Survival Guide for Opponents Facing Each UFC Champion
Similar to running from sharp-horned bulls or swimming alongside carnivorous sharks, fighting the best of the best often means your life is on the line.
So it's completely understandable and important to realize most of the top title contenders in each division find themselves in survival mode when encountered by any of the UFC's 10 current champions.
It's simply a matter of weathering the storm, implementing game plans when the time calls for it and successfully absorbing any and all punishment dished out at the hands of your divisional king.
Now while that's often easier said than done, abiding by certain rules and distinguished tactics could spell the difference in winning, losing, staying on your feet or getting put to sleep.
With that said, in the spirit of helping out those less fortunate in the eyes of excellence, here are well-constructed survival guides for challengers opting to battle each belt-wearing warrior in the UFC.
Challenger's Tip: Protect your arms
Ronda Rousey has become the epitome of a submission specialist. By winning each and every one of her professional bouts by way of first-round armbar, "Rowdy" has showcased her ability to finish fights with ease.
However, even though she attacks arms like a snake eats mice, the rest of her game is still evolving. She'll eventually hone all of her skills, but for now, the champion's arsenal has clear-cut flaws.
For impending challengers hoping to stop one of the most publicly driven champions in the world, there's a guideline to surviving Rousey's madness.
Keeping your distance, circling away from the cage, throwing timely leg kicks, launching short jabs and implementing a strong wrestling base are all fantastic keys to success.
But the overwhelming tip for any bantamweight looking for UFC gold is to simply stay off the ground. Don't roll, don't transition, don't look for takedowns and most importantly, keep your arms inside at all times.
Challenger's Tip: Get big
There's no denying that Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson is the pound-for-pound fastest striker in mixed martial arts today.
He's rarely mirrored inside the Octagon, changes angles at the drop of a dime, doesn't sit back and stay in the pocket, and never seems to gas even in the longest of title fights.
That's a deadly combination of skill and heart, which has led to Johnson becoming the undisputed UFC flyweight champion. But through all of his success and blinding speed, Johnson isn't perfect.
His punching power is practically non-existent, his chin is suspect and his submission defense is still a work in progress.
With that said, future opponents need to understand that getting big, packing on knockout power and going for the finish is by far the best way to survive Johnson's cheetah-like capabilities.
Challenger's Tip: Strike first
Renan Barao has really become an exceptional UFC champion. Sure he holds the interim bantamweight title and not the real one, but the Brazilian has walked through his last three opponents.
At this point, it's really difficult to pinpoint what aspect of Barao's game is the weakest because he's one of the more rangy strikers in the division, excels on the ground and makes up for a lack of power with speed and technique.
For any opponent looking to steal what Barao has worked so hard for over the past two years, making him work early and often seems like the best method for survival.
That means you need to strike first, attack the body, change up angles, switch styles and catch him quickly before he gains the Octagon confidence that has led to an undefeated 5-0 UFC record.
Challenger's Tip: Get inside
As one of the lengthier bantamweights in the world, Dominick Cruz has made a living by picking his opponents apart, utilizing excellent footwork, keeping his distance and avoiding takedowns.
Now while Cruz hasn't competed since October 2011, he's still the UFC bantamweight champion and still possesses one of the most well-rounded games in mixed martial arts today.
When the time comes and Cruz is healthy enough to fight again, he'll most certainly display the same skill set and dedication that has translated into superstar success in the past. That means that future title challengers hoping to dethrone the champion will need to deal with his size.
In order to derail his reach and ability to pepper with jabs and lunging strikes, opponents have to get inside on Cruz. They need to cut him in half, get in close, throw him against the cage and utilize dirty boxing.
Once that happens, assuming Cruz sustains some sort of damage, he'll slow down on his feet, lose some pep in his step, drop his hands a little bit and grow susceptible to power punches.
Challenger's Tip: Take your time
There's a reason why Frankie Edgar proved to be Jose Aldo's toughest challenge to date; he's impossible to finish and flourishes in the later rounds.
That's exactly what opponents need to be, and do, in order to survive the world-class athleticism of Aldo.
Considering he's such a good striker, powerful and quick, as well as possessing the defensive skill set to stuff almost any takedown attempt, future title contenders need to pay attention to Edgar's efforts at UFC 156.
Now while the former UFC lightweight champion took it to the Brazilian early and often, he also kept his cool, stayed grounded, didn't get carried away and progressed through five straight rounds.
Once Aldo is driven to the later frames and his conditioning is tested, the chances of catching him off guard and making up for lost time grow exponentially.
