Despite the short bout, there’s a lot to be said about the fight between Luke Rockhold and Costa Philippou. In my pre-fight article, I did a breakdown on Rockhold’s weight distribution.
As expected, Rockhold employed his defensive mode — pulling back while using footwork and sense of timing to evade his opponent’s shots. But rather than leading with his left and over-committing like he does against his sparring partner, Rockhold employs other options. And even better, rather than being in a purely defensive mode when fading, he employs the counter right-hook. Rockhold’s weapons of choice were the counter right-hook and rear-leg kicks.
Stance and Range:
Rockhold employs a narrow stance with his lead-hand out — making his lead hand the first line-of-defense for incoming punches.
In terms of upper body, he keeps it narrow like most boxers, and keeping the upper body narrow means providing a smaller target for the opponent. Having the lead-hand out and employing parries is a common Southpaw vs Orthodox strategy when one (or both) fighter doesn’t employ a good jab (e.g. Georges St Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks).
Having the lead-hand out means that it’s closer to the opponent, which betters the timeframe and safety to parry a straight punch in the long-distance. Also, in a Southpaw vs. Orthodox matchup, the lead-hands are in the same position so there’s a distinct barrier for the jab [Here’s John Wayne Parr briefly on the topic].
Also do notice that for the most part, Rockhold would match his lead-hand to Philippou’s lead-hand or chin.
Fade and Righthand
Generally, it’s more dangerous to parry with the opposite hand (because it gives the opponent’s left-hand a window to strike — usually mid-range left-hook in MMA). However, if long-distance range is kept by the back-pedal and the lean-back is employed at the same time, Rockhold can often safely cross-parry while avoiding both of Philippou’s hands. This gets the opponent to over-commit, fall slightly forward, miss and be off-balanced. With all this, the right-hook counter then comes into play. Being the more rangy fighter also helps in this scenario.
The Roundhouse Setup
It’s generally easier for either fighters to land a rear-kick in Southpaw vs Orthodox bouts [coined Open Guard by the consistently brilliant Jack Slack]. This is why you see the Pettis brothers, and some of Duane Ludwig’s fighters change stances to employ them.
Rear-kicks (mid-section and above) in open guards are more difficult to defend largely because it’s more difficult to check it with either leg. Most MMA fighters cannot afford to stand taller and raise their rear-leg to check it, and using the lead-leg to check compromises stance even more.
Also, the rear-hand as a barrier to high-kick is much less reliable than the lead-hand barrier due to strength of posture and position to cushion it.
But all of this isn’t even the most interesting aspect. It’s the way Rockhold set up the final kicks. He mentioned post-fight that he set it up with going high and then to the body. This gets the opponent to think about the high kick and then going to the body becomes easier (hand-positioning and expectation) — it was a tactic used by GSP against Hendricks as well.
But what he didn’t mention: in combination with all of this was how he cut off the cage and drew Philippou into his kick.
Options Near the Cage
At the cage, there are three options in direction: left, right, or forward. Going forward meant a likely clinch, and as Kenny Florian mentioned, it’s not a good idea for Philippou to clinch with Rockhold. Further, by jabbing and then stepping to the outside of Philippou’s lead leg, Rockhold pushes him back to the fence and creates one probable option: the direction to the left of Rockhold.
By effect, this makes it a perfect time to deliver a kick: Rockhold is able to deliver a full-powered strike as Philippou moves into the kick without much base. In this context, the kick’s power is multiplied to a vulnerable target: the liver.
Cutting the angles off with arced punches is something Philippou is used to. If it was a left-hook, he wouldn’t be in too much trouble. However, arced kicks have a completely different distance, and he was hit with a truly fantastic setup.
As always, thank you for reading. Stay tuned for more 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.