Tyrone Spong and the Future of Striking in MMA
Mixed Martial Arts is to my mind the most beautiful sport in the world because it is one of constant creation, innovation and borrowing from outside sources. The difference between winning and losing is not in simply the athletic or genetic when an opponent is finding every way he can to hit you in the head and lie to you about his intentions.
There isn't even a set path to winning consistently in mixed martial arts—for all that fans complain about lay-and-prayers (wrestlers who simply hold their opponent down) ruining the sport, almost none of these fighters make it to a title shot and all of them pick up losses eventually whether it be by submission or knockout.
The ideas and indeed the methodology of mixed martial arts are constantly changing. The example I always refer to is the shift between the ring in PRIDE and the octagon in the UFC.
The former, with its corners, favors the grappler enormously as he is only ever a short walk from cornering his man. The cage, however, allows strikers to move freely and has changed the emphasis from sprawling and fighting against takedowns to movement and evasion.
Even the WEC's cage and UFC's octagon make changes to the fight. The WEC's cage is much smaller and forced action, whereas the octagon often dwarfs many of the featherweight fighters who came over from the WEC.
Front snap klcks were thought to be worthless until Anderson Silva's famous knockout of Vitor Belfort ushered in attempts from everyone in the game.
Elbows were accused of only being used to cause cuts and not damage, and grounding and pounding from guard was written off after Fedor Emelianenko, but Jon Jones has combined the two to earn a streak of devastating victories.
And who thought running up the cage would be practical at any point, as well as something which Anthony Pettis can routinely manufacture situations to attempt it in?
What I am saying is that the playbook in mixed martial arts is being constantly revised and exceptions to rules are being scribbled in margins with biro every month.
Over the course of the next few months I shall examine some of the strikers who may not be world beaters in MMA or even in kickboxing or boxing but whose ideas and methods could be applied by a better-rounded fighter to great success.
Today we look at The King of the Ring, Tyrone Spong.
As Glory's number 2 poster boy behind Gokhan Saki, Tyrone is experiencing a great push at the moment but it is far from undeserved. Spong has been a big deal in the kickboxing and muay thai world for many years.
Spong was something of an undersized fighter in K-1, fighting in the Open Weight Grand Prix and against heavyweights despite that weightclass containing man-mountains like Jerome Le Banner and Alistair Overeem.
Aside from a loss to Le Banner and a loss to Overeem in the grand prix, Spong has never had undue trouble with bigger men. He lacks punch against big men but his technical game always keeps him competitive.
Most recently he won the Glory 9 light heavyweight grand prix just a few months after knocking out Remy Bonjansky at heavyweight.
Spong has been making a slow move to MMA, being fed easy competition in his first and only bout at WSOF 1 but he still turned heads in crushing his overmatched opponent.
Tyrone Spong's great unique skill lies in his ability to transfer from a kick straight back into good boxing form and counter punch immediately as he retracts his leg.
Spong's game owes an enormous deal to the great Lucien Carbin. Carbin's fighters are recognizable by their short roundhouse kicks—rather than turning the hip all the way in for power, they will kick almost forward and upwards, keeping the hips facing the front so that they may withdraw the leg quicker.
This means that where many kickboxers end their combinations with a hard roundhouse kick, Carbin's fighters will often use a kick, knowing that most fighters attempt to come back with punches after blocking a kick, to draw the opponent in.
Fedor Emelianenko, who trained extensively with Tyrone Spong in preparation to take on Mirko Cro Cop, has adopted this kicking method and had decent success when he used it.
I was blown away watching this methodology in action, as I had a ringside seat to Andy Ristie's knockout of Albert Krauss at Glory 8 in Tokyo.
Where against most fighters it can be assumed that a combination will end with a hard roundhouse kick, Carbin's fighters especially seem to use alternate kicking techniques and boxing techniques in a whirling dervish.
Following Spong's victory in the Glory 9 grand prix, I am convinced that it is something which MMA fighters can benefit from studying.
Here is a typical example as Spong uses a jab and inside low kick to instigate an exchange. As soon as his opponent begins to move out of his guard, Spong throws a right hook combined with an inside slip to take his head off line of the expected counter and catches his man clean.
Spong has also performed the same technique in the past by retracting his kicking leg behind him to change into a squared up southpaw stance, combining the retreat with a hard right hook. This beautiful little shift could well be named the Carbin Shift as so many of his fighters have used it.
Here is Spong demonstrating it on the pads with Lucien Carbin, followed by a left knee.
Recovering from kicks with a punch as the opponent inevitably follows is an invaluable tool for scoring big counter strikes, but also for assuring that the opponent stays on the defensive and that points may be piled up against him.
Seeing Jose Aldo use his kicks to set up big punches in addition to working the other way around would be a delight for fight fans, and seeing Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua use his bone-crunching kicks as anything but a break between wheezing swings would be a great leap forward.
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