At UFC Fight Night 127, Jan Blachowicz proved that not all wins need to be pretty.
By the end of three hard-fought rounds with Jimi Manuwa, Blachowicz had secured a relatively comfortable unanimous decision.
He did this despite looking fundamentally terrible in so many ways. To clarify, Blachowicz was plodding his feet around with no real purpose, he was throwing (and connecting) with uppercuts that started from below the hip, and his chin was facing the ceiling.
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So, why did Manuwa have so much trouble with Blachowicz, especially after he easily bullied him around the cage in 2015?
Disrupting the flow
While the most significant moment of the fight was in the first round when Blachowicz dropped Manuwa with a powerful left uppercut and straight right hand, the story of the fight was actually Blachowicz’s use of the jab.
Blachowicz’s jab is certainly not textbook. If you’re used to watching high-level boxing, you’d probably even go as far to say that Blachowicz’s jab is ugly. By mixed martial arts standard, though, it wasn’t bad and that’s why it allowed him to control the pace of the fight and disrupt Manuwa from kicking into second gear.
In the opening stages of the contest, Blachowicz used his jab as more of a probing measuring stick to gather information about Manuwa’s movements and reactions. However, mainly as a result of Manuwa’s defensive tactics (or lack thereof), it didn’t take Blachowicz long to realize that he could start flicking it out with increased speed and power.
Manuwa’s response to Blachowicz’s jab was to slip to the outside. More often than not, he successfully evaded much of the sting that came with the punch. That’s fine and all, but it’s not going to be enough to win you a fight.
See, slipping a punch without offering any counter strike of your own is just defense. On its own, it provides little value to the person who is slipping the punch.
Rather, Manuwa needed to answer back with strikes of his own.
Let’s use the example that was prominent in this contest. When Blachowicz reached out with his left jab from an orthodox stance, Manuwa ducked his head to the outside (to his own right) and evaded the punch.
That was it. He never responded to the strike, and therefore Blachowicz was able to continually pump out his jab without fear.
The most obvious of counterpunch opportunities after the jab is for Manuwa to step out with his right foot, moving his head off the center line, before crashing his right hand over the left hand of Blachowicz. When timed perfectly, the right hand will come through at the same time as the left foot steps toward the opponent. In boxing, this is referred to as diagonal movement and is something that the Cuban Olympic boxing team, in particular, had mastered a long time ago.
Alternatively, Manuwa could have parried the incoming jab with either of his two hands and used that as a way to generate offense. For example, pushing the incoming left jab across and past your head with your right hand as you step out to the left can help you come back with a destructive left hook in return.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. Especially when your opponent is smartly disguising their jab by using various punching angles and different timing, much like Blachowicz was doing.
Manuwa needed to respond, but he chose not to.
A costly mistake or a strategic masterpiece?
As mentioned earlier, Blachowicz’s knockdown in the first round was the most significant moment of the fight.
Blachowicz connected with a heavy left uppercut and powerful right hand that knocked Manuwa down to the canvas. While it was certainly effective, it did seem like a reckless gamble at the time.
Why? Because Manuwa was technically in a slightly more advantageous position.
After stalking Blachowicz for minutes, Manuwa had eventually backed his opponent into the cage. This is usually ideal for a power puncher because the range between the two fighters has now been cut down and your opponent is without the ability to move backward.
But as Blachowiczs’s back touched the cage – usually an indication to throw fists or get out of there as soon as possible – Manuwa wasn’t at all ready for the exchange that was about to happen.
This is partly due to the way that Blachowicz had really offered no strikes with major power in the first few minutes, so Manuwa was lulled into thinking he was in a comfortable position. But mostly, Manuwa made a terrible mistake.
The attacker needs to attack an opponent who is backed into the cage, or at the very least be ready to respond to retaliation.
But instead, Manuwa chose not to act when the two were actually standing at the closest striking distance of the entire fight until that point. And while Manuwa was comfortable, Blachowicz rolled the dice. Rather than jab his way out of a bad position or shoot for a double-leg takedown (as he did successfully later in the fight), Blachowicz began to swing for the fences with a series of powerful punches.
The first couple of punches missed completely, but a thunderous left uppercut landed on Manuwa before Blachowicz then came over the top with a right hand down the middle.
Remember Manuwa’s fight with Volkan Oezdemir? Manuwa was a little too comfortable in a seemingly advantageous position in the clinch on that day and paid the ultimate price.
The same thing happened at UFC Fight Night 127.
Jake Nichols is The Body Lock's Editor in Chief. Previously, he was the MMA Editor at RealSport.