Boxing specialist, Irene Aldana, will throw down with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight queen, Holly Holm, this Saturday (Oct. 3, 2020) at UFC Fight Island 4 inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Aldana signed to UFC with a fair bit of hype behind her as an up-and-coming knockout artist. She struggled early, losing kickboxing battles to Leslie Smith and Katlyn Chookagian in her first pair of UFC bouts. Fortunately, Aldana has grown quite a bit since and lived up to expectations. The Mexican athlete has won five of her last six bouts, punctuated by an incredible left hook that ended Ketlen Vieira’s undefeated run (watch it). As she closes in on a title shot, let’s take a closer look at her skill set:
A trainee of Lobo Gym in Guadalajara, Mexico, alongside fellow up-and-coming contender Alexa Grasso, Aldana is primarily a boxer. With a great frame for the division, Aldana’s focus on the fundamentals has seen her score a lot of success in kickboxing battles.
Aldana moves well and feints actively, two great keys to success. “Robles” is always circling laterally, shifting directions often and given her opponent a more difficult target. All the while, she’ll be pumping out her lead shoulder a bit or mixing some low kicks into her movement. In particular, Aldana does a nice job of leaning back with an inside low kick as her foe moves to cut off the cage.
Perhaps more than anything else, what stands out most about Aldana is her educated lead hand. A majority of her volume comes from her left hand, as Aldana works to establish her longest punches. Aldana jabs and double jabs often, either using the punch to cover her lateral movement or advance on her opponent.
Aldana attacks the body well, both by jabbing to the mid-section and looking to rip her left hook to the liver.
Aldana really does a nice job of playing the jab and left hook off one another. She’ll double jab and then throw a jab-hook next time instead, looking to hook around the parry. Sometimes, she’ll feint the body jab and come up with a left hook. Aldana will go straight from a high jab to raise the guard into digging into the liver.
There’s a lot of layers to that left hand!
Another element to Aldana’s left hand is her head movement. Aldana is consistently shifting her head from side-to-side proactively. Defensively, it’s great to be a moving target, but she can also be a bit predictable with her patterns, which is no good. Regardless of the defensive consequence, her head movement does allow her to subtly load her weight onto her lead leg. Loading up that way can result in an extra springy jab, or, as Vieira found out the difficult way, a particularly heavy left hook (GIF).
All this left hand talk is not to say Aldana’s right hand is useless.
It’s pretty simple though, typically following Aldana’s jab or hook straight down the middle. She’s looked for the right uppercut a lot as well ... to mixed results. More helpfully, Aldana’s favorite counter punch is a quick cross. As she backs off from a combination with her guard high, Aldana will plant her feet and shoot a cross down the middle, hoping to time her opponent reaching.
Aldana hasn’t actually scored a takedown since her UFC debut, a late double-leg that saw Leslie Smith stand up pretty much instantly.
More important is Aldana’s ability to stop the shot, and by and large, her takedown defense has held up. A great deal of that can be credited to his style of fighting and physicality. Scoring the takedown on a long and strong opponent who is moving their feet consistently is rarely an easy task, even if they have some technical weaknesses.
Fortunately, Aldana has showed a strong understanding of defensive wrestling. Her most notable recent wrestling challenge was Raquel Pennington, who Aldana limited to a single successful takedown. Against “Rocky,” Aldana did a really nice job of using the whizzer or fighting underhooks to peel Pennington off her lower body.
Back in the clinch, Aldana was usually able to reverse or free herself to open space once more.
Back in Invicta FC, Aldana secured a pair of rear-naked chokes largely by overwhelming her foes with physicality and aggression. She’s since scored a single submission inside the Octagon — an armbar win over Bethe Correia — so let’s focus on that victory.
Admittedly, it’s not the most amazing piece of jiu-jitsu in the world. Correia took perhaps the worst shot in UFC history, and Aldana wisely jammed her face into the fence and stepped into a partial back mount. Correia attempted to sneak out the back door, but Aldana fell on the arm, forcing the submission with a belly-down armbar.
Aldana is one of the few women at 135 pounds who is not dramatically physically out-gunned by Amanda Nunes. That alone makes her at least a mildly interesting threat to the title, and this bout will give her an opportunity to further prove herself worthy of such an opportunity.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Island 4 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 10:30 p.m. ET.
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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.