The fact that the match-up between Chris Weidman and Yoel Romero isn’t even the main event of UFC 205, speaks volumes to how stacked this card is. On any other event, this fight would easily carry main event status, since it is a fight that fans have been waiting to see for a long time.
That is not to say that there hasn’t been a few bumps along the way. At UFC 194, Weidman was defeated by Luke Rockhold for the first loss of his professional career. On the same night, Romero earned a split-decision win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and subsequently failed a USADA drug test.
Both men are on the road back to the top. And both men have something to prove. The match-up between Weidman and Romero pits Weidman’s craft and discipline against the less polished but more explosive Romero.
A Guide To UFC 205: Weidman vs. Romero
Chris Weidman: A Study in Discipline
While Weidman’s ego can dictate his decision making at times. His style and technique is one of discipline. That attribute can not be understated.
Controlling The Center
The core of Weidman’s game is built around ring-cutting. Compared to boxing and kickboxing, MMA’s ring generalship is pretty poor. There are a few reasons for this. In a 32 ft cage with very limited corners, trapping guys is a much bigger task than it is in a ring. Add the threat of the takedown and the fact that high-level striking and high-level MMA striking are a world apart, and you can see why most guys settle for learning how to hit hard and call it a day. Weidman is one of the few people in all of MMA who really focuses on his positioning in the cage. His fight with Lyoto Machida was a beautiful display of ring-craft. From the opening moment of the first round, Weidman put Machida against the fence and, more importantly, he kept him there.
A Means to An End
One thing about Weidman that is unusual is the frequency with which he kicks. Despite being a submission wrestler, Weidman will regularly throw respectable kicks, like he did against Machida and Anderson Silva. His kicks are not particularly strong, but they do what they are intended too. They give Weidman a weapon to reach kickers with, and they force a retreat.
A kick will always be longer than a punch. If Weidman were to only box with Machida, he would be out ranged for the whole fight. By kicking from the outset, he forced Machida to adjust to a longer range. Once he hit the fence, Weidman was able to step into punching range behind his kicks and begin the real work.
The important thing to note is that Weidman throws surprisingly few punches while pressuring. He forces his opponent to react, without actually committing to moving forward. Guys who like to move forward are a dime a dozen in MMA. Weidman gets close enough for his opponent to be uncomfortable, and then he waits. With their back to the cage, they have an urgency injected into them. This forces them to either work at a faster pace to get off the cage or they have to swing back. While he may not be the fastest guy, Weidman stays on top of his feet and is constantly in a position to throw back with power.
A lot has been made about Weidman’s boxing. He has a nice jab, he doubles up on his right hand well, and he can punch while staying on top of his feet. But I wouldn’t call his boxing his best weapon. Not by a long stretch. Weidman does much of his best work from slightly inside punching range.
Because Weidman spends so much time standing in striking range without throwing strikes, he is more comfortable than most in between ranges. Some of Weidman’s best weapons come from the space between traditional ‘outfighting’ range and the clinch. A staple of all Weidman fights is his smothering style of hand fighting.
Rather than trying to dart in and out of range, Weidman will step in and smother his opponents hands. This is a great way to defuse counter punches. Alistair Overeem has had tremendous success by smothering his opponents hands and stepping in with knees. Weidman however takes a slightly different approach. Rather than using it as a way to remove hands from the equation, Weidman will patiently hand fight for a portion of the fight, then use his opponents expectations of the hand fight against them. He comes in hand first to force his opponent to react, then follows up with something else.
While Weidman is far from a one trick pony, he definitely has a favored technique. Weidman is better than anyone else at using the hand fight to land his rear elbow.
In fact Weidman might be the best at using his rear elbow period. As the shortest technique that is the furthest away from the opponent, landing this elbow requires precise timing and great anticipation. However if it does land, the damage it can do is obvious.
Weidman will also use this hand trap to set up takedowns. He will extend his hands, and as his opponent extends their guard to hand fight back, Weidman ducks in on their hips
Being An Elusive Target
A big part of Weidman’s success is in his ability to remain defensively aware while constantly pressing forward. It is a dangerous thing to place yourself in striking range constantly. Weidman does a good job of avoiding the brunt of most charges. He does this by backing up and stiff arming his opponents away.
However when Weidman has run into trouble is when he forgoes his defense. When Machida caught him with a shot and flurried, Weidman covered up, weathered the storm, then waived him in. This highlights the problem Weidman can have: when his mind wanders, Weidman gets into trouble.
The Dangers Of Pressure
Weidman is far more effective as a measured pressure fighter than a tough guy. If his opponents can instill a sense of urgency in him, Weidman becomes much more hitable. Against Luke Rockhold, Weidman was clearly troubled by his opponents reach and kicks. For once it was Weidman who was stuck on the end of his opponents range reluctant to move in. As a result he became focused on moving in and staying in. As a result of that, he would get caught with kicks every time he stepped into range.
Weidman was so flustered on the feet he ended up committing to an ill advised wheel kick that saw him get taken down and pounded out.
Even though that may be his only loss, the Vitor Belfort fight was another example of Weidman getting uncomfortable and throwing his gameplan out the window. He may have been worried about Belfort’s early flurries, or he might have been bothered by his explosiveness, but Weidman again committed wholeheartedly to moving forward. As a result he was stung by Belfort and again had to weather a storm before returning the favor on an already fading Belfort.
