UFC 204 Countdown: Ovince Saint-Preux vs Jimi Manuwa did a great job of building the fight, but it was fan talk, not fight talk. If that’s more up your alley, you can watch the whole thing here.
But if you want to inform your fight training, lock in a smarter betting slip, or impress your friends at the bar, this technique talk is for you.
In today’s post, we break down a few key elements of OSP’s striking strategy, discussing how he uses an educated lead hand to defend and set up his demolition cross.
OSP’s Educated Lead Hand: Feints, Defense, and Distance
OSP spends a lot of time pawing with his lead hand. Here are 4 examples from his fight against Pat Cummins:
Though casual fans might lose patience in fights with lots of pawing, it’s one of the most interesting things that can happen between attacks. This is something that a lot of southpaws do against orthodox fighters. It gives them a degree of control over their opponent’s jab, and helps measure the distance their “real” punches have to travel. You can watch Andre Ward’s fight against Chad Dawson for a master-class on this topic in reverse.
For a high-level fighter, pawing with the lead hand allows them to manage distance, trigger favourable reactions, shut down certain attacks from their opponent, and set up power shots. OSP uses his educated lead hand to achieve all of these things.
Pawing as a feint:
The probing lead also acts as a hand feint, creating offensive opportunities by getting the opponent to react to the wrong punch. The threat of the lead hand can be combined with dynamic rear hand positions to really scramble the opponent’s defensive radar. In Frame 2 of the previous image, we see just that: OSP dangles his left hand low to suggest an uppercut is coming, in contrast to the left cross he threatens in Frame 1. From Cummins’ perspective, Frame 2 looks like a jab-uppercut combination coming his way, and his false reaction creates offensive opportunities for OSP.
Pawing for defense:
When Andre Ward appeared on In This Corner with James Smith to demonstrate some of his secrets to success, he said that a jab can “set up a lot for you, and also get you out of a lot of trouble.” He went on to demonstrate the defensive benefits associated with pawing with the lead hand:
Among the advantages Ward discussed, distance control and block-and-parry opportunities were key. In Frame 3, you can see Ward occupying “no man’s land” with his lead hand. Beyond its hand feint and measuring stick effect, Ward’s pawing lead hand acts as a strong deterrent. Smith is staring at a hand placed between him and his target, which can be very discouraging when he wants to initiate offense. He now has to punch either around or through the extended hand, which gives Ward plenty of opportunities to parry, block, or otherwise disrupt the punch. Here we see OSP doing just that:
- OSP paws with his right hand to measure the range. He keeps his hand in “no man’s land” just like Ward.
- Cummins inches closer and to OSP’s left, away from his extended lead hand. OSP continues to measure with his right.
- Cummins jabs into “traffic,” and OSP is easily able to pick the punch off with his extended lead.
- Having control of Cummins’ jab, OSP can see the cross coming. He creates space and defends without issue.
Ward also talks often about a lead-hand parry using his forearm from a low hand position. You can see it in action here:
OSP uses a similar technique to stuff Cummins’ attempt to close range with straight punches here:
OSP is able to crowd Cummins’ right hand, and bat away left jabs with his forearm. Meanwhile, OSP’s chin is tucked behind his raised right shoulder, and he’s at a range where he can fade back from any body attacks he detects.
Pawing for distance:
As I just alluded to, OSP doesn’t only use his pawing hand feints to set up strikes: he’ll also use them defensively, forcing his opponents to reset so he can scoot out of danger.
- OSP paws from range, working his way in slowly and attempting to back Cummins against the cage.
- Cummins reacts to the lead hand, looking to take control and possibly set up a right hand.
- OSP reads and feels Cummins’ forward momentum immediately and scoots back, keeping his lead hand between them to maintain space.
- Cummins is forced to start over.
Probing for Weakness: OSP’s Paw-to-Power Attack
When he’s feeling confident on the feet, OSP consistently uses a pawing lead hand to set up his rear power.
Pawing to set up the left cross:
- In frame 1, we see OSP’s right hand pawing in the classic southpaw control position. Notice that OSP is holding his lead hand higher than Cummins, as he is in all four frames of the first image used to highlight his pawing. This position makes it easier to counter over Cummins’ jab with his own, as gravity would help OSP bat the hand down with a parry.
- In frame 2, we see that the threat of OSP’s pawing lead has caused Cummins to reach with his left hand. OSP takes advantage of the moment and launches his left cross.
- The punch is blocked, but the pawing lead allows him to enter and exit the exchange safely.
Pawing to set up the uppercut:
As Firas Zahabi said in his Tristar Gym breakdown of the OSP/Jones fight, OSP’s left hand is his best path to victory, but he’s not a one-trick pony. Along with a spearing straight left and whipping overhand, OSP throws a mean left uppercut. It’s something Manuwa will have to keep on his defensive radar if he wants to engage in the clinch, sit in the pocket, or change levels.
We can see OSP feeling out the shot with his pawing lead hand early in his fight against Pat Cummins:
Realizing he’s too far out, OSP abandons the uppercut in Frame 3, but something in Cummins’ reaction tells him it’s worth revisiting. Although the distance nullifies the uppercut here, Cummins is already showing vulnerabilities to the punch. In Frame 2, you can trace the uppercut’s attack line: a straight vertical path to his chin running unobstructed between his ribs and flared elbow. Cummins glues his hand to his cheek bone without shoring up the center line, leaving himself open to upward-angle strikes.
Realizing this, OSP goes back to the uppercut in a later exchange, and it starts to pay off.
- OSP paws with the right hand to set up his power. He is measuring Cummins for a long-range uppercut while he presents the false threat of a right jab.
- Once again, Cummins bites on OSP’s pawing hand feint, stepping into a low kick with his lead leg. It’s poorly timed: OSP launches his uppercut right as Cummins begins changing levels for the kick. Tough as nails, Cummins takes the hit and keeps on coming, but OSP has grown confident with this angle of attack.
After feeling out his uppercut for nearly the entire first round, OSP walks Cummins into a crushing left 10 seconds before the bell.
- OSP paws with his right hand, giving Cummins something to think about on his way in.
- OSP tracks Cummins’ movement with his lead hand, noting his level change and position.
- OSP’s lead hand makes contact with Cummins as he rushes forward. He uses this to gauge distance and timing for his all-in power punch.
- Knowing Cummins is vulnerable to upward-angle attacks, OSP fully commits to the uppercut. Note the direction his shoulder and hips are facing in comparison to their positioning in Frame 3. The punch flattens Cummins, setting him up for the TKO finish.
Paw-to-Power: Execution at the Highest Level
OSP used the very strategy we outlined here to set up his best work in the second round against undefeated “former” champ Jon Jones. If OSP pulled it off against “Bones,” Manuwa might be in trouble.
Get More Technique Talk
Contact @macrea with breakdown requests, comments, training questions, and hate Tweets.
Check out Fight Source Training Tip of the Day (#trainingtipOTD) for practical, high-impact, and easy-to-implement training tips. Follow us on Facebook @fightsource.org
Don’t forget to browse our collection of “Boxing in MMA” breakdowns!