UFC on Fuel 10 provided some exciting matchups and as many of you will have already heard, broke the promotion's record for most submission wins on a card. It is always good to be reminded that cards which are short big-name matches can still provide incredible entertainment.
Today I would like to talk about three fights which took place last night, Fabricio Werdum vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Thiago Silva vs. Rafael Feijao from UFC on Fuel 10, and Mamed Khalidov vs. Melvin Manhoef from KSW 23.
These matches provide wonderful examples of several different principles in combat sports, and I hope you will join me in appreciating them.
Fabricio Werdum vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
I spoke in the lead up to this fight about Werdum's improved kicking and love of the collar tie vs. Big Nog's new "clinch against the fence" style. I believed that much of the match would come down to Nogueira's ability to take Werdum to the fence.
I have previously criticized Werdum's ringcraft, as he routinely fights just a foot or so from the fence on the feet, and I shall not be changing my view of that today, as he did exactly the same thing against Nogueira. The main issue was that unless an opponent has Stefan Struve levels of obliviousness to where he is in the cage, he is not going to run right onto the fence.
Instead it is up to the aggressor, in this case this was Nogueira, to rush the fighter who is along the fence and close the distance between himself and the fence, while keeping his opponent in between. Nogueira just looked too slow and tentative to do anything about it most of the time and let Werdum move around half of the octagon along the fence.
Nogueira attempted to get in with his jab over and over but just as often got caught with a punch or a hard inside low kick. When he did close the distance, he often did it too slowly and head first, allowing Werdum to grab the back of Nog's head and use his forearms to keep separation between them in a double collar tie.
Nogueira did eventually get to his favourite position: against the fence with an underhook, his head underneath Werdum's and working to free his other hand in order land slapping punches to the head and body.
However, Nog just isn't a great wrestler and Werdum has been working on his own wrestling constantly, allowing him to shift his hips out and escape or work for a single or double collar tie after very brief periods of clinch fighting.
The ground work in the early going of the fight was extremely entertaining as Nogueira kept fighting back to his half guard and working to get under Werdum (something which he did remarkably well in their first bout), but Werdum had the good sense to use his top position from an MMA perspective rather than a grappling one and hammered Nog with some good strikes.
What marked the end of the bout for Nogueira, however, was a tactical decision with his grappling which is almost equivalent to poor ring craft in the stand up portion of the fight.
First, Werdum baited Nogueira into overcommitting on his clinch strikes, then turned Nogueira and threatened the takedown. This caused Nogueira to drop for the guillotine and give up top position to the younger, slicker grappler.
Werdum, with his back to the fence, gripped Nogueira's punching hand and as Nogueira broke free and threw a punch, Werdum used the opportunity to secure an underhook on that side. From here, he turned Nogueira onto the fence and ducked down onto a single-leg attempt.
Smart stuff to bait Nogueira into opening himself up with the punch. From here Nogueira, obviously pressured by the threat of the takedown, fell back into a guillotine which Werdum briefly turned to his side to escape, then came up on top in Nogueira's guard. Moments later, he was on Nogueira's back and moving to lock in the fight-finishing armbar.
Grabbing a guillotine and jumping guard, particularly with arm-in guillotines, just doesn't work very well against the elite grapplers in MMA. Alan Belcher recently threw away a decision win to world-class blanket Yushin Okami by jumping guard with a guillotine and giving away a round on two separate occasions.
Nogueira famously threw away a win over the turtled and hurt Frank Mir by jumping on a guillotine attempt and flopping to his back, giving Mir top position.
Against Werdum, Nog didn't lose so immediately that we can entirely blame the guillotine attempt, but it seems like Nogueira gave away a move to the ground that favoured Fabricio in hopes of finishing what is ultimately a low-percentage submission for most fighters.
Obviously, it is commendable that these fighters are attempting to finish fights and stay active when otherwise they will just be attempting to fight their way off the fence and defend takedowns, but against good or better grapplers (and Werdum is one of the best in the world), it is often the case that if the submission fails, the guillotine-attempting fighter will lose himself the round and possibly the fight.
Risky guillotine aside, Nogueira is not nearly as durable as he once was, and incremental improvements in punching power and wrestling aren't going to stop him from getting hurt or losing. Nog looked sluggish on the feet and struggled to even get to the clinch where he has been staying safe in his last few bouts.
It would not be a great shame for Nogueira to accept that he is one of the best MMA fighters ever and to retire to focus on training his many great students.
Thiago Silva vs Rafael Feijao
Rafael Feijao is an interesting fighter but ultimately a very limited one. He has a hard right hand and can stuff takedowns well, as well as a good right low kick, but that's about it.
He can put decent power in his other strikes but he just isn't all that practised or scientific in landing them. Against Silva, he simply came forward with the same jab-to-overhand-right combination again and again. He ducked out nicely afterwards and avoided many counter blows but ultimately achieved very little with his predictable attacks.
What Feijao offered was the perfect fight for Thiago Silva. Silva is a good banger with both hands who is pretty good at avoiding punches in the pocket. He doesn't do a great job cutting off the cage and gets frustrated extremely easily.
This is how Lyoto Machida and Alexander Gustaffson had such great success against Silva while Keith Jardine ended the night staring at the stadium ceiling.
Whenever an opponent retreats more than once, Silva throws his arms out then rushes in with his chin out in front of him and nothing to stop his opponent from punching him as he comes in.
When his opponent obliges him with a brawl, however, he can work his great counter left hook, heavy right hand and decent jab. Silva's jab worked well against Feijao, who ended up getting battered against the cage.
The final punch of the flurry was a right hook which sailed between Feijao's forearms. While Silva achieved this by muscling Feijao to his side with punches, it can be achieved more readily with a leap to the side a la the great Mike Tyson.
Pat Barry's knockout of Shane Del Rosario came off an almost identical hook which entered from in front of his opponent rather than the side. GIF of the Barry knockout here.
Mamed Khalidov vs Melvin Manhoef
I often don't get chance to talk about promotions outside of the UFC, but I thought I'd sneak this in here. If you get the chance, watch Khalidov vs. Manhoef from KSW, because it was a good tactical showing by Khalidov.
Melvin Manhoef is not bad at sprawling. He is ridiculously strong and explosive, and he has sprawled on takedown attempts from decent wrestlers before. What Khalidov did was to make his job much, much easier by using kicks to set up his takedown attempts.
I previously spoke about how I enjoyed the young Chris Weidman's use of high kicks to stand Mark Munoz up and then shoot in for Munoz's hips with great success. Khalidov did much the same thing in using his kicks and punches to trouble Manhoef, who was clearly expecting to have to sprawl from the get go.
Using kicks to set up his shot, Khalidov got Manhoef down for a split second then switched to a guillotine as soon as Manhoef was working his way up. This wasn't Manhoef's weak submission defence, this was an excellent example of mixing it all together by an up-and-coming fighter from the new generation.
Pick up Jack's ebooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking at his blog, Fights Gone By.