Undefeated power-puncher, Jimi Manuwa, looks to leap up the rankings by defeating recent Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title challenger, Alexander Gustafsson, this Saturday (March 8, 2014) at the O2 Arena in London, England.
Manuwa is something of a late bloomer in mixed martial arts (MMA), as he first took up the four-ounce gloves at the age of 28. Despite his late start, Manuwa went on to thoroughly destroy his first 11 opponents, with none of them surviving to the third round.
This impressive win streak sent "Poster Boy" to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), where he debuted against Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran Kyle Kingsbury. At the end of 10 minutes, Kingsbury's eye was too damaged to continue, and Manuwa earned his first Octagon victory.
In a bizarre turn of events, Manuwa has won his last two bouts via injury, after his opponent's legs have given out during the fight. Whether this is an odd coincidence or some ungodly display of power, Manuwa was clearly winning both fights.
Now, Manuwa has the opportunity to thrust his name into title contention, should he defeat Swedish "Mauler," Alexander Gustafsson. But, does he have the tools to do so?
Let's take a closer look.
In addition to being very strong, Manuwa has picked up striking very quickly. He doesn't throw long combinations, but he does throw a high volume of strikes, which is uncommon for someone with one-punch knockout power.
It's not out of the ordinary for a fighter to have knockout power in his hands. What is rare, and what makes Manuwa so special, is that he has brutal power in every strike he throws. His punches, kicks, and knees all cause his opponents to back away, and even his clinch knees to the thighs caused a tough man in Ryan Jimmo to visibly grimace.
Manuwa often opens his bouts by gauging the distance with a few jabs and feints. After quickly finding his range, the Brit will begin working his lead hook. Even though Manuwa's left hook is easily his most utilized punch, it does not become predictable, because he varies how often he throws the punch.
For example, when at his kicking range, Manuwa loves to cover distance with a leaping left hook. Closer to his opponent, he'll throw a shorter, but still powerful, hook or feint, get off at an angle, and attack his opponent's body.
Though he will occasionally use the jab and uppercut, Manuwa relies on his left hook constantly. One of his favorite ways to land this punch is to force his opponent into the cage with kicks. As his foe circles away from Manuwa's power hand, he'll lead him into the left hook.
If his opponent refuses to circle, Manuwa looks to clinch or attempt a flying knee.
Manuwa frequently follows his left hook with a hard right cross or occasional overhand. Regardless of the angle, his right hand packs huge power. After throwing his right hand, Manuwa often looks to grab a clinch of his opponent, who is either stumbling or has his defenses high.
On the outside, Manuwa really works over his opponent's legs with kicks.
Though these kicks affected all three of his UFC opponents, they had the biggest impact in his fight against Ryan Jimmo, who though not nearly as good, is a bit like Machida with his karate background and in-and-out style. To prevent the Canadian from countering, Manuwa would end his combinations with a leg kick, which completely destabilized his base.
Or, he'd lead with a kick and knock "Big Deal" off balance, allowing his follow-up punches to easily land.
He may throw them less frequently, but Manuwa's kicks to the head and body are violent. As with his leg kicks, they land with an audible thud and completely halt his opponent's forward movement. Since his Octagon debut, Manuwa has shown a few more kicks in his arsenal, such as the lead leg side kick, which he used effectively against the lengthy Cyrille Diabate.
He also attempted a hook kick on Jimmo, which nearly landed on his chin.
Since so many of his opponents seek to push him against the cage, Manuwa began working on hurting his opponents from inside the clinch. This decision has paid dividends, as now Manuwa is technical enough in the clinch to seek it out himself. Not only does he still have the power to finish from inside the clinch, his opponent probably doesn't, meaning the Englishman is at a huge advantage.
In addition to his thigh busting knees against Jimmo, Manuwa has shown that he needs just a small amount of space to rip into his opponent's body. In order to land to his opponent's face, Manuwa secures an underhook with one arm and frames his opponent's face with the other.
From there, he can freely drive his opponent down into knees.
