Aggressive kickboxer and submission fighter, Alex Caceres, is set to battle with rising star, Yair Rodriguez, this Saturday (Aug. 6, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 92 inside Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Caceres has had some major ups-and-downs in his UFC career. Despite losing his first two UFC fights — and three of his first four — Caceres was kept around mostly because of his reputation on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 12 as a flashy fighter. However, Caceres then proved he was a quality Bantamweight by winning five straight. Just as he seemed to be turning things around, Caceres dropped a trio of tough bouts and relocated to the Featherweight division. Since then, "Bruce Leeroy" has won a pair of bouts and will now take a significant leap in competition.
Let’s take a closer look at this skill set:
Caceres has also been an athletic striker with some crazy kicks and a funky stance. In the beginning of his career, that’s about all he was. However, he has shown consistent improvement since the start of his UFC career, and working under John Crouch at the MMA Lab recently in particular has had a dramatic effect on his game.
Caceres’ creativity is definitely still a strength. However, rather than randomly flicking up spinning kicks or throwing double punches without any rhyme or reason, Caceres is now using his quickness and unpredictability to either set up hard punches or after he’s already gained a dominant angle.
For a Southpaw, Caceres makes solid use of his lead hand. On occasion, he’ll step for the inside angle and look to snap off a quick jab, but he’s mostly setting up his left cross. To that end, Caceres uses a quick hook or right uppercut to step outside of his opponent’s lead foot, lining up his left (GIF). Alternatively, Caceres has used lead hand leg punches to set up the left, which is a fine example of smart creativity.
However, Caceres doesn’t simply end his combination. Often, he’ll follow up with another hook or uppercut, and this time it will pack more power. Plus, after securing the angle and landing his combo, Caceres sometimes keeps pivoting past his opponent. This forces him to turn and face "Bruce Leeroy," opening up more punches and/or kicks.
One example of Caceres’ smarter use of flashy strikes came in his last bout with Cole Miller. Against an opponent with such a major speed disadvantage, Caceres was able to take the outside angle and land almost at will. After battering Miller enough that he was shelling up at the slightest feint — which makes taking the angle even easier — Caceres leaped into the air with a jump kick/punch mixture.
Since he threw this technique after achieving the outside angle, there was little danger of him being countered. Instead, Caceres was able to land and blast Miller with his left before taking his back, as he was nearly at a 90 degree angle by that point (GIF).
In Caceres’ last performance, he showed the absolute best kickboxing of his career. When he punched, he committed to the strikes, as they were fast and hard. Earlier in his career, he had a bad habit of flicking punches without any real intention, which allowed foes to walk through his strikes far easier.
While on the outside, Caceres has quite a few kicking techniques in his arsenal. However, MMA lab seems to have calmed him down a bit there, as Caceres relied far more heavily on simple but effective round kicks. Against an Orthodox opponent like Miller, Caceres can batter his foe’s leg, body, and potentially skull simply by firing a hard left kick.
That said, Caceres does still mix in some flash. In an example from his last bout, he ended a number of his combinations with lead leg round house kicks, catching his opponent leaning away from the left. He also uses quick outside low kicks to set up a jumping switch kick, which is a signature technique of his opponent (GIF).
Defensively, Caceres has some nice head movement and understands range well, but he’s a bit too confident. Caceres is more than willing to drop his hands and stay in the pocket, which is great if he’s got an angle but otherwise can get him clipped. Additionally, he relies on the tall man strategy of simply leaning back, which is precisely what allowed Francisco Rivera to knock him out in less than a minute.
Caceres has never been considered much of a wrestler. At Bantamweight, he struggled inside the clinch against stronger opponents. However, since his return to Featherweight, he appears to be stronger in that area, as it’s where most of his takedowns come.
Against Miller, Caceres manhandled his foe from the clinch. Numerous times, Caceres simply got his hips behind Miller’s own and brought him to the mat with force. Other times, Caceres would catch a knee and drop Miller on his head without much issue.
He simply overwhelmed the grappling ace with his strength and fluidity.
While that’s a positive sign, Caceres’ defensive wrestling has never been his strong suit. He’s decent at range at shucking off his opponent’s attempts largely thanks to his length and use of angles. However, opponents who really put the pressure on him and back him up have found far more success, both with doubles against the fence or with clinch takedowns.
Perhaps Caceres’ move up in weight and subsequent increased physicality will benefit him there as well, but that has yet to be tested against a true wrestling specialist.
Considering the fact that Caceres has a whopping five submission losses on his record, it’s easy to assume that the lanky Floridian isn’t much of a grappler. However, most of those losses came early in his career — with the exception being Urijah Faber, who is hardly a loss to scoff at — and Caceres has landed five tap outs of his own.
From his back, Caceres plays a high guard game suited for someone with his frame. Alternating between triangles and arm bar attempts, Caceres keeps his guard high and forces his opponent to defend submission attempts rather than land ground strikes.
While this approach has earned him a few wins — notably a pair of triangle chokes in the UFC and on TUF — it has also been costly. While Caceres definitely has some skill on the mat, his aggressive approach leaves him vulnerable to more experienced grapplers. Basically, that high guard/active submission combo may be dangerous, but it’s also far easier to pass than most bottom games.
Against a better Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter than him, that can be a major problem.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that arguably the biggest win of Caceres’ career ended via submission. At the very end of a back-and-forth battle with Sergio Pettis, Caceres defended a heel hook attempt by taking his opponent’s back. This time, it was Caceres’ punishing his younger opponent’s unchecked aggression in the form of a rear naked choke, as Caceres finished with less than a minute remaining (GIF).
Despite inconsistent performances, it’s always been obvious that Caceres has some serious talent. While this main event slot against another prospect may be a bit strange, it’s really an ideal situation for him. He does not match up against Rodriguez poorly, so this is his chance to steal his opponent’s considerable momentum and make his own statement as a 145-pound contender.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.