Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero, and How Everybody Got Guns
Sports is often just a negotiation between the strengths and weaknesses of two combatants. In MMA, that oftren equates to power versus speed, length versus bulk, smarts versus athleticism. Too often we ignore that those strengths and weaknesses are refined even further. It could be that a fighter’s power shines through mostly when he counters with his rear hand or that a fighter is exceptionally quick moving in straight lines but lazy moving at angles.
Too often we focus so much on the simplest strengths of one fighter as to blind us to the complex strengths of the other. Or, more commonly, we focus so much on a fighter’s simple strength, we are blind to their complex weaknesses. We talk about Francis N’Gannou’s fearsome power so much we forget Stipe Miocic is a dogged pressure fighter with an excellent chin and well-timed single leg shots. Or we focus too much on N’Gannou’s power that we forget he’s barely ever been tested by a decent grappler, let alone defended a high-level single-leg shot.
Even the best fighters are imperfect - but they all have weapons. Everybody got guns.
In the fight between Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold, neither man was receiving the lion’s share of the praise. Hardly. This was as much a pick ‘em fight as any in recent memory. There was, however, a lot of lip service paid to the things we love about Rockhold and Romero’s game – blinding us to their shortcomings.
Romero came out on top after a vicious third round KO. Ironically, however, that even in victory Romero’s weaknesses bubbled to the surface repeatedly. Long stretches of inactivity against Rockhold again left him taking shots and not returning them. Rockhold’s mindful strategy of feinting dulled Romero’s trigger and following up with one-two’s let him piece up Romero at times. All true. Despite Romero’s falws laid out bare in front of him, Rockhold proved too easily influenced when Romero decided to blitz him. He instinctually reverted to the same poor ringcraft choices that have got him in trouble before.
Rockhold is known for his skipping right check hook and his left body kick. In the past they have served him to disincentive aggressive opponents who chose to rush in and punish opponents who back up. Taken together with his fearsome controlling grappling game and exquisite takedown scramble defence (his inverted triangle submission of Tim Boetsch is item number one) and few people had been capable of worry Rockhold much. But the hook, in particular, has represented also why Rockhold has slide in recent fights.
Rockhold’s hook has always been a hurting blow in part because he throws it so hard. But if it doesn’t land, it has served to overextend him. This tendency to overextend with his hands was also what got him caught by Bisping. Rockhold threw a jab, a perfectly reasonable and low-risk strike, but he threw it like he was tossing a javelin. Overextended and with his back to Bisping, the Brit simply stepped in with full view of Rockhold’s temple and the ending began.
Against Romero, the ending was written much the same way. An overextended check hook moved him out of position and Romero capitalized much the same way as Bisping did. Good night.
It was unfortunate ending for Rockhold because he was seemingly doing all the right things to keeping Romero from coming into range. An even greater irony considering his penchant for moving straight forwards or straight backwards. Even employing all the right tools to steady the trigger of Romero – pumping and feinting the jab, a front kick, and snapping in calf kicks – Rockhold’s lack of ringcraft undid him. Against a slower opponent, Rockhold may have been able to bounce out of range better and land his hook more often. Against a berserker like Romero, he was never going to backpedal fast enough that his striking defence wouldn’t have to come into play. He chose the wrong movement and the wrong counter at the wrong time.
At the end of the day, both Romero and Rockhold may be a physical specimen but this is sports. Everybody got guns. It’s who’s got more bullets that matters.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys is the host of The Hurt Take on Not The Public Broadcaster