Combat Course: Lessons from the Cage presents the underappreciated striking game of one of the best wrestlers to ever fight in the Octagon.
Current UFC Light Heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier (born March 20, 1979) is a former 2x US Olympian and former Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion. After the 2008 Olympics, Cormier decided to pursue a career in mixed martial arts, and started training with Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch, and Josh Koscheck at the American Kickboxing Academy.
At 5 ft 11 in (180 cm), DC is the closest MMA has had in a giant killer since Fedor Emilianenko’s decline. Cormier is tough, can fight through injury, keep calm under adversity, and he can exhibit aspects of technical application both in wrestling, in striking and in his unique combination of both. Keep in mind that Cormier has only lost a decision to a much younger and taller fighter, considered by many to be the G.O.A.T., Jon “Bones“ Jones.
Daniel Cormier started training at the age of 29 and his progress is unprecedented. Besides Dan Henderson, other wrestlers like Brock Lesnar, Matt Lindland, and Randy Couture were never able to show so much progress in different aspects of MMA like kicking, boxing and an overall technical game. While studying DC’s game I was especially impressed by his kicking game. Learning to kick taller opponents at the age of 29 is no easy task.
Commentators and analysts seem to focus mostly on Cormier’s wrestling related accomplishments. The objective of this post is to illustrate that DC is also a very competent striker with power and speed. The following techniques are an extensive list of DC’s significant standing strikes and successful combinations with short descriptions. A detailed technical breakdown was not possible due to the large number of techniques included here but example after example you can see with your own eyes that Daniel can hold his own against the best. These techniques can also be used as a guide for shorter fighters to fight against larger opponents.
Should he manage to shock the world at the age of 38 by beating Jon Jones, he will surely be considered one of the greatest fighters of all time. You can read an updated version of my prediction for the fight at the end of this post. Be sure to read my detailed analysis on Jon Jones’ game in my previous post “Defeating the G.O.A.T: How to Beat Jon Jones”. During this post I will not analyze pure wrestling or grappling techniques, I plan to present those in a future post.
In photo 2 above, against Alexander Gustafsson, Cormier touches Alex’s left hand with his own, establishing a sense of distance, and explodes with a left jab only to come near and land a powerful right hand. Cormier often exhibits explosive penetration in his efforts to close the distance. (gif)
I really wish Daniel would utilize more body punching in his game. If Mike Tyson’s career is any indication, then body punching works for the shorter fighter. As an example, examine in the sequence above, Daniel lands an effective jab, right hook to the body to left hook combination on Gustafsson, This is the offensive version of this combination. (gif)
In a counter-punching version of this technique, Cormier slipped a jab and landed a relentless jab, right hook to the body, left hook against Antônio Silva. (gif)
In probably the best punch of his career, DC lands an excellent overhand right (AKA Fedor punch) on Antônio Silva. Cormier later revealed that he broke his hand during the fight. Fedor Emilianenko has also injured his hand punching giants in the past. (gif)
Apparently Anderson Silva told Jon Jones that Cormier has ‘fear in his heart’. Whether or not that is true, Cormier executes a beautiful jab to right cross combo above that stunned Anderson. Few men would be brave enough to fight Anderson Silva on such short notice. (gif)
Cormier is able to close the distance with a jab and connect with an overhand right and a left hook on Roy Nelson. (gif)
Here readers can see Cormier landing the finishing blows to Antônio Silva in the form of a jab, left hook, right uppercut and finally a left hook. (gif)
An underutilized weapon in MMA is a backfist. Although it is not a power strike it can do damage, at least similar to that of a jab. Cormier, frustrated by Alexander Gustafsson’s effective footwork, lands several backfists that hit clean. In photos 1-3 Daniel goes for a right cross and when Alex slips, Cormier lands a right backfist (gif). Another application of this can be seen in photos 4-6 (gif)
Again, in the sequence above Gus goes for a right cross, which DC barely slips. As Alex movs towards Daniel’s right, Cormier lands a hard right backfist. Bruce Lee would be proud. (gif)
In his fight against “Big Country” Nelson, Cormier attempts to land a classic Muay Thai combo. This combo is a left inside low kick to a left high kick. To make this combo work, fighters need to kick immediately after the first kick, not putting any weight on the landing foot. Mixing jabs also works in order to confuse opponents and catch them off guard. (gif)
In his fight against Jeff Monson, Cormier uses a classic Muay Thai set-up. He first attacks with an inside low kick (p.2), then attacks again with an inside low kick, this time following up with a right high kick. The angle of the screen caps does not help, so watching this gif is a better way to appreciate this combo.
