There was a much anticipated match between Superbank Sakchaichode and Muangthai PK Saenchai Muay Thai Gym on January 8th, 2015 at Rajadamnern Stadium. Both fighters are coming off very impressive fight records in 2014. Superbank is the current Lumpinee Featherweight Champion and was awarded the 2014 fighter of the year distinction from Lumpinee and Rajadamnern Stadium. Muangthai is the current Channel 7 Super-Featherweight Champion and was originally selected as the Sports Authority of Thailand 2014 fighter of the year.
Muangthai often wins most of his matches by dominating the pugilistic purgatory between boxing and clinch range. This is known as the trapping range in Bruce Lee’s four ranges of combat. He likes to engage with double hand trapping techniques where he cups his opponents gloves from the outside. He does this to neutralize his opponent’s boxing, land close range strikes and score sweeps / dumps. I wrote an indepth breakdown Muangthai’s style here in an earlier article.
Most of his past opponents did not have many good ways to deal with Muangthai’s in fighting tactics. In his only two losses in 2014, Pokkaew and Yokwittaya won close decisions by either keeping Muangthai at striking distance or in close clinch range. By contrast, Superbank chose to engage with Muangthai at his preferred range and won a convincing decision 49-47, dominating all by the last round.
Superbank revealed the blueprint for defeating this tricky fighter. He also put on a sweep clinic, tossing his opponent to the ground more than ten times.
He dulled Muangthai’s sharp elbows with arm pressure, head movement and footwork. Superbank avoided knees by fading, catching the leg and sweeping. He resisted throws by pushing away at the right moment, nullifying Muangthai’s control of his upper body.
Superbank used his opponent’s forward drive against him but repeating tripping and dumping him. He landed some solid retreating left body kicks and even used some of Muangthai’s sneaky elbow strikes against him.
Foiling the Hand Trap
Most of Muangthai’s offense begins from the arm clinch and he has the most success when he controls his opponent’s arms or gloves. However, Superbank did not shy away from trapping range and does a good job of actively fighting for hand position throughout the fight, limiting Muangthai’s offense.
Here, Muangthai (blue) cups Superbank’s (red) gloves from the outside trying to push them down. Superbank resists by either pulling his hands back or pushing against Muangthai’s hands and chest.
There is a near constant battle for hand and arm position throughout the fight.
Muangthai’s Deadly Elbows
Muangthai’s primary weapon from the arm clinch consists of his sneaky elbow attacks. He has inflicted many cuts and earned many knockouts this way. He masterfully manipulates his opponent’s hand position and posture to create openings and generate leverage for his elbow strikes.
When Muangthai has outside arm control, he pulls his opponents arms down to create an opening for the horizontal elbow. With Superbank’s posture broken and bent forward from the pull, Muangthai is able to cleanly land the left elbow on Superbank’s chin.
When Muangthai has inside grips in the arm clinch, he pulls down on his opponent’s shoulder and explodes forward, turning his hip and rotating his shoulder to deliver an uppercut elbow. Pokkaew (red) has a very loose grip on Muangthai’s (blue) right arm and cannot block or parry the elbow with his arm trapped outside. Muangthai has an open line to Pokkaew’s chin.
Superbank neutralizes Muangthai’s elbow strikes with a number of different tactics during the fight. Outside of the clinch, Superbank parries uppercut elbows with his forearm. In the clinch, Superbank applies arm pressure to immobilize Muangthai’s arms. When he’s not in a position to stop the elbow from coming, he uses head movement to avoid the strike. At range, he uses footwork to move his head off the centerline.
Parrying the Uppercut Elbow
While parrying techniques are most commonly associated with straight punches, it is also possible to deflect a variety of linear strikes (e.g. uppercut elbows, push kicks) with parrying movements.
Muangthai throws a right uppercut elbow from boxing range in a southpaw stance. Superbank keeps a tight guard and nudges Muangthai’s right forearm with his left forearm. He redirects the tip of the elbow to the right of his chin.