So far, Manuwa has yet to reveal any defensive flaws, mostly because two of his three opponent's basically stopped trying to hit him once they felt his power. Diabate, on the other hand, managed to land some nice knees, but Manuwa adjusted well to prevent any continued damage. Outside of that, Manuwa just hasn't been hit very much.
Manuwa is undoubtedly a kickboxer first, but his wrestling seems to be solid. He has yet to face a legitimate wrestler, so it's still unproven, but the early signs are promising.
For the most part, Manuwa doesn't really go for takedowns. However, that changed when he felt some of Diabate's long knees aimed at his ribs. After realizing just how good "The Snake" was with knee strikes, Manuwa began to time and catch them, securing easy takedowns from the clinch. While the Frenchman is hardly the best wrestler in the light heavyweight division, it was a nice blend of striking and wrestling from "Poster Boy."
More important for Manuwa is his ability to stop his opponent's takedowns.
In his debut, Manuwa easily stuffed all of Kingsbury's takedowns in the first round, using his strength and a heavy sprawl to shut down his double. However, whether due to the infamous Octagon jitters or poor conditioning, Manuwa's defenses slowed in the second, and he allowed "Kingsbu" to get on top of him twice.
Outside of this possible conditioning issue, Manuwa is an intimidating fighter to take down. It's not easy to get in deep on his hips, as his striking is too dangerous, and shooting from too far out is a waste of time against his sprawl. That leaves clinch takedowns, where Manuwa's size, strength, and knees also make wrestling him an unfavorable idea.
In order to take Manuwa down, his opponent must blend his striking and wrestling very well, something few outside the top five do. Or, he can take his chances against Manuwa's power, which is what Kingsbury tried to do and ultimately suffered a fractured orbital for his efforts.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
With most of his fights ending via first-round shellacking, Manuwa has not really needed to spend much time on the mat. When he is on the ground, he's usually dropping ground-and-pound on his dazed opponent, which says very little about his grappling ability.
Manuwa's sole career submission victory comes via guillotine, and he did attack Kingsbury with a Peruvian necktie, showing that he probably likes front chokes. Though he did finish the former, both submission attempts were a bit sloppy. That said, I like his willingness to go for the submissions, and dropping back for chokes shows that he has some confidence in his grappling.
In the first round of his fight against Kingsbury, a slip landed Manuwa on his back in half guard. From this position, Manuwa did a very good job securing an underhook and waiting for his opportunity to bounce back to his feet, which he eventually did.
While waiting for this chance, Manuwa worked to create space by attempting to come up into a single leg or roll the opposite direction. These two sweeps, while basic, are very effective at every level of grappling and are solid tools for the Brit.
Despite his promising showing from the half guard, it appeared that Manuwa could still use some work on his bottom game. Admittedly, he was fatigued, but when Kingsbury took him down directly into side control, Manuwa did little but hold on. Against a more talented grappler -- or one with less damage than Kingsbury had sustained -- this could have put him in a very bad position.
Best chance for success
Gustafsson is a very movement-heavy fighter, while Manuwa very much likes to pressure his foe. This creates an interesting style match up. In order to land his big punches, Manuwa needs to focus heavily on his kicking game, which could limit the Swede's movement.
In "The Mauler's" last bout, Jon Jones had much of his success with his kicks. Though Manuwa cannot match Jones' speed or diversity of kicks, he has a large power advantage. If he can land just a few kicks to Gustafsson's leg, it would slow Gustafsson enough that Manuwa could catch him with punches.
Plus, it would help eliminate Gustafsson's reach advantage.
Another (albeit more difficult) way for Manuwa to neutralize Gustafsson's reach and movement advantage is with the clinch. This will not be easy, as Gustafsson is exceptionally good at getting his hips low and fighting for underhooks, but Manuwa's raw physicality could allow him to control Gustafsson. If he can hang on to his foe, he can land his brutal knees to the thigh and body. He could also choose any moment to take a step back and throw heat.
Should be interesting.
Can Manuwa pull off the upset of his younger opponent, or will Gustafsson fight his way back into a rematch against Jon Jones?