The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 22 veteran, Artem Lobov, will brawl with perennial Featherweight contender, Cub Swanson, this Saturday (April 22, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 108 inside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
I won’t pretend I didn’t groan when hearing the announcement of this match up.
Lobov in the main event? Even for a Fight Night card, it’s a little questionable. “Russian Hammer” has won his last two fights, to be fair, but he also lost the previous two and carries a pedestrian record of 13-12-1 into the cage. That’s no Matt Brown or Mark Hunt record, either, where the fighter has a lot of wins and losses to top competition, as most of Lobov’s career has been spent in regional shows.
Nevertheless, I soldiered on and watched the footage required to write this article. Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that while Lobov is nowhere near as good as Conor McGregor fans hope, he’s also not as incompetent as his detractors believe.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Lobov has a reputation as a knockout artist that is both valid and absurd. On one hand, just four of Lobov’s 13 victories are via knockout, which is not particularly frightening. At the same time, Lobov did pretty violently beat up and finish three straight foes on TUF, which cannot completely be discounted. This week’s technique highlight is something of an overview on Lobov’s kickboxing — what makes him dangerous and flawed.
Lobov has shown improvements in his last two fights. Most notably, Lobov has been working his opponents’ legs far more often (GIF). Since Lobov has a rather short reach, this is a smart tactic for him because it allows him to compete at a longer range.
Lobov’s lack of reach actually accounts for much of his style. Since his arms are so short, he’s forced to find creative ways to connect on his punches. In general, his best way of landing is to draw out lunges and counter with his power hand. Lobov’s habit of keeping his hands low is mainly for this reason, giving his opponent the confidence to jump into the pocket.
To give credit where it’s due, Lobov can time his counter punches very well. Regardless of his stance, Lobov is skilled at sitting on his back leg and punishing opponents for over-reaching. When his opponent leans too far in, Lobov’s timing does give him legitimate knockout power, which he really proved on TUF (GIF).
To expand a bit on Lobov’s limitations and provide concrete examples, one needs to look no further than his fight with Alex White. White is definitely a talented prospect, but he’s always been more of a bruiser than technician. Nevertheless, White figured out the strategy necessary to beat Lobov after about a round of testing.
First and foremost, White circled away from the power constantly. Lobov would load up on a big lead hand hook or uppercut, but they were one-off blows and unlikely to land. Instead, he tried to follow or cut off the cage only to be met with punches. Furthermore, White found that by feinting an attack, he could draw out Lobov’s big counter punch. When Lobov looks for the kill shot but his opponent isn’t actually there, it leaves him out of position and open to punches (GIF).
Once again, the effectiveness of Lobov’s counter wrestling — Lobov rarely shoots himself — depends on how his opponent fights him.
On TUF, Lobov looked like a very difficult man to take down simply because fighters were approaching it so poorly. Repeatedly, his opponents would take far shots into his low hands, which were primed to catch an underhook. Not only is that ineffective and unlikely to score on even a mediocre wrestler, but it’s exhausting.
Before long, those lunging shots turned into desperation, and Lobov punished his foe.
When Lobov is in his usual stance and pressuring, he’s in good position to defend the takedown. He keeps his weight centered when leading, and Lobov generally does well to read his opponents’ shots and respond.
The White fight again shows the solution. Rather than try to force the shot, White switched the playbook and drew Lobov off-balance by baiting him into big counter shots. When White instead ducked under with a takedown or shot from a great angle, Lobov possessed neither the athleticism nor skill necessary to defend such a deep shot.
Lobov’s general approach to fighting means that he rarely goes to the mat. When he does, it’s rarely of his own volition, meaning much of the grappling that Lobov shows is defensive.
From his back, Lobov has a reasonably effective guard. His general focus is to scramble back to his feet, often by wall-walking. However, Lobov can create good space using his legs as well, either using the butterfly guard to lift and scoot away or simply kicking at the hips.
Also worth mentioning is the arm bar Lobov landed in the fight prior to his stint on TUF. To land his second career submission win, Lobov did a nice job of recovering guard into a potential triangle choke. Once threatening, Lobov secured a good angle and grabbed his foe’s leg to prevent escape. The switch to an armbar was smooth, and it was an all-around nice display of guard work.
Lobov also deserves some credit for surviving Ryan Hall’s grappling. He was completely nullified in that fight, but Lobov survived the back mount for extended periods of time and was never particularly close to tapping out.
Deserved or no, this is a massive opportunity for Lobov to become relevant at 145 pounds. However unlikely that may seem, Lobov has been improving, and he does have a fair amount of pop in his punches. A single power punch can prove to be a great equalizer, but it’s up to Lobov to find that opening.
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.