Challenger's Tip: Push the pace
It's been said that Benson Henderson doesn't finish fights. It's also been said that he's one of the easiest to defeat champions in the UFC today.
Now while that may be true or not, Henderson is not a perfected specimen of skill and heart. He often slows down when he knows he has a round in the bag, doesn't possess the knockout power that other UFC lightweights do and has won two of his four championship fights by way of split decision.
With that said, there's no denying that he's beatable.
However, Henderson's size and overall athleticism often prohibit some of the best fighters in the world from getting to him. Now while that's a testament to his ability to dodge strikes and stay ahead on the score card, it also spells what future challengers need to overcome to survive "Smooth."
Pushing the pace is easily the most effective game plan against Henderson. Gilbert Melendez is the perfect example of that, but Melendez didn't maintain his ferocity for five straight rounds.
Punching first, reacting second and doing it for 25 minutes is the only way to survive Henderson's peppering onslaught.
Challenger's Tip: Attack with power
There's not much you can do against Georges St-Pierre. He's physically superior, a world-class wrestler, sports one of the more well-rounded defenses in the world and loves to grind an opponent down for five straight rounds.
That means that GSP doesn't possess too many holes in his game. He's faced an array of foes over the past few years and has still strung together eight straight title defenses.
However, in two of his more closely contested bouts in his career, opposite Carlos Condit and Matt Serra, GSP has shown the inability to withstand big power shots.
Whether it's been a mid-fight head kick or an early first-round punch, St-Pierre's chin has crumbled like a stale fortune cookie. It may have been two freak incidents jam packed into six years, but more than likely the Canadian doesn't have what it takes to compete after eating an opponent's best shot.
Hitting George flush is the key to success for any challenger hoping to knock the welterweight king off his throne.
Challenger's Tip: Secure the takedown
Like him or not, respect him or not, Chael Sonnen revealed Anderson Silva's weakness when the two met for the first time at UFC 117.
By rushing Silva, putting him on his head, raining punches down on his chin, disrupting his breathing and swarming his will round-by-round, Sonnen made the best fighter of all time look like a TUF semi-finalist.
Now Silva ended up winning that inaugural fight opposite Sonnen because the challenger lacked basic submission defense, but the champion was badly beaten for practically 24 straight minutes.
That fight was nearly three years ago, but Silva is about to encounter a similar situation when he takes on Chris Weidman, who is basically Sonnen hopped up on jiu-jitsu, in July at UFC 162.
For Weidman, taking Silva down, scoring points, staying away from his long limbs and pushing the pace are all key ingredients in pulling off one of the bigger upsets in recent mixed martial arts history.
I'm sure Chael P. will be in the ear of the challenger feeding him pointers and useful techniques.
Challenger's Tip: Pray
At this point in his career, Jon Jones has no noticeable weakness. He has dismantled and destroyed nearly every light heavyweight contender known to man.
The only fighter ever to test Jones' physical and mental threshold for pain was Vitor Belfort, but we all know how that fight ultimately ended.
In any case, fighting Jones, let alone defeating him, is one of the toughest feats in mixed martial arts today. He's rangy, versatile, strong and knows how to keep a fight standing. That's a deadly mixture when you consider his overall size and age.
However, beyond everything just mentioned, the UFC light heavyweight champion isn't perfect. At some point he's going to meet his match and fold.
That may not come soon considering the UFC is wrongfully juggling Alexander Gustafsson's title contention, but eventually Jones is going to be tested beyond all belief.
But for now, assuming his toe realigns with the rest of his body, the only thing opponents can do is pray that the champion slips up and beats himself.
Challenger's Tip: Aim for the head
Similar to Georges St-Pierre in the way that he can utilize his wrestling skills and take fights into championship rounds, UFC heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez is arguably on his way to becoming the best big man of all time.
For Velasquez, a guy who literally ravaged Junior dos Santos' face with his fists in their championship rematch back in December, making opponents pay on the ground is his ultimate goal.
He's not really a well-rounded striker, but he does possess enough power to knock any heavyweight down. His clinch game is good and he's exceptional along the cage, but when Velasquez brings a fight to the canvas and implements an always formidable ground-and-pound attack, he's at home.
That means that future suitors must incorporate a game plan to keep the fight standing, keep their distance, use their reach and throw power shots to the champ's dome piece.
Because if there's anything that can stop a power wrestling guru, it's a 100-mph fastball of fist to the temple.
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