UFC 170: Keys to Victory for Rory MacDonald
When Rory MacDonald steps into the cage against Demian Maia at UFC 170, he is in for a serious test.
While many think a victory for MacDonald is as easy as pumping his jab and maintaining a safe distance, the truth is that it’s going to take more than that.
Maia is a terribly intelligent fighter who can anticipate like few others. On the feet, he’s not even close to being the best man in any division, but on the ground he’s a nightmare.
Maia has managed to defeat Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Gabriel Gonzaga in grappling competition. Both are bigger and stronger with a grappling game well beyond MacDonald, and that is just the beginning.
In MMA, Maia is wickedly adept at catching fighters with a submission when in the midst of a transition, and to that end he can set things up flawlessly. One example of this was seen when he surprised Chael Sonnen by throwing him to the mat and locking up a triangle leg choke as Sonnen rolled him over.
He’s just one of those rare fighters that can get the fight to the ground in ways you would not expect. He doesn’t always succeed, but if he can grab hold of an opponent who is willing to grapple with him for a moment, he can close the show very quickly.
To avoid this fate, MacDonald needs to avail himself of some very basic yet important strategies. When used together, they could see him victorious, just as they have so many others.
Here are the keys to victory for Rory MacDonald: utterly basic, tried and true.
This one is obvious to all. If Rory MacDonald wants to win this fight, his biggest key to victory has to be stopping all takedown attempts by Demian Maia.
He’s going to have to be wary of locking up with Maia in any fashion, be it along the cage or on the floor. If the fight hits the mat, there is literally no safe haven for MacDonald at all.
To the end of avoiding the takedown, he needs to be ready to sprawl at the drop of a hat, not to mention fighting hard to keep Maia from entangling his limbs against the cage.
With Maia, addressing this problem is much harder than it seems. He knows how to maneuver opponents subtlety, cutting off their avenues of escape or baiting them into a direction that will allow him greater chance to engage.
On the outside, MacDonald cannot afford to fall into any kind of predictable pattern of attack or movement; that is simple math for a man like Maia. Instead, he needs to move quickly and sharply, keeping a comfortably wide base and always in a position to sprawl or slam a straight strike into Maia’s face in order to maintain a clean distance.
He also needs to use angles to make defending a long-distance takedown easier. Anderson Silva managed to utilize angles in his fight with Maia at UFC 112, playing matador to Maia’s bull from a distance. In close quarters, he simply pivoted out of the takedowns, sometimes turning in a full circle to get out and away.
Maia isn’t just a submission grappler; he knows another way to get inside for a takedown is to get his opponent to commit to a striking exchange. To this end, MacDonald needs to control the distance with his jab and straight punches that come right down the pipe.
If MacDonald can utilize all of these basic steps, he can greatly minimize the chances of Maia scoring a takedown, which will go a long way to seeing the Canadian win.
Avoid the Fence
Once again, another obvious key for MacDonald is to avoid being put up against the fence.
If he feels that chain link brushing his back or heel, he needs to be gliding away as quickly as possible. Should that mean fighting like a drowning man to keep Maia off him at those moments, then he should be willing to do so with no hesitation.
A fighter with the height and length of MacDonald could be lured into thinking his size and technique can help him defend the takedown at such times. Against Maia, a former middleweight, MacDonald will have a range advantage but will be equal in height.
When coupled with Maia’s intelligent use of strength and grappling ability, MacDonald cannot afford to have the fence limiting his movement.
Once against the fence, if Maia can get MacDonald down, then the slick Brazilian can and will use the geography against him and a submission ending could be seconds away.
At UFC 170, MacDonald is going to have two opponents: Maia and the fence. He needs to fight the former and avoid the latter at all costs.
Use the Jab
As previously stated, the use of a committed jab can help MacDonald defend the takedown, but it can be used for more than that.
MacDonald is going to enjoy a serious reach advantage in this fight. Using the jab accurately and often could put Maia on the defensive in many ways; not to mention it could bust him up.
When used correctly, a jab that is landing helps the thrower keep his opponent where he wants him. When the opponent tries to anticipate the jab and move his head around it, he sets himself up for the second shot, which he didn’t see coming.
