As the UFC made its first trip to Argentina on Saturday night, Santiago Ponzinibbio did his part to make it a memorable evening for his countryfolk. Ponzinibbio met Neil Magny in the main event and despite this seeming like a decent matchup on paper, Ponzinibbio didn’t let Magny into the fight for even a moment. From the opening bell Ponzinibbio was in Magny’s face and Magny was drowning along the fence.
One feature of Magny’s game, which was highlighted by Lorenz Larkin a couple of years back, is his heavy lead leg. Because Magny likes to jab and to make use of his impressive reach, his lead foot is often out ahead of him and toed inwards. This means that any kick to the leg is hard for Magny to avoid, and tends to break his balance and jar his knee when it lands. Rafael dos Anjos easily swept Magny off his feet with the first kick landed in their bout.
Ponzinibbio got to kicking that leg early and often, but it was made even more potent by Magny’s response to being placed on the fence. Getting off the fence or ropes is an art—it requires changes of direction and playing with the opponent’s expectations. Each time Magny visited his corner they said very little about Magny simply standing on the fence and instead focused on Magny “being first” in order to make Ponzinibbio back up. This resulted in Magny simply trying to jab off the fence and getting caught with counters. Sometimes this was a jab, or a right hand, but often as Magny tried to step to his left while jabbing, this would be a hard right low kick.
Ponzinibbio’s jab looked razor sharp as he found Magny’s right eye over and over again. Attacking the eyes with the jab is a great way to cause cumulative damage through bruising and to hide harder punches later on by keeping the opponent wincing. Muhammad Ali used to excel at backhanded jabbing across himself at his opponent’s left eye—the swelling on which would then hide his right hand. Though as Ponzinibbio has become somewhat notorious for a couple of conveniently timed accidental eye pokes in his previous bouts, his accuracy and obvious appreciation for the target here might be a little damning.
The end came in the fifth round as Ponzinibbio landed yet another thudding low kick which had Magny hopping on one foot. A right hand glanced Magny’s jaw at just the right time and the American hit the mat face first. It was a gutsy performance by Magny but Ponzinibbio simply proved a class above that night.
The Holy Trinity of Guard
Darren Elkins fought a typical Elkins fight against Ricardo Lamas: he absorbed horrendous punishment for several rounds and bled like a hemophiliac, but in a break with tradition he never came from behind to finish in that familiar, heart-warming but brow furrowing Elkins experience. Instead after fourteen minutes of beating him, Lamas managed to force a stoppage with one minute to go in the final round.
Lamas’s guard often goes unremarked upon and that is a shame because he plays a deceptively slick little game off his back. When Mirsad Bektic took Lamas down, Lamas recovered half guard (trapping one of Bektic’s legs), then reached across Bektic’s back to take a grip on his lat, and switched his feet to ensnare Bektic’s other leg instead. Notice below that Lamas switches from trapping Bektic’s right leg, to having a single butterfly hook on the "wrong" side.
This looks like a pretty precarious position, and Bektic immediately pressured forward in pursuit of an arm triangle choke as he continued working to sprawl on Lamas’s left knee. But Lamas reached up with his right hand to draw Bektic’s shoulder out of his breathing space, bridged off his right foot, and elevated Bektic into a perfect sweep.
The holy trinity of guard has always been “stand up, sweep, or submission attempt.” From this arm over the back and wrong-side butterfly hook position, Lamas is able to effectively threaten all three. There is the sweep we have just seen, but if the opponent’s pressure comes off, he can post his free hand on the mat and perform a basic technical stand up. If the opponent drives back in, Lamas can sneak his hips out to his right and lock his hands to attack a guillotine—his most effective submission through his MMA career.
Lamas’s back didn’t hit the mat for long against Elkins, but he did a marvelous job of using these same three techniques together to off-balance Elkins and threaten a choke that Elkins felt was severe enough that he rolled to his back to remove the pressure.
A New Light Heavyweight to Care About
In a division as sparsely populated and uninspiring as light heavyweight, a single good victory can get you on the map. That is what happened to Khalil Rountree when he smoked world champion kickboxer Gokhan Saki back in July. Unfortunately, the tables were turned last night as the unknown Johnny Walker made short work of Rountree.
An interesting point from this fight was just how frequently and effectively Walker used feints to desensitize Rountree. There are two reactions to feints: you get flustered or you play it cool and ignore them. Flustered fighters are great for putting in pot shots against, but fighters who work hard to ignore feints often end up slower off the mark when the real attacks come.
Walker spent a full minute feinting and flicking the odd low line side kick, but when he decided to attack he pushed his advantage for all it was worth. Storming in with a kick and some punches, Walker slapped a double collar tie on the flustered Rountree, a great position for a taller man.
The obvious threat from the double collar tie is the knee up the center and, of course, Rountree did everything in his power to prevent that from happening. Except it was two short elbows to the side of the jaw as Rountree rigidly held his posture that did the American in.
Compare Walker’s performance with Gokhan Saki, who failed to do any convincing feinting, psyched himself up, and immediately ate a heavy counter when he stepped in to kick just moments into the first round.
Of course feinting is a two person activity. Subtle feints are sometimes lost on less sharp fighters, and if you aren’t convincing the opponent then your feinting isn’t working. Earlier on Saturday night, Ian Heinisch took a good decision victory over Cezar Ferreira, but in the course of that fight Ferreira was able to get a good handle on Heinisch’s same feint, feint, attack pattern. Heinisch ended up getting caught coming in a lot more than he probably should have.
Overall, UFC Fight Night: Ponzinibbio vs. Magny was a pretty solid card of fights. As the heavyweights were completely absent on Saturday night it will be interesting to see how next weekend’s heavyweight card compares.