Yair Rodriguez picked up arguably the most remarkable knockout of the year this weekend. Not only was it an overhead, ducking elbow, thrown blind, but it happened in the last second of the fight. And this was a fight in which Chan Sung Jung had been controlling with his boxing for the most part, and in which a decision win seemed unlikely.
Jung, the Korean Zombie, came out using feints and his jab well and combined them with forward pressure. Withdrawing from Rodriguez’s flashy and powerful kicks, Jung attempted to draw out punches and was able to slip and counter nicely when they came.
For all the flash and talent, Rodriguez’s idea of counter striking still involves standing static in front of his man and attempting to react to the first move they make. Rodriguez seemed to be rather high on his own defense in this fight, repeatedly trying to shoulder roll blows, taking them flush on his face by accident, and then dancing off with the swagger of a prime Floyd Mayweather. Because Rodriguez would stand completely still and wait for Jung to step in on him before attempting to evade, Jung was able to flick out his jab as a throw away punch and then pitch his right hand at wherever Rodriguez’s head had moved to, and it worked almost every time.
Though the pivot here is actually quite nice.
Ignoring the last second elbow, Rodriguez had his best success when he abandoned the flash. When he went southpaw and then threw his wickedly fast left round kick into the open side, he was able to land body kicks and slow Jung down through the middle rounds. Rodriguez’s low line side kick continued to prove inaccurate as he drew his knee up to his chest before he threw it—telegraphing it. But by coincidence, this stomp to Jung’s lead foot managed to sneak in precisely because the knee wasn’t noticeably raised in Jung’s vision.
With those criticisms aside, Rodriguez did just step in against a top ten featherweight on short notice to pick up the most significant win of his career, and one encouraging takeaway from this fight is that Rodriguez completely avoided being taken down. This is made more impressive by Jung’s reputation for mixing his takedown attempts into his striking flurries. If the match up with Zabit Magomedsharipov ever takes place, Rodriguez’s takedown defense will certainly be of primary importance once the two have ascertained whose flappy boxing and spin kicks are superior on the feet.
In the co-main event Donald Cerrone and Mike Perry squared off in what was apparently a deeply meaningful match to the alumni of the famous Jackson/Winkeljohn team. Perry failed to get on Cerrone during the old timer’s usual slow start and in fact took some time to warm up himself. Cerrone shot one of his awkward takedown attempts as he got close to the fence and Perry easily reversed, tripping his way around Cerrone’s guard altogether.
But Cerrone showed that core precept of grappling: never let the opponent have head control. Keeping the cross face off, Cerrone kept obstructing Perry’s right hand until he was able to turn to his knees and in fact sweep the surprised Perry over with an arm roll.
Cerrone eventually caught a nice armbar which he finished belly down, then announced his plan to return to lightweight for his next bout.
The Fall of a Champion
Meanwhile in Singapore, ONE Championship put on a show headlined by a fantastic scrap between Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon. Fernandes has been the ONE champ for the past five years, and hasn’t lost since December 2010. Yet in a back and forth scrap, Belingon edged the split decision. It was eerily reminiscent of the way that Fernandes training partner, Demetrious Johnson lost his belt in the UFC.
One weird wrinkle of the fight was that Belingon pretty much eschewed every other element of the stand up game and led with jabs or left hooks into spinning back kicks, trying to convince Fernandes to dive gut-first into them. Sometimes he would throw two or three in a row like Bellator’s spinning top Russian, Alexander Shlemenko. Fernandes, meanwhile, restricted himself largely to that other Shlemenko staple, reaching for the high crotch takedown with the lead hand and then throwing the overhand afterwards. In any case it was one of the best fights of the weekend and would be well worth your time to catch up on.
Belingon’s back kick.
Muangthai in Small Gloves
Elsewhere on the ONE card we got to see what Muangthai—the greatest elbow knockout artist in Muay Thai—could do in four ounce gloves. Against Panicos Yusuf, Muangthai clearly felt less comfortable chasing his elbows than he does in the big gloves, at least in the early going. Yusuf used an exaggerated, Joe Louis style uppercut at points to make Muangthai think twice about pursuing the infight.
