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The Lion Killer

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468 years ago the ‘Lion Killer’ choke first made its appearance in a painting involving Hercules strangling a Lion to death. 50 years ago BJJ legend Reylson Gracie draws inspiration from this painting renaming BJJ’s ‘technical choke’ the Portuguese version of the lion killer, ‘Mata Leão’ and thus one of the most notorious BJJ chokes was born.

In 2016, the lion killer might be more commonly known as the ‘rear naked choke’ but it is still as destructive as its Brazilian name suggests and Saturday’s UFC 196 proved that not once, but twice, dropping the jaws of MMA fans and fighters the world over.

The evening’s co-main event saw a bantamweight title bout between newly crowned champion Holly Holm, coming off the most prolific hype train derailment in MMA history, facing former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate who was riding her own four-fight winning streak. Despite both fighters credentialed backgrounds, most saw this as a one sided affair with Holm being too much for Tate on the feet, leading to her first successful title defense and a great set up for a rematch with Rousey.

Miesha Tate had other plans.

After following the predicted narrative in the first round with Holm keeping Tate away with kicks and point scoring her way to the bell, the second round showed us the beginnings of what would be the champions downfall. Tate scored a takedown early in the second round and controlled Holm from half guard for most of the round. Holm attempted a buck and escape only for Tate to take her back with 1:30 left in the second frame. From here  Meisha had everyone on the edge of their seats as she dove for rear naked chokes continuously, at one point having the submission locked in under the champion’s chin. Holm was able to hand fight, break the grip and ultimately survive the round, but this predicted one side affair was now a real fight.

The next two rounds saw a resurgence from the weary champion with Holm going back to her bread and butter that saw success in round one, deciding to pick Tate apart from the outside with long jabs and even longer front kicks. Tate constantly attempted to get in close and build off the triumph she showed in the second round, but ultimately rounds 3 and 4 belonged to Holm.

Coming into the fifth round it was ‘do or die’ for Miesha, having lost rounds 1, 3 and 4. Holm made her first mistake in this round and that was not clearing distance after a right-hand attempt. This allowed Tate to shoot in and get a takedown late in the round and transition straight to the champions back. Holly’s second mistake happened here when she tried to get back to her feet without properly defending Tate’s arms. The challenger was able to lock in the rear naked choke as Holm stood up and despite a spirited attempt at an escape with a roll, Tate was able to flow beautifully with Holm and fall straight into a full rear naked choke with both hooks in, choking The Preacher’s Daughter unconscious.

This finish showed just how quickly the rear naked choke can go from an attempt to a devastating finish. When Tate fully sunk in the choke on the standing Holm, there was really nothing Holm could do. The nature of the choke grip makes it nearly unbreakable when it is fully locked as the chokers hand is behind their opponents head. This mixed with the submission being a very strong blood-restricting choke means the fighter only has a few seconds to attempt their escape before they are rendered unconscious. Holly’s only possible saving grace in this fight ender was Tate’s body positioning, initially not having her hooks in meant Miesha wasn’t controlling Holm’s body at all. This allowed Holly to try a rolling escape but this allowed Tate to get away from the fence and gave her space to get her hooks in. With the fully locked choke and both leg hooks in for control, you can see where the lion killer choke gets its name as there is no way a human being can fend off such a formidable submission. A fantastically executed choke and a deserving new champion at 135lbs.

After such a shocking finish to the co-main event, the crowd had no time for the adrenaline to dissipate as up next was the main event we had all been waiting for, the trash talking heavy preamble and the intense staredowns all came down to this. Featherweight champion Conor McGregor owning an 89% KO finish rate moving up two weight classes to face 9-year UFC veteran Nate Diaz, who promised a “kill or be killed” affair.

The two men didn’t disappoint choosing to partake in a stand-up battle for the majority of this affair with all the makings of a back and forth novel-style story. Diaz was hurt early, suffering a huge cut on his brow,] and despite a very even first round, it’s clear to see the crisp boxing of McGregor scored him the first round.

