15 Mar - 
Fighter On Fighter: Breaking Down ‘Gamebred!’

Well-traveled contender, Jorge Masvidal, will go to war with knockout artist, Darren Till, this Saturday (March 16, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 147 from inside 02 Arena in London, England. Masvidal is a special fighter. At this point, the odds are rather certain that he won’t ever capture the title, but that should not take anything away from his talent. “Gamebred” is one of the most technically skilled and well-rounded men on the roster, a veteran of 45 professional fights across 16 years as a mixed martial arts (MMA) professional.

Perhaps more than anything else, Masvidal’s composure is a special gift. Getting comfortable inside the cage is a task most fighters — even champions or men with a similar number of bouts to Masvidal — do not handle well. For at least the better part of a decade, Masvidal has never looked nervous or flustered in the cage. Even when a spinning kick slams into his face and knocks him to the ground, Masvidal is unfazed.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

Masvidal is quite skilled in all areas of combat, but the Florida-native likes to strike. On the whole, Masvidal is a man very willing to adjust his style of kickboxing as the match up demands, but at his core Masvidal is a sharp boxer who knows when to kick.

Either way, Masvidal will use many of the same tools, whether his goal is to maintain distance and deny takedowns or close the distance with power shots and gain top position.

Regardless of his chosen strategy, Masvidal’s deep understanding of distance is fundamental to his game. Masvidal stands tall, a trait that carries with it some defensive risks. However, Masvidal nonetheless manages to be very slick defensively. The “Gamebred” fighter slides and slips just out of the way of punches thanks to his excellent range control, which is what allows him to rely on reaction time to defend himself so effectively.

Masvidal is a fighter who uses his lead hand and lead leg very effectively. It all goes back to that distance management: Masvidal’s left side is closer to his opponent, so that’s what lands first.

Being more of a boxer, Masvidal’s jab is of great importance, and it rarely lets him down. Being effective with the jab is largely about variety: Masvidal will stick opponents with a hard, snapping jab, shoot out a fast jab without committing his legs, double up, jab to the body, and most importantly, feint one variation before throwing another.

There are numerous examples throughout his career of Masvidal’s jab completely disrupting his opponent. For instance, Masvidal’s tall stance and reliance on the jab saw Al Iaquinta throw a dozen overhand rights in an attempt to land a cross counter (GIF). A couple brushed off his shoulder and most missed completely, as Masvidal’s range control and feints prevented Iaquinta from honing in on his target.

In one of the biggest wins of his entire career, Masvidal’s jab helped him end Donald Cerrone’s Welterweight rise. Much of the time, Masvidal did not commit his legs behind the jab, simply snapping it at the arm. By keeping his legs beneath him, Masvidal kept himself in good position to check Cerrone’s low kicks, and his quick jab often found the inside of Cerrone’s wider punches.

Masvidal complicates the above spiel about mixing up jabs with his left hook as well (GIF). The Cuban athlete will hook directly off the jab or feint a jab and throw the hook immediately.

While Masvidal does do much of his work with his lead hand, he’s always looking to set up the cross. To that end, Masvidal does a couple things very well: keep his weight back and loaded while working with his left and vary the angle on how he fires the right.

Masvidal’s strong boxing fundamentals open up the rest of his game, and there are definitely a few signature “Gamebred” techniques that come into play once he has a good feel for distance and his opponent’s reaction. Two of the most damaging strikes in Masvidal’s arsenal are useful in the same situation: against an opponent circling away from his right hand, especially if his foe is against the fence.

Both the left hook to the body — which Masvidal will set up with a shuffle and slip of the head — and the switch kick to the belly are potential fight finishers. Check out this GIF, in which Masvidal lands both on Jake Ellenberger as he tries to circle to safety while trapped along the fence. Another similarity between the two is that Masvidal closes distance suddenly, aggressively stepping forward with either the slip or stance switch.

Another strength of Masvidal’s is reading his opponent’s head movement. Against a foe actively slipping his punches, Masvidal will definitely look to time a head kick. This is a theme throughout his career. A few examples: a wheel kick interrupting Iaquinta’s movement and creating a whole for Masvidal’s straight punches afterward, a right high kick flooring K.J. Noons as the boxer ducked into the strike (GIF), or way back in 2007 when Masvidal knocked out Yves Edwards.

Masvidal recognized his foe slip to the left to avoid the jab, feinted, and threw a right high kick that landed perfectly.

Masvidal is an underrated clinch technician as well, always looking to land in the clinch. The best example came opposite Cezar Ferreira, as Masvidal managed to land a knockout while trapping on the fence. The sequence began as Masvidal used a frame to briefly create space and spin the bigger man slightly, allowing him to switch to a double-collar tie. From there, Masvidal folded over an elbow that his foe ran into before following up with a hard cross (GIF). Against men actively pressuring into the clinch — which includes names like Cerrone, Benson Henderson, and Rustam Khabilov — Masvidal does a great job of creating a bit of space before ramming the mid-section with body knees (GIF).

