One of the topics I am most often asked about is head movement. What is the place of head movement in MMA and who is particularly effective in using it? Obviously we can point to examples of good head movement such as Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko and B.J. Penn, and we can point to fighters who lack head movement, such as Nick Diaz and Diego Sanchez.
We can even point to fighters who use head movement all the time except when they attack, at which point they stand bolt upright—an ailment I have affectionately named Rashad Evans syndrome. But the question of when head movement is appropriate is an equally important one.
B. J. Penn's overly enthusiastic focus on head movement numbed him to correct use of range, and his footwork suffered because of it—making him a sitting target for low kicks and body shots. This is an example of how excellence in one area of the striking game does not mean that a fighter has "excellent striking" as a whole.
Aside from numbing a fighter to proper footwork, over-zealous head movement in MMA also places the user in great danger of eating a hard kick or knee. One only needs to watch Chuck Liddell's head kick on a ducking Babalu or Jose Aldo's counter knee as his opponent ducked in with a body jab to understand that ducking the head is not always appropriate or safe.
A few more examples are Mark Hunt slipping straight into Cro Cop's left high kick during their match in K-1 and Marlon Sandro attempting to slip a salvo of half effort punches from Pat Curran, only to lean into a fight-ending high kick.
Someone who does use head movement incredibly effectively in MMA is Ross Pearson, who meets Ryan Couture this weekend in Sweden. Today I want to focus on just one movement that Pearson performs well, in a sport where it is exceptionally dangerous to attempt: the inside slip.
To understand just how dangerous a great inside slipper can be, take a look at Jersey Joe Walcott's knockout of Ezzard Charles to win the heavyweight title. This is possibly the greatest one-punch KO of all time, and it is to my mind certainly the best finish in heavyweight title history.
Whenever you speak to a new coach, terms change and pairs are often reversed. An inside slip to some might be a slip to the inside of one's own stance (right for an orthodox fighter), but I use the term to describe slipping to the inside of an opponent's jab (to the left for an orthodox fighter vs an orthodox fighter).
Slipping inside of an opponent's jab, rather than towards the outside of it, is a good deal more dangerous because it carries a fighter's head towards the opponent's cocked right hand. If you want to see just how badly this can go wrong - watch Quinton Jackson lean straight into Wanderlei Silva's right hook at the end of their second bout.
Yes, to slip inside of an opponent's jab takes some guts to attempt and a good understanding of what the opponent is most likely to do. Anticipation, speed and common sense are the keys to success with this position.
If it is so dangerous and so taxing, why bother? Because of the wonderful counter punches which suddenly open up from this position. Some of the most memorable knockouts in boxing history have come from "inside position". It is a wonderful method to close the distance for a fighter who excels with the lead hook (such as Pearson).
There are numerous ways to alleviate some of the dangers of the inside slip. One can bring the right elbow across the face to act as a hand destruction should the opponent punch the elbow, or one can extend the right hand, palm open, to pin the opponent's right forearm to his chest—preventing him from striking during the slip (a favourite of Archie Moore).
Most fighters who use the inside slip have success almost entirely because of good timing and anticipation, however. Ross Pearson is no different. Pearson excels against opponents who will attempt to engage him with jabs, where he can use his inside slip to maximum effect.
George Sotiropoulos was a fantastic stylistic matchup for Pearson in this respect. Sotiropoulos' jab is sharp and hard, but he lacks combination punching skill and as such attempted to pot shot Pearson. Throughout the fight, whenever G-Sot thrust in a rapier-like jab, Pearson would slip to the inside of it and change level.
In the early going, this led to the two men colliding with Pearson's head in G-Sot's sternum.
As the match progressed, Pearson would land effective offense both with his right hand during the slip and using the slip to coil himself for the left hook.
In addition to a nice right hook to the body, Pearson will also use a right hook to the temple combined with an inside slip. If he successfully slips his opponent's jab the right hook travels over the top in a Cross Counter, probably the most effective knockout punch in the boxing arsenal and a favourite of Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt among others.
Pearson is at his best, however, when he has his range and timing down and is using the inside slip to coil his brilliant left hook. Notice how deeply he slips, making it extremely hard for his opponent to follow him with a right hand. This is a far deeper slip than when he is using his right hand to counter simultaneously.
Mike Tyson is remembered for almost always slipping to his opponent's power hand side first, but was tough to hit because of how deep his slip was.
Ross Pearson relies very heavily on this inside slip and his level changes, however. When Ross is forced to stay upright he has been hit hard and finished before. Cub Swanson used the threat of wild, winging head kicks to keep Pearson standing upright, where his lack of effective footwork makes him easy to hit.
Edson Barboza was also able to nail Pearson with punches off of a blocked kick. Even G-Sot was able to wobble Pearson with a stiff jab after forcing him to reconsider his regular strategy with a wild front kick at Pearson's head.
Why does this work so well? If Pearson slips into a shin bone, foot or knee, his forearms are not going to be able to absorb the force of the kick and he will probably eat much of the force with his head as it moves to meet the attack. Forcing Pearson to engage in a kickboxing match limits his options and makes him an easy target. Boxing with Pearson is generally going to get a fighter hurt with tight counter punches.