Going into round two both men were the epitome of calm. Both had been in this position many times before and both clearly relished the challenge of a strong opponent. Conor opened up the second round with flash and Ali-esque defense, choosing to keep his hands low and use head movement to slip past the boxing of Diaz. despite its early success, this technique can very quickly become your enemy as McGregor soon found out.

Despite the cut and being tagged with numerous hard uppercuts, Diaz’s resolve never wavered. He is a man who had been cut many times before and had lost many times before, so being down on the scorecards wasn’t anything to him at this moment in time. Diaz never took a back step, wearing a mask of crimson blood he threw back at the Irish champion rocking him and shocking the world as fans saw the once thought invincible McGregor breath a very mortal breath.

McGregor’s hype train began to derail halfway through the second round. The two competitors had numerous exchanges, but with two very different defense strategies. As before, Conor used solely head movement to avoid Nate’s strikes, while Diaz used the same movement, coupled with covering up his head to absorb the strikes he couldn’t evade. This allowed his to weather Conor’s combos while staying in striking and counter with his own punches while his hands were already up high, as compared to McGregor who was punching from his hips. Diaz’s superior defense showed as an exchange at 2:22 of the round saw Diaz land a beautiful one, two combo landing both on McGregor’s chin backing the featherweight champion up.

Nate poured on the pressure clinching up Conor and continuing to pepper him with punches, wearing out the rocked Irishman. After breaking away McGregor gained distance but ultimately failed here, as he refused to lift his hands up for protection allowing Diaz to stalk him down and land long boxing combos. What we saw next no one expected;

The KO artist shot for a takedown on the BJJ black belt.

Diaz used a well-timed guillotine attempt to roll onto the top position and pounded his way to full mount. With the crowd roaring in approval and commentator’s screaming in disbelief, Diaz knew he had his featherweight foe hurt and he went in for the kill. In a last-ditch effort to protect his 7-0 UFC record, Conor rolled to his back, maybe this would give him the vital few seconds of breathing room to compose himself and work for an escape, but sadly for the notorious one, this was not meant to be. Diaz is a jiu-jitsu master who knows exactly what to do from the back mount and as McGregor rolled Diaz positioned his right arm by Connor’s chin ready for the opportunity to choke. Nate punched his opponent to lift up his chin allowing him to slither in the right arm and clamp it against McGregor’s throat.

The second Nate felt his forearm against Conor’s neck, he locked in a vice grip, holding onto his own bicep to secure the perfect RNC grip, squeezing the fight out of Connor and forcing him to tap mere seconds after the lion killer was applied.

Conor McGregor came into this fight looking undefeatable, having never faced adversity inside the cage. When it comes to an unstoppable man, you need an unstoppable technique and that is exactly what the rear naked choke can be when properly executed. The nature of the technique allowing the applier to not only protect their choking arm from being ripped away, but also use their entire body pressure to push into the choke means this submission gives a fighter mere seconds to attempt an escape before they are put to sleep.

The lion killer is a legendary submission and rightly so, arguably being a perfect submission possible in BJJ and as Saturday night showed, it can make mice out of men and women whether they are civilians or even UFC champions.

 

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UFC 216 Breakdown: Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee

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As a fight fan, you can’t ask for a much better match up than Tony Ferguson vs Kevin Lee.

This match up is easily one of the most fascinating ones of the year, and with the interim lightweight title on the line, the stake doesn’t get much higher. But the bigger meaning of the fight lies in that fact that a clear number one contender will be determined to virtually guarantee a future opportunity at the current champion, Conor McGregor.

The talks of McGregor next facing rival Nate Diaz next have been circulating for the past few weeks, but once this fight between Ferguson and Lee concludes, and someone walks out of the arena on Saturday with that interim championship around their waist, they will be very hard to deny for McGregor.

Although this fight is a very exciting match up, on paper, it may deceive some people as a mismatch, since Lee’s resume of wins doesn’t include too many top contenders. His biggest win was against Michael Chiesa in June of this year, Chiesa was ranked 6th at the time. But let’s look deeper into it and see what makes this one a must-see fight.

