Masvidal vs. Cerrone: Controlling the Inside Line

Fightland Blog

By Jack Slack

Photo by Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

UFC Fight Night: Shevchenko versus Pena was a decent night of scraps with a couple of cracking finishes. Valentina Shevchenko emerged as the next challenger for the women’s bantamweight title, Francis Ngannou added a tenth knockout loss to Andrei Arlovski’s record, and Jason Knight rallied to choke Alex Caceres in the second round of their bout. But it is hard to argue with Jorge Masvidal being the star performer of the night as he picked apart and then finished the great Donald Cerrone, arguably twice, and snatched away the momentum that Cowboy had been building in the welterweight class.

Jorge Masvidal’s great issue through his career has been a reluctance to push an advantage. Always a great defensive fighter, he would sit back, happy that his opponent could do very little to hurt him, and then lose a decision on inactivity. In his most recent bouts, however, Masvidal has begun to capitalize on his sharp technique by pushing the action and staying on the offensive. The Masvidal who showed up to fight Donald Cerrone seemed worlds apart in attitude from the man who has dropped a trio of controversial split decisions over recent years.

Of primary importance to this bout was Masvidal’s jab. A probing, blinding jab rather than a thudding headache-maker, this was detached from Masvidal’s footwork and rather than drawing power from the floor it was an arm punch. Jabbing heavy with the weight of the body is great, BJ Penn smashed a lot of noses doing that, but there is just as much to say for a well targeted, high frequency arm-jab. When Cerrone connected on a jab he would jack Masvidal’s head back:

But Cerrone landed just ten strikes to Masvidal’s head through the course of the entire fight, Masvidal continued to paint and flick Cerrone with the jab, defending everything that came back. Masvidal’s snappy, well-concealed jab was able to get through which Cerrone’s switch kicks and swings found nothing but Masvidal’s forearms for the most part.

Much of Masvidal’s game in this bout was to control the inside lines. Joe Gans said it over a hundred years ago: ‘Straight hitting gets boxers’ plums’. Cerrone has always had trouble with his long limbed, looping punches being slower than his shorter opponents punches up the inside. Nate Diaz showed this most famously, crowding Cowboy and shooting straight down the inside.

Masvidal’s advance was accompanied by a constant picking up of the lead leg. Raising the knee high he would step in behind it, snapping off the jab when appropriate.

Masvidal threw some push kicks to the body and the lead knee, which were useful in irritating Cerrone and messing with his balance between kicks, but the raised knee served a few purposes. Cerrone is a fast kicker and a great low kicker, constant forward pressure does a lot to throw that off, but to prevent the slide back and low kick raising the knee on entry can often deny the target altogether. What’s more, if the kick comes anyway the leg is at least unburdened by the weight of the fighter and can simply be turned into the path of the kick.

Here Masvidal’s foot is on the way down as Cerrone tries to time the kick.

And even if the fighter can’t turn his shin out in time at least he is taking the kick on the calf of his leg as it hangs coiled in the air, free to sway with the blow, rather than taking a well-timed kick on a leg which is flat on the floor.

Just as a jab or a stiff arm occupies the center line and makes it difficult for an opponent to swing around it, coming in behind the high lead knee can also complicate the path of a round kick. If the fighter can get in quick enough his leg can jam the opponent’s round kick at the thigh or knee. This is something you will see often in knockdown style karate. Hideyuki Ashihara, an accomplished Kyokushin competitor who broke off to form his own style of knockdown karate (of which Semmy Schilt was a practitioner) believed in a ‘gouging knee’ which was delivered from this high knee position with a drive of the hips into the thigh of an opponent as they attempted to round kick. Of course a good low kicker is going to fade back and try to time your leg coming down and try to work around it in other ways—strategies and counter-strategies as with everything in the fight game. Certainly you will notice the heavy bruising on Masvidal’s lead leg even as he kept the low kicks in mind throughout, it is a measure which complicates the job of the kicker, rather than shuts him down completely.

A final important aspect of Masvidal’s high knee and methodical, short-stepping advance was that it seemed to completely remove one of Cerrone’s most effective weapons in recent years. After being crowded by Nate Diaz, Cerrone developed an evil intercepting knee strike which winded anyone who tried to run in and crowd him. The hard headed body puncher, Rick Story found this out first hand. A well timed knee or two can have a fighter reluctant to step in, even if he knows he will be picked apart at distance by the longer Cerrone. Eddie Alvarez, Evan Dunham and Jim Miller all suffered the same knee strike and it proved a game changer for Cerrone in dealing with pressure. But with Masvidal’s high knee obstructing the path to his body as he stepped in, and his very measured movements and reluctance to rush, the knee just didn’t seem to be there for Cerrone even if he had wanted it.

Masvidal’s jab vexed Cerrone and blinded him each time the two came close enough and it meant that Cerrone often had to choose between backing off or attempting to throw strikes blind. Midway through the first round Masvidal began sneaking the right hand through after the jab and troubling Cerrone.

It seemed as though the right hand would play a bigger role in the coming rounds, if Cerrone hadn’t been countered off his favourite switch kick in the dying moments of the first round. As a flustered Cerrone threw up his left kick, Masvidal took it on his right side and attempted to parry the kick across himself with his left hand, coming up into a left hook and a right which put Cerrone down. This likely should have been the end of the fight as Herb Dean stepped in before the round had ended, but mistakes happen. Worse was that as Cerrone stood wobbling, then sat on his stool in complete glassy-eyed silence, none of the parties who could stop the fight chose to do so.

When the fighters fell into a clinch early in the second round Masvidal immediately began pounding Cerrone’s famously vulnerable midsection with knees until Cerrone broke away.

In the second round the exact same parry into counter dropped Cerrone again to end the fight.

Punching off parried kicks is an art and you don’t really see it enough in MMA. When K-1 began to tell Buakaw off for extended periods holding opponents legs, he began to drag kicks across himself and come up punching with the parrying hand. Dragging an opponent’s kick past the centerline effectively puts the parrying fighter on a dominant angle without him having to step to achieve it.

Giorgio Petrosyan does a similar trick, dragging his opponent’s kick across his body but dropping it as his hand reaches six o’clock and coming straight up with an uppercut. For more on that sort of stuff I suggest reading The Art of Catching the Kick.

Jorge Masvidal walked Donald Cerrone down, shooting straight down the center, and when Cerrone’s favourite circular strike came back at him, he hit his counters perfectly. A terrific performance from Masvidal and hopefully this scientific aggression carries through to his future fights.


Check out this related story:

Jorge Masvidal Is the Bad Guy the UFC Needs Right Now