To many people, Jimi Manuwa was the only person outside of the “big three” (Gustafsson, Johnson, Cormier) who was worthy of challenging Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title. With strategic knockouts of Ovince St. Preux and Corey Anderson in back to back fights, it was believed that he’d evolved from a simple power hitter and was now ready to take a shot at the belt. Volkan Oezdemir had won his past two UFC fights (one against the aforementioned OSP), but he was widely considered as sort of place holder for Manuwa until the logjam at the top of the division cleared up.
Volkan Oezdemir had different ideas
Manuwa clinched Oezdemir against the cage with an underhook with his left hand and his right hand free to work. Manuwa was the stronger fighter, had the advantageous position and landed a solid hit to Oezdemir’s leg. It wasn’t the firefight we would have liked, but Manuwa had the safer position with more mobility. But Oezdemir took his left hand and began alternating between hooks and uppercuts.
This is nothing new, of course. The best way to dodge a hook is to duck, and the best way to avoid an uppercut is to sway back or to the side. Alternating between the two against an opponent who can’t move their feet is a surefire way to score a hit. But people who use this combination are usually the ones pressing their opponents against the fence, like Shane Carwin or Justin Gaethje. Far rarer is the fighter with their back against the cage doing the flurrying.
Oezdemir landed a left hook that struck Manuwa solidly in the hard part of his skull. It wasn’t a damaging punch, but enough to knock Manuwa off balance and gain some space. As Manuwa stumbled, the increased space allowed Oezdemir to land another left hook with even more efficacy. He stumbled again and the Swede landed a third left hook that, instead of bouncing off Manuwa’s skull, spun his jaw cleanly.
Manuwa staggered backwards only to have Oezdemir chase him down and punch/shove him to the ground so hard his head bounced on the canvas. Two follow-up punches later, Manuwa was so unconscious that he attempted a single leg takedown on referee Jason Herzog who, hilariously, seemed to attempt a front choke on him.
A lesson too late for Manuwa
The lesson to take is that holding the advantageous position in a clinch is not the same thing as being safe.
One of the huge defensive advantages for a clinch fighter is that there isn’t much room to generate power on head shots. The trade-off is that any hooks or elbows that land are nigh impossible to see coming because the opponent has access to the fighter’s blind spots on either side of their head. Basically, you’re very unlikely to be hit, but the effect of a clean hit is magnified. We saw this in Anderson Silva’s rematch with Chris Weidman, where the middleweight legend left too much space in his Thai-plum and ate a blind hook that made his eyes roll back.
All it took was one tiny opening and Oezdemir was able to crush Manuwa.
Oezdemir earned his win fair and square, but he should fight Gustafsson to determine who gets the next title shot. The fact is that he won’t win a clinch-fight against Jon Jones, and a match against the towering Swede will reveal just how many tricks he has in the bag. If he can topple Gus, then we can talk.
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