Another nice attack: Cormier lands a right inside low kick on Jon Jones. This forces Jones to let his right hand down allowing Cormier to land a left hook. (gif)
Against Nelson, Cormier lands an inside low kick, switching to a right high kick. Roy is able to roll under properly, counter striking with a right hook which Cormier rolls under to escape. The problem with full force roundhouse kicks is that, if they miss, fighters end up turning their back to their opponent. So, fighters need to expect and avoid counter attacks. (gif)
Using an inside low kick to close the distance, Cormier slips a jab, landing a charging overhand right, and slips a right hook to go back to safety against the always dangerous Anderson Silva. (gif)
Once again, Cormier at 5 ft 11 in (180 cm) is able to land a right high kick on 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) Josh Barnett rocking Barnett in the process. Cormier follows up with a jab and a right cross. (gif1) (gif2)
Finally, here’s Cormier blocking a left high kick from Jon Jones and landing a right kick of his own. (gif)
BOXING IN THE CLINCH/DIRTY BOXING
Following Randy Couture’s footsteps, Cormier is a master of striking from the single neck tie. He is also effective in getting the neck tie whenever he gets shoulder to shoulder connection as in photo 2 above. Once he gets the neck tie he is able to land devastating uppercuts. Neck-ties did not work very well for him against Jones as Jon was able to keep his posture and not crouch due to the pressure of the tie, thus making uppercuts less powerful. (gif)
Daniel Cormier loves to go from the overhook to the single necktie to dirty boxing. Against Patrick Cummins, Cormier goes for an outside trip takedown, which Cummins defends by stepping back and crouching. DC changes immediately from the overhook to the necktie, landing a beautiful right uppercut. He then escapes Cummins’ own necktie while attacking with a right cross. Daniel is a master at landing strikes from failed takedown or clinching attempts. (gif)
In one of DC’s first fights against Tony Johnson, Cormier finds a great way to land a punch from the headlock position. It is common for DC to go from an underhook or overhook and neck tie control to a front headlock. Being shorter than his opponents, this often results in them being able to escape and just slip their heads out exposing their chin. Cormier takes advantage of this moment by landing a right cross. (gif)
In the sequence above, against Jon Jones, Cormier goes for the same front headlock. As Jones escapes, Cormier lands a beautiful right cross. (gif)
STRIKES TO TAKEDOWNS & TAKEDOWN FAKES TO STRIKES
Cormier can be very successful in getting takedowns from strikes and vice versa. He uses a “touch-n-go” approach where he just touches his opponent’s knee to measure distance, distract and have his opponent crouch. Above he goes for a fake jab, to a fake takedown attempt in the form of jabbing the knee (photo 2) following up with an actual jab that lands on Roy Nelson. (gif)
In the sequence above you can see a very sophisticated way to get the takedown using the aforementioned “touch-n-go” punch to the knee, this time against Anderson Silva. Cormier launches a jab, right knee touch (photo 2) to right cross, and finishes with a double leg takedown. (gif) Below, you can see the same sequence from another angle. (gif)
Here’s another version of the “touch-n-go” trick. Cormier lands a jab and right cross on Barnett and touches the shoulder instead of punching the head, and immediately ducks to get a high crotch takedown. While it could be just Cormier hesitating to punch, more likely he’s establishinng the distance as in the examples above. (gif)
When you have power in your hands it is way easier to get takedowns against your opponents. This is an MMA specific tactic using tools from a striking art to make grappling more effective. Cormier uses a simple jab to left cross, rolls under, snatches the leg and scores an impressive takedown against Dan Henderson. The right cross almost lands, but the intention is not to score a knockout, just to distract Henderson from defending the takedown. Notice how Daniel cuts the corner to load Hendo’s weight under his hips. (gif)
Here is a gif of Cormier using the exact same combo against Soa Palelei
