In MMA, people often evaluate skill by experience. But sometimes an immature fighter can beat a more mature, skilled opponent. How does that happen?
Last August at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro, Sengoku veteran Stanislav Nedkov knocked out Luiz Cane. Most people thought Cane’s superior striking would make the difference in the fight. But there is a dead angle, or a blind spot.
Nedkov uses mostly right hooks in his striking, which is his dominant hand. What he did against Cane was use mostly right hooks, followed by a left hook. Nedkov’s right hook comes from an angle which makes it hard to see.
Cane was basically looking to stand in a position far away from the right hook. He also had a reach advantage on Nedkov, so he could utilize footwork and a variety of strikes. But Nedkov was throwing when Cane stepped forward or tried to counter-strike.
With 62 seconds left in the first round, Cane thought Nedkov was damaged and stepped inside to a more high-risk position. Nedkov threw a right hook-left hook combination, both coming at a dead angle toward his opponent. This angle is especially important in MMA, where one shot in close quarters can be enough to finish with small gloves.
For this fight, Cane’s stance and positioning affected the finish. Nedkov watched his opponent and made a move; there is both risk and merit behind it. If a fighter can understand and identify the risk and merit, even an immature fighter can have a chance at an upset.
Why do fighters repeatedly drill the same striking combinations? Because reflex is faster than thinking. Having a go-to pattern can be useful in a tight situation; Nedkov successfully used his reflex against Cain’s strikes and countered with a combination.
For reference, if a fighter’s reflex and strategy goes to a higher level, more competitive standup “chess games” happen, like I wrote in the link below:
In this fight, Cain Velasquez tried to counter with hooks when Junior dos Santos threw punches and moved back to a normal position.
When these things catch your eye, your joy in watching fights is certainly improved.
Big thanks to Chris Nelson (Sherdog) for English editing.