Where Ferguson Flourishes

Ferguson and Lee may be stylistically two completely different fighters, but their ground games and grappling are both extremely high level, possibly the top 3 in the division, a list that can’t leave out Khabib Nurmagomedov. In the grappling department, it is hard to decide a winner here.

Even about five months ago, I would have leaned towards Ferguson, but watching Lee take control against a high level grappler like Chiesa the way he did was beyond belief to be honest. Ferguson will have his hands full if the fight hits the canvas, and likewise for Lee. However, if there is one thing that Lee needs to watch out against Ferguson, it is the unorthodox style he brings, even in the grappling.

“El Cucuy” is a bizarre fighter, but in a good way. Watch him fight against Edson Barboza and do a couple of imanari rolls. Watch him roll while on the bottom against dos Anjos. It is mind-blowing how good he is with such peculiarity and Lee can’t overlook that.

With that being said, advantages for ‘El Cucuy’ are quite clear: Stand-up, cardio and experience. Ferguson showed time and time again what a well-rounded fighter he is, and his record shows it too. Out of 17 finishes on his win column, 9 of them are by knockout and 8 are by submission. He really is a fighter who can do it all.

Tony Ferguson defeated Rafael dos Anjos via Unanimous Decision in November of 2016 at UFC Mexico City.

We also know that his cardio is exceptional, this was displayed in his fight against Rafael dos Anjos, where he went five hard rounds with the former champion in Mexico City, at an altitude of 7,382 feet. Just to give an idea of how high that is, Colorado’s altitude is 6,035 feet.

Ferguson knows what it is like to be in the deep waters. But when a fairly young fighter such as Lee reaches the later rounds, nobody knows how he will respond to the situation, so Ferguson has his advantages in the experience department laid out clearly.

Don’t Count Out Kevin Lee

‘The Motown Phenom’, on the other hand, is a completely different fighter with different strengths. He possesses advantages in the physical department, career mileage, and in the fact that he has less pressure going into the fight. The physical advantage is the most obvious one for Lee. He has spoken before on the fact that he cuts from about 180-pounds, where Ferguson has talked about him being capable of making 145-pounds.

Ferguson may be taller, but it is not difficult to see that Lee is bigger when they stand next to each other. Lee’s second advantage comes from the fact that he is not as battle-tested. In a way, it could be a disadvantage, but he has taken considerably less amount of damage throughout his career compared to Ferguson. The last advantage for Lee listed was explained more specifically on my article ‘Tony Ferguson can’t afford to lose at UFC 216’. Feel free to go and check it out.

Kevin Lee defeated Michael Chiesa by first round submission (rear-naked choke) at UFC Oklahoma City in June 2017.

Now that both guys’ assets are laid out for this fight, it’s time to make a prediction.

Time and time again leading up to this fight, I’ve heard people say that this fight is going to end in a submission, and most say it’s going to come from Ferguson. I would agree with that but here’s one thing. As previously mentioned, Lee’s grappling is top-notch and he is brilliant defensively. This was evidenced when he was on the bottom against Michael Chiesa, a position in which he was easily able to escape.

I don’t believe Lee is a fighter that can be easily submitted. But here’s what I agree with most on: I also see Ferguson winning, because of his experience, cardio, and definitely unpredictability. Kevin Lee, while he is a very talented fighter, I believe it is just a tad bit too early for him at this moment.

Prediction: Tony Ferguson def. Kevin Lee via TKO (punches) in the 5th round.

 

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UFC 216 Breakdown: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg

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If Demetrious Johnson is able to defend his flyweight title this Saturday at UFC 216, it will be an attempt to break a major record, as he will then have defended his belt for the 11th consecutive time.

It is a remarkable record that he attempts to break, which is currently being held by Johnson and the former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, at 10.

When this fight was first announced for UFC 215, the reactions from the fans were not exactly what the UFC hoped it would be. There were two possible reasons for this, and maybe even both:

1) The talks of Johnson defending his title against T.J. Dillashaw was roaming around at the time, which got fans excited, only to disappoint them in the end when it wasn’t finalized.

2) Ray Borg is not necessarily a fighter that fans are dying to see yet, mainly because he is not the most marketable fighter and he is very young, which made us ask, “Is he ready for this opportunity?”

