UFC Fight Night 107: Manuwa Vs Anderson is not a tremendously anticipated card. Much like the last card to be held in England, UFC 204, the card is stacked with middling matchups and local talent, without very much of anything to draw more than a mildly enthusiastic nod of the head from the average fight fan. It definitely has the potential to be entertaining, but the selling point seems to be the three magic letters U-F-C on the posters, rather than the card itself. The saving grace of this otherwise so-so card is the Return Of Joe Duffy.
It wasn’t too long ago that Joe Duffy was going to be the next big thing. The native of Donegal, Ireland made a big impact in his first two UFC bouts, and seemed to be on the fast track to the top of the lightweight division. However he received even more notoriety as the last man to defeat Conor McGregor before he signed to the UFC. The biggest promotion in the sport had decided to get behind Duffy in a big way and in just his third fight, he was headlining a card in his home country of Ireland. It seemed like the UFC had managed to find itself another ready-made Irish superstar.
However the road got a little shaky from there. First a concussion took Duffy off the UFC Dublin card. Then he was soundly drubbed by Dustin Poirer when the fight was rebooked for a three rounder. Since then Duffy has rebounded with a 25 second submission of Mitch Clarke, but we have yet to see if he carries the ability to make good on his incredible potential. In anticipation of his upcoming bout with Reza Madadi, we shall be taking a look at all the things that make Duffy such a promising talent in the lightweight division.
The Return Of Joe Duffy: UFC Fight Night 107
Joe Duffy: A Technical Appraoch
The most important part of Duffy’s prowess as a fighter is his technical ability. Far from a one trick pony, Duffy carries a wide array of skills into the cage with him. He has a professional boxing background, a black belt in Jujitsu, a purple belt in Brazilian Jujitsu, and a black belt in Taekwon-do. What ties all of these skills together is his mentality. Unsurprisingly, Duffy approaches all of these areas with the same technicians mindset. He doesn’t get flustered, reckless, or wild in any portion of the fight. Whether he is striking or grappling, Duffy remains calm and composed. Many of the greatest fighters in the history of combat sports would kill for the ability to remain calm under pressure the way Duffy does, and it is his commitment to technique and his determination not to abandon it that has seen him soar to success.
A Striking Profile:
On the feet, Duffy has one of the most easily recognizable patterns of movement out there. Unusually for MMA, he likes to move his feet as little as possible and keep his upper body moving even when he isn’t striking.
The beauty of moving your head all the time is that you don’t have to try and react to your opponents strikes. Duffy moves his head on the outside so much that when his opponent does throw back the chances are his head is going to be moving anyway. But that is not the only area where Duffy is disciplined with his technique.
There are a lot of fighters in MMA who move their head well on the outside, only to completely forget about it when they commit to throwing punches. Almost every time Duffy throws a punch, he will take his head off the center line.
It is not a huge movement, but as seen especially in his fight with Mitch Clarke (gif above) if you and your opponent throw punches at the same time and you take your head even a little bit out of the way, you will come out of that exchange looking better.
When people here the word technical, they often interpret it as identical to the term fundamental. The idea that a technical fighter does everything right and by the book is a common one, but in Duffy’s case it is a little misleading. While he has a nice jab and will use it effectively, his main offence is a little more unorthodox. As can be seen in the above gifs, Duffy is a big fan of the lead right hand.
While this is normally not recommended due to the time it gives the opponent to react, Duffy wants to encourage his opponent to throw back. Because he moves his head as he throws, he stands to come off better in an exchange of single punches. If he can give them a chance at a counter and they take it, he still stands to win the majority of the time. Often it is hard to tell whether he is leading or countering, but he more often than not comes out on top.
Another sneaky punch that Duffy favours is the leaping lead left hook. While this shot is a dangerous one to attempt, Duffy makes it safer by utilizing his other tools. He will often get his opponent worrying about the right hand and reacting to it. Then he will fake a right hand while loading up his left hip. The reason he can get away with such a blatant action is that it is masked by his constant head movement. When his body is constantly changing positions, opponents eventually numb to the dangers he presents them a dozen times a round when he loads his left hand right in front of them.
Duffy is also known for his commitment to body punches. In a veteran move carried over from his boxing career, Duffy will not waste time headhunting a shelled up opponent. Instead he will look to target the body. When a man gets buzzed, he protects his head first and everything else second. Duffy has had great success in hurting his opponent with a clean shot to the head, then digging the body as he puts his earmuffs on.
