck.
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