Last week, we discussed the one note nature of Glover Teixeira's game, and asked the question whether being so focused on one strategy makes a fighter specialized or limited. The answer is always, always limited.
There is a great deal to be said for that Zen influenced approach to martial arts—the focus on a tokui-waza or favorite technique which one masters inside and out—but if you're not building set ups for concealing it and follow-ons from failing it, you're just one dimensional.
At everyturn, Jon Jones removed Glover Teixeira's right hand lead, or was out of the way when it came. He knew what was coming at all times, and did his best to not only deny that one weapon, but also to counter it and, most interestingly, to damage it.
In the first round Jones was able to entwine Teixeira's power hand with an overhook. Here would be a good point to bring up the difference between a wrestling clinch and a defensive clinch. The boxing and wrestling clinches use the same positions but different philosophies with regard to the relationship between the overhook and the underhook.
The Wrestling Clinch and the Boxing Clinch
In pure wrestling, perhaps the most powerful clinch position is the double underhooks—it is the position that you will always pummel towards. You can lift both sides of an opponent, you can move to their back, or you can suck their hips in and trip them to the floor. Simply, it is very effective for manhandling an opponent.
In boxing, however, where lifting and tripping are obviously illegal, double underhooks leaves both of an opponent's hands free to land short, slappy punches to the head (and leaves them free to sneak in the disproportionately effective and easily hidden rabbit punch). Not a big deal in terms of power, but if you're taking dozens over the course of a fight, it can really start to add up.
The double overhooks is a relatively dangerous position in wrestling. The opponent can apply lift from underneath both of your armpits and shuck your weight around. It can be largely a defensive position in a match between equally skilled wrestlers. In boxing, however, the overhook is the most powerful method to tie up an opponent's arm and prevent him from landing any form of strike with it.
Jones was able to tie up Teixeira's right arm with an overhook, and as Teixeira attempted to slide it out and start throwing, punches, Jones drew Teixeira's elbow across between their bodies and rapidly cranked the arm upwards, creating a standing Americana. This is just the latest example of a beautiful, classical technique being employed in a mixed martial arts setting.
The standing Americana.
This standing shoulder lock appears in old school catch wrestling, Japanese ju-jitsu, Judo as an application of ude-garami, and even Chinese chin na and Okinawan Karate. It can be seen in the Gracie Jiu Jitsu self defense curriculum, demonstrated by Helio Gracie (as I am sure will be flogged like a dead horse on the next Gracie Breakdown), and was likely one of the original Kano jiu jitsu (later to become Judo) techniques taught to the Gracie's by Maeda. You will even remember Mike Tyson attempting a similar thing impulsively against Francois Botha. And here is Royce Gracie demonstrating it in his rather good self defense book.
It can be applied well on the ground from guard should the opponent get lazy and place a hand to the ground, or panic in trying to pull out of your overhook, as famously demonstrated by Frank Mir against Petey Williams.
Should a fighter not react fast enough to the overhook Americana, his shoulder can be torn apart, and should he react quick enough and strain against it, the pressure can take it's toll on his elbow instead. Glover Teixeira was significantly injured in the opening round of the contest and called for ice on his shoulder between rounds from that point on. I doubt Teixeira could have won had he gone uninjured, but the efficacy of Jones' strategy could easily be seen.
Defanging the Snake / The Autumn Leaf Strike
The principle in action here, whether Jones deliberately demonstrated it or was simply experimenting, is a powerful and under appreciated one. If a fighter has an especially dangerous weapon, it is worthattacking not the fighter, but the weapon itself. Whether this is through limb destruction such as placing an elbow in front of the path of a fist, or the Indonesian and Filipino concept of “defanging the snake” (striking into the opponent's striking arm), or through specifically going after a limb in the clinch.
One need only watch Yodsanklai Fairtex at his best to see this principle in action. There are plenty of fighters from outside of Thailand who have a cracking right hand and try to force it on their man while gritting their teeth through the kicks and clinch. Yodsanklai used to deal with this by throwing his ludicrously hard southpaw left roundhouse across into the opponent's forearm and biceps. Yodsanklai's has been able to quicken the end of several of his fights due to broken arms, and plenty of severely bruised ones that became ineffective for combat as well.
