Boxing in MMA is still in it's infancy, but it is improving at a rate of knots.
I remember being surprised when Takanori Gomi actually doubled up and threw body shots against Jens Pulver back in PRIDE—now such tactics are becoming much more commonplace. That is not to say that body shots aren't still criminally underused in MMA—indeed one of the main reasons for the success of the fighter I am talking about today is the fact that the rest of the MMA world seems to have largely shunned the body punch.
Whenever a "best of" anything in MMA is brought up, many readers will scan for the names and prepare their venom as their favourite fighter is not mentioned soon enough or late enough for their liking. I dislike terming anyone "the best" at anything in MMA because I haven't seen every sanctioned fighter out there—but when I do I like to narrow the terms.
I discussed last week how the "best boxing in MMA" title was a ridiculous notion because there is no cookie-cutter mould for what is considered great boxing. Some fighters move laterally wonderfully well—such as Anderson Silva—but refuse flat-out to lead, while others are masterful at leading and countering, but refuse to move off of a straight line—like Dos Santos.
What I can do is narrow the terms and say that in high-profile MMA, Junior dos Santos might just be the best offensive puncher out there. Certainly at heavyweight it is almost impossible to think of a fighter who matches him in variety of punches and setups.
"Setups" is the all-important term there—Junior dos Santos sets his power strikes up. Unless you are fighting pretty poor strikers—who, of course, are in abundance at heavyweight—swinging off the bat won't work. This is 2013, and you are not going to hit anyone who can box even a little with the first punch you throw, let alone the first power punch.
You have to open up the holes in an opponent's defence, and to be honest, it isn't always best or particularly responsible to start trying to smash through with power strikes. What Dos Santos does masterfully is to pick and scratch at the existing holes in his opponent's guard until they are forced to compensate and allow a big punch through to a now unguarded area.
Dos Santos and the Body Straights
There is physically no way to protect the whole body from attack except to not be close enough to be attacked in the first place. This is what Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Junior dos Santos and other truly good strikers are so good at. Many of their opponents, however, don't understand this and believe that by covering their head with their hands and their ribcage with their elbows they are safe.
Dos Santos will pick away with his body jab and powerful right straight to the solar plexus just enough to get his opponent to drop their hands or stay on the end of a tiring body punching assault for 15 to 25 minutes.
The body jab is treated as a nothing punch by a great many coaches—who insist one should just condition oneself against it. In truth you are, of course, never going to knock anyone out with a body jab—but if you keep taking stiff, well-targeted body jabs you are going to end up hurt and tired, if you drop your hands, you give the opponent exactly what he wanted in the first place.
Add to that the fact that if one drops down so as to be jabbing level with ones' shoulder and maximising the available reach, the body jab is the joint-longest punch one can throw.
Many coaches will explain how a nice right straight thrown simultaneously can act well as a counter, because the body jab is so rarely seen in MMA counters for it are hugely under practised. Fighters aren't going to start making up their counters in the middle of a bout.
Working the body up and down is a basic trait of Dos Santos', and it seems to work well in both tiring his opponents out and forcing them to over-react and expose themselves. In his first bout against Cain Velasquez, Dos Santos landed seven significant strikes, four of which were to the body.
Cain's reaction to the body straights—jabbing back at Dos Santos' head even though it meant jabbing across himself—was what opened the door for the overhand that finished the bout. It was essentially a cross-counter performed on offence.
Closing the Door
Something many MMA fighters fail to do—most notably Gilbert Melendez—is to "close the door" on their combinations.
Finishing combinations with the right hand or simply lingering too long before returning with the left or tying up is exposing oneself to counters. Not only does Cigano close the door beautifully on many of his combinations, he will actively encourage opponent's to chase him in order to snap them with a sharp left hook.
Against Frank Mir, Junior would feint a right hand, then begin to retreat as if he had lost confidence. Every time Mir would stumble in after him and eat a left hook on the jaw.
Junior hit Shane Carwin with everything but the kitchen sink on offence, yet it was when he caught Carwin with a seemingly throwaway left hook while retreating that he actually put the giant on his knees.
The difference between hitting a man when he is trying to protect himself and hitting a man as he comes in is enormous..
I could keep gushing over the game of Dos Santos and his striking weaknesses, but I have already hit my word count, and we've barely started.
Dos Santos is a boxer of wonderful subtlety, and I am extremely excited at the prospect of seeing him in against a man with a technical enough striking game that it could be competitive on the feet.
If you wish to read my thoughts on beating Dos Santos simply find my "Killing the King" article from when he was champion or my "How Cain Killed the King" article.
I, as always, have no idea how the bout between Mark Hunt and Dos Santos will play out and eagerly await UFC 160 for what many consider to be the card's true main event.
Pick up Jack's ebooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking at his blog, Fights Gone By.