After another weekend of fights, we have a lot of changes in the world of women’s MMA. Let’s take a look at these fights and how they impact the landscape of women’s mixed martial arts.
Danielle Taylor has been a peculiar addition to the UFC. She’s a diminutive fighter blessed with top-end athleticism, physical strength and punching power. In many ways she is similar to former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans. The positive aspects are her dynamic punching power, her ability to close distance dynamically, and her constant movement. Unfortunately, she also shares Evans’ penchant for giving away her timing with predictable movement, excessive and needless feints, and her rather limited all-round striking, which creates a low-output approach that enables her to be outworked.
Some of this can be attributed to Taylor’s physical tools, as well as her lack of height and reach that would make it more difficult for her to manufacture effective offense. As a result, she likes to sit back and potshot opponents who stand in front of her. In other instances, she gets aggressive and over pursues. This has contributed to her previous winning streak. Her bursts of offense were enough to scare off and force back Jessica Penne, and the power and timing of her strikes allowed her to narrowly out-point Seo Hee Ham based on damage accrued and cleanliness of strikes, even in light of her clearly being outworked and Ham being the aggressor.
Unfortunately for Taylor, JJ Aldrich did her homework and realized that while Taylor was a dynamic striker, she was very limited and only dynamic in spots, which meant she could be outworked. Taylor waited for Aldrich to give her a certain opening, instead of trying to create an opening with her own offense and feints. This led to Taylor being thoroughly outworked on the feet. Aldrich’s volume almost doubled Taylor on the feet and her attempts to wrestle and grapple essentially tripled what Taylor generated.
Taylor still remains one of the most dynamic and physically dominant fighters around, but the blueprint for defeating her has been created and more than a few fighters have seen it. For her to succeed with any consistency, she is going to have to develop a better all-around game and put her tools to use in multiple ranges. She is going to have to work on the finer points of her craft. Given her reach and height issues, Taylor cannot afford to sit back and look to counter so passively. There are too many girls who have the reach to stick her on the end of a jab or chop her down with leg kicks, front kicks, body kicks and teeps. Until she can add some depth or, at bare minimum, some creativity to her striking game, she will continue to see a decrease in the returns she gets for her work on the feet.
Aldrich has won two in a row utilizing her high IQ, her ability to manage range and, more obviously, her high-volume, varied striking style to power to her two clear decisions wins. More importantly, Aldrich has shown the poise and maturity to consistently engage in all three levels of striking and all three areas of MMA to put on complete performances in these fights.
What we don’t know about Aldrich is how her style and skills hold up against more polished or layered fighters. Taylor was painfully one-dimensional in skill and approach. Aldrich’s previous opponent, Chan Mi Jeon, was criminally inexperienced and untested. Both ladies had the physical tools to be effective versus Aldrich. Both ladies had more than a few moments of success, too. However, neither woman could build on those fleeting moments.
When Aldrich steps back up to face the Juliana Limas of the world, she will be faced with opponents who have the diversity of skill and the experience to take away any clear path she has to victory. When those avenues to victory haven’t been painfully obvious, Aldrich has lost. For her to step forward in the division, she needs to prove she can beat that type of opponent.
Let’s move on, shall we?
Irene Aldana notched her first win in the UFC. As usual, she played her boxing-heavy, high-volume, pressure style punctuated with sturdy takedown defense. This approach allowed her to dictate the pace and place of the fight. For three rounds, Aldana outworked, out-landed and imposed her will on Talita Bernardo en route to a unanimous-decision win.
What really stood out was Aldana’s defense on the ground and her ability to effectively threaten and sweep the superior grappler. These are two things she wasn’t able to do when she faced former UFC featherweight title challenger and former Invicta bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger. Bernardo’s clearest path to victory was to get her hands on Aldana and get her down, either controlling her to a decision or finishing her by submission. Bernardo was unable to do either thing, which is definitely a sign of improvement for Aldana in regards to her ability to defend and counter on the ground.
The concern for Aldana is that she was unable to put the finishing touches on Bernardo via stoppage. As much as she landed on the Brazilian, she wasn’t really close to stopping Bernardo at any point. This is concerning for a fighter who throws as much volume as Aldana and gets hit as much as she does. Bernardo, albeit a skilled grappler and tough competitor, is neither a physical dynamo, blue-chip prospect or an established high-end fighter. Bernardo is a journeyman fighter, not the type of win you hang your hat on or build a career around. However, Aldana can rebuild your career around these types of wins.