Uppercut elbows are designed to split the guard and can even get through a tight guard at times. Parrying ensures that strike is moved off target and is usually better defensive option than a static closed guard. Proper timing is key however. A poorly timed parry can create an opening for your opponent.
Parry and Pivot
Towards the end of the fight, Superbank lands hard right knee and Muangthai counters with left uppercut elbow. Superbank nudges the elbow off target with his right glove and pivots ever so slightly to his right.
Parrying and pivoting is preferable to parrying alone. Even if you miss your opponent’s arm, your chin is taken off the center line, out of the path of the strike. Pivoting may also open up new angles of attack for you.
Defending Uppercut Elbows with Arm Pressure
In order to land the uppercut elbow on Superbank’s chin, Muangthai needs to create a little space in the arm clinch so that he can bring the tip of his elbow upwards. Superbank can deny him this space by pressing down on his upper arm. This enables him to effectively stop the strike before it can even be launched.
Here, Muangthai has inside grips in arm clinch and presses Superbank against ropes. He pulls down on Superbank’s shoulder and twists his body to the right for a left uppercut elbow. Superbank smartly pushes down on Muangthai’s bicep with his right forearm and the elbow is brushed harmlessly to his right side.
Rolling with Elbows
There are some moments where Superbank is not in a position to stuff or block elbow strikes. In these instances, he uses head movement as a last resort.
Muangthai traps Superbank’s forearms and throws a sharp horizontal left elbow. Superbank’s hands are low and so he is unable to fend off the elbow strike with his arms. He dips his head to the left and rolls with the elbow, minimizing damage.
Superbank stuffs two right uppercut elbows with arm pressure. Muangthai pulls away and throws a downward left elbow. Superbank sees it coming and dips his entire body to the left to avoid it.
Fading from Elbows
Superbank can also fade away from elbow strikes when Muangthai doesn’t have solid grips on him. Muangthai gets a loose grip over Superbank’s gloves and throws a hard right horizontal elbow. With the loose grip, Muangthai is unable to pull him into the elbow and Superbank leans back to move his head out of range.
Evasive footwork is another good way to avoid linear strikes from an aggressive opponent. Muangthai is behind on points in round 5 and chases his opponent around the ring. Superbank is looking to ride his lead to a decision victory.
Muangthai backs Superbank against the ropes and walks forward with a left uppercut elbow. Superbank does a sharp pivot to his right, pushes Muangthai forward by cupping his shoulder, and backs up to the center of the ring. The elbow misses by a mile as Muangthai lumbers on to the corner.
It is not too often we see this type of footwork in “thai style” muay thai fights. However, it is a good way to avoid being backed into a corner by an aggressive over-committed opponent.
Knee Defense – Fade, Catch and Sweep
Muangthai is an expert at converting a quick double hand trap to a pull-in knee.
Superbank’s solution is to keep his body out of range, catch the knee, extend the leg and sweep the supporting foot. Although he has a couple misses, Superbank is able to set up a variety of spectacular and high scoring sweeps from the knee catch.
Successfully catching the leg from a knee strike is very difficult manuever and requires impeccable timing and fast reflexes. While round kicks and teeps are often caught in muay thai fights, knees are rarely caught. There is considerably less distance between you and your opponent in comparison kick catches. Unless you immediately extend the leg, you are especially vulnerable to elbows and punches with one hand at your side.
Switch Grip Inside Foot Sweep
As he’s fighting for outside hand position, Muangthai throws a long right knee. Superbank reaches underneath Muangthai’s calf with his left glove and extends the right leg. Superbank lifts the leg to off-balance Muangthai and switches the grip from his left to right glove to give him a better angle to move in for the sweep. He walks forward and sweeps Muangthai’s supporting left leg with his left while pushing Muangthai’s upper body in the opposite direction.
Inside Foot Sweep
After Muangthai throws a left knee, Superbank catches the leg throws a knee of his own and sweeps Muangthai’s right leg with just his left right foot. Notice Superbank does not switch the grip from his right arm to left here. This is probably because he grips the leg closer to the knee, rather than the foot, which makes it more difficult to switch sides.
