Despite the obvious size and “Polish power” advantages Jan Blachowicz will have at UFC 259, he will enter the Octagon a notable betting underdog to Israel Adesanya. It comes with the territory of being a newbie champion facing a top three pound-for-pound talent, and one of the biggest names in the sport. So, what will the light heavyweight champion need to do on Saturday night to defend his thrown, and pull off an upset over the current Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight king?
To get some strategic insight, I spoke with two of the best coaches in the industry in Factory X owner and head coach Marc Montoya, and MMAJunkie’s 2020 “Coach of the Year” winner, and Xtreme Couture trainer Eric Nicksick.
Marc Montoya on fighting Adesanya: ‘You’ve got to fight him in triangles in the cage’
Interview with Coach Marc Montoya above
Marc Montoya, a man that led Anthony Smith into his 2019 light heavyweight championship fight against Jon Jones, believes a key in any Blachowicz win will be his ability to keep the fight in a range that is up close and personal and avoid a striking battle at distance.
“When it comes to that fight, ultimately, it’s really a long versus middle fight. Meaning, Adesanya wants to stay long. If I was in Jan’s corner I would want him to be mid-range. Meaning, hooks, uppercuts [and] knees. That type of range so you can [then] work the short-range, which would be the clinch or the takedowns,” Montoya told MyMMANews. “The strategy for Jan is to stay out of long-range, jam him into middle, keep him in short, put him on the mat, and do it all over again. [Adesanya’s] speed is really utilized when you’re making Jan chase you. That’s when Adesanya can be a sniper and strike from the outside. That speed advantage is important, but that won’t matter if you can’t utilize your range.”
The Colorado-based coach also knows avoiding a drawn out chase will be as important as range finding for Blachowicz. Montoya believes the champion must keep his unbeaten counterpart within an Octagon triangle, and make the 31-year-old moving up in weight feel the power and strength of a bonafide light heavyweight.
“Someone like [Jan], with a power and size advantage, if he’s touching and hitting you it’s not going to feel good. You can’t fight [Adesanya] in the whole cage, you’ve got to fight him in triangles in the cage. Cutting him off instead of chasing is a big deal. If you’re chasing Adesanya around the cage you’re going to have a long night,” Montoya says. “You’ve got to put your hands on him [and] make him feel your power. Adesanya does a great job of setting traps in his striking. He makes a movement, he does the same movement and then does something different behind it. Adesanya’s trap setting is going to be vital for a victory. Jan has to be able to shut that down with that middle range. He can’t set those traps in mid-range [and] short-range.”
Eric Nicksick on Octagon control: ‘The cutting off part is an art’
Interview with Eric Nicksick above
Nicksick–who will be cornering Aljamain Sterling in his bantamweight title fight on the same night–also subscribes to the notion of triangles in the cage. In addition, he believes Blachowicz should have the ability to set traps of his own within the “choke point” he creates.
“You want to cut the cage off into maybe two-thirds, but fight him in one-third of that cage. You want to dictate center control and funnel him into what we call the choke point, or two pillars of the cage,” Nicksick told MyMMANews. “Making sure that you keep center Octagon is very important [as well as] making him move to that corner post and chokepoints where you can set up a lot. Where out of orthodox stance you throw a one-two, [then] we roll that under into a right hook and left cross. We call it a ‘Frazier-Step,’ and then you can set traps that way. You can do that out of southpaw as well. It’s a trap [that] makes a guy feel like he can exit in a certain way and all the while you’re just setting a trap to your power hand side.”
However, the Xtreme Couture product admits that cutting off an opponent’s escape requires Octagon control to be effective. It’s why he is also a big believer in fighters evolving their styles to be offensive threats from both orthodox and southpaw stances. Making it easier to trap and unleash strikes from various angles, while utilizing proper footwork and creating.
“I feel that in this day and age of MMA, it’s imperative that you’re able to strike out of both stances. You should be able to strike out of both because of the traps you’re able to set. The way I like to describe it to my fighters is thinking about geometry where you had a compass. You put that pin in the ground and you drew a circle. I’m able to dictate the cage cut off with that right foot pinned in the ground, and I’m able to step left, step left, step left, and then I can step right. I can keep a center point in the mat, all the while staying in front of you,” Nicksick says. “What happens when I remove that center foot is I start coming forward and you keep scooting off to my lead hand side. All of a sudden, I have to take a hard step to my left and try to cut you off again. That’s when you start seeing guys chase. An example would be Stipe Miocic versus Fabricio Werdum. Werdum ran forward, then Stipe hard exited to his right, got Werdum to chase him, he planted, crossed and knocked him out. [What could have been done] if you were Werdum, is you would open your left foot out at a 45-degree angle, and try to get your lead foot behind his rear shoulder. That’s how you want to try to cut guys off. The cutting off part is an art. Thank god I had a guy like Randy Couture teach me that at a young age. He always told me, ‘Look kid, Octagon control is an art that’s been lost. It is an art that doesn’t get looked at enough.’”