Jose Should Go Headhunting
First things first: I often see an argument on here about whether or not an orthodox fighter can successfully land his rear leg kick on a southpaw’s lead leg, and vice versa. In these debates I’ve contended that it is possible, just as with any strike, but that success in landing depends on timing, how effective the set up, what the opponent does in the moment, etc. While those in denial often cite Chris Weidman’s bone-breaking (albeit technically beautiful) check against Anderson Silva, even this example follows my stance. Footwork, feints, combinations, speed, aggression all have a way of opening up holes on an opponent. Yes, some likelihoods do exist in fighting, but no situational combination has a guaranteed result. At least as of yesterday, Firas Zahabi agrees with my logic here, as I’m sure many other experts do.
On to my main point, what I have not seen discussed here or elsewhere: Jose targeting Conor’s head, not his leg. Simply put, by head-kicking in range, or even just body-kicking, Jose can use his most dangerous weapon to directly harm Conor’s .
Now, to breaking things down a bit, should Jose land his kick on Conor’s upper body, he will force Conor to use his left arm to protect himself, either by employing a single-arm block (using just his left arm) or a more cumbersome, but more effective, double-arm block (stacking up his left arm as a shield, essentially the single-arm block, but using his right hand to catch the kick as it arrives, as to buffer the impact). Whether Conor opts for a single- or double-arm block, the high kick not only ties up Conor’s devastating rear hand, it also weakens more and more with each kick blocked. In order for Conor to save his neck – literally – from a kick about to land, he must sacrifice his left hand, wrist, and forearm, a collection of bones highly susceptible to injury. If Jose can manage to take nearly all the power off Conor’s cross, which would happen should he break that left hand, then Conor’s chances of KO-ing Jose are significantly diminished, along with the chances of Conor winning the fight.
Naturally, this strategy beckons us to consider Jose’s risks in headhunting. Perhaps the biggest deterrent to head kicks in MMA is the takedown, and I think we can agree that Jose is not worried about Conor taking him down, that in fact he would probably welcome it. In past fights, takedown attempts on Jose have tended to be huge wastes of energy – energy that Conor, like any fighter, will need should the fight go 15+ minutes. Furthermore, Jose has proven deadly in the scramble (I can still hear the knee he landed on Chad Mendes), and Jose is vastly more proven on the ground. Maybe Conor has something secret up his trunks, but for all we know Conor is striker, not a wrestler, whereas Aldo has both world-class takedown defense and world-class BJJ. We can safely scratch this off the list.
When it comes to striking, though, could Conor catch Jose with a big counter as he comes upstairs? Absolutely. A straight punch beats a same-side hook, let alone a same-side head kick, and if Conor times this exchange just right then he could win the fight instantly. Also while on the feet, Conor’s angling and evasiveness – whether making effective use of the lean back technique, or some creative bobbing & weaving – could prove so effective that even Jose cannot force Conor to consistently block upstairs.
In the pocket, however, the risk/reward dynamic revisits my earlier claim, “that success in landing depends on timing, how effective the set up, what the opponent does in the moment, etc”. Based on opinions infinitely more experienced than my own, Jose is nightmarishly athletic and deceptive, always seeming to explode his way one step ahead. In fight after fight, he has demonstrated both that he likes stand his ground yet that he does not get cornered easily. Jose has also demonstrated the ability to rush his opponent effectively with punches – generally employing quick, fundamental punching combinations – in order to finish with a hard kick, at times opting to go “Dutch by ending with a liver hook into rear leg kick.
I’ve already explained the primary benefit of finishing these sort of rushes with high kicks; I’ll also clarify another obvious benefit: by going upstairs from the start, Jose will effectively set up his ability to leg kick later. Traditionally, fighters first go low in order to set up going high; in this fight we could actually see the reverse simply because Jose’s rear leg kick is known to be such a weapon. Taking this a step further, later in the fight, in the throes and confusion of a drawn-out war, Conor might begin anticipating Jose’s low kicks should he start landing them effectively, when all of the sudden Jose could come back with a ferocious kick upstairs, ending the fight instantly. So even if Jose opens up head-kicking this fight could still see the more traditional progression play out, only on delay.
To wrap things up, I’m sure this will get bumped and ridiculed should Conor destroy Jose, which is fine by me, though I should clarify now that I’m not saying that any of this will happen, or that Jose will win, or that Conor is any sort of slouch. Let me be clear: Conor is an extraordinary fighter and Conor very well may dominate Jose.
I will claim, however, that leg kicks do not always have to be set up by punches, and that shin bones are stronger than arm bones, and that hard punches tend not to hurt shins, but that hard kicks tend to hurt hands. Most of all, I claim that anything can happen in a fight and that I’m pumped to see this unfold. As of now, if I could pair any two fighters to battle in a trilogy, I’d be perfectly happy to pick these two.