Although he can still dump Muangthai to the canvas, this angle does not give him the same amount of penetration and does not allow him to manipulate Muangthai’s upper body. Generally, the deeper you can penetrate, the more spectacular the sweep.
Outside Foot Sweep
Superbank catches Muangthai’s left leg after a missed knee strike yet again. However, this time, Superbank sweeps by kicking out Muangthai’s right shin with his left foot (instead of Muangthai’s calf with his right foot). Superbank facilitates the sweep by wrenching Muangthai’s leg to shoulder height to further off balance his opponent.
There is another variation of the outside foot sweep where you simultaneously pull your opponent’s head downwards with your free arm. However, it can be difficult to execute on a relatively tall opponent like Muangthai. It requires you to come in closer whereupon a taller opponent could bend the caught leg to regain balance or tie you up in the clinch.
Outside Foot Sweep for Long Knee Guard
It is possible to execute an outside foot sweep without controlling your opponent’s leg. Muangthai initiates long knee guard with his left leg. However, he doesn’t have much pressure on Superbank’s thighs or have a grip on the upper body. Superbank throws Muangthai downward to his left and sweeps out the supporting right leg with his left foot.
Interrupting Outside Foot Sweep
An interrupting counter represents striking mastery at its highest level. Properly executed, it allows you to do the greatest amount of damage when your opponent is most vulnerable. There is little margin for error and any misstep will allow your opponent’s technique to land first. You need to precisely read and time your opponent while flawlessly executing the technique.
Muangthai cups Superbank’s gloves from the outside, pushes them down and walks in with a straight left knee. Superbank likely anticipates the knee from Muangthai’s preceding hand movement and footwork. He leans back, pushes Muangthai’s arms to his left and kicks out his support right leg with his left foot. This sends Muangthai tumbling to the ground before his knee strike is able to make contact.
Leaning back takes him out of the knee’s effective range while helping him extend his left leg for the sweep. This is a beautiful display of muay thai technique. Superbank successful executes his interrupting counter twice during the fight.
Kick Defense with the Long Knee Guard
Muangthai is adept at landing kicks after disengaging from trapping range. Here, he fights for hand control, frames and obscures Superbank’s vision with his extended right arm, and throws a right head kick.
Long Knee Guard
Superbank successful employs the long knee guard against Muangthai’s clinch exit kicks several times in the fight. Entangled in the arm clinch, Muangthai pushes his opponent against the ropes. Superbank places his left shin across Muangthai’s thighs. Muangthai pushes away and throws a left body kick. However, Superbank’s left knee deflects the kick by making contact with Muangthai’s left thigh.
This defense is conceptually similar to defending uppercut elbows with arm pressure. You deny the attack (kicks and knees) by blocking the attacking limb at its base (the thighs).
There are two essential elements to the long knee guard – good pressure on your opponent’s thighs with the shin and control of his upper body with your arms.
Failing to Maintain Shin Contact
Superbank raises his left leg but is not able to get his shin across his opponent’s thigh. Muangthai sneaks in a right body kick past the knee shield as he pushes off.
Failing to Control the Upper Body
Superbank has good shin contact on Muangthai’s thighs. However, he loses his balance when his is pushed against the ropes. Superbank no longer has control of his opponent’s upper body and Muangthai is free to drive forward. Muangthai takes advantage by pivoting to his right and dumping the unbalanced Superbank.
When Muangthai has a strong position in the arm clinch, he also likes to push forward, twist and throw his opponents. Here he has double inside grips and is resting his arms on Superbank’s shoulders. Superbank arms in a weak mechanical position. His arms raised above 90 degrees and his gloves trapped below Muangthai’s upper arms. Muangthai can quite easily manipulate Superbank’s posture and Superbank isn’t really in a position to resist. He pushes forward and twists Superbank’s upper body to his left while sweeping out the legs with his left foot.
Muangthai (blue) is also able to get a similar throw against Pokkaew (red) with outside grips in the arm clinch. Here, HHe locks Pokkaew’s extended arms in place by cupping them around the elbows. Although the grips are different in these throws, both give him solid control of the opponent’s upper body.