When the jab acts as a bridge to land additional punches, such as a hard, straight right hand, things really come together. With the jab doing the job of measuring the distance as it lands, the power punches that jump off that bridge land with greater leverage and thus greater authority.
A prime example of both was seen when Wladimir Klitschko fought Chris Byrd the second time. This is a good example given the reach advantage Klitschko enjoyed in the fight is similar to MacDonald.
Klitschko battered Byrd with the jab all night long, blasted him with hard right hands off the jab, and when Byrd tried to move his head around the jab, he ran into right hands set up by Klitschko.
Should MacDonald really commit to a serious, disciplined jab thrown with conviction and confidence, he can rack up the points and possibly get a stoppage victory.
Movement, Movement, Movement
One of Demian Maia’s biggest advantages is obviously the ground; he knows it and so does everyone else. To that end, he’s going to try and drag the fight to the floor whenever possible.
If he wants to avoid being submitted, Rory MacDonald needs to make it as hard as possible for Maia to get him down.
One of the key ways he can do this is by moving and circling all night long. He simply cannot afford to stand still.
We’ve seen good fighters stand still for too long, coiled and ready to strike, content to wait for the perfect moment. Then, usually one of them breaks and begins to circle, they settle in and it starts all over again.
Even though MacDonald has used similar situations to his advantage in the past, he cannot afford to let this happen against Maia.
Given his youth and reach, it will probably be a tempting rhythm for him, but youth and reach may be the biggest advantages he has, and neither will aid him if he isn’t moving.
Many will say he has a strength advantage as well, but if he does it may not be as great as most think. Maia is a natural middleweight; should he get his hands on MacDonald, he can use his power intelligently (coupled with his experience) to get the takedown.
Movement is the key in this; if he stands still at all he becomes a stationary target and stationary targets usually don’t win fights.
And against Maia they get boxed in, taken down and shipped out.
He’s got the younger legs and he should be ready to use them.
Use the Uppercut
Some of the most damaging punches in combative sport are those that travel a short distance and land where an opponent really didn’t see them coming.
One punch that pays both bills in this case is the uppercut.
One of Maia’s basic flaws is that when he comes in, his hands are up but his chin isn’t tucked in as deep as it should be. This becomes very clear when he is able to glide inside that favorable takedown range.
Should MacDonald employ a disciplined uppercut at those times, he could quite possibly knock Maia out—especially if he runs right into it while dropping low to wrap up the legs.
The blow has many of the same benefits of a jumping knee counter to single or double-leg, but it’s more recoverable and doesn’t give up the takedown so easily.
And if thrown right, it is simply devastating and would give Maia another thing to worry about when going for the takedown—if it doesn’t knock him flat to begin with.
Attack to Keep Maia Defensive
While Demian Maia may not be the scariest fighter when it comes to striking, he is very intelligent, especially offensively.
If given the time to get into any kind of rhythm, he’s the kind of fighter that can improvise and adapt quite well. One way to offset this is by making Maia react to a consistent stream of attacks from all angles.
It’s much harder for a fighter with a reach disadvantage to start mounting an offense if he’s busy defending himself.
MacDonald needs to be offensive and more than that, his offense needs to pose a serious danger or Maia will realize it is just a smoke screen.
If he wants to win, he needs to attack Maia toward the end of finishing him; nothing else will keep him on his heels.
Pull the Trigger
Sometimes, being overly cautious has been mistaken as a kind of defensive brilliance. Yet the methods of caution are usually based on a pattern of inaction.
Fighters have long had the choice of hiding behind a jab or using it to create an advantage that can be pressed to gain a decisive victory. This is probably the biggest temptation MacDonald will face given his reach advantage and Maia’s shortcomings in the realm of striking.
However, Maia has not proven to be the kind of fighter defeated by empty threats. A jab alone is not going to keep him on his heels; in fact, it may make him bolder.
MacDonald needs to keep Maia honest, and the only true way to do that is to give him something to worry about, consistently. He not only needs to take advantage of openings Maia naturally gives him, he needs to put pressure on Maia with a committed attack that threatens him on many levels.
As successful as his win over Jake Ellenberger was, it was also terribly pedestrian and predictable. Maia is not the same kind of opponent and will not be stumped by such basic math.
MacDonald has many advantages in this bout, but no matter how many guns you bring to a fight, they only work if you pull the trigger.