Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Felicia Spencer, will square off with decorated champion, Amanda Nunes, this Saturday (June 6, 2020) at UFC 250 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Remember that brief period where capturing the Invicta FC Featherweight title equated to winning an opportunity to get pulverized by Cris Cyborg in the Octagon? Count Spencer among that number with a couple small exceptions. For one, she first picked up the biggest win of her career opposite Megan Anderson in her debut, and secondly, Spencer did not get demolished by Cyborg.
She didn’t win either (watch highlights), but Spencer at least put up a fight. The toughness and grit she showed in that loss is likely the most significant source of intrigue in this match up, in which she’s once again a gigantic underdog.
Let’s take a closer look at her skill set:
Spencer began training in Taekwondo young and earned her black belt. Those kicks occasionally carry over, but otherwise her kickboxing style is best described as scrappy and opportunistic.
It’s important to remember that Spencer is less than 10 professional fights deep into her career, so she can be forgiven for not having a completely figured out mixed martial arts (MMA) game. At the moment, her kickboxing style is somewhat disconnected from her build and overall grappling style.
Despite being consistently shorter than her opponents, Spencer likes to circle and strike from the outside. Often times, she likes to lean backwards as she kicks, trying to catch her opponent moving forward into the kick. She times this quite well, but if her opponent keeps firing, she can wind up on bad position.
While moving laterally, Spencer does a pretty decent job of intercepting his opponent with straight punches. However, her jab and cross tend to a be a bit more arm punch than is ideal, and her head will commonly stay on the center line, which is why Cyborg was successfully able to punch through those strikes.
Technically, Spencer is a work in progress.
Where “Feenom” shines is with her more opportunistic strikes. For example, she cut open Cyborg with a sudden Superman lead elbow. Far from traditional, but when a bruiser like Cyborg is pushing forward with little fear, slashing forward with the brunt of an elbow is hardly a bad idea. In fact, Spencer landed the strike more than once!
One of Spencer’s smarter strategies is mixing up her wrestling offense and strikes. A few times opposite Cyborg, Spencer would duck down and attempt to drive through her opponent. When Cyborg proved too strong, Spencer would release and come up firing with punches and elbows. At one point, she even tried the no-look up elbow while pushing into an attempted double leg on the fence.
I believe the clip below demonstrates Spencer’s offensive mentality pretty well:
Spencer’s takedowns are at least above average in women’s MMA. She has some jiu-jitsu trickery mixed into her approach, but her fundamentals are also solid. Spencer likes to wrestle against the fence. This is where her striking style doesn’t exactly make sense, as Spencer is often forced to shoot with her own back to the cage and then drive her opponent another 20 feet — exhausting work.
Spencer is pretty equally willing to wrestle on the legs or in the clinch. She’ll pursue the double and single leg with equal interest, ideally finishing via lift.
Of course, that’s harder to do against larger opponents. Opposite Megan Anderson, Spencer was forced to get tricky. While pressing her foe to the fence with a single leg takedown, Anderson reached under the far leg and sat to her own butt. She essentially changed the position from wrestling along the fence to a deep half-guard sweep in open space. In the ensuing scramble, Spencer was able to gain better position on the hips, run her feet, and cut an angle to take the back.
Spencer wrestles well from the upper body clinch. She does a nice job of pummeling for underhooks, even securing the body lock against Cyborg a few times. Once in that position, Spencer will look to beat her foe’s lead knee. Often, Spencer will do so by hooking the leg and stretching it out — a very jiu-jitsu thing to do!
Against Zarah Fairn, Spencer pulled off a very nice sequence from the clinch. After digging a knee into the thigh, Spencer attempted an inside trip. Fairn widened her stance, allowing Spencer to hook the outside of her knee. Spencer used that hook to beat the knee, planted her foot, and forced Fairn to the mat over her knee (GIF).
A jiu-jitsu black belt, Spencer has finished four of her opponents via rear-naked choke.
The mechanics of the rear-naked choke are simple: wiggle an arm under the neck or across the chin then squeeze. Getting to that position and controlling long enough to lock up the choke are the tricky parts, and Spencer has proven herself quite adept at both.
Both aspects were on display against Anderson, whose size and strength certainly complicated matters a bit. After cutting an angle and taking referee’s position, Anderson went to tripod and work up to her feet, Spencer made a quick decision, jumping and putting in the far hook.
That’s riskier and more difficult than sinking in the near hook, but there are definite advantages. Namely, the far hook is somewhat unexpected (and therefore less defended), and securing the more difficult hook first often allows the other leg to slide into place with ease.
As a result of her dynamic maneuver, however, Spencer was a bit high on the back and at risk of falling off. Anderson defended correctly, tripoding and shaking. However, Spencer demonstrated strong hips by still knocking Anderson to her butt from less-than-ideal positioning, allowing her to settle into the position.
When Anderson later went belly down, Spencer again demonstrated good hips by immediately flattening her out (GIF).
Spencer is at least something of a live dog here. Grit and opportunism are strong traits for an underdog, and it’s been a long time since Amanda Nunes faced an opponent really looking to take her down. Plus, Spencer has a history fighting stronger women, so that experience should be valuable opposite “Lioness.”
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 250 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+/Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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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.