UFC 221 Breakdown: Yoel Romero, Soldier of Knockouts

Discussion in 'Standup Technique' started by The MM Analyst, Feb 13, 2018.

  1. The MM Analyst Blue Belt

    The MM Analyst
    Apr 27, 2015
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    UFC 221 was situated amid a long run of lackluster fight cards. The idea that the UFC’s product has become watered down is not new by any means, but the point has never felt as salient as it does today. With a genuinely fascinating main event between two elite fighters – Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero and Luke Rockhold – and little else on the main card to justify the $60 price tag, UFC 221 did nothing to buck the over-saturation trend.

    Though it seems to be increasingly difficult to sustain interest throughout an entire card, fighters like Romero and Rockhold are the reason we keep coming back. Both men have long been staples in the middleweight top five. Rockhold recently picked up a win over a streaking Dave Branch after dropping the middleweight title. Romero picked up wins over most of the contenders in the division before losing his shot at the interim title – which would later become the real title – to Robert Whittaker.

    Ever since Rockhold lost his title to Michael Bisping, entropy has taken its toll on the middleweight division, plunging it into chaos. Bisping proceeded to take an inconsequential fight with an aged Dan Henderson before losing the title to Georges St. Pierre, who went on an illness-induced hiatus shortly after taking the belt. Just when it looked like the belt was exactly where it belonged, safe and sound in the hands of Whittaker, a staph infection forced the creation of yet another interim belt. To complicate matters all the more, Romero missed weight, and with it his eligibility to obtain the interim title on a win over Rockhold.

    Because MMA often strives to provide its audience with the most hilarious possible outcome, Romero knocked Rockhold out cold at UFC 221, winning the fight, but not the interim belt. But because Romero is the obvious number one contender – having just brutally finished the only man capable of contesting his position – he may as well be called the interim champion, as a rematch with Whittaker for the championship seems inevitable. Anyways, let’s move on to the fight itself:

    The Kicking Game
    A significant part of Rockhold’s offense on the feet is built around kicking the open side. Rockhold uses his kicks to puncture the gas tank of his opponents and rack up points at long range, forcing them to commit to attacking and open themselves up to his check hook.

    When facing another southpaw like Romero, the soft, squishy parts of the stomach are less accessible, hidden behind the back and shoulders. Kicking the open side in a closed-guard (same stance) matchup requires using the lead leg, which can be clunkier as the necessary switch leaves openings for counters or takedowns.

    Although an open-guard matchup closes the rear leg’s route to the body, it opens up the outside leg kick. Rockhold used these to great effect early.

    The outside kick to the calf has exploded in popularity recently. Not only do they make catching more difficult, as they won’t ride up the thigh, but checking becomes more difficult too. If an opponent merely lifts their leg, hoping to create a shin-on-shin collision, the kick will often catch the calf and knock it aside anyway.

    After eating a couple of calf kicks and deciding he didn’t like them, Romero began checking. Instead of lifting his lead leg straight up and eating it on the calf anyway, he would keep the leg on the floor and turn it outward so Rockhold was forced to kick into the hard, bony surface of Romero’s shin with his instep. Romero even managed to wobble Rockhold off a hard collision between shin and instep, though his own leg didn’t make it out unscathed either.

    When Romero started returning leg kicks, a contrast in their ability to take them became clear. Romero’s square stance allowed him to maintain stability even when he took the full impact of the kick. Because of Rockhold’s bladed stance and his tendency to further blade his stance on retreat when Romero showed him something, Romero’s leg kicks would catch the back of his knee and punt him out of stance.

    Rockhold repeatedly showed a lead-leg front kick to exploit the open side, but they were largely ineffectual. The lead-leg front kick is difficult to throw from a wide stance, as it requires the rear leg close to the lead leg in order to give the hip room to drive through. Rockhold attempted to narrow his stance by stepping his rear leg in or hopping forward on the kick, but they still came out having more of a knee-snap than the driving of the hip which gives the kicks real power.

    Most MMA fighters who excel with the lead-leg front kicks tend to set them up by marching forward. Squaring the stance presents a dual threat with the front kicks, as opponents are left guessing which leg comes up, and stepping through with the rear leg affords the kick gut-piercing power.

    Rockhold’s Boxing Woes
    Rockhold has received heavy criticism for his boxing in the wake of his last couple fights, especially after getting pasted by Michael Bisping, popping his head out of his defensive shell and straight onto a left hook. Against Romero, he took great measures toward justifying most of that criticism.


    In the early portion of the fight, Rockhold’s offensive boxing consisted mostly of one-off jabs and jab-straight combinations. There’s a lot of depth that can be expressed in just those simple attacks, but Rockhold displayed little of that subtlety. He threw in a consistent pattern, repeating the same jab-straight combination over again with no variation in timing or rhythm. Whenever Rockhold stepped in deep with the jab, Romero knew to cover up and back away from the straight.

    Romero, on the other hand, possesses a deep understanding of rhythm. Part of what makes Romero so unpredictable is his ability to manipulate his rhythm in order to throw off his opponent’s reactions. He’ll stalk about lazily, lulling opponents to sleep, before breaking the pattern with an explosive burst.

    Continued here...

    Follow me on twitter @RyanAWagMMA for more combat sports analysis
  2. Hotora86 Karate isn't back. It never left.

    Mar 26, 2009
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    Land of Po
    Are you Ryan Wagner?
    Cool read but long as fuck.
    Not well suited to the ADHD mentality of Sherdog.
    j123 likes this.
  3. The MM Analyst Blue Belt

    The MM Analyst
    Apr 27, 2015
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    Yeah, that's me. At least I didn't post it in the heavies...
    Valhoven likes this.
  4. j123 Pro Sherdogger 500-0-1

    Jul 9, 2013
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    Let me bang mang
    Lots of great analysts there as well

    "Is Conor the sign that humans have ascended past greatness? "
    Sano and The MM Analyst like this.

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