Let's talk about chins.
We all have one; it's on the front of your head. It drops down when you need to stuff something into your mouth. Sometimes, hair grows out of it, and when you shave it for that big date, you gouge a chasm into it. Other times you dribble mustard down it, and occasionally you fall asleep while resting it on your palm and leave a big handprint on your cheek for an hour.
If you're self-conscious about that kind of thing, be glad you're not a fighter.
Nothing is more critiqued in the fight game than your chin. If you can't take a good shot on the chin, everyone is going to be waiting until you lose, so they can tell their friends, "I told you so."
I am willing to bet that this site has had at least five lists about the best and worst chins in MMA just this year.
Few men in the UFC have had their chin questioned quite as much as Ryan Bader has. Today, we're going to talk about why he seems to have trouble taking punches, and we will muse on the idea of "chin" in general.
The Inconvenient Truth
The truth is that every fighter will get hit. Even the most evasive fighters in the world—Lyoto Machida, Kyotaro, Wilfredo Benitez, Nicolino Locche—have been hit. It is an inescapable part of the game.
A fighter doesn't have to like getting hit. One of the silliest phrases used in combat sports circles is "he doesn't like getting hit." Who does? The important part is that a fighter cannot emotionally crumble when he is hit.
Of course, that's something a fighter can will himself through. Crumbling under fire is a flaw in attitude, not in form.
Getting physically shaken up by a punch is another thing entirely. Bader's problem isn't fear of taking a punch or shelling up once hit. It's that he cannot physically withstand punches that he routinely exposes himself to.
"Chin Down, Chin Down"
Reportedly in the days of bare-knuckle pugilism, the most common targets were the sensory organs (nose and eyes) and the solar plexus (or "the mark"). A great many overhand blows were thrown, and so the temple was the main target of these.
John L. Sullivan is credited with popularizing the knockout blow on the chin after a physician explained to him the anatomy of the jaw.
There are a few things that a fighter can do to stop himself from getting put on Queer Street by a punch. The foremost among them is to keep his chin tucked. This cannot be stressed enough, and you will hear it constantly in any boxing or kickboxing gym.
Bader and his team know this. You could hear his cornermen shouting it to him throughout the Tito Ortiz fight, and yet he never actually heeded them.
Some insist that it is the bobbling around of the head on a relaxed neck when hit that causes a knockout, which is why many fighters strengthen their neck. It is true that there is a difference in the impact felt with the chin up and with the chin down. Tucking the chin essentially takes away a link in the chain and stops the head from being shaken around so much by blows.
But more than that, the chin contains some significant nerve endings. It is sensitive to trauma. Even if a fighter has his chin tucked when he gets nailed right on the point of the chin, he's going to feel it and perhaps be shaken up by it. This means that the other significant role of tucking the chin is to place it below the line of the shoulders and hide it from easy punches.
While everyone gets hit, the best fighters at least make an effort to hide all of the good stuff like the chin, ribs and temples.
Now watch a Bader fight. Not only is his chin up throughout, but when he steps in with punches, he raises it further.
This was extremely noticeable against Ortiz. Each time that Bader jabbed, he raised his jaw as if he were in a towel-whipping match and trying to shield his eyes. When Ortiz bum-rushed him, Bader stood his ground and tried to punch back—again with his chin right up in the air.
Ortiz saw it, and he hit it. You can see what happened here.
The standard of striking in MMA has not always been great, but it is rapidly improving. Bum rushing still works against many opponents, but it does not cut the mustard against top-flight fighters. Going all in, gritting your teeth and running at an opponent is not a good idea at any point until perhaps the last seconds of a losing fight.
Yet Bader can easily get drawn into overextending. He was a perfect opponent for Machida because as soon as Bader became frustrated that he couldn't get close enough to land a good blow, he attempted to bum-rush one of the best counter fighters in MMA.
Take a look at the result here.
As a general rule, if a fighter must run to catch an opponent, he should stop right there and not follow through with that thought. When forced to run at an opponent, a fighter's stance squares, his chin comes up, and he creates a big, flat surface with a chin at the centre for the opponent to target.
Machida could have closed his eyes and still knocked Bader out.
Which brings us to our next point.
This is an obvious one, but moving your head makes it harder to hit. Traditionally, you throw a combination, and then you move your head before you reset and try something else. Good boxers incorporate evasive head movement mid-combination.
What should be avoided at all costs is squaring up to an opponent, throwing everything at him and taking no evasive action during the breaks. Anyone who is a little wily will do exactly what Glover Teixeira did when he was under Bader's assault: Cover, wait for a break and then immediately fire back.
After throwing three or four overhands against Glover's guard along the fence, Bader paused without moving his head or his feet and then launched a long lead right uppercut (which is also not good form—never lead with a long uppercut.)
He was directly in front of Glover with nothing in the way when that same overhand that Glover always throws put him flat on his back.
Check it out and see for yourself.
The jury is out on the idea of the glass jaw. It's vague and lacks science. Boxing technique, however, is a scientific approach to not being knocked out. What we do know is that it is a lot more likely that a fighter will be knocked out if:
- He fails to tuck his chin down and hide it.
- He rushes in on predictable, straight lines.
- He never takes evasive actions in between his offence.
Bader has been the focus of so much criticism because he is extremely gifted. He's a stellar wrestler and has the kind of punching power that other fighters in his division would pay through the nose to obtain. If he could create collisions with the subtlety and guile of Machida, he would ruin careers with one punch.
Unfortunately, at least for now, he lacks the concern for self-preservation that every great fighter should have.
Bader has a chance to be great. He's still young, and the UFC is more than happy to feed him guys like Anthony Perosh, but he needs to stop attempting to overwhelm opponents with rushes and start working toward landing his incredible power while avoiding blows.
Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking from his blog, Fights Gone By.
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