DANIELLE WEST EXPLAINS HOW ONE OPPONENT CAN SUCCEED WHERE ALL OTHERS HAVE FAILED.
Over the weekend TJ Dillashaw emphatically defended his UFC bantamweight title against Renan Barao after encountering Barao 14 months earlier in an astounding upset.
Dillashaw had a strong record going into the fight but most people were betting on Barao. Even with a stellar record he was an underdog up against the might of Barao. No one was able to secure the title from Barao, who enjoyed a reign of victories for over nine years.
This is hardly unprecedented in the UFC; lots of athletes enjoy a lengthy dominance of a given division defeating a succession of opponents thus making them seem almost invincible.
We have seen this with Condit v Diaz, Esparza v Jerdrzejczyk, Pettis v Henderson, Frausto-Gurgel v Fuji, and Weidman v Silva.
These narratives are fascinating to witness; a fighter embarks on a solid winning streak dispatching challenger after challenger until one changes the game in a fashion that has fans asking why it hadn’t been accomplished sooner.
How does one opponent succeed where all others fail? Styles make fights.
Every fighter has a weakness and often times it’s simply a matter of the fighter’s particular style that enables them to capitalise on those holes.
When I compete I always had what I would refer to as a spoiler at the gym. It was usually guy with a particular style that would always give me trouble, other times it would be biological.
For me, I always had to work twice as hard with south paws or long limbed teammates. Many top fighters have spoilers of their own, dominating a division only to have that one opponent they can’t seem to beat, no matter what tactics they use or what skills they develop.
Just as there’s always that one person in your office that irritates you for no reason, there are always those opponents who are just awkward for certain styles.
In the first outing for Dillashaw v Barao, Dillashaw was using angles, movement, feints and footwork to finish a beleaguered Barao in the 5th round. In the rematch Dillashaw’s movement, striking and control set the pace with conviction whereas Barao had noticeably more respect for Dillashaw’s technique before finally succumbing to his opponent in the 4th.
A fighter isn’t going to return to their camp after a loss intent on executing the same strategy, they are going to learn from the mistakes. Barao looked as if he went back and worked hard to improve on all his weaknesses only to find that Dillashaw also made a few critical changes to his own arsenal for their second match.
When Carlos Condit fought Nick Diaz he made it impossible for Diaz to execute his trademark striking simply by not engaging. Condit effectively shut down his opponent’s game plan by circling out to keep off the cage, using jabs or kicks to maintain distance and score points.
Diaz wanted to engage in a brawl whereas Condit just wanted to win the fight and employed an effective strategy to do so. Diaz didn’t even want to bother with a rematch knowing it would most likely be a frustrating repeat of the first.
In September 2004 I was cage side for Anderson Silva v Lee Murray at Cage Rage 8. At that time Lee Murray enjoyed a five fight win streak and swift victory in his UFC debut against Jorge Rivera.
The audience saw Murray as the favourite and watched in shock as Silva proceeded to dismantle Murray over three rounds through strategic use of kicks and counters. Silva worked his calves throughout the first round while Murray hunted for the KO so when the two came out for the second round Murray was on flat feet with welts already appearing on his calves.
Despite being the hometown favourite, Murray lost by unanimous decision. Murray was an intimidating force with nasty knockout power until he met Silva, his spoiler.
Anderson Silva continued on a victorious trajectory to the UFC where he retained the title for over seven years before meeting his spoiler or opposite number in Chris Weidman.
For years people would eagerly await a challenger to see how they might fare against a seemingly unstoppable Silva with a couple of close calls against Sonnen. Silva was an enigma to everyone that contested his title. He made reputed veterans appear underwhelming or amateurish.
Silva, much like his nickname would wait for opponents to come rushing in and attack with uncanny timing to secure devastating effect. Weidman refused to be baited by Silva, choosing instead to pick his shots and force his opponent to engage before securing a gruesome victory.
Weidman enjoyed a second dominant outing with the same game plan and style that troubled Silva so much the first time.
This weekend UFC 190 has Ronda Rousey facing off against Bethe Correia. Like Silva, Rousey has obliterated opponent after opponent often within minutes of the fight with the exception of Miesha Tate.
Rousey has managed to showcase a myriad strengths in areas outside of her trademark arm bar elevating her status as a fighter to heights similar to Anderson Silva in his heyday. With each fight that is announced fans, press and opponents alike try to see if there are any gaps or even fissures in her seemingly impenetrable armour.
Not to mention that Rousey seems to noticeably level up with each successive fight as if she is feeding off the despair of former opponents. Correia has enjoyed comprehensive victories in all of her UFC matches and her mission to take out all of Ronda’s teammates in a quest to beat her has given this fight a compelling twist which has some fans speculating if this is the match where Ronda’s number is up or if Correia will be one of many defeats on her record.