Relentless Forward Pressure vs. Slick Counter Striking
Wanchalong (วันฉลอง) and Chaisiri’s (ชัยศิริ) fight on Sept 5, 2014 was recently awarded Lumpini’s fight of the year for 2014. While this is not the most technical fight of the year, the fighters showed remarkable heart and skill, both bouncing back from early knockdowns. It is also a good demonstration of contrasting fighting styles (pressure vs counter striking) and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
Evade, Anticipate and Counter
At the beginning of Round 2, Wanchalong (Red, Southpaw) throws a left body kick. Chansiri (Blue, Orthodox) leans back to evade. Wanchalong throws a left low kick and Chansiri steps back moving his left leg out of range. Chansiri anticipates Wanchalong’s next kick and darts in with a straight right before Wanchalong can get off.
Leaning Forward to Extend Range
Chaisiri follows a blocked right round kick with a long right straight and left body kick. Chaisiri was able to successfully land because Wanchalong did not expect a punch from kicking range, as evidenced by his low guard. Chaisiri is able to extend the range of his punch by leaning forward and pushing off his right foot. Chaisiri then recovers his balance by stepping forward with his right foot and carrying this forward momentum into a left round kick. This is a perfect follow up with Wanchalong backed up against the ropes. Good balance and body control are needed to execute this combination with speed and fluidity.
Lean Back and Counter
Wanchalong is now on the defensive, against the ropes, and throws a left round kick which Chaisiri evades by leaning back. Chaisiri throws a left hook to the chin and knocks Wanchalong down. Chaisiri is able to land this cleanly because he conditioned Wanchalong to expect the right straight counter punch earlier in the round. After the kick, you can see Wanchalong covers the left side of his chin but leaves the right side exposed.
Leaning back, as opposed to moving your entire body back, always you stay in range to deliver powerful counter strikes. Shifting your weight to your back foot when you lean back also helps you load up for the counter.
Baiting the Counter Striker
Chaisiri smells blood and tries to finish Wanchalong. He backs Wanchalong against the ropes, throwing kicks, hooks and clinch knees. Wanchalong throws and misses with a left round kick. Chaisiri rushes in again with a left but but Wanchalong hits him first with a spinning back fist, knocking Chaisiri to the canvas.
This is great move to use if your opponent likes to leaning back and counter your kicks. Executed properly, this is very difficult to read. The fist comes up when your back is turned to your opponent and the footwork is disguised with the round kick. You harness the centrifugal force and clockwise momentum from the kick to generate power for the back fist. Even if you don’t connect, your opponent will think twice about rushing in later on. You can substitute with a spinning back elbow or kick depending on range.
Adaptation and Adjustment
Wanchalong builds confidence and momentum after landing several solid left body kicks. Chaisiri responds with punch combinations. When Wanchalong closes his guard, Chaisiri pulls his head down and lands some solid knees to the body. Chaisiri also begins to initiate the clinch to dampen Wanchalongs relentless aggression.
Hunting the Wounded Wildebeest
Chaisiri throws a hard right low kick. Wanchalong attempts to block with his left shin but is too slow and catches the impact on his outer left thigh. Wanchalong grimaces, Chaisiri initiates the clinch and immediately delivers some knees to Wanchalong’s injured thigh, a smart opportunistic move.
Teep Feint to Jab Cross
As Wanchalong charges forward, Chaisiri fakes a left teep causing Wanchalong drops his hands ever so slightly. Chaisiri lands a quick precise one two to Wanchalong’s chin, knocking him down for a second time in round 2. The force of the punches are magnified by Wanchalong’s forward movement.
Wanchalong rushes in with an aggressive punch knee combination. Chaisiri drops his base to get double undercooks in the clinch, pushes forward and dumps Wanchalong to the canvas.
Wanchalong, undeterred, continues to back Chaisiri into a corner and tries to throw a long left knee. Chaisiri smartly sweeps Wanchalong’s right leg from under him, before the knee lands, resulting in a spectacular fall. It’s all the more impressive Chaisiri was able to do this while backing up.
The Turning Tide
Chaisiri begins to keep Wanchalong at bay with sweeps, teeps and by initiating the clinch. Despite having inflicted more damage, Chaisiri begins to fade at the midpoint of the round. His output decreases, strikes are more forced and his hands are lower. Even when Chaisiri lands cleaner strikes in an exchange, Wanchalong is still able to make him back up from his relentless forward pressure.
Wanchalong fakes the jab and lands a few solid left round kicks and knees to Chaisiri’s ribs. Chaisiri smirks in contempt but its quite clear he’s been hurt.
Chaisiri slows down some more. His right round kick has lost a lot of power and Wanchalong easily blocks almost all of them from this point on. The momentum has shifted in favor of Wanchalong during the latter half of round 3 as the bull begins to wound the matador.
The Beginning of the End
Chaisiri seems to have found his second wind during the break and both fighters start strong in Round 4. Wanchalong continues to plod forward but is now able to read Chaisiri quite easily, nonchalantly blocking kicks and nearly landing a head kick.
Wanchalong is now much more relaxed and loose than previous rounds having found his range and timing. Chaisiri initiates the clinch to slow Wanchalong down and there is a pretty even exchange of knee strikes.
After the referee separates them, Wanchalong continues to stalk forward, blocking a lethargic right round kick from Chaisiri and countering with a left. Chaisiri avoids the kick by darting in and landing a clinch knee but eats a counter left kick from Wanchalong as he disengages.
Backed into a Corner
Chaisiri was already defeated before the final kick landed. He was retreating with his hand low and feet too close together. He made no attempt to block the kick and also had room to circle to his right. When you are broken mentally, you might be able see the kicks coming while your body is unable to react.
Counter striking can be a very effective fight style. However, it’s success relies heavily on a fighter’s reflexes, speed, and concentration, all of which are degraded by fatigue and damage. Reading and reacting to your opponent is mentally and physically taxing. The counter striker will have a difficult time unless he is able to control the distance and the pace of the fight. He can do this by dazzling his opponent with feints and movement and / or delivering punishing counter strikes.
A pressure fighter can break an opponent’s spirit by relentless moving forward even while absorbing significant damage. A lot of fighting is mental and not being able to hurt your opponent or keep him away can be very discouraging. A pressure fighter can also deliver more powerful strikes with forward momentum. However, recklessly rushing in can also amplify the force of your opponent’s counters and also leaves you vulnerable to sweeps and throws. Another advantage to being the aggressor is the ability to cut off the ring and back your opponent against the ropes where he has fewer defensive options.
Chaisiri had great success counter striking early on but he began to fade in the middle of round three. He did not absorb an unusual amount of damage in this fight but Wanchalong’s iron chin and unyielding pressure drained him mentally and physically. This slowed down Chaisiri’s offense and opened him up to round kicks. A more durable but less technically proficient fighter can win with a pressure fighting style by turning the fight into a battle of attrition.
Full Fight Video: Wanchalong vs Chaisiri
Credit to Timo Ruge at Muay Ties for the full video.