Matt Brown and Team Alpha Male: Real Improvement?

Jack Slack@@JackSlackMMALead MMA AnalystApril 22, 2013

UFC on Fox 7 provided a great night of entertainment from top to bottom and reportedly tied the record for most knockouts on a single UFC card. Looking through there were many moments from the main card that deserve talking about - from the closely fought title bout, to Josh Thompson's knockout of Nate Diaz, to Daniel Cormier's dirty boxing clinic - but also a few from the undercard which deserve a look.

This piece will focus on the successes of the Team Alpha Male fighters and of Matt 'The Immortal' Brown. 

My second piece on UFC on Fox 7 can be found here:

Team Alpha Male - 3 Fights, 3 Knockouts

The talk of the early event was the improvement of the Team Alpha Male fighters under the striking tutelage of Duane 'Bang' Ludwig. While each of the Team Alpha Male fighters on the card put on a show, I feel it might be a little premature to declare huge improvement in each. Jabs were still almost completely absent in the TAM fighters and they mostly opted instead to swing right hands over and over as their figurehead, Urijah Faber, does to the point of being predictable. 

T.J. Dillashaw looked largely disciplined as he caught his lingering opponent with the type of right straight counter which Ludwig has practiced and stressed throughout his career (not to mention picking up the fastest knockout in UFC history with).

Joseph Benavidez, meanwhile, walked Darren Uyenoyama down, swinging wild with slapping rights and lefts but punctuating his performance with sharp kicks. Benavidez's boxing looked somewhat sloppy as he ran in behind his face with his hands low over and over again, but through switching stances he was able to confuse Uyenoyama and eventually land a good left hook to the body which slumped Darren to the mat. Benavidez has far more strike variety than Faber or Mendes, but his lunging in behind his face could get him into trouble against elite fighters.

Ultimately both Dillashaw and Benavidez benefited enormously from the inexperience of their opponents on their feet but put forth entertaining performances over decent fighters. 

Chad Mendes gave by far the most intimidating showing as he came out and used the traditional Team Alpha Male strategy of eschewing straight punches in favor of looking to land a right hook from wherever he could.

Whether it be off a parried jab, a slip or immediately after a first right hook. Mendes was able to stun his opponent by running forward with a right straight to right hook, and finished by slipping inside a desperate jab and landing a perfect cross counter.

Those of you who have read my pieces before will know how highly I rate the cross counter as a strike - and it's long history of knockouts will certainly testify to that belief. 

While the complete absence of jabs from most performances by TAM fighters is actually a sensible move - they are wrestlers who are looking to close the distance after all, not strikers looking to maintain the distance - it is really the absence of much left handed offense at all which lets the TAM fighters down. It is simply so predictable at the highest level what they are going to do, and this is largely responsible for Urijah Faber's getting ground down and shown up at range in all of his recent title fights.

Matt Brown Continues his Career Resurgence

I want to get it out of the way before I begin - Matt Brown is not a hugely technically-gifted fighter and at this stage in his career I am sure that the holes in his game are going to be slower or almost impossible to tighten up - but 'The Immortal' has a gift for violence which has to be respected. 

Some men can be taught to throw fundamental strikes with all the snap and venom of a great puncher, but they still have to be told what to do when they are getting in the cage. Brown is very good at simply making it up as he goes along.

The first thing that deserves praise from that bout is Jordan Mein's hand trap elbow. A lovely technique, Brown actually used this same method to eliminate Mike Swick's highly regarded hands and stun him with an elbow.

What Brown did so well was something which Nate Diaz utterly failed to do in his bout with Josh Thompson later in the card - cut off the cage and punish the opponent when he tried to escape. 

It is not enough to go straight at someone when their back is on the fence in MMA - they can circle out, they can tie you up or they can take you down. Far better to give them just enough space that they can't move back but feel the need to run out to the side. 

Matt Brown showed excellent fight IQ by refusing to stall against the fence but instead letting Mein pick his poison. As Mein ran out to Brown's left he was met by a left hook (the same one that knocked out the running Mike Swick), and as he went to Brown's right Mein was met by a right hand or a right roundhouse kick. 

It may seem basic but getting an opponent to run on to your strikes is one of the most important principles of an offensive striking game, and Matt Brown has shown it better than many of the best strikers in MMA have been able to when they are giving chase.

A final, beautiful facet of Brown's performance was his finish. As his opponent was turtled, Brown popped up to his feet (it is becoming much more common to attack the turtle from standing with knees) but as Mein shielded his sides, Brown instead connected a brutal elbow strike to the temple. Brown followed up with elbows to the back of the ribs and kidneys to finish.

Reviewing that fight I hope you will understand what I meant by Brown having a gift for creativity in his violence. There are far, far better strikers and fighters out there who wouldn't be as savvy or ruthless in their finish as Brown was.

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.

Jack can be found on TwitterFacebook and at his blog: Fights Gone By.