However, there is one thing we must keep in mind when looking at a fight between a dominant champion and a young rising contender: Expect the unexpected. We saw it last December when Dominick Cruz fought Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207. Who would have ever thought that Garbrandt would be able to outclass Cruz the way he did?

Cody Garbrandt provided yet another shock title change when he defeated Dominick Cruz at UFC 207 in December of 2016.

But don’t get it mistaken. ‘Can’ doesn’t mean ‘will’. And although Borg could shock the world in this fight, it is way more reasonable to lean towards Johnson. After all, if we are being honest, ‘Mighty Mouse’ is the closest thing to a perfect fighter. The only times he lost was to Brad Pickett, which was seven years ago, and to Dominick Cruz, who unlike ‘DJ’ is a natural bantamweight.

This is a tough fight for Borg. The only way for him to win is either catch Johnson with a big shot and finish him or keep up a ridiculous pace for 5 rounds straight and outmatch the champion with skills.

Borg is at a couple of disadvantages here, one being his cardio. “The Tazmexican Devil” has previously shown that he often has a tough time making the 125-pound weight limit, and if you add that to the fact that he never fought past three rounds, his cardio is in question. Whether he will be able to keep up with Johnson, who can put on a ridiculous pace for 25-minutes straight, remains to be seen.

Also, we never know what is going through a fighter’s head, so it will be interesting to see how Borg performs under pressure. He’s never had a title shot, and Johnson has been in the same spot 12-times in his career, so experience also goes to Johnson.

Ultimately, I’m leaning towards the champion in this fight. I do like Borg and what he brings to the table, however, too many questions are unanswered about Borg at this point to pick him over Demetrious Johnson.

Prediction: Demetrious Johnson def. Ray Borg via Unanimous Decision.

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UFC 215 Main Card Breakdown

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The UFC makes its return to Canada as current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson looks to break the record for most successful, consecutive, title defenses, against Ray Borg. Also on the card is a women’s bantamweight title fight between champion Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko, Gilbert Melendez makes his featherweight debut against power puncher Jeremy Stephens, Ilir Latifi looks to bounce back against Tyson Pedro, and Rafael dos Anjos looks to continue his welterweight journey against Neil Magny. Let’s take a look and see how it each fight plays out.

Jeremy Stephens vs Gilbert Melendez

Gilbert Melendez is a fighter who has built his career on being a talented boxer and being incredibly strong both in the clinch and the ground. For years he has been a monster for most lightweights to deal with. However, since having joined the UFC from Strikeforce he has gone just 1-4. In his last couple of fights, he has found himself slowed down due to unchecked leg kicks and opponents who are quicker than him. In an attempt to resurrect his career ‘El Nino’ has dropped down to featherweight and will meet former lightweight, himself, Jeremy Stephens. Stephens has made a career out of hitting hard, knocking opponents out with either hands, legs, or even his knees. Stephens is a fighter who excels in the pocket and has the durability to stand toe to toe with almost any opponent. In his last five fights, he has gone 2-3 due to his opponents being quicker than him and keeping him on the end of their punches.

How the fight will go

Gilbert will come into the fight as the stronger fighter with the better grappling game and better control of the Octagon. His excellent boxing will match-up well with Stephens. However, Stephens will come in as the faster fighter, harder puncher, and will already be used to cutting down to 145. Melendez will need to gain control of the Octagon early and keep Stephens against the cage both in the clinch and on the ground, in order to tire out “Lil Heathen”. If he can use his boxing to keep Stephens at the end of his punches, control the Octogan, and stay out of the pocket, it’s his fight to lose. Stephens does his best work in the pocket and although he’s slow for a featherweight he will have the advantage speed wise in this match-up. If he can keep his back off of the cage, gain control of the Octagon, land his powerful leg kicks, and mix up his powerful strikes, then he will have a dog in this fight and can very well pull off the upset.