Cormier is very successful in getting takedowns by grabbing a leg from kick and knee attacks. Above, Antônio Silva attacks with a right kick that DC is able to grab. Silva goes for a right cross, which Daniel is able to roll under. Then Cormier applies an “uppercut” takedown. I call it the uppercut takedown because as you can see in photo 5, DC’s left hand is hooked under Silvas leg and pushing up in an uppercut-like motion, while his foot sweeps the leg. A taller fighter does not need to sweep the leg to get the takedown. All a fighter needs is the “uppercut” lift and then to pull the foot while pushing forward in a whip-like motion. (gif)
Anderson attempts to get the half clinch and attack with a knee. Cormier pulls back and to his right and is able to grab Silva’s leg, while slipping a jab. Once DC establishes control of the left leg, his left arm reaches over Anderson’s head towards his back, while sweeping the foot underneath. (gif)
Another way for DC to get the takedown using strikes to close distance is as seen above against Nelson. Cormier runs through opponents with a continuous jab, cross, hook combo until he gets over-under control, pushing forward to get the takedown. In order for these types of takedowns to work, fighters should establish a striking game to get the opponent to respect their power and forget about takedown defense. Fighters cannot just rush in and take opponents down. Note that Cormier connected with the right cross in this sequence. (gif) (gif)
Against Dan Henderson, Cormier rolls under an “H-bomb” overhand right. Notice in photo 2 how Cormier uses a shoulder-to-shoulder connection to just move his left arm in a hook-like motion to get a neck tie. He turned his hip immediately to get an underhook and get a spectacular outside trip. (gif)
DC often uses takedowns instead of counterpunching. Here, he launches a jab against Roy, who responds with a double jab. Cormier ducks under the punches snatching Nelson’s leg, cutting a corner and sweeping the foot to finish the takedown. (gif)
In this case, Anderson tries to land an elbow (not shown), which Cormier slips. Anderson then goes for a left knee, DC blocks and punches with a jab. Silva attempts to get the plum. DC uses the shoulder shrug escape (photo 4), attacking with a right cross and slipping a left jab and ducking under to grab both legs, cut the corner and finish with a takedown. (gif)
This takedown is DC’s trademark: the high crotch takedown. Cormier lands a left inside low kick and slips a right cross from Gustafsson. He is able to duck under and grab the leg while pushing Alex against the cage. Cormier pulls Gus away from the cage and executes an impressive high crotch takedown which can only be appreciated by watching this gif. (gif2)
FIGHT PREDICTION: SECOND THOUGHTS
In “Defeating the G.O.A.T: How to Beat Jon Jones” I predicted that Jones will beat DC in a hard fought decision. Here is the short version:
“Daniel Cormier can beat Jon Jones. On the other hand, in order for Daniel Cormier to defeat Jones, DC needs to defeat somebody else first: his ego. All Jon Jones has to say is “you can’t keep me against the fence” and DC will try to prove him wrong attempting to do so again and again. DC can beat Jones with the right gameplan, but it should not be the gameplan he used in the first fight.
“The objective is not to prove that you are better than Jon Jones in a specific area. The objective is to put him in places where he is not comfortable, not to engage him in areas where he is strong to prove you are stronger.”
I believe Jones is a bad match-up for Cormier because, to put it in common terms, Jones has DC’s number. However, as an afterthought, while studying Jones’ last fights I must note that if DC can ever beat Jones, now is the time. This version of Jones is not the playful version that tried for unorthodox moves, was elusive and had fun. This is a “determined” version on Jon. He reminds me of Tyson during the beginning of his downfall. Jones lately gets hit more and plays tough, fighting fire with fire. Jones is not getting younger himself and to mention Tyson again, partying is not good for a fighter’s reflexes and his mental preparedness. DC has to be both smart and relentless, punish Jones consistently, and who knows? Even the taller trees can be brought low.
I give Jon Jones a 60% chance of getting the win, not ruling out the possibility of an upset. This is MMA after all.
MMA Specific Techniques
Defeating the G.O.A.T: How to Beat Jon Jones
About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the continuous feedback mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).
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