Mixed martial arts fighting is a unique sport in many ways, not only because of the variety of ways a fight can be either won or lost but the skills and game plan that each fighter uses in light of the opponent standing across the octagon canvas.
A unique and well-executed strategy by a skilled opponent can cause even legends of the sport can fall. This was shown in a powerful performance by Liverpudlian welterweight Darren Till defeating Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone by first-round KO at UFC Gdansk main event.
Many fighters within the UFCs former elite ranks yielded powerful weapons exclusive to their fighting style and training background. Supreme examples would be the dominance of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu exercised by Royce Gracie in the earliest years of the sport. However, in 2017 the specialist is a rare breed, as a weakness in a specific area of the game would result in exploitation. Instead what’s developed is fighters with a super dangerous dimension to their attack or defence. A fighter that specialises in judo trying to outstrike a kickboxing champion is like bringing a knife to a gunfight, it’s a bad idea.
An alternative tactic is to play them at their own game and do what Gabriel Gonzaga did at UFC fight night 64, A Croatian MMA fighter called Mirko Cro Cop had a devastating head kick in his striking arsenal. It famously earned him five KO victories at the time and an impressive W22-L4 fight career at the time. During the third round of the fight, Gonzaga throws one of the most unexpected and brutal head kicks in UFC history for a KO victory.
If you need a more visual representation of this you can watch the Gabriel Gonzaga Head Kick On Mirko Cro Crop here.
Either way, the currently ranked number 2 welterweight and 5th-degree Kempo Karate black belt Steven “Wonderboy” Thompson proves a difficult problem to solve for even the most experienced fighters in the Middleweight division fighting between 77.5 to 84 kg.
His unconventional but highly effective techniques have lead to an impressive 13 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss record against some of the best in the UFC. Before he started in mixed martial arts he held a 57 Wins 0 Loss kickboxing record. Although the has relative weaknesses in clinch work, wrestling and submissions in the same way as any pure striker.
So, In 2017 how does a fighter that poses minimal submission threat succeed to outstrike opponents in the most anticipated way but also where his only real weapons lie?
Kicks, footwork and a deep understanding of angles, distance and timing.
The influences of Thompson’s style source from the kickboxing champion Bill Wallace who, during almost six years of being Professional Karate Association Middleweight Champion, developed a style of chambering each of his kicks in an almost identical way regardless of the target and the level of the strike.
This technique makes it difficult for an opponent to judge when what and where Thompson’s next kick will be coming from, as a sidekick to establish distance looks identical in its early stages to a Gonzaga style head kick.
As well as this awkward kicking style his ability to switch between an orthodox and southpaw stance in the middle of an exchange can confuse the opponent. Footwork movement also offers Thompson the ability to pivot and circle his opponent in a similar way to Mike Tyson, aided by the switch between the traditional narrow karate fighting stance and a more middle stance to favour vertical movement when closer in distance to slip punches and look to land potential counters.
This was put to work in a fight against a top level opponent in Patrick Cote at UFC 178, During the last 25 seconds of the second round, Wonderboys skills shine, leaving Cote to throw five punches into the air and taking a powerful counterpunch from Thompson.
The first event of the UFC (starting in 1993) was created to finally bring an answer to the question “which is the most effective combat style in a true fight?”. With only eight styles ( Sumo, Savate, kickboxing, Kenpo Karate, Boxing, Taekwondo, Shoot fighting and Brazilian Jiu jitsu) being represented was the question really answered?
But as time passed so did the era of the single style fighter, with styles that were underrepresented in the early years like Muay Thai and Judo becoming key aspects to fighters with a now well rounded martial arts skillset.
The most effective combination of fighting styles is still a true unknown. Comparing the skillsets and styles of each weight division champion shows different ratios of training focus in line with the traits and strengths of each fighter, as the skills and techniques are only fractions of becoming a champion. One of the aspects that makes combat sports so interesting is unpredictability, not just in the fighters actions and gameplan but in the unconventional knowledge they might possess.