In February, we may have seen the first chink in top British prospect Tom Breese’s armor. After two scintillating performances under the UFC banner to open his account with the promotion, two first round knockouts over Cathal Pendred and Luiz Dutra, Breese found himself forced to the canvas on a number of occasions in London against vastly experienced judoka Keita Nakamura.
As a wrestling standout in England before making it to the biggest stages for MMA, Breese had trouble with the Japanese fighters’ entries, but he is sure he has worked out some of his issues with the position since then.
“You learn from every fight so we’ve absolutely been looking at some things from the last fight,” explained Breese. “I’ve got a wrestling background. I’ve always believed in my wrestling and I feel like I’m strong in that particular area.
“Nakamura showed he could take me down repeatedly with a body lock. He didn’t take me down with one leg attack entry. I stuffed them all. What he did really well was stuff me up against the fence, apply his strong body lock and take me down from there. I’ve been working a lot on defending body lock takedowns and countering the body lock.”
Although Breese’s hands have been heralded all around the MMA universe since his debut last May in Brazil, it was always his grappling base that isolated him from the field in his fledgling pro days on the European scene.
Since moving over to train in Canada, Breese has been working closely with Renzo Gracie’s team in New York. Currently, the jiu jitsu academy has a host of talent including Garry Tonon and Eddie Cummings that are running through their opposition with their signature leg lock games.
The man credited with the development of their leg lock system, John Danaher, is universally praised for his insights into the grappling world and his unwavering quest for knowledge of the game. Having taken many privates with Danaher, Breese agrees with a lot of people who see the decorated black belt as a “genius” in terms of combat sports.
Breese said: “The guy is a genius, he really is. He’s like an encyclopedia of mixed martial arts and grappling. John literally knows everything there is to know. He studies every position in immense detail. When he’s not in the gym coaching he is at home studying. I’ve learned so much from that man and I can’t say enough good things about him.”
There are many grappling techniques that are not completely functional in mixed martial arts. With leg locks, in particular, fighters have often noted that to dive on a leg, they have to sacrifice their heads as their opponents are likely to rain down punches if they see them transitioning into a leg submission.
Breese is confident that Danaher’s system is functional in mixed martial arts having used one of his leg lock entries to gain top position against Nakamura at UFC London.
Breese heads the Fight Pass prelims on the UFC 199 card next Saturday night against fellow welterweight prospect Sean Strickland, a fight that is exclusive to the UFC’s network. With his lofty praise of Danaher’s system, don’t be too surprised if you see the rangy Brit isolate a leg at some point during his clash in California.
“I showcased a bit of his leg lock game in my last fight,” he remembered. “I’m kind of using his system to sweep. I use it to get on top. I used all of the steps he showed me to get into that position against Nakamura, and then when I got there I was able to get top position from it. I just felt if I stayed there I was risking my opponent getting on top of me.
“His system is something that can definitely be used in MMA. If you can add the things he’s doing into a grappling game that’s already quite well rounded, it allows you to attack the whole body. I really like it.”
Having shown a great ability in both the striking and grappling aspects of the sport, it’s hard to know where Breese prefers his fights to take place. Having claimed two knockouts in his first two fights under the banner despite him being an outlier in the grappling world on the European scene, Breese insisted that he doesn’t event think about where the fight is happening, he simply reacts in the moment to whatever his opponent puts forward.
“I just try and get a good flow going once that bell rings. I never even think about ‘oh I better keep this fight standing’ or ‘I better take this guy down’. I just go with the flow and react. I’ll take what my opponent is giving me. It’s all about reaction for me.”
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