In short Weidman is a guy who works best in between areas, in all aspects of the fight. When he’s too aggressive he walks on to shots, when he’s too passive he sits back and takes them. He works best between outfighting and clinching range and he has the most success when he mixes takedowns with strikes without relying on one aspect more than the other. If any of these things become unbalanced, Weidman’s performance suffers. However when all cylinders are firing, he is capable of beating anyone in the world at 185.
Yoel Romero: Defying Expectations
If you have never watched a Yoel Romero fight, you are missing out. As one of the best wrestlers in the last decade, Romero truly is one of the finest athletes in the UFC today. His wrestling career has brought over a few habits which serve Romero well, but it may surprise people how little Romero’s Olympic wrestling pedigree actually appears in his fights. Far from being a mainstay in his game, Romero uses his the threat of his wrestling much better than he actually uses his wrestling. When you watch his wrestling highlights, you can see why opponents worry about his takedowns.
However, Romero’s ‘MMA wrestling’ is not as scary as would appear. His UFC career had a rocky start that saw him get taken down by both Ronny Markes and Derek Brunson, all while failing to score a single takedown. This changed when he came out against Brad Tavares. All of a sudden the monster from the 2000 Olympic games was back.
This fight highlighted a fact about Romero that is worth mentioning. His takedowns are top notch, and his takedown defense has woken back up since his early UFC career, but as a grappler Romero lacks focus. In freestyle wrestling, the takedown and the pin are the only thing that matters. As a result of this, Romero’s grappling experience stops as soon as he secures a takedown. His defense is good, he get out from under Jacare without taking too much damage or even letting the jujitsu wizard out of half guard. But he seems to have a problem keeping guys down. Except for Lyoto Machida, every single person Romero has taken down has gotten back up.
But like I said above, Romero’s fighting style relies less on his wrestling and more on the idea that he is a great wrestler. It is this fear that allows Romero to strike the way he does, which I can only describe one way. Romero’s striking is plain weird.
Tempo, Kicks, and The Left Hand
Romero has one of the most recognizable fighting styles of anyone out there. Keeping his body upright and legs close together, Romero will bop and dip his way towards his opponent in a way that looks very out of place in a fist fight. However much of what Romero does is about deception. At it’s base his style is based on three components that play off each other: varying his tempo, throwing a lot of kicks, and his left hand.
The first thing to note about Romero is that he throws a lot of techniques half speed. The second thing to note is that he throws a lot of kicks. Both of these things work in tandem to deaden the opponents senses. Despite being a wickedly explosive athlete, Romero starts most fights with deliberately slow kicks. This means that when he does explode, his speed is that much more jarring to his opponents.
The kicks that Romero favors are generally to the lead leg of his opponent. He can kick to the body pretty well, but the leg kick provides him with what he really wants. In every moment of every fight, Romero is looking for an opening to land his left hand.
Odds and Ends
The wrestler with the big punch is nothing new. However Romero does a very good job of disguising his motives with his kicks and unorthodox movement. Once he decides to close the distance, he will often chain his left hand onto his front leg kick. This is a favorite of Dan Henderson, as whether an opponent checks the kick or takes the kick, they remain rooted in place for Romero to land his left hand.
Romero will also happily smother the hands then duck out to the side as he throws his left. He will either throw it as a straight or loop it as an overhand, but when he hurts guys, it is usually courtesy of that left hand.
That is not to say that he is a one hit wonder. He has a very good right uppercut, and his flying knees are dangerous. The left hand is simply Romero’s corner stone. He uses it on the counter, on the lead, and everywhere in between. He masks his dependency on it very well, and that is what high level striking is all about. Rather than trying to learn every technique, you should learn what works for you, then try and figure out as many ways as possible to land it. Romero knows what works for him, and while he isn’t afraid to try new things, he always comes back to the basics.
His defense has always involves simply giving ground to his opponent. Many times he will actually run backwards as opposed to staying in his stance. He will also drop his hands and move his head, much like Akihiro Gono was known to do. Romero seems unwilling to move his head and keep his hands up. It is either one or the other.
This fight presents different hazards for both guys. Romero has the kind of explosion that has bothered Weidman in the past. He has the wrestling to fight off his takedowns. On the feet his game may seem unorthodox, but it has troubled a wide variety of strikers, and if Weidman cannot stay composed, he could find himself walking on to shots.
For Weidman, staying disciplined is crucial. Romero has never had great ring awareness, and routinely backs himself on to the fence. If Weidman can keep him there, Romero becomes much more hitable. However placing Romero under pressure is a dangerous task. If Weidman tries to force a reaction from him, that’s exactly what he’ll get. Romero’s explosive bursts and leg kicks could spell trouble for Weidman if he isn’t paying attention. While Weidman has a good history of checking leg kicks, a check is as good as a landed kick to Romero. Weidman will have to pressure Romero while staying elusive, and those two terms go together like water and oil.
This wraps up our three round fights on the UFC 205 main card. From here on out it is all five round title fights, and we’re only halfway through the card! Coming up next: a battle of polish pride as strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk takes on the undefeated Karolina Kowalkiewicz.