Superbank is able to foil Muangthai’s throws by maintaining arm control and pushing away at the opportune moment. Muangthai has double inside grips in the arm clinch but is not able to trap Superbank’s gloves underneath his arms this time. As Muangthai twists his body to his left for the dump, Superbank pushes on Muangthai’s chest with his left glove. This negates Muangthai’s control over his upper body and helps him recover his balance. Although Muangthai’s left foot makes contact with his shin, this alone does not have enough impact to sweep Superbank.
Even if Superbank wasn’t able to completely disengage from the clinch with the shove, pushing away would likely decrease Muangthai’s chances of success. With his opponent’s upper body farther away (thus becoming a longer lever), Muangthai would need to exert more force would be needed to complete the throw.
Cross Facing in the Clinch
When his opponents reach for single collar ties, Muangthai likes to palm their face maintain distance and disturb their sense of balance. As they say, where the head goes, the body follows.
Just as Penake (blue) secures a single collar, Muangthai (red) pushes against his face with his left glove. As Penake extends his left arm, Muangthai puts him in a even worse position by immobilizing that arm by pushing on his face with his right glove. He land some solid knees and sweeps from this position against Penake in their fight from this position.
Resisting the Cross Face
Superbank resists the natural urge to turn his face away from the glove and keeps good posture and head position. He gets a single collar tie with his left arm and Muangthai pushes on face with his right glove. Superbank pushes his face into the glove despite the discomfort and is even able to dump Muangthai from this disadvantageous position.
Maintaining good posture, head position, and a neutral spine is key to success in the clinch. With compromised midline stability, balance and force production are negatively impacted.
Superbank’s sweeps were the story of this fight. The clinch strikes were fairly even throughout and I might even give Muangthai a slight edge. However, Superbank had 12 successful sweeps compared with 2 from Muangthai. Many of these came from caught knees, but Superbank had a number of nice throws from the clinch as well.
Superbank’s Clinch Sweeps and Throws
Superbank puts on a clinic with a variety of sweeps / throws from a number of positions. While the techniques may look pretty different from one another, there are some common elements which make them successful.
The momentum for the throw / sweeps comes from body weight rather than brute force. This can be from the manipulation of your own body weight or the redirection of your opponent’s.
The opponent’s upper body and lower body need to move in opposite directions in order for them to lose their balance. For example, if you twist your opponent’s torso to the left, you must sweep his feet to the right (or at least hold them in place).
Turning Throw from the Arm Clinch
Muangthai often adopts forward lean to get more leverage for hand traps and arm clinches. However, this leaves him susceptible to sweeps when Superbank redirects his momentum.
Muangthai backs Superback against the ropes with inside grips in the arm clinch. Superbank takes a small outward step with his right foot and dumps Muangthai by pulling down on his right arm, pushing on his left shoulder and sweeping his feet.
Superbank turns counter clockwise and uses Muangthai’s forward drive to pull him forward. He prevents Muangthai from regaining balance by blocking his feet.
Lateral Sweep while Hand Fighting
Muangthai plods forward pawing at Superbank’s gloves. Superbank takes a side step to the right and grabs a hold of Muangthai’s right bicep with his left glove. In one smooth coordinated motion, he swings his left foot through in a wide downward arc while simultaneously turning Muangthai’s upper body to his left by pulling down his right arm and pushing his left shoulder.
Superbank relied on his lateral movement to generate power for this week. His wide step to his right gave him the momentum to forcefully swing his left leg through and easily sweep Muangthai’s right leg.
Pivoting Clinch Throw
Superbank and Muangthai are leaning into each other in the clinch. Superbank suddently pivots to his right, twists Muangthai’s upper body to his left and trip Muangthai with his left foot.
By suddenly pivoting away, Superbank removes a pillar of support leaves Muangthai tilted forward. It is much easier to sweep an unbalanced opponent than one with stable posture.