Duffy’s kicks are an interesting aside to his otherwise boxing-centric striking. Some of the only combinations he throws tend to involve leg kicks. This is a fantastic example of changing levels that you rarely see in MMA. When people work high and low in combination, they tend to work head and body. Duffy will work from the head to the legs to keep his opponents from bracing to take his shots. When an opponent is expecting a head or body strike, the last thing on their mind is their lead leg. This is particularly effective against opponents who like to give ground on punches instead of standing their ground. The last thing to leave striking range is the lead leg, and when moving backwards it is hard to form any kind of defense without first planting your feet.
When throwing headkicks, Duffy rarely kicks off his right leg. Unusually for MMA, he favour the lead leg high kick. Unlike most MMA fighters, Duffy kicks high without a switch. He is very comfortable kicking from punching range and looking to catch his opponent unawares.
Duffy as a striker is a little misleading. Despite his success with body punches and leg kicks, he is predominantly a head hunter. People see his flurries and body shots against the fence and assume him to be a swarming pressure fighter, but that is not the case. Much of the damage in Duffy’s fights are done in open space. If you were to categorize him, he is almost a picture perfect outfighter. He sets a long range, uses plenty of feints and head movement and then looks to snipe. He works best when given the opportunity to exchange in one or two shots, and he counters and leads interchangeably. When he can force an opponent to hang around on the end of his range, Duffy is deadly. One shot at a time, he can take apart any man at 155 pounds.
A Baited Trap: Pick Your Poison
While he is an exceptional striking talent, what sets Duffy apart from all the other good strikers is his grappling. He is a tremendous top player, and is great at landing punishing strikes in order to open up his opponents back. His positional control is admirable, and he rarely lets people up from under him without first giving them a hiding.
However in what is an unusual departure from the modern MMA meta game, Duffy excels on the ground as a guard player. He is exceptionally good at using his guard to create movement and latching submissions on in the transition. As soon as his opponent closes the distance with him, Duffy is thinking of a way to wrap them up.
Duffy’s grappling is the perfect accompaniment to his striking. His game at range is so potent that his opponents often feel as if their only hope is to close the distance as quickly as possible. Once they finally arrive at what they thought would be a safer space, they are immediately assaulted from a whole new dimension.
The Missing Links
Joe Duffy has skills in all areas of the fight, that much is not in question. His game is one that relies on a technical approach that focuses on creating and exploiting openings. However every style has it’s weakness, and Duffy’s were exposed by Dustin Poirer. In his fight with “The Diamond”, Duffy looked great on the feet in open space. He was landing hard right hand leads and setting his distance well. However what would become his undoing was the lack of melding between his striking and grappling. His ability to start hunting for submissions as soon as a grappling exchange initiates is one of his greatest strengths. It is also one of his greatest weaknesses.
Time and time again Poirer would tie up with Duffy, only to break apart and continue hitting him as Duffy looked to establish control.
Once he had secured a takedown, Poirer would switch between looking to advance position and landing brutal shots as soon as Duffy started to believe they were involved in a grappling match.
Duffy is at his best when he is allowed to play each facet of his game off the other. His striking allows better opportunities for his grappling, and his grappling in turn reinforces his striking. However what the Poirer fight showed is that there is a clear divide in Duffy’s mind between the two worlds. While he had moments of success on the mat against Poirer, he was essentially beaten down by someone who treated grappling and striking as one and the same.
Duffy looked great in his last performance against Clarke, but he didn’t show us anything new. For all we know, the holes Poirer exposed in his game are alive and well. However Duffy trains at Tristar Gym with Firas Zahabi, so it is unlikely this weakness has gone unattended.
Duffy’s opponent on Saturday is Reza Madadi,a large, hulking wrestler. His gameplan is always to force a takedown through dogged determination. It is almost a given that this fight will eventually end up on the fence. Madadi is a grinding wrestler who likes to lean on his opponents. However his striking is very much a means to set up his takedown entries.
Duffy is currently as high as an 8-1 favorite to win this fight, and rightly so. Madadi is just as good a wrestler as Poirer, but he lacks the fluidity to his game that Poirer used to give Duffy fits. It will be interesting to see if Duffy’s striking can stand on it’s own merit without the backup of his submissions, but more than likely the reason to watch this fight is to check in on the progress Duffy has made since last July.
The Rise of Joe Duffy may have hit a speed bump against Poirer, but that doesn’t mean we can call off the hype train just yet.