Artwork by Gian Galang
You will struggle to find a fight fan who doesn't enjoy watching Carlos Condit go to work. When he's on his A-game and following the instructions of his corner (one of the best in MMA), there's nothing I'd rather spend my evenings watching. But it's a struggle to justify his upcoming shot at Robbie Lawler's UFC welterweight title. Most fans aren't even trying, they are simply writing it off as a fun fight with which to bring in the New Year.
This bout seems like a something of a gift to Condit. He has been in the top ten forever but the title has always eluded him, even if he was interim champion for a brief period. If you had told MMA fans that Georges St. Pierre would be retiring three years ago, most would assume that Carlos Condit would be top of the heap to seize the vacant title. In actuality, Condit has had a rough go of it in the last few years. After losing to St. Pierre in a title fight, Condit met Johny Hendricks and through overcommitted kicks and flying knees, Condit got himself taken down frequently and dropped a decision.
Advantageous ring position turns to bottom position in one miscalculation.
This underlined a key flaw in Condit's game: he leaves his stance and throws himself out of position far too much for a man who struggles to stop the takedowns of the elite wrestlers in his division. His guard game is brilliant, but if you can't submit someone from your guard all you are doing is losing the fight on the judges scorecards. Condit, like Donald Cerrone, likes to run with his punches and kicks from stance to stance.
That works great when the opponent gives ground, but it backfires dramatically if he runs into his kicks and ends up on top of his opponent, ripe for a takedown or to have a power punch land on him as he is struggling to get back to stance. The kicking game is Condit's greatest asset, but by running in on top of opponents he muffles his kicks and gives opponents easy counters.
In August of 2013 Condit met Martin Kampmann, a fighter who hung around the top ten largely due to his terrific finishes in fights where he had taken a hellacious beating. A back and forth grappling match ended with Condit knocking Kampmann out with a brutal flurry of punches and knees along the fence—where Kampmann so often found himself due to his lack of lateral movement and tendency to retreat under fire.
It was the closing left hook of Condit which repeatedly caught Kampmann. Ending a combination with a left hook (termed 'closing the door'), particularly as one is leaving punching range, punishes both overaggressive punchers and the crafty counter puncher who forgets where his hands should be. After Kampmann had thrown his favorite pool cue right straight counter but failed to get back on guard in time to defend himself, Condit's left hook would slap him across the face. It was this hook that put Kampmann on wobbly legs and sealed the fight.
In Condit's next bout he met Tyron Woodley, one of the new school. A phenomenal wrestler with a cracking right hand, which he would throw in counter to anything. Again it was Condit's crazy feet that got him into trouble. Kicking as Woodley stepped in, charging in too quickly and giving up his reach advantage, Condit got hit far more right hand than a man with his reach and height at welterweight should.
And it was Condit's throwing himself out of position to defend himself which saw him taken down or pushed to the fence repeatedly once again.
Notice that almost all of Condit's lead leg round kicks end with his feet crossed.
In the process of being taken down early in the second round, Condit injured his knee. A kick to the other leg demonstrated the severity of the injury as Condit picked up his standing leg and clutched it as he fell to the mat. The unfortunate ending kept Condit out for a full year and he returned in May of 2015 for his most recent bout, against Thiago Alves.
Alves isn't in the form that saw him challenging for the UFC title a few years ago, but he found success early on as Condit continued to run in with his punching combinations and wound up getting too close to land but close enough to be landed on by his much shorter opponent or tied up easily.
Still present was Condit's tendency to fail to get back to position after kicking. Where against wrestlers this gets Condit taken down, Alves loves to fight with counter low kicks.
Condit's fortunes completely reversed when he began to use elbows. Stepping in with punches and giving up your reach as the taller man is daft, but stepping in with elbows is both effective and goes against a shorter opponent's expectations. A taller man can elbow in the range that his shorter opponent would be punching, and so establish an advantage based on his reach even in a range when both men can hit and be hit. Condit's work with his elbows for the rest of the bout was masterful and at the end of the second round the doctor waved off the fight.
Some of my absolute favorite elbow strikes to date.
And so here we are: Carlos Condit is challenging Robbie Lawler for his welterweight title with only a victory over Thiago Alves. But don't be so hasty to write Condit off. While Robbie Lawler, as an active counter puncher, might seem like the perfect guy to ruin Condit's day, he matches up poorly with Condit in other ways. For a start, the snapping body kicks and high kicks which Rory MacDonald threw out against Lawler really bothered him. As a fighter who loves to move his head and shoulder roll, Lawler's favorite evasions and thereby favorite counters can be stifled by the threat of a good kick every time he starts to crouch even slightly.
But more importantly, we have seen how much trouble Lawler has with low kicks, partly for the same reason. When Lawler fought Johny Hendricks the first time, he slipped and evaded every telegraphed swing that Hendricks made for the early going, but Hendricks shellacked his legs as a result. It is very difficult to move your head out from over your center of gravity and still be in position to quickly pick up your leg to check.
It was Hendricks' curious decision to abandon kicking for much of the second fight which made the stand up favor Lawler so heavily.
Carlos Condit's last three years have been tough and many of his habits are being exploited by the younger generation of wrestlers. To write him off as 'done' when Robbie Lawler holds the title after thirty-five fights and ten losses, would seem a little silly. Clearly anything can happen but while Lawler reinvented himself, Condit has shown a worrying tendency towards poor discipline in his last few fights. I have no doubt that if Carlos Condit comes in with a good gameplan—one focusing on long middle kicks and high kicks, and pounding Lawler's lead leg at every opportunity and perhaps utilizing those brilliant elbows of the Kampmann and Alves fights to hurt Lawler in the process of escaping punching exchanges—he can more than trouble the champion. And Condit has no reason to be scared of punching, but he should be doing so on the end of his reach, convincing Lawler to charge him. It is no coincidence that he wobbled and finished Martin Kampmann, and even dropped Johny Hendricks to a knee with that long left hook on the way out. But if Condit comes out running into combinations with his feet all over the place, throwing wild spinning kicks and jumping knees at the slightest glimmer of an opening, I wouldn't count on him taking out the polished and durable counter puncher.
See more of the Gian Galang's amazing art on his website.
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