UFC 121 Post-Fight Analysis: Brock versus Cain

This is Kru Chatri Sityodtong writing in the Evolve Blog today. I just wanted to share some thoughts on the historic UFC Heavyweight Championship fight between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez at UFC 121. As a student, fighter, teacher, coach, and fan of the fight game for almost 25 years, I have had the good fortune of learning under, training alongside, and coaching some of the best professional fighters and World Champions in the world across various disciplines. And over the years, I discovered some truths about fighting. Specifically, a) technique is more important than strength, b) speed is more important than power, c) cardio is more important than muscle, d) heart is more important than intimidation, and e) defense is more important than offense

To the untrained eye, Brock is a devastating fighter because of his sheer size and strength. Yes, I agree that physical attributes matter a lot in a fight. However, physical attributes mean less when a fighter is meaningfully inferior technically. Lesnar is a world-class wrestler, but he is a beginner in everything else. On the other hand, Cain Velasquez is one of the most well-rounded MMA heavyweights in the world. In the sport of MMA today, you must know Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to be successful. You must be able to fight proficiently in the 5 ranges of hand-to-hand combat: the kicking range, the punching range, the clinch range, the takedown/transition range, and ground range.

A few days before UFC 121, I predicted on Twitter that Cain would KO Brock within 3 rounds. My prediction was based on the logic of my "truths" about fighting.

a) Technique beats Strength
Without a doubt, Cain is far more technical than Brock is. Cain has excellent wrestling, solid Boxing, good Muay Thai, and decent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. On the flip side, Brock is amazing at wrestling, but he is a beginner at Boxing and Muay Thai. He does not even throw a punch with correct technique. And he does not even know how to throw a kick. From what I hear through the grapevine, he does not know how to fight off his back very well. Yes, Brock is super strong and athletic. He is definitely stronger than Cain is. However, Cain is leaps and bounds ahead of Brock in terms of technique. In the fighting world, all else being equal, technique always beats strength.

b) Speed beats Power
In fighting, power is exciting, but speed kills. If I had to choose between speed versus power, I would choose speed every time. If you have both speed and power together, then you will become a phenom like Mike Tyson was in his prime; it is extremely rare to see someone with lightning speed and one punch KO power. Most fighters are usually either fast or they possess KO power (or some blend of the two). And, usually, a fast, technical fighter will beat a fighter with KO power. You can't defend against something that you can't see. Brock is powerful. However, he is powerful because of his size. He is not powerful because of his technique. He is not powerful because of his speed. On the other hand, Cain is very fast for a heavyweight. He moves and hits like a middleweight; he's very light on his feet and he is fast. He might not possess monster KO power, but he hits reasonably hard. And he's agile and quick. So he will KO you with an accumulation of strikes.

c) Cardio beats Muscle
Cain's cardio is legendary in the MMA world. He is a genetic freak in this department. Heavyweights are notorious for having zero cardio. The reason is quite simple. The human heart is roughly the size of a fist, irrespective of body size. It is just how the human body is made. Have you ever wondered why lightweights in the WEC seem like energizer bunnies even after 5 rounds of a huge all out war? A fighter who weighs 135 pounds has roughly the same size heart as a fighter who weighs 300 pounds. The heart can only pump so much blood to oxygenate the body so that it can keep performing at optimal levels. The law of nature is the bigger you are, the less cardio that you will have. Cain has the incredible cardio ability of a lightweight; he can go 5 rounds at a 100% output without fatiguing. Cain is truly a genetic freak. Brock Lesnar has average cardio for a professional fighter of his size. In fact, Brock Lesnar almost gassed himself out against Shane Carwin after 1.5 rounds of action. Against Cain, the deeper the fight goes, the stronger Cain becomes on a relative basis.

d) Heart beats Intimidation
Brock Lesnar is intimidating without a doubt. He's huge and he has a rough personality. However, you cannot confuse intimidation with heart (and vice-versa) in the fight game. You can usually judge a fighter's heart by how he reacts when he gets hurt. The fight or flight instinct kicks in. You cannot teach a fighter how to have a bigger heart. In fighting, you are born with a certain level of gameness (or heart). Gameness is the relentless desire to keep fighting despite being hurt. Gameness can be trained somewhat over time, but true gameness is innate. You are born with a huge warrior heart or you are not. Some people turn up the viciousness when they get hurt while others tend to cover up. In fighting terminology, Cain Velasquez has more gameness than Brock Lesnar. You can see it by how each fighter reacts when they are in trouble. When Cain almost got knocked out by Cheick Kongo, he roared back even stronger when he was hurt. When Brock gets into trouble, he curls up into a ball and starts thinking very defensively. This difference is called gameness. As far as professional fighters are concerned, Cain has huge gameness while Brock has average gameness.

e) Defense beats Offense
It might sound counter-intuitive, but a good defense will always result in a great offense. However, the reverse is not true; a good offense does not result in a good defense. Here is the logic. If you can confidently defend yourself from danger, then your confidence in your offense will increase exponentially. On the flip side, when you lack confidence in your ability to defend yourself from attacks, your offense will lack conviction and follow-through. A great example of this principle was the Anderson Silva-Forrest Griffin fight. For me, defense is much more important than offense. As a lifelong Muay Thai striker, I can tell you that there are two types of fighters: those who truly do not mind getting hit and those who hate getting hit. Both types of fighters can be successful if they inherit the correct skills for their innate tolerance for getting hit. It all depends on the skill set that they develop. For example, take former pound-for-pound best boxer in the world, Roy Jones Jr. He hated getting hit and could not really take a punch due to a somewhat weak chin. Luckily, he learned to hone his naturally fast reflexes by developing ways to avoid punches with head movement and footwork. As a result, Roy Jones Jr rarely got hit in his prime. He knew what his weakness was and he developed the skills to defend against his weakness. Brock Lesnar is a fighter who hates getting hit and he cannot take a punch as a heavyweight. Unfortunately, Lesnar has not yet developed his striking game enough in terms of his defense to avoid punches. If you don't like getting hit and cannot take a punch, then it becomes a problem if you don't have a way of defending yourself. Simply put, Brock does not know how to avoid getting hit. When he gets hit, he simply curls up into a ball. The irony is that if you have an excellent defense, then your offense will be strong too.

In summary, Brock Lesnar is a great wrestler. But Cain Velasquez is a great fighter. As the saying goes, anything can happen in a fight. But in this case, the right man won. Cain Velasquez is UFC Heavyweight World Champion because he defines all the "truths" about fighting...

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