My last article, “Luke Rockhold, The Strikeforce King” highlighted briefly the strengths in Rockhold’s game. While his strengths are outstanding, there’s definitely exploitable tendencies in his game.
First off, I’d like to reiterate that Luke Rockhold’s boxing game is high level for most MMA fighters. This sentiment is shared by Andrew Tabiti, a sparring partner for several elite athletes. Tabiti is a prospect from the Mayweather gym.
“His striking is real good, one of the best MMA dudes I spar. He’s got to open the jab more, and he’s going to learn it… I’ve seen him beat a lot of MMA dudes. He’s pretty high up there (relative to other MMA fighters).”
Tells in Sparring with Andrew Tabiti:
Here you’ll notice that Rockhold has a particular range and two modes.
1. Rockhold is particularly comfortable in the long range — defensively and offensively.
He will lean back to barely evade shots, and fully commit (sometimes over-commit) to land a shot. This is particularly true for his left-straights. A clear sign of over-commitment is when the head is past the lead knee.
2. Rockhold is either offensive or defensive.
This is a relatively clear tell: if his center-of-gravity is on his rear leg he’s going to lean back and back-pedal (literally until the action stops). If his center-of-gravity is forward he’s most likely going to lead with his right-hook or mostly with a left-straight lead.
Many times, he’ll throw out his lead hand to cover the left hand of Tabiti — this is to provide a barrier to Tabiti’s jab — a useful strategy in Southpaw vs. Orthodox replicated throughout Johny Hendricks vs. Georges St-Pierre (also amongst many other bouts).
Being heavy on the rear leg means that he’ll retreat and be more defensive. Being forward means he’ll be ready to lead with strikes. Despite Rockhold’s graceful movement, mixing up the two-modes is one element to his boxing that he needs to integrate.
A predictable game is an exploitable game:
While Rockhold’s kickboxing game is not as predictable as his boxing game, if he chooses to rely on his hands more, this factor may be costly.
Rockhold can get away with this because of his sense of timing and footwork. But should his opponent come in with a long-range combination, such as the ones Chris Weidman employed against Anderson Silva in their first bout, Rockhold would be in some trouble. Tabiti could have done so several times, but it was sparring and it’s hard to pull-back power on long-range combinations.
Long range combinations are designed to counter the lean back, because once one employs the lean, their center-of-gravity is so heavy on the rear-leg that they must re-adjust it back to the center before (quickly) moving with balance again. This is a split-second timing that’s so very exploitable by long-range punchers.
Against Costa Philippou:
Will this be a big concern? Perhaps. Anytime there are clear tells and distinct modes, there’s some degree of trouble long as the opponent studies it. Rockhold generally doesn’t counter on defensive mode — if an opponent isn’t punished for missing, the only thing they’re depleting is the gas tank. In high-level combat sports, most will only miss for so long.
But the hole to exploit is not particularly Philippou’s strength in that he usually comes with mid-range combinations. Sometimes though, Philippou does throw long-range combination setups and Rockhold must be cautious of his own two modes — if he wants a great showing with his hands, Rockhold most not over-commit either weight distribution as he does in boxing sparring.
As always, thank you for reading. Stay tuned for post-fight breakdowns of UFC Fight Night 35. To stay updated on future articles simply follow me on Twitter or add me on Facebook, the links are located below.