On May 27, talented, gritty, yet inexperienced Gina Mazany and decorated striker Lina Länsberg meet at UFC Fight Night 130. This fight may not matter much when it comes to the rankings or positioning for a title run, but it is important. The women’s bantamweight division is short on recognizable names and talent in general. Let’s take a closer look at Länsberg, how her strengths and weaknesses factor in to her upcoming match-up and where her future lies in the division.
Unlike the large majority of women bantamweights who come from grappling-heavy backgrounds of wrestling, sambo, judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Länsberg is a legitimate world-class striker. She’s faced the likes of Antonina and Valentina Shevchenko on the way to compiling a 37-11 record in Muay Thai. She has won three Swedish Championships, as well as gold and bronze medals at the IFMA-EMF European Championships and two gold medals at the IFMA World Championships. These are just a few of the titles in Länsberg’s trophy case.
Länsberg is a very layered and comprehensive striker, as someone with her extensive Muay Thai background should be. Her game is defined by her willingness to aggressively pressure her opposition. She works behind a snappy and active jab to dictate pace and place of fights. Länsberg also uses that jab to set up her other punches, which are sharp, accurate and balanced in head and body placement. Länsberg also makes great use of kicks, and while she isn’t a devastating kicker, she is a very active and fast one.
The highlight of Länsberg’s game is the clinch. She uses her jab and combination punching to trap her opponents and create the opportunity to get her hands on them, controlling them in the clinch and systematically dismantling them with a combination of knees and elbows mixed with the occasional trip or throw to get into top position. Länsberg has the skills to employ a stick-and-move game, but that suits neither her identity as a fighter nor her technical skill set overall. Unfortunately, this means Länsberg can in fact be had when facing an opponent who is willing to meet her aggression, exchange with her and impose their own will against her.
Länsberg, for all of her layered and measured offense, isn’t particularly dominant in the areas of physicality, strength or power. She isn’t the slickest or most disciplined defensive fighter, either. This point was emphasized when she faced off with Lucie Pudilova, whose length, movement and aggression put a spotlight on Länsberg’s unwillingness to play a more measured and defensively responsible game that would take advantage of her superiority in skill, experience and savvy on the feet. More noticeably, it clearly showed that when under duress and being unable to dissuade or slow an opponent’s pressure and volume, Länsberg’s defense does have a tendency to fall apart. This has the side effect of limiting the precision, placement and technical execution of her offense. It further exposes her offense via the openings created by her working at a higher rate.
In the Pudilova fight, Pudilova’s physical strength forced Länsberg to work harder than she is accustomed to working in the clinch, where she usually dominates. Pudilova’s length and aggression also made it hard for Länsberg to pressure, establish a jab and put combinations together. Länsberg wasn’t able to get Pudilova’s respect with her power, and Pudilova’s forward pressure and volume took away any technical advantage at range by pushing Länsberg back with ones and twos, instead of letting her choose when to fight off the back foot and set traps. Pudilova’s own movement and activity also made Länsberg work so much harder to apply pressure and back up her opponent, which is what she really wanted to do.
Länsberg’s lack of physicality, strength, power and overall defensive skills gets highlighted when the threat of a takedown and the accompanying exchanges on the ground come into play. Länsberg doesn’t have the wrestling pedigree of a Sara Mcmann or Cat Zingano, nor the grappling acumen of a Marion Reneau, nor the combination of skills of a Raquel Pennington that allow her to neutralize these attempts through defense or counters. However, this could be managed if she had the right physical tools, such as the size and physical strength of a Derrick Lewis, the explosiveness and speed of a Francis Ngannou or Ovince St. Preux, or the footwork and power of a José Aldo or Conor Mcgregor.
Länsberg could navigate her lack of depth in skill if she had the physical tools, or she could navigate the lack of physical tools if she had the depth of skills (as she has on the feet). She doesn’t have either on the ground, though, and it has been highlighted on two occasions.
The first was in her Octagon debut, where she was beaten up and dropped in the clinch by Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Länsberg was physically overmatched and carried no threat to create scrambles, control Cyborg on the ground or threaten with submissions — all of which may have made Cyborg more careful and disciplined in her assault, as she had been in fights with Tonya Evinger, Marloes Coenen and Yana Kunitskaya.
In Länsberg’s most recent loss to Aspen Ladd, this problem reared its head again. Länsberg won a spirited first round with a combination of clinch striking, one-two combinations, movement and disciplined pressure. However, she was summarily dispatched as soon as Ladd decided to wrestle and grapple against her. Ladd changed levels for a clean takedown, and Länsberg had neither the strength or explosiveness to get out of the takedown attempt or power back up. She also lacked the awareness and ability to get guard, sweep and reverse, or attempt a submission that would either end the fight or create an opportunity to improve position.
This is not even considering the idea that lighter or more defensive footwork would have allowed Länsberg to walk Ladd into shots, disrupt her rhythm and limit her ability and desire to attempt shots or clinches. The idea of circling and entering/exiting on angles has been utilized to great success by the aforementioned Mcgregor, Aldo and Holly Holm. Länsberg lacks this ability, and it created the takedown which Länsberg essentially walked into while trying to back up Ladd. Länsberg was then controlled, mounted and beaten into submission with little resistance.
There are many people Länsberg can beat