Rocky Marciano, the great heavyweight boxing champion, had terrible trouble finding the mark against Roland La Starza. He struggled to sneak any of his winging shots through La Starza's guard, and found himself beaten to the punch on many occasions. Marciano focused his incredible punching power on La Starza's arms themselves. When the two men approached the ropes, Marciano flurried against La Starza's upper arms, and out in the open he threw leaping left hooks at the inside of La Starza's left biceps. By round eleven of their 1953 meeting, La Starza's arms were sagging and Marciano put him away.
And certainly, nothing takes the will out of a great kicker as well as hacking away at his legs. There is an overwhelming focus on attacking the head above all else in MMA, or the legs when in the clinch, but everything is a target and there are benefits to damaging any part of the body.
One of the most practical ancient sources of advice on both combative strategy and philosophy isThe Book of Five Rings by the legendary Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. The author described the attacking of the weapon arm and hand of your opponent as the Autumn Leaf Strike, because slashing at the hand forces the opponent to drop their weapon as a leaf falls from a tree. In unarmed combat there is obviously nothing to drop, but from Filipino Eskrima to Japanese swordsmanship to European fencing, the principle of striking the attacking hand is clearly multicultural.
Denying the Cross Counter
But that was just one chance element of Jones' game. He didn't come in relying on cranking Teixeira's shoulder at every opportunity… it was just a beautiful bonus. For the most part, Jones was taking away Teixeira's one, predictable offence—the cross counter.
Each time an opponent punches, Teixeira likes to throw his right hand over the top. Rather than flat out refuse to punch (as I thought Jones might after his being clinically out boxed by Alexander Gustafsson for three rounds), Jones showed great improvement in his hands and jabbed and hooked the breaks off of Teixeira. What you will notice is that Jones' head wasalways dropping below his lead shoulder.
Any time Glover Teixeira swung back at Jones with his right hand, there was nothing but shoulder there to hit. John Hackleman kept asking Teixeira to insure the overhand was coming over between rounds, hoping to come down over the shoulder, but accomplishing this is very uncomfortable.
Jones throws a lead, gets down behind his shoulder to deflect the incoming right hand, and overhooks the arm again.If you know how to wrestle even a little, this duck-and-catch into the tie up can win you a street fight.
I used a video of a young Floyd Mayweather Sr. last time to demonstrate the awkward, pawing punches that come out when an opponent tries to get over his lead shoulder, here he is making a young, angry man look very silly in the same way. Notice the downward, slapping swings that result from trying to get over Mayweather's lead shoulder.
Checking the Right
When Jones wasn't punching and getting out of the way of Teixeira's obvious swings, he was placing his left hand on Teixeira's right to check the punches. You can't punch through someone's hand, you're just giving them the parry, so you have to swing around. This adds time to the punch and the checking fighter can feel that coming.
Jones checks Teixeira's right hand, Teixeira swings wide around it and Jones is out of the way.
It was an early warning for Jones, and when Teixeira wasn't trying to swing around Jones' checking lead hand, Jones would turn his shoulder over and land a clipping elbow or shoot a jab through the middle.
Jones shoots some nice jabs off of his check.
Checking both hands to a turnover elbow, a Jones staple and a face-breaker.
Late in the fight Jones battered Teixeira along the fence with constant checking to elbows, before moving to the clinch. Where Ryan Bader gave Teixeira the room to swing off of the fence with power and the chance to get through, Jones' constant elbow strikes insured that he was always behind his elbows. This is a very old school style of boxing, sometimes known as “folding” where one brings the head in behind the biceps and forearm to create a barrier.
The most famous examples of this are George Foreman and the man who taught him this method, Archie Moore. Moore, the Old Mongoose, fought to a ripe old age, knocking out more men than any other professional boxer and doing so out of his cross-armed stance.