As mentioned, Masvidal adapts well to his opponents. More accurately, Masvidal does an excellent job of turning fight-specific defenses into offense. The best overall example is likely the “Cowboy” knockout, in which Masvidal’s non-committal jab took the center stage in disrupting Cerrone’s offense.

There was more to his strategy than just the jab. For one, Masvidal continually advanced behind big steps, lifting his lead leg and putting it in position to check preemptively. Aside from the obvious goal of not getting shinned by one of the sport’s best low kickers, Masvidal later used this setup to step into the jab, or disguise teeps as well as his favorite switch kick (GIF).

The finale was a well-drilled defense and counter as well. Twice in the fight, Masvidal perfectly caught and parried their shared favorite technique: the left switch kick. Throwing the caught ankle across Cerrone’s body, Masvidal slammed a hook-cross down the pipe and basically knocked “Cowboy” out twice with the same counter (GIF).

For all of Masvidal’s craft and skill, his Achilles’ heel has also been some combination of a lack of activity and lack of aggression. Few men have lost more close decisions than Masvidal — at least seven by my count, and I’d personally argue he won at least half of them — as a result of his calm approach to fighting. Masvidal is guilty of admiring his own work, feeling slick while slipping a four-punch combination and acting as if his head movement negated the low kick that did actually land at the end.

Meanwhile, the barely focused judges seem to think all four punches and the low kick landed. Masvidal is content to win on small margins, but mixed martial arts (MMA) is a sport that tends to demand certainty.

Wrestling

Masvidal is one of the more unique wrestlers in the sport. He stands up very tall and does not have a high-level wrestling background, yet he’s incredibly difficult to take or hold down, transitioning into his own shots extremely well.

Offensively, Masvidal starts with a snatch single, dropping down at the waist to yank his opponent’s leg into the high-crotch position. From there, Masvidal will look to finish the dump, but more often than not he transitions into another takedown as his opponent defends.

Masvidal tends to offensively wrestle less frequently against the larger men at 170 pounds, but his older victory over Tim Means was a great display of chain wrestling. From the high crotch, Masvidal continually transitioned into other takedowns and tossed his opponent to the floor. Most of the time, Masvidal would attempt the dump to off-balance “Dirty Bird” and then drive back in with either a double leg or knee pick. Alternatively, Masvidal would circle all the way around his opponent from the high crotch into the back clinch and then work from there. On that note, Masvidal’s clinch skill is not limited to elbows and knees, as evidenced by this sweet inside trip opposite a Sambo specialist (GIF).

Masvidal’s wrestling defense really is incredible. Despite his tall stance, Masvidal’s hips are very difficult to penetrate, meaning opponents are rarely able to secure deep single legs. Even when they do, Masvidal is an expert in that position and is very difficult to dump to the mat. Often, Masvidal looks to balance until he hits the fence. Once there, Masvidal is comfortable, able to land small strikes and fight hands until his leg is free.

Masvidal does everything correct in scrambles -- such as keeping his head high, controlling his opponent’s head position, and never allowing his foe to settle. More than anything else, His comfort and confidence in every position really gives Masvidal an advantage when scrambling (GIF).

In the last decade, the only man to consistently hold Masvidal down for long was really Demian Maia (you could make an argument for Gilbert Melendez as well, but he rarely established a true top position). Maia’s suffocating wrestling/grappling hybrid is an inherently bad match up for Masvidal’s incredible scrambling. The Brazilian does not scramble, he gets to his few mastered positions and locks things down completely.

Masvidal does not have the insanely powerful hips of someone like Kamaru Usman or Tyron Woodley, who were both able to stop Maia’s shot before being forced to scramble. It’s simply not his style, build, or background. As such, Masvidal did spend costly minutes of the fight trapped in the Maia Backpack, but he still did an admirable job of defending many takedowns and escaping to his feet when dragged down.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Though it’s the often least seen aspect of his game, Masvidal is an excellent grappler. Don’t simply take my word on the subject though: Demain Maia was very complimentary toward “Gamebred’s” grappling after their competitive battle.

Offensively, Masvidal is frequently looking to counter his opponent’s takedowns with front chokes. Often, the goal is to gain position rather than submit, as that’s the higher percentage approach. In this week’s technique highlight, we analyze Masvidal’s recent offense from the front head lock.

Conclusion

At 34 years old and 16 years into his professional combat sports career — longer if we consider his South Florida street fighting background — is Masvidal still in his prime? Is “Gamebred” still a contender? This rebound fight against the highly ranked and regarded Till should serve to answer both questions. In addition to informing us on Masvidal’s immediate future, a five-round bout with a varied veteran like Masvidal should also help reveal more of Till’s skill as well.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.