The Striking Zone: Poor footwork and head movement haunts Tito Ortiz at UFC 140

Photo by Nick Laham via Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

This past Saturday (Dec. 10, 2011), the mixed martial arts (MMA) world was treated to one of the more climactic fight cards of the entire year. UFC 140 saw all but three of the evening's 12 fights being finished emphatically with submissions or knockouts.

The night was capped off when light heavyweight champion Jon Jones defended his title for the second time by choking challenger Lyoto Machida unconscious. It would be a strong ending to a pay-per-view (PPV) filled with vicious endings.

Even though knockouts are part of the sport and have become a staple for highlight reel usage, it never ceases to send a shock through fight fans when a top name fighter is finished violently, even more so when it could very well be the end of a storied career.

One of the more overlooked fights from the night was the clash between two light heavyweights, Tito Ortiz and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. The two talented fighters would start very hot and only one would be able to keep that pace going on his way towards a victory.

For more reading and analysis, follow me into the extended entry.

Even though Tito Ortiz has had a legendary career spanning 13-plus years and all but one of his 27 career professional fights under the UFC banner, he has always yielded losses to fighters who could neutralize his wrestling.

Though he has found plenty of success, Ortiz on the tail end of his career still falters in a very familiar way.

While respect is given for his light heavyweight title reign, Ortiz has succumbed to such superior strikers like Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin and Lyoto Machida. The trio of fighters were able to stand long enough to swarm Ortiz with striking. Even though Ortiz has improved in his striking, it is quite evident that bad habits have not been corrected.

This is most indicative when you look all the way back to his fight with Chuck Liddell.

Ufc66_medium

Photo via UFC.com

See the Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell GIFs here.

At UFC 66 in December of 2006, Ortiz would meet Liddell for the second time. He would be game enough to exchange flurries with Liddell throughout the fight but his disadvantage was evident from the beginning of the fight.

The barrage Chuck throws starts with an uppercut but what really lands is the hooking haymakers Liddell lands in the pocket as both men throw leather. What Liddell was so good at was landing strikes at unique and not often used angles. Chuck mixes up his strikes well with traditional straights, hooks and over hands but the trajectory of the punches arc in unique fashion.

As soon as Liddell has Ortiz covering up, he exerts maximum energy as he throws everything (plus the kitchen sink) towards the head of Ortiz. Ortiz continues to cover up using his hands and four ounce gloves to do absorb as much as the punishment as possible. Liddell continues to unload until Ortiz finally succumbs to an uppercut and falls to the mat.

At this point, Liddell continues to barrage Ortiz with strikes. Mixing it up from the head to the body he punches Ortiz until the referee is forced to stop the bout. Ortiz offers no defense from the bottom and as soon as he was covering up on the feet he offered zero offense as well.

Not a great showing from a powerhouse wrestler and an Abu Dhabi Combat Club bronze medalist.

10_ortiz_nogueira_03_medium

Photo via UFC.com

See the Tito Ortiz vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira GIFs here.

In nearly the same fashion as the Liddell fight, Tito gets tagged cleanly in an exchange by his opponent at UFC 140 this past weekend, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. "Little Nog" would land a left hand off the exit of some clinching and Ortiz, rocked, would cover up and backpedal.

Nogueira would throw bombs at Ortiz very reminiscent of the strikes Liddell landed in the video above. The strikes would be high arcing and from very different angles. While applying the pressure Nogueira, like Liddell, would find an open area to hurt Ortiz while his entire attention was focused on keeping his hands covering as much of his face as possible. He would land a devastating knee to the body which would fold Ortiz.

Nogueira would not stop there as he would brutally attack the head and body until he was awarded the referee stoppage and a technical knockout victory.

But what errors did Ortiz make in both of these fights?

The most simple of course was that he covered up and waited for his opponent to stop. This isn't boxing where bulky gloves can save you from being tagged cleanly. The small four ounce gloves cover very little more than your own two fists can and if you are punched in the hand it offers very little padding.

Ortiz also backpedaled and kept his back on the fence. With such prominent strikers attacking him while he was hurt, he had no fear of being taken down, and Ortiz had to do either one of two things.

He could have dropped down for a takedown. Even if he fails at finishing it he allows himself time to recover and keeps the barrage of strikes from continuing. Snatching on to a single leg can be a saving grace when in a dangerous position. With Ortiz's top level wrestling knowledge a single leg could have transitioned into a double leg and chain wrestling could have gotten the fight to the ground even if it was for a few moments.

Ortiz's other option was to circle away. I understand a lot of this is easier said than done but using great footwork is a very efficient way to escape being barraged with strikes. Fighters like Lyoto Machida, Dominick Cruz and Anderson Silva have used this technique to stay out of harms way. If Ortiz would to circle away from the power hand of his opponents he forces them to chase and then would possibly create an opportunity to counter them as they rush in for the kill.

I am sure we all remember fights like Nate Quarry against Scott Smith and Cheick Kongo against Pat Barry. Anytime you make room for yourself, opportunities become more abundant. It works the same on the feet and the ground, creating space will make your opponent more vulnerable even if you are hurt.

While Tito Ortiz will be a Hall of Famer one day, his lack of ability to react well under the pressure of strikes has been an Achilles' heel for some time. With good footwork, resilience and quick wits while being punched, Ortiz may have offered more in tough losses to Liddell and Nogueira.

Until next time Maniacs!

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