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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 117’s Ovince Saint Preux

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Top 10-ranked Light Heavyweight and physical specimen, Ovince Saint Preux, will throw down with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight title contender, Yushin Okami, this Friday (Sept. 22, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 117 inside Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

After losing a trio of fights to the division’s elite, Saint Preux’s future was looking dim. He bounced back with a Von Flue choke in his most recent bout, which bought him some much needed breathing room, but it didn’t tell us much about his ability to handle top-level opponents either.

Unfortunately, neither will his next fight.

“OSP” was supposed to square off opposite “Shogun” Rua, a man whom he had quickly finished a few years back. Rua has worked his way back into the Top 10 and has looked solid, but now Saint Preux will face a blown up Middleweight who recently has been starving himself to reach 170 pounds.

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

Striking

Saint Preux is one of the more bizarre strikers around. That’s not to say he’s ineffective — he has knocked out a fair number of skilled fighters — but his kickboxing game doesn’t make all that much sense. Sometimes, he makes use of his 80-inch reach to stab at his opponents at range and land brutal counter punches.

Other times, “OSP” backs into the fence and lets his opponent bully him.

To understand Saint Preux’s offense, it’s important to note that he’s mostly a one-handed fighter. From the Southpaw stance, “OSP” leads with long straights or reaching hooks. When he’s the aggressor, Saint Preux is positively lunging into these strikes (GIF). On occasion, he’ll shoot out a jab — a stiff, dangerous one — but that’s not particularly common.

When forced to lead, Saint Preux’s technique sometimes goes out the window. Suddenly, he’s throwing himself out of his stance and off-balance. Plus, he has the habit of only throwing one or two strikes at a time — unless he’s wildly flurrying — which can make him predictable.

Saint Preux is largely able to get away with this style because of his length and speed. Plus, it’s more common for Southpaws to rely so heavily on their power hand. However, it’s still an issue, as Ryan Bader found a lot of success with his jab despite having a significantly shorter reach.

The best tool in Saint Preux’s stand up arsenal is his strong left roundhouse kick. Opened up against opponents of the opposite stance, Saint Preux capitalizes on the best two aspects of his game: Length and power. “OSP” can land hard kicks to the body or head from well outside his opponent’s range. He even managed to break Ryan Jimmo’s arm with one of these kicks when “Big Deal” went to block a high kick.

There’s a clear impact on these kicks, and his opponents definitely feel them, blocked or otherwise. In this way, Saint Preux is often able to maintain distance, as his kicking feints have to be respected. Since these kicks are so powerful, it’s not even that important that Saint Preux rarely sets them up, as few opponents are willing to stand in range and absorb them anyway.

In addition, Saint Preux has attacked with some other kicking techniques. He’s clearly been working on his front snap kick, which digs the ball of the foot or toes into the mid-section. Against fighters with a bent posture, this is particularly exhausting and often forces them to stand straighter (GIF).

In Saint Preux’s bout with Teixeira, his snap kick nearly won him the fight. Early in the first round, Saint Preux ripped into his opponent’s mid-section and sent him diving for takedowns. Teixeira is known for his durability, but “OSP” hurt him very badly with this technique.

These three key weapons — the cross, round kick and snap kick — make up a bulk of Saint Preux’s offense, and their relationship is the subject of this week’s technique highlight.

Counter punching is another extremely important part of Saint Preux’s game. His last two knockout victories were ended via a single counter punch. While neither counter punch was a technical marvel, Saint Preux — as usual — made full use of his length and power to punish his opponent nonetheless.

It certainly helped that neither opponent was known for his striking defense. Shogun Rua has been hittable for about a decade now, and that’s a less than ideal trait when squaring off with Saint Preux. As the Brazilian recklessly swung without any set up at all, Saint Preux smashed him with a left hook while stepping away into Orthodox (GIF).

On the other hand, Cummins was not a skilled enough striker to threaten his foe. Since the only real threat he offers is the takedown, “OSP” could afford to miss on a few looping uppercuts before finding his target (GIF). Again, he throw this punch as a shifting strike, stepping into Orthodox as he threw the left uppercut.

Saint Preux relies on range to keep him safe. Against fighters that push through the kicking range and force him to exchange, Saint Preux looks very uncomfortable. Additionally, his habit of backing up until he hits the fence was costly in his most recent losses to both Jimi Manuwa and Volkan Oezdemir, as the experienced strikers scored well from that position.

