Pound for pound is a daft expression, and one which I hate using. Chael Sonnen likened pound-for-pound debates to arguments over all the possible variables involved in a Batman-versus-Superman matchup. In truth, the expression "pound for pound" was created to talk about just how technically superb Sugar Ray Robinson was when compared to any fighter in the world.
If you put Demetrious Johnson or even Anderson Silva in with a middle-tier heavyweight, they would probably lose—for the same reason that Ronda Rousey wouldn't last a round against a decent male fighter of her weight. Strength and size are a big deal. I write a lot about technique and strategy, so you might imagine that I wouldn't think that, but it's the truth.
Demetrious Johnson, at his weight, is the finest in the world. And he proved that emphatically by starching Joseph Benavidez in a single round Saturday at UFC on Fox 9.
But more than that, per pound of body weight, he might just be the most skilled fighter in the world. A 200-pound Demetrious Johnson, with his wrestling, movement, and understanding of the technical and strategic sides of the game, would be a nightmare for anyone.
We're all still reeling from the fights, so let's take a quick look at how it took place.
Out with Ring Cutting, in with Low Kicking
I spoke last week about how Benavidez's trouble in the first bout was that he couldn't manufacture the one situation where his advantage on paper, being the power striker, would matter. Out in the middle of the Octagon, chasing after Johnson and swinging at air, Benavidez was simply tiring himself out and getting picked apart by the flyweight king.
In that first bout, Johnson's corner repeatedly told him to square up and cut off the ring. This is the boxing method of dealing with a fleet-footed fighter. Like all methods, it has its merits and its faults. The great fault of cutting off the ring is that it requires a fighter to square up to his opponent and offer more of a target so that he can be a more imposing presence.
In the first bout, Johnson spent much of the time circling, waiting for Benavidez to widen his stance, then firing a right straight and moving right into a clinch.
Since that first bout, Duane "Bang" Ludwig, an excellent kickboxer and coach, has joined Team Alpha Male and has been working with the already excellent wrestlers there toward rounding out their striking. With Ludwig in Benavidez's corner, you knew Joe-B-Wan would be operating to a well-thought-out game plan on the feet.
The plan seemed to be similar to Mauricio Rua's answer to Lyoto Machida—back the runner up, then chop his legs out while he's in no position to check low kicks. It worked a treat for the short duration of the bout. Benavidez would charge straight in, miss every punch, and as Johnson circled away, he would hammer in a good kick. Benavidez almost caught Johnson circling off the fence with a good high kick!
Midway through the opening round, however, Benavidez rushed Johnson but got turned onto the fence. We spoke about the downsides to each method of dealing with the runner. The chase-and-low-kick method's great flaw is that the opponent can step in and jam the chase.
In the case of Shogun and Machida, Shogun ate a good few counterstraights and knees from Machida. In last night's case, Johnson stepped in, met Benavidez, then easily turned him and reversed position. Of course it was part Johnson moving in and turning, and partly Benavidez placing himself on the fence, but Johnson wasn't going to argue about responsibility when he had the opportunity for unanswered offence.
The Rear-Hand Hook
With his back to the fence, Benavidez refused to take Johnson's route of running out and engaging from a better position, instead trying to fight his way out. Johnson, now in the driver's seat, stepped in, checked Benavidez's lead hand and threw hard.
Benavidez had switched to southpaw while throwing a kick and attempted to hook at Johnson off the fence. Benavidez's narrowed gait prevented him from throwing an authoritative lead hook to where Johnson had moved his head off line. Benavidez also dropped his hand to escape Johnson's hand control, then swung wide at the shoulder in attempt to reach out and catch Johnson.
The shot which Johnson dropped Benavidez with was almost identical to that which Mike Zambidis knocked Norifumi Yamamoto out with in K-1. Getting the head and lead foot on the outside of the opponent's lead shoulder places the hooking shoulder almost out of sight of the opponent. It is such a dangerous counter because it is almost impossible to see coming when a fighter is throwing his own lead hand.
Yamamoto was attempting to jab off the ropes, while Benavidez seemed to be attempting to swing off the cage, and Zambidis' shot was more of a counter, while Johnson's was a lead which ended up in an exchange, but the mechanics and effect are almost identical.
That rear hook from open guard (southpaw versus orthodox) has the potential to catch so many fighters out through the blind angle if you get in close enough to use it.
Add to that that the rear hook is near useless in a closed-guard (orthodox versus orthodox or southpaw versus southpaw) engagement because it must be thrown slightly overhand in order to clear the opponent's lead shoulder and guard. From open guard it can be thrown almost on an upward trajectory if a fighter so chooses.
It is unfortunate and perhaps unfair that Benavidez showed to be troubling Johnson with a good game plan—suffering no consequences for throwing the low kicks which he was too cautious to throw in their first fight—yet ended up being finished in this bout and surviving to the decision in the previous one.
It is said time and time again about Demetrious Johnson, but he is getting better and better with each performance. This being his second dominating stoppage in two fights, if Johnson can continue this and establish himself as a finisher, he stands to become a true breakout star for the flyweight division.
Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking from his blog, Fights Gone By.
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