The card contained fights under four different rule sets—Muay Thai, kickboxing, Sanshou, and MMA, but all were contested in a cage and with four ounce gloves. There was a look of genuine concern the first time that Muangthai lost his footing—as if he hoped the referee hadn’t forgotten this was a kickboxing match. Moments later when Muangthai sent Yusuf down with a punch, he seemed to lose track of where he was again as he punched Yusuf again after the knockdown.
But once Muangthai got going we got to see the pros and cons of the small gloves for an elbow wizard. On the one hand, Muangthai had less target to control when checking his opponent’s hands than when wearing boxing gloves. But as an upshot, Muangthai was able to fully use his hands and actually grasp Yusuf’s hands and wrists with considerable more ease than he would in pure Muay Thai, and he was able to sneak through short punches from his double hand trap that would be difficult to get through with large leather mittens on. Perhaps if he continues under this ruleset we will remember Muangthai’s pure Muay Thai days akin to handicapping a calligrapher by making him wear oven gloves.
A knee raise draws a check from Yusuf, and Muangthai steps down into an upward elbow.
In the MMA portion of the ONE card, Garry Tonon took his third MMA bout and looked great doing it. Tonon has been using these early fights to test his striking and get live rounds in, rather than simply tackling his opponents from the first bell. One drunken Australian fan didn’t appreciate Tonon’s tactics and began chanting “One, two, three, four, Garry take him to the floor!” But Tonon set the trap perfectly. Bobbling his head, Tonon kept throwing an overhand and weaving out to his right—apparently to evade a counter left hook.
When Tonon felt like the time was right, he flowed this into a double leg wherein he hooked one of his opponent’s calves. This style of tripping double leg, particularly combined with a clever set up, is a staple of T. J. Dillashaw’s success.
Later, Tonon used a pair of obvious uppercuts to stand his man upright, which allowed him to hop through into an Osoto-gari or cross-buttock.
The fight came to an end as Tonon hit a third takedown, began passing, and then caught a guillotine as his opponent came up. This was a wonderful advertisement for the recent front headlock instructional series put out by Tonon’s coach, John Danaher. Tonon pursued what Danaher calls a “high wrist” position, with his hand all the way through and up on the opponent’s far clavicle rather than simple across the windpipe. When his opponent rolled to the bottom position to remove the pressure, Tonon adjusted, followed and attacked the choke again.
Tonon might get cracked hard on the feet a little sooner than other hot prospects who stick to what they’re good at, but in terms of his potential as an MMA fighter every fight seems more encouraging than the last.
Finally, Giorgio Petrosyan put on a masterclass against the overmatched Sorgraw Petchyindee. Petrosyan is known for his surgical precision on defense and for that reason we have studied him in lengthy features at Fightland before now. But for some reason the usually cautious Petrosyan came out like a man possessed against Sorgraw and viciously beat the poor Thai. Moreover, there were no defensive lapses caused by an overeagerness to go on offense—Petrosyan would score four good shots and then sway effortlessly out of the way of a return.
Petrosyan is a terrific fighter but often his style can alienate those who don’t care for the “inside baseball” parts of the striking game. If that’s the reason you haven’t watched a Petrosyan fight in a while, look this one up because The Doctor has rarely dished out a more decisive or entertaining beating.
A final surprise from the weekend came from the world combat sambo championship in Romania. Some old school MMA fans still watch these each year hoping to see some young talent who can become the second coming of Fedor Emelianenko, but most of the time they just end up being Blagoy Ivanov instead. Plenty of familiar names were present this year—sometimes in combinations that you might recognize—but Magomed Magomedov stole the show by winning the under 90 kg category by way of cheeky nodder: reminding us all that wrestling in the gi is a longer range game than without, and that the headbutt is a constant threat.