Prediction

Gilbert Melendez fights very similarly to the way he fought in the Pettis fight. He keeps Stephens’ back against the cage and forces him to the ground every chance he gets in order to tire him out. Stephens occasionally finds success using his speed and power in the pocket but eventually finds himself too tired to stop the stronger Melendez from imposing his game plan. Assuming Gilbert’s first cut 145 goes well, he beats Stephen’s via a close but clear decision to put his career back on track and start his journey at featherweight on the right foot.

Ilir Latifi vs Tyson Pedro

Ilir Latifi is coming off of one of the most brutal knockout losses of 2016. He ate a huge knee from Ryan Bader in the second round of their fight and has not returned to the Octogan since. The Swedish ball of muscle looks to bounce back against the undefeated Australian Tyson Pedro. Tyson Pedro is a fighter who has never experienced anything beyond a first round stoppage win, his fight against Latifi represents his biggest test yet. Latifi is a fighter with a game centered around his incredible strength and power. He is a fighter who brings a calm energy in the cage and an interesting physique. He is only 5’10, the same height as former featherweight Anthony Pettis, what he lacks in height he makes up for with muscle. His muscle alone makes him one of the strongest and most powerful fighters in the UFC. Pedro is one of the tallest fighters in his division, coming in at 6’3 he’s used to being the stronger, taller fighter and likes to smother his opponents both on the ground and in the clinch.

How the fight will go

A lot of Pedro’s advantages come from being the taller, stronger fighter. He likes to keep his opponents at range, eat them up with oblique kicks, clinch up, take them down and find the stoppage. Latifi’s strength means clinching and takedowns won’t be easy. He can over power most opponents and avoid trouble in those areas. Latifi does have a tendency to get stuck on the outside and eat leg kicks, his tendency to rush in can lead to counters, like in the Bader fight. Latifi is an excellent wrestler but has trouble taking his opponents down, often expanding a lot of energy in the process. Pedro has been hurt before by his lack of head movement and that can lead to him taking big shots, Latifi can always find a big shot early on and take the Australian out.

Prediction

This fight will all depend on how the first round goes. If Latifi can find his range early on he can land the knockout shot and finish the Australian. If he can’t, he will find himself on the outside where Pedro will pick him apart with body kicks and oblique kicks and hold him against the fence where the Swede will tire himself out. If Pedro stays patient he can tire out Latifi and score the finish. Pedro scores the upset and finishes an exhausted Latifi in the third round by TKO.

Neil Magny vs Rafael dos Anjos

Rafael dos Anjos looks to win his second fight at welterweight as he faces long time contender Neil Magny. Dos Anjos is coming off of a well-fought decision win against Tarec Saffiedine in a fight that helped him discover how he stacked up against a real welterweight and how his body would hold up. He brings into this fight excellent body and leg kicks that he uses to break down his opponents and slow down their movement. He has a game that is perfectly suited for his height as he uses a lot of pressure and forward movement to make sure he stays on the inside. His excellent ground game has carried over to 170 as he uses his top pressure to smother his opponents. Neil Magny last fought against Johny Hendricks in a fight where he used his long range better and showed a new technique with his kicks to create range. Magny’s game uses excellent cardio, as well as good footwork and movement. He’s starting to better understand how to use his long and tall body. He also uses his long legs to create triangle attempts from the bottom.

How the fight plays out

If Magny can use his height and reach correctly he can leave Dos Anjos stuck on the outside, as well as using his footwork to ensure he doesn’t take too many shots. His cardio will keep him fresh throughout the three rounds and he can use that to his advantage if dos Anjos tires out. Dos Anjos will look to use his leg kicks to stop Magny’s footwork as well as use his powerful body kicks to sap his cardio. Dos Anjos’ pressure based game could very well negate Magny’s reach advantage and his smothering top game would keep Magny from using his reach.

Prediction

Although Magny has the tools to beat dos Anjos, the Brazilian remains an elite fighter even at welterweight. Dos Anjos uses his leg and body kicks to slow down Magny as well as using his wrestling to tire the American out. Dos Anjos has fought tall opponents in the past and knows how to use his forward pressure to remove the reach advantage, as he did against Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz. The former lightweight champion takes a decision win and moves to 2-0 at welterweight.