In a recent article, I looked at Jessica Eye and broke down the pluses and minuses of her game, how that impacted her career at bantamweight, and how it may impact her career strawweight. Eye’s win over Kalindra Faria didn’t do much to change the opinions expressed in that editorial.
Eye’s athleticism wasn’t nearly the factor it had been at bantamweight. Faria routinely outworked, outlanded and out-powered Eye on the feet. Eye showed an increase in her effectiveness in the area of grappling. While some will relate this improvement to an increased focus on grappling, it has more to do with Eye not being at a huge disadvantage at flyweight and therefore being more offensive in her wrestling and grappling. Eye’s margin for error is greater at flyweight as a result of dealing with smaller and physically weaker opposition.
Eye topped Faria. It was a much-needed win, but Eye wasn’t impressive. She wasn’t tremendously improved and wasn’t tabbed as a future contender based off of this performance. It’s a successful start, but one that has as many questions as it has answers. That’s not a good sign at all.
Jessica-Rose “Jessy Jess” Clark has now won two in a row. She looked good doing it, too. Clark showed cage IQ, grit, discipline, intelligent striking and a solid all-around game. The former bantamweight seems to be much more of a physical force at this weight, which has resulted in the two biggest and best wins in her career. Clark, a fighter who was once considered to be more of a journeyman, now looks like a potential title challenger. Jess has shown poise, layered striking, defensively sound striking and an efficient, though not dynamic, wrestling and grappling game. She very clearly is a well-schooled fighter experiencing a resurgence. Clark may be on the cusp of a title shot.
The bad news is that Jess has beaten two of the most overrated fighters across two divisions. First, there was Bec Rawlings, a powerful, hard-hitting, aggressive, physical and tough former strawweight. Then there was Clark’s win on Sunday over Paige VanZant, an active, never-tiring, durable and athletically dynamic fighter. Physically, these two wins mean something. Physical tools are only part of the game, though, and Rawlings and VanZant aren’t great in the other two areas of the game. Essentially, Jess has beaten fighters who’s Q rating far outpaces their skill or IQ rating. In other words, she has managed to defeat two of the most beatable fighters in the division.
While Clark clearly won both fights, she had rough spots in these outings. Elite fighters who have previously faced Rawlings or VanZant didn’t have these same struggles. This is something to be concerned about as the division begins to fill up with young, skilled, dynamic talent that is either dropping weight, moving up in weight or coming in from other organizations. Clark’s prospects in the division are still very much in the air.
A few weeks ago, we looked at how dropping or moving up in weight doesn’t resolve the real issues, which would be lack of applicable skill and cage IQ.
First, Lauren Murphy proved this theory. Then Rawlings did. Now, VanZant has followed suit. PVZ was another in a long line of fighters who changed divisions and was no more successful than they were at their previous weight. VanZant has decided on a style of fighting in which she lacks the experience, repetitions and actual skills to consistently experience success. It’s not that PVZ can’t fight. She just can’t fight the way she has been fighting and be effective. VanZant is best when she uses a style that is enhanced by her physical tools instead of being enabled by them.
When VanZant burst onto the scene, she had a style full of aggression, scrambles, volume, pace, physicality and a punishing clinch attack. The style wasn’t perfect — her entries and exits were lousy, her structured grappling was average at best, and her overall wrestling was underdeveloped — but it could be worked on, refined and polished to make her game more cohesive, technical and defensively responsible. Instead, she went to a distance-laden, kick-heavy, “technical” striking game. Since that change has been made, PVZ hasn’t been as dominant, nor has she done much winning.
VanZant’s move to flyweight was for health reasons, as we were told, but more strength and health won’t help if she doesn’t have the skills to back it up or the IQ to pick which skills would be best used in a given circumstance. PVZ has neither of those things. For the third fight in a row, she was exposed as underdeveloped in her all-around game and inconsistently effective in striking exchanges.
VanZant still is one of the better athletes in the sport. Yes, there was the broken arm, but the injury doesn’t do much to assuage the concerns regarding her skill set. A lot of the things that got her into trouble at strawweight are very much present in her move to flyweight. Tough, athletic and dynamic — all these things describe the 23-year-old. Unfortunately, the words effective, consistent or good can’t be used to describe her anymore. This may be an anomaly, and maybe in her next outing she puts on a show. However, this is her third loss in her last four fights, and all of these losses have followed a very concerning pattern in regards to skills and IQ. VanZant is still a big name in the UFC, but she’s no longer a rapidly improving fighter.