Backward Leaning Throw from the Arm Clinch
Muangthai lands a pull in right knee and secures a strong outside grip on Superbank’s left arm. With Muangthai in a stable upright posture, Superbank needs to manipulate his own body weight to generate momentum for a throw. He takes a 45 degree outward step with his right foot. He leans back wards at an extreme angle while holding Muangthai’s feet in place with his left foot. Muangthai is pulled forward and crashes face first on the canvas.
Superbank intelligently uses Muangthai’s strong arm control against him. Had Muangthai loosened the grip on his opponent’s left arm, Superbank would have fallen flat on his back.
You generally only see this type of sweep when one fighter gets a grip behind the opponent’s head. Below, Muangthai (red) has a grip behind Penake’s (blue) head with his left glove and executes a very similar throw.
Superbank Strikes Back
Superbank utilized some of Muangthai’s favorite moves against him including pull-in elbows / knees and kicks after disengaging from the clinch. He also exploited Muangthai’s tendency to plod forward flat footed with retreating round kicks.
Superbank traps Muangthai’s hands from above. He pulls Muangthai’s right arm down and lands a sneaky horizontal left elbow on the chin.
Muangthai and Superbank exchange clinch knees. Superbank stuffs a right uppercut elbow with arm pressure and throws a left horizontal elbow over Muangthai’s right arm.
I dare say Superbank does a pretty good Muangthai impersonation.
Superbank is also quite good at finding openings in the transition between clinch and boxing ranges. As Superbank disengages from the arm clinch, he frames and lands a cross, jab, kick combination.
Retreating Round Kick
Muangthai often leaves his ribs exposed when he comes forward with both arms extended. Superbank exploits this opening with retreating round kicks to the body. He stays light on his feet but generates power, speed and torque by leaping up from his low stance. Muangthai raises his right knee shield but is unable to block in time.
In a masterful display of back foot counter striking, Superbank strings a retreating left body kick with an interrupting foot sweep to foil Muangthai’s knee strike.
Superbank had a masterful performance in which he clearly proved worthy of his fighter of the year accolades. He neutralized much of Muangthai’s tricky offensive while executing throw upon throw.
Despite the 49-47 score, I would be interested in seeing a rematch some time in the future. Muangthai’s elbows and knees began to find their mark as he pressured Superbank in the final round. I think it could be a much more competitive match if Muangthai made a few adjustments.
Stopping Superbank’s Sweeps
Superbank scores a lot of points during the fight with his sweeps and throws from the clinch and knee catches. The first change would be to reduce Muangthai’s forward lean. As we saw above, Superbank used Muangthai’s forward drive against him in most of the clinch throws. A more neutral stance would make it more difficult for Superbank to sweep him.
Muangthai might want to consider mixing in push kicks with his long knees. As we saw, Superbank likes to fade back, catch the knee, extend the leg and sweep. Although Superbank might be out of range of the knee, Muangthai may be able to catch him with a teep. At any rate, mixing knees and teeps will give his opponent more to think about and may cause him to hesitate before catching.
Modifying Muangthai’s Clinch Strikes
Muangthai can also make a few adjustments in the clinch to revive his offense. If Superbank applies arm pressure to stuff uppercut elbows, he might want to start targeting the ribs and stomach with his elbows instead.
Muangthai should think about throwing clinch elbows in combination. If Superback rolls left to avoid a left elbow, Muangthai can follow up with right elbow to catch him as he moves.
In the arm clinch, Muangthai’s gloves are often pressed against Superbank’s upper arms and shoulders, only a few short inches from his opponent’s chin. He could try to land some short hooks and uppercuts from the arm clinch.
Here is an example of Superbank landing a short left hook as they fight for hand position. While these will not likely be devastating strikes, they could annoy his opponent and potentially create openings.
With Superbank’s penchant for retreating round kicks, Muangthai might also want to try coming in from an angle rather than always charging forward. If he circles to the left while engaging, he can avoid the power arc of Superbank’s rear round kick. Coming at Superbank from the side could make it for difficult for him to time his sweeps and throws.
Do you think this is a winnable fight for Muangthai? What other adjustments could he make? Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.