Keep Your Distance

22 May

      Watching Josh Barnett’s dismal performance against Daniel Cormier in their MMA fight this weekend, I was reminded of Cain Velasquez’s losing effort against Junior Dos Santos in their own UFC title bout last year.
      Now Barnett at least managed to survive the five rounds in his Strikeforce Grand Prix tournament final (where Velasquez got KO’d by punches in one round) but he also managed to make Cormier, better known as an Olympic wrestler who came in with only nine MMA fights under his belt, look like a master boxer. The thing that I found similar about both fights was that there was a game plan both men should have followed which would’ve given them their best opportunity for victory… and both men completely failed to follow that plan. Instead, each fighter ended up standing within punching range of their opponent and, not surprisingly, they got punched.
      Simply put, both men should have stayed way on the outside against their opponent and kicked like hell. While this may not have assured either one of them victory, it definitely would have been a better option than trying to trade punches with fighters that everyone knew were better boxers than they were.
      Velasquez does have fairly good kicking skill for a heavyweight who was originally a wrestler, whereas Dos Santos has never shown much inclination to kick. And Velasquez did seem to understand kicking would be to his benefit as he started their fight attempting to throw the roundhouse kick. But then he unwisely stood there in front of his opponent, right within Dos Santos’s punching range, and got himself quickly knocked out.
      Barnett’s mistakes seemed even more blatant. As he entered the cage, Saturday night, the announcers assured everyone he had been working on his kicks with savate experts (savate being a French form of kickboxing) yet once the match started, he began jabbing and looking to outbox Cormier. He barely threw any kicks and essentially spent the first half of the fight trading punches with Cormier. Given that the biggest weakness in Barnett’s game has always been his boxing defense – and Cormier was coming off an impressive performance where he outboxed and knocked out Antonio Silva – all I could think of as I watched this fight was “what the hell is he doing?”
      Though I’ve written in my book, the Principles of Unarmed Combat, that the idea of ranges in combat is something of an artificial construct (for example, you can’t really say “punching range” since some people are capable of kicking from close in) one can still generalize about the distance between two fighters. In both the cases of Velasquez and Barnett, they each should have stayed at very long distance looking to kick their opponent and move away from him any time that opponent sought to close, or they should have been at very close distance looking to clinch with their foe. What they each should not have done (yet what both men did do) is stand there in that middle sort of distance where their opponent could hit them with punches without having to chase after them.
      The idea for both men should have been to use a lot of movement attempting to keep outside the reach of their foes’ punches while firing off the occasional kick – preferably low kicks since they don’t take as long to throw allowing you to put your foot back on the floor more quickly and continue moving away from the opponent. Besides the low roundhouse kick, low sidekicks into the opponent’s knee or shin might have proven useful in keeping their respective opponents at bay. This is particularly true in Barnett’s case as he came in with a considerable height and reach advantage. Though Cormier showed he could kick, himself, actually landing a couple of high roundhouse kicks on Barnett, he is still basically a wrestler and wrestlers rarely show a strong ability to defend against leg kicks. They’re too used to placing their weight on their lead leg and coming forward.
      In Velasqeuz’s case, his own extensive wrestling background may have ended up being his undoing. In wrestling, where competitors are encouraged to come forward and always be aggressive, moving away from your opponent is penalized. So it’s not surprising he might have had trouble adjusting to a style that would have called for him to constantly keep away from an opponent. Barnett, on the other hand, has simply shown a stubborn streak at various times over the course of his career which has cost him. Several of his previous losses came when he ended up standing and striking with superior kickboxers who he might have been able to take down and control. But since it was unlikely he was going to take down a wrestler of Cormier’s caliber, his next best option was to use constant motion and a lot of kicking to try and keep the fight at a distance. Either a failure on the part of Barnett and his corner to understand this proper distancing, or an inability on Barnett’s part to execute such a fight plan, cost him. Now in his mid 30s, after having spent more than a decade competing at the top level of the sport, it may be too late for him to retool his game and recapture his past glory as UFC heavyweight champion.
      Velasquez is a different case. Only 29, with less than a dozen fights under his belt, he still has the potential to improve and, perhaps, get another crack at the title he lost to Dos Santos. He fights again this weekend – against the same Antonio Silva that Cormier knocked out last year – and we’ll see what adjustments he’s made. Interestingly, Velasquez and Cormier come from the same fight team, the AKA gym. Hopefully, for Velesquez’s sake, he paid close attention to his stablemate’s fight with Barnett and learned a lesson for himself in what to do – and what not to do – when it comes to distance.

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One Response to “Keep Your Distance”

  1. Kate Andrews June 23, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    Reblogged this on MMA, Wrestling, Comic and Gaming News.

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