Amanda Nunes vs Valentina Shevchenko

Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko meet for the second time after fighting each other at UFC 196. The first fight ended in a close 29-28 decision win for the now champion Nunes. Nunes is a long and rangy kickboxer who likes to fight at range, where she uses her jab and cross keep her opponents back. She has been known to finish most of her fights early on, however, if she fails to do so she has a tendency to get tired, gas out, and get finished herself. Shevchenko, although undersized at 5’5, has been beating her opponents using her ever evolving ground game and her excellent Muay-Thai. Her patience and forcing her opponents to lead has brought her victories over top contenders like Holly Holm and Julianna Pena.

How the fight plays out

Amanda Nunes used her strength on the ground to beat Shevchenko in the first two rounds the last time they fought. Nunes didn’t have a whole lot of success on the feet as she was overpowered in the clinch and found herself having trouble with Shevchenko’s patience and lack of counter opportunities. Nunes’ ground game, while she was still fresh, was very dangerous last time out, nasty ground and pound as well as multiple submission attempts. However in the third round of their fight Nunes gassed and found herself too exhausted to overpower her opponent like she had done in the first rounds and found herself eating a lot of shots on the ground and in the clinch. If early on she can force Shevchenko to the ground and use her strength, she can find a submission or a ground and pound TKO. However, if she can’t, she’ll find herself getting tired in the later rounds and seeing her window for victory closing. This fight, being five rounds, heavily favors Shevchenko and her ever evolving game.

Prediction

Much like in their first fight Shevchenko will stay patient and lose the early rounds. Her lack of activity hurt her last time out as well as Nunes’ aggressive ground game. If Nunes can use her strength early on, she can take Shevchenko down and have her way with her as she looks for the early finish. If Shevchenko can weather the early storm, she can take advantage of her tired opponent and finish her late. Shevchenko will force Nunes to lead and although she’ll have to weather the early storm, her patience will eventually pay off as her opponent tires herself out. Valentina Shevchenko finishes an exhausted Amanda Nunes in the fourth round by TKO to become the new women’s bantamweight champion.

Demetrious Johnson vs Ray Borg

Current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson takes on Ray Borg in an attempt to break the record for most successful consecutive title defenses. His 11th title defense comes against skilled wrestler Ray Borg and his ever evolving striking. Johnson brings to the Octagon one of the most well-rounded games in all of MMA. His excellent stand up paired with his world class grappling has not failed him at 125. His excellent footwork has always troubled his opponents and his lack of clear weaknesses means it’s difficult to exploit problems in his game. Ray Borg started his career as a world class grappler who would immediately take his opponents down and smother them until the fight was over or he was able to find a submission. His striking used to be a big weakness in his game until he started training with Brandon Gibson.

How the fight plays out

Ray Borg used to start his fights by immediately taking his opponents down and smothering them. Now that his striking improved he’s content with staying on the feet and striking with his opponents. This is where he will have problems against Johnson, Johnson is the much quicker fighter out of the two and will keep Borg on the outside. Borg’s incredibly short reach of 63” means he will need to cover a lot of distance, something he struggles with. Borg is not the quickest of flyweights and is a lot slower than Johnson. While Johnson has the bigger advantage on the feet, the wrestling is where it gets tricky. Borg’s ability to find the takedown and stay on his opponent is something he will need to use to tire out Johnson and force him to make a mistake. Johnson’s patience on the ground means he won’t panic if he goes down with Borg and has shown in the past he can easily get back up or even grapple with the best of them. Borg’s gas tank will be a problem in this fight, as Johnson never seems to tire out and is used to going five rounds. If Borg tires, Johnson will completely take over the fight.

Prediction

Borg starts the first round on the feet and ends up getting frustrated as he finds Johnson too quick and gets stuck on the outside. He eventually finds the takedown and forces Johnson to go through some scary moments. Johnson survives the early storm on the ground and starts to run away with the fight in the third round as Borg starts to tire. Although the fight will be close on the ground, it’s obvious Johnson has all the advantages in the standup. Demetrious Johnson beats Ray Borg by unanimous decision to break the record for most successful title defenses in a row.

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