Wrestling

A state runner up in high school, “OSP” has shown a solid mix of physicality and technique in wrestling exchanges. Both offensively and defensively, Saint Preux is an above average wrestler.

Though he doesn’t often set it up well, Saint Preux has a very strong double-leg takedown. He speedily runs through the shot, which is a very popular style of shot for mixed martial arts (MMA). Notably, he managed to land the double on Bader several times, changing levels directly after escaping from his back and catching his opponent off-guard.

In the clinch, Saint Preux’s strength shines through. He’s able to manipulate his opponent’s body around even when he’s at a disadvantage in terms of leverage. Once he secures his grip and pushes his opponent against the cage, “OSP” will look for an inside trip or simply muscle his opponent to the mat.

From the top position, Saint Preux is at his most dangerous. His length allows him to create great amounts of power without standing or gaining a dominant position, which showed in his knockout of Cody Donovan (GIF). In addition, he’s still quite dangerous when he can stand above his opponent, as he likes to dive into the guard with a big left hand.

When Saint Preux sees the takedown coming, he’s a very difficult man to drag to the mat. His sprawl is powerful, and he generally separates well after shutting down the initial attempt. That’s enough to stop the majority of takedowns thrown his way, though he’s much more vulnerable while lunging in with a punch.

Outside of that, Saint Preux’s only wrestling issue was fatigue. As he slowed down in his five-round battle with Bader, the All-American wrestler was repeatedly able to out-work “OSP” even after his initial shot was stuffed. Since Saint Preux is using so much energy to explode and work out of bad positions, it’s a very difficult style to maintain.

To his credit, Saint Preux’s ability to work back to his feet early on is quite impressive. At times, he’ll turtle and simply stand up as if his opponent isn’t trying to hold him down. Alternatively, Saint Preux will look for the switch or attempt to wall-walk back up to his feet. Against Cummins, “OSP” was extremely effective at springing back to his feet after being taken down, as he never allowed Cummins to establish top position.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Saint Preux’s offensive jiu-jitsu is fascinatingly odd. He’s the only man in UFC history to score two Von Flue chokes — which admittedly does require an opponent to make a mistake — and also has a calf slice on his record! According to his Wikipedia record, he also has a “mounted rear-naked choke” victory, which I’m imagining is a description for an Ezekiel choke.

So to recap, in four total submission wins, St. Preux has landed four of the absolute rarest finishes in the sport. Totally bizarre!

Firstly, let’s take a look at the Von Flue choke. After taking down Nikita Krylov and Marcos Rogerio de Lima, Saint Preux was threatened by the guillotine. “OSP” defended by moving into the opposite side of the choke to relieve pressure, but both opponents decided to hold onto the submission. This allowed Saint Preux to drop his shoulder into their necks, trapping the hands in place and allowing Saint Preux to finish the Von Flue choke (GIF) (GIF 2).

As for the calf slicer, I did find an old clip of the finish. From turtle, Saint Preux secured a single hook and then fell back for the submission. It wasn’t technically perfect, but Saint Preux grabbed his opponent’s leg and yanked on it until his foe was screaming. The submission works by driving the shin into the space where his opponent’s knee cap would be, then bending the leg until it pops the knee cap out of position.

Thankfully, it becomes seriously painful way before that happens, and most taps happen before the real damage.


Losses to Bader and Teixeira have shown that Saint Preux is not much of a bottom grappler. While he’s definitely capable of scrambling up to his feet, Saint Preux’s guard was passed by both men multiple times and he repeatedly ended up on the wrong side of dominant positions.

While Bader was not really able to capitalize, the Brazilian was. In the first couple rounds, Saint Preux was able to force his way out of mount and back mount, but that took a toll on his conditioning. By the third, his energy was gone, and Saint Preux had no real path to escape from the rear-naked choke.

Conclusion

There are three distinct outcomes possible in this fight in my mind. The most likely is that Saint Preux batters Okami to a stoppage win, which makes it two in a row for Saint Preux and should get him back in the cage with Top 10-ranked fighters. Alternatively, “OSP” could win a hesitant decision that does not advance him anywhere but is still a “W.” If he somehow allows a Welterweight fighting on a week’s worth of notice beat him, Saint Preux will be sent to the “Prelims” undercard for quite a while.

*****

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an 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.


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