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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 135’s James Vick

Rangy boxer, James Vick, will square off with aggressive mauler, Justin Gaethje, this Saturday (August 25, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 135 inside Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Vick entered the UFC following an impressive showing on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). Considering how Vick debuted inside the Octagon with just four previous professional fights, his success is pretty remarkable: Vick is an incredible 9-1 in the UFC’s most talent-rich division.

It’s Vick’s current four-fight win streak after his first career loss that has been especially impressive though. Vick really refined his technical game, moving away from a fighter who simply relied on physical gifts to one who makes the most of them. As a result, Vick is far more dangerous and looking ready for a big step up in competition.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Vick is one of the more unique strikers around. His style is very maximalist, as Vick seeks to overwhelm his foes with both the amount and variety of his attacks. There are pros and cons to this approach, but it’s first important to note that it’s only really possible given Vick’s physical gifts.

In MMA, a tough fighter with a size advantage who can throw hard for three rounds will out-strike a lot of opponents even if his technique sucks. Vick takes this to the extreme — he’s a 6’3” Lightweight who throws a dozen strikes per minute. At one point in the past, you could argue his kickboxing was pretty average technically, but Vick has developed quite a bit.

Given his height, 76” reach, and Golden Gloves boxing background, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Vick makes good use of the jab. Working body head and doubling up often, Vick mixes up the jab well. A couple fights ago, Vick pretty methodically broke down and picked apart a very nasty boxer in Joe Duffy. A large part of that was due to the jab, as Vick stabbed at Duffy’s face and mid-section while Duffy attempted to push forward.

Vick’s jab did damage, and it made Duffy hesitant to pressure. Once Vick was the one moving forward, he still worked with the jab. Since his range advantage was so considerable, he really forced Duffee — the former professional boxer — to rely on counter punches and kicks. Not a bad approach in theory, but that forced Duffee to try to quickly read all of Vick’s offense, which is a difficult task given Vick’s crazy volume. On the whole, Vick does well with his lead hand. He’ll mix in a left hook lead to hide the jab, and he’ll also hook off the jab as well.

Vick’s right hand is an interesting weapon. Usually, he’ll follow the jab with a nice cross from the expected range. However, Vick will also extend his range on the cross by nearly running into it, stepping deep into Southpaw in the process. It’s risky, as his head tends to stand tall throughout, but Vick can also surprise opponents with the extra distance covered.

A major part of Vick’s success comes from countering opponents. Very often, he’ll land a jab or left hook and then pull his head back out of range (GIF). By leading with his left and pulling away immediately, Vick presents his opponents a false target, often convincing them to swing for the fences. Leaning back at the waist is precarious — a terrible position to be punched — but if his foe comes up short, Vick is in great position to fire back (GIF).

Vick also finds a home for the uppercut fairly often, a great weapon is deterring aggression. Given his height, opponents are often in perfect range for the strike anyway, but it’s especially effective against foes looking to take Vick out with an overhand (GIF).

All of the above covers Vick’s boxing approach, which is mostly expected stuff froma rangy boxer. At kicking range, however, Vick is a complete weirdo. Sure, he does some normal things too. For example, Vick does a nice job of pairing the jab with a chopping low kick, to either the thigh or calf.

Just as often, Vick loves to throw side kicks and front kicks (GIF). That’s less common but still not weird; it’s how Vick throws them. Vick throws round kicks into side kicks or Karate Kid style Crane kicks at random. Against Francisco Trinaldo, Vick injured his hand and defaulted to running around the cage and throwing jumping side kicks frequently, an odd strategy that still troubled his foe.

Tall fighters and flying knees have an interesting relationship — go back and watch Stefan Struve get flattened by Travis Browne if you’d like to see the possible repercussions. In Vick’s case, he actually does a nice job of getting his opponents to duck into jump knees, and he hasn’t yet been blasted while running forward (GIF).

Defensively, Vick has definitely improved since his knockout loss to Beneil Dariush, but issues still remain. As with many tall fighters, the bad habit of standing too high in the pocket often rears its ugly head. Another issue for Vick is his volume, as every exchange represents a chance to get hit. That’s the nature of exchanges, and Vick looks to trade frequently.


Vick does not look to wrestle all that often, but he’s proven quite good in that realm. Offensively, Vick relies largely on the body lock. Given his length and size, Vick is able to break his opponent’s posture even if working with a body lock from over-under position. Once his hands are clasped, Vick sinks the lock in and crumples opponents to the mat.

Defensively, Vick is very hard to take down when he sees the shot coming. Fighting hands and widening his base, Vick is able to stall the initial shot and wait for an opening to free himself back to the center.

Vick’s issue comes when he doesn’t see the shot, usually because his opponent ducked down as Vick was throwing something wild. It’s not easy, but that’s a far easier way to plant Vick on the mat. Luckily, “Texecutioner” is a difficult man to hold down. He’ll kick at the hips immediately and use the threat of the guillotine to create space to stand. In addition, Vick is will to turn away and stand, confident in his ability to hand-fight and prevent the back take.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Officially ranked as a Lloyd Irvin blue belt, Vick has shown a tricky ground game inside the Octagon. He’s best known for his guillotine choke, which has landed him a pair of submission wins inside the Octagon. As such, his approach to the guillotine is the topic of this week’s technique highlight.

Aside from the guillotine, Vick attacked Abel Trujillo numerous times with the d’arce choke whenever the powerful wrestler shot from too far out. Another great choke that takes advantage of his long arms, Vick was able to lock up the position quickly. Trujillo did a good job of creating space to defend, but Vick was finally able to drop his weight on Trujillo’s neck and finish the choke in the third.


Vick is a unique fighter, an oversized Lightweight with interesting skills. Whenever a fighter finds success with an unusual approach, the question that fans ask is whether or not it will be viable against the top level of competition. That question was asked of Gaethje prior to his losses, and Vick is hoping to answer the query differently from his opponent.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.

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