If every division had a Matt Brown, the UFC would be a much more interesting place and Fight Night would be an unmissable fixture in everyone's weekend. On Saturday, Brown extended his current winning streak to seven against arguably the toughest opponent he has faced since that streak began, Erick Silva.
Silva is a powerful kicker with good punching power, huge strength and size for a welterweight, and a solid Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game. Were Brown to engage him in a straight up kickboxing “question and answer” style bout, it could have been a tough night for Brown. But Brown isn't a dummy—there's a reason people call him a technical brawler. He is constantly in motion, and normally marching forward, but he does it in a way that keeps his opponent's head down and their arms occupied, stopping them from simply smacking him as he comes in.
The fight was one of the best of the year and perhaps one of the best I have seen inside the UFC, so forget the rest of the card because today we're talking exclusively Matt Brown versus Erick Silva.
Taking the Fight to the Water
In the Chinese epic novel The Water Margin or The Outlaws of the Marsh there is a memorable altercation between Li Kui—The Black Whirlwind—a hapless, short tempered fighting machine who drives the plot forward, and Zhang Shun, The White Streak in the Waves. Throughout The Water Margin, Kui's fighting prowess is made known as he goes from A to B to C killing tigers and angry mobs.
Zhang Shun, a smuggler and fisherman, lost the original scrap to Kui but then challenged him again and lured him into the river. There, Shun, dunked Kui mercilessly until Kui's companions turned up to rescue him. Naturally, all became friends and the plot moved on, but an important moral accompanied the tale of the gigantic brawler and the lithe fisherman.
Tsukioka Yoshitosha's woodblock print of the fight.
Plenty of fighters can excel in their own world, but drag them into another and they'll sink like a stone. Matt Brown lost the initial scrap to Erick Silva in round one, but came back and drownedSilva along the fence, on the ground and with his smothering pace as the fight progressed.
I am sure you have heard the expression “Don't let him fight his fight” hundreds of times if you have been following the fight game for a while. But that is one of the most important points of the game and something that always comes up in my Killing the King pieces. If you can't work out how to start going about beating someone, look at what they do well and work on taking that away.
Erick Silva is a ferocious kicker. You only needed to have seen his last fight to know that. The painfully over matched Takenori Sato gave Silva the center of the cage, backed himself towards the fence, and let Silva load up on a brutal body kick.
In the opening round of the Brown-Silva bout, Matt Brown allowed Silva to turn him onto the cage. This allowed Silva to do exactly what he did to Sato and floor Brown with a powerful body kick.
You cannot give a kicker like Erick Silva space to work. And you definitely can't let him put you along the fence.
Silva took back control and Brown tied up Silva's choking arm, passed it to the other side of his head and survived. When Brown worked his way back to the feet, he did exactly what he needed to do, jumped all over Silva and took away the space to work and even to breath.
A sweep attempt, hand traps, combinations, bodywork. There's always so much going on when Brown is on offense.
And at the start of the second round, Brown didn't make the same mistake as in the first. Why let Silva work for the first half of the round again? He dashed out to meet Silva and immediately got the Brazilian the fence.
Fighting like a man who hasn't eaten in days.
You will remember Dong Hyun Kim's success against Silva came by smothering the Brazilian. Charging into clinches (and often getting hit on the way), Kim would stick to Silva and tire him out. Eventually, Silva's hands were so low and he was so tired that he got hit with a punch he didn't expect and went out like a light.
Cutting and Smothering
I am an unapologetic fan of Brown's style because he has some of the best ring cutting in MMA today. And it's a relatively new development for him too. Around the time of the Mike Swick fight you could see him getting better at it, and against Jordan Mein and Erick Silva he had it down to an art.
It all stems off of herding folks into his strikes. A good ring cutter needs at least two strikes he can work off of—one from the right side and one from the left side—which punish an opponent for circling in either direction.
For Mike Tyson it was the left hook and the stepping right hook. For George Foreman it was the left hook and the right hook to the body. For a kicker with one much stronger side, it might be a roundhouse kick and a back kick from the same leg—but they both come in as attacks from opposite sides of the opponent.
Here's a nice example of Brown's left hook catching Mike Swick as he tries to circle out.
Matt Brown's go to ring cutting strikes are his left hook, when an opponent circles towards it, and his right high kick. The point of meeting an opponent's circling with strikes is not just to amplify the power, however. If a strike is blocked (and most will be) while the opponent circles into it, the strike will momentarily pin him in place, preventing him from circling away.
Brown throwing a right high kick as Jordan Mein attempts to get away from him.
So what Brown, Tyson and so many other good ring cutters will do is throw a hard strike as the opponent circles into it, then tee off as they defend that strike. Every time Brown throws his right high kick, it is blocked by his opponents, but he brings his foot back to the floor and roughs them up with elbows, knees and punches while they have little answer.
He's known as something of a brawler because of his aggression, but Brown has a gift for violence like no other. Where there are great strikers out there who do what they are told, Brown seems to understand why he's doing things. Everything he does in the ring advances him towards finishing the fight.
When an opponent is turtled, Brown doesn't waste time trying to finish them with short, weak punches. He springs up and knees them in the body. He even landed a kick to Silva's body while Silva was turtled, something which makes me uncomfortable but is entirely legal.
What is truly beautiful to watch is Brown's clinchwork. Where Dong Hyun Kim threatened Silva with the takedown and points on the scorecards constantly, Brown was actively making every second in close hell for the Brazilian. When Silva straightened up to steer clear of knees, Brown would hold behind the head and land an upward or roundhouse elbow. When Silva's hands came up, Brown would knee the body or even use a beautiful foot sweep to throw the Brazilian to the floor.
And when Brown steps in for the clinch, he checks his opponent's hands. There is no one right way to fight, but there's a smart way to attempt each approach. If you want to bully people and get them to the fence, checking the hands or moving your head are your best bets of doing it without eating hard straight punches on the way in.
What Brown shows wonderfully is the idea which Okinawan scrapper, Choki Motobu called “meoto-di” or “husband and wife” hands. That is, both hands must be active at all times. Motobu believed that pulling one hand back to the waist or keeping it in your guard was a waste, he loved to get his hands on the opponent, then free one to punch.
Watching Brown work his way in while checking the opponent's hands, grabbing a hold with one hand and pounding away with the other, you can see this idea in full action.
It would be unfair to say that Erick Silva had nothing for Matt Brown, because he quite clearly did. He had the rib shattering body kicks and power punches he is known for, but they were taken away from him. This was Brown's success, not Silva's failure.
Silva's strength is in fights where his opponents will linger at distance. There he can time his kicks or throw his spins. Where he struggles is—like Li Kui from the story—when his opponent pulls him out into the deep water and holds his head under—the clinch-work is what exhausts him and creates a panic in him which forces further mistakes.
The reason I say this was Matt Brown's success more than Silva's failure is because in the two instances when Brown wasn't all over Silva like white on rice, he got hurt with body kicks. Check out this moment from round two:
Brown gives Silva and inch, gets body kicked and hurt, backs off and Silva begins throwing spinning techniques. Brown grits his teeth and steps inside a kick to get back on offence, but that could have ended very badly for Brown.
The fight really was a brilliant one and a technical one—we've only looked at a few aspects of what was going on. We haven't even mentioned Brown's brilliant guard pass straight to the mounted crucifix. Just go and watch this fight. You will not regret it and you will learn about offensive fighting while you're at it.
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