Jones showed a little bit of this late in the fight more as a pose than an effective defense, but his hiding behind his elbow strikes earlier in the round showed this stance in action.
Jones demonstrating the cross arm guard, and Glover struggling to work it out.
Here Jones throws a southpaw left elbow inside of Teixeira's right hand. Notice how the raised elbow serves as a guard as Teixeira's swing follows through.
Here Jones breaks from the clinch to land elbows. He gets inside Teixeira's longer swings, and is always covered as Teixeira's punches follow from the same side.
Another lovely moment worth noting was Jones' shoulder bump from the clinch. Controlling both of Teixeira's wrists, Jones landed a beautiful shoulder bump straight to Teixeira's face. This technique is so undervalued. A large, ungloved surface, with the power of the legs behind it, driven into the nose can produce great damage. Nick Diaz opened up Takanori Gomi's nose with this technique in their PRIDE meeting.
Many traditional martial arts contain forms where the wrists of the opponent are held and the shoulder or forehead is driven into the opponent's nose. It was a favorite of Mas Oyama and appears in many of his books. So many MMA fighters forget the enormous creative opportunities opened by the rules of MMA and forget that their hands can be used in a preventative capacity, with the rest of the body serving as the weapon.
It would be unfair of me to praise Jones' incredible shutting down of his one dimensional, but dangerous opponent, without stating my distaste for his dirtier methods. Jones got away with murder at UFC 172, extending his hands towards Teixeira's face and pacifying Teixeira with the threat of running—eye first—onto one of Jones' deliberately splayed fingers.
The use of the lead hand to maintain distance and press the face isperfectly permissible in MMA. In fact, I love it. There's nothing cooler than watching Jones maintain the distance on the side of his opponent's head, or land an oblique kick to the lead leg as he holds his opponent back.
Jones uses the palm on Teixeira's dome to keep range while changing stances and landing a tasty oblique kick, which Teixeira is blind to.
What I take umbrage with is the obvious threat of the eye poke.
When Big John McCarthy is in the cage during Jones' matches he immediately makes clear that the hand should come out closed or with the fingers closed and the palm vertical. Dan Mirgoliotta made a right mess of the main event at UFC 172 by utterly failing to take control of the fight. Jones realized that Big Dan was not going to punish him, and he walked over the referee as a result.
The face of the opponent can be posted on with the hand upright and the fingers tightly held together. Jones can axe kick and spinning elbow with ease, I severely doubt that he can't learn to hold his fingers together and upright when extending his lead hand.
What's more, the palm can be posted on the opponent's face with a closed hand. Make a fist, bend it back at the wrist and you'll find that your fist opens slightly to expose the palm, but that your fingers are still curled to your hands.
The problem isn't that Jones doesn't know this though. The problem is that Jones opts to fight dirty when the referee in with him isn't authoritative enough to take action. We have long known that you get a free eye poke in any fight—Josh Koscheck has been using that get out of jail free card for years—but with a repeat offender like Jones or Koscheck, a good referee should be jumping on that nonsense from the start.
In spite of the silliness with eye pokes, I was enormously impressed with Jon Jones at UFC 172. He showed continued growth even in the areas that let him down against Alexander Gustafsson (that lovely jab, sharp shooting and lead hook could really help him out against the Swede). But, I was also impressed with Glover Teixeira.
Teixeira, despite being around forever and on a twenty fight winning streak, was rushed into this title shot. The names on his record gave no indication that he could do anything against Jones, and we hadn't seen him tested against any kind of rounded light heavyweight spare an ageing Rampage Jackson.
We all knew he was one dimensional on the feet, throwing that right hand over and over and over, and that he didn't have the wrestling to use his Jiu Jitsu pedigree against Jones. What we didn't know was that he could take a tremendous drubbing for five rounds and look like he could take another two.
The man is as hard nosed and passionate as they come, and a real class act. No excuses, no complaints when Jones continued to throw his fingers out, Teixeira just resigned himself to keep walking forward and keep trying to do what he does.
Check out this related story:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.