UFC on Fuel 9 was an entertaining enough card, bringing a few good finishes and some excitement as any good event should. While it will not be remembered as anything great, it certainly played out much better than it could have, having lost its main Swedish draw, Alexander Gustafsson at the eleventh hour.
Matt Mitrione picked up an easy knockout victory against the always-over-aggressive Phil De Fries, Brad Pickett picked up a decision victory over Mike Easton, and Diego Brandao submitted the gangly Pablo Garza earlier in the night.
My job is to analyse the more technically expert skills displayed at UFC on Fuel 9, so I will be focusing on Conor McGregor's UFC debut, Ross Pearson's halting of Ryan Couture's ascendancy and on Gegard Mousasi's systematic flattening of Ilir Latifi's nose.
Ross Pearson vs. Ryan Couture
Couture looked every bit his father's son when he came out and immediately pressed Pearson against the fence. Couture is—unfortunately for him—nothing like his father in terms of fighting ability along the fence.
Where Randy Couture could make an opponent carry his weight, force them to stumble and have them eating four or five jolting uppercuts and a knee to the midsection as they stumbled to stay upright, Ryan Couture spent the entire first round with Pearson attempting to flatten Pearson to the fence without using any effective offense.
Pearson, to his credit, did an excellent job of shifting his hips, creating space and stifling Couture's offense by working to get his head into Couture's face or under his jaw.
Pearson, with his back to the fence, was happy to simply stifle Couture's efforts in this way. Often, it led to Couture getting impatient and giving Pearson the space to escape.
Pearson's destruction of Couture in the second round was attributed by many in the media to Pearson "finding his timing," but in truth, it was more to do with the fact that Couture chose to engage Pearson with single punches and kicks.
A master of the inside slip, Pearson will take his head off line to the left, avoiding strikes and combine the movement with a hard right hook or come back from his crouched position with a beautiful left hook. To stop Pearson doing this, it is necessary to threaten him with high kicks, knees and uppercuts every time he looks to move his head. Couture, on the other hand, opted to run in with punches.
Couture took a step back from that strategy and started throwing low kicks, which did little to stop Pearson moving forward. As Pearson caught one such low kick, he was able to throw Couture to the mat and follow with some ground-and-pound.
As Couture regained his footing, Pearson swarmed on him against the fence. From here, Pearson took an angle to the right to land his left hook more effectively. Notice how Pearson's left hook was no longer an attack that entered on Couture's left side but came straight through the middle of his guard from 12 o'clock.
Here is Mike Tyson demonstrating his methods for getting to the side of opponents in order to throw his hooks from dominant angles.
To read more about Pearson's inside slip and boxing game, check out my previous piece:
Conor McGregor vs. Marcus Brimage
For many the breakout fighter of the night was Conor McGregor. Far from the stereotypical scrappy Irish brawler, McGregor seemed every bit the striking technician in his bout.
The wonderful thing about striking as a concept rather than a discipline is that while there is a great list of things not to do—there is no one comprehensive list of things that a fighter should do. One can watch a card like UFC on Fuel 9 and see several wonderfully different but equally effective striking styles.
Where Pearson's head is always over his forward foot, in anticipation of slipping and coming back with a counter punch, McGregor's weight is centered, and he looks to use his footwork more than movement.
Both styles have their own strengths and weaknesses, but the strength of McGregor's is the same as that of Gustafsson and Lyoto Machida—it makes back peddling exceptionally easy when a fighter's weight is not over his lead foot.
While McGregor's punches lack the visible movement of a front-foot, heavy fighter like Pearson, they can also carry a good snap because the upright stance keeps the shoulders directly over the hips, making it easier to turn them together.
When crouched over the lead foot, a fighter can become too focused on turning his shoulders around, forgetting his hips because they are not always directly under him.
McGregor's A-game seems to be to draw his opponent's out and counter punch them. This he demonstrated with a beautiful step back to left straight in the opening seconds.
McGregor, as he moves back, routinely swings his lead hand out but keeps his rear hand cocked. This allows him to slap in with a counter right hook or turn his hips into a counter left straight as he sees fit. Whichever hand he uses, McGregor likes his opponents to charge him.
A final neat trick which McGregor showed was a bolo punch. Made famous by Kid Gavilan, this punch is whipped in with the arm after a slight back swing. The arc of the arm makes it a confusing punch to deal with, and the back swing makes it difficult to time.
Many fighters, like Roy Jones Jr. or Ray Leonard, would use a faked bolo punch to keep their opponent confused and to show boat. Here is the great Gavilan talking about the bolo punch.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Ilir Latifi
There isn't that much to say about this bout, except that Mousasi dealt well with a last-minute change of opponent, especially given how different the two Swedes are. Instead of having to walk down the elusive, rangy and constantly moving Gustafsson, Mousasi was instead charged with fighting a much shorter, stockier wrestler.
Much has been made of Mousasi's flicking jab, but in truth, his success was more to do with Latifi's lack of competence on the feet.
Mousasi would come in with his lead hand low and simply flick it up through the middle of Latifi's guard. The difference between the two fighters was Mousasi's active right hand.
Mousasi's right hand would move to check Latifi's as he came in, while Latifi's remained nailed to the side of his jaw in anticipation of a left hook which never came.
Mousasi's active right hand made it possible for him to move in without fear of a jab from Latifi, leaving the slower, shorter left hook and right hand as Latifi's only hope of connecting on Mousasi. Covering Latifi's lead hand, Mousasi would snap in a jab and immediately perform a defensive movement such as a step back or a parry.
As the bout progressed, because of Mousasi's active right hand, he got caught with a couple of left hooks from Latifi.
Fighters with an active rear hand can often be caught off guard by the left hook—it was the story of Joe Louis' career. By the end of the second round, however, Mousasi had almost abandoned his backward movement and instead was ducking under punches after his jabs.
Another nice technique which Mousasi used effectively was what I term the "skipping stone" punch. When Latifi switched to a southpaw stance, Mousasi would use his lead hand to tear down Latifi's lead hand and immediately jab through the hole presented with the same hand.
While he didn't pick up the finish and his opponent was clearly overmatched, this was exactly the type of performance which Mousasi should have put on.
In a debut against an unknown, last-minute replacement, too many fighters would have gone all-out because of the expectation that they should finish the opponent easily.
Mousasi showed the patience and efficiency which he is known for and never gave Latifi a chance.
Jack Slack breaks down over 70 striking tactics employed by 20 elite strikers in his first ebook, Advanced Striking, and discusses the fundamentals of strategy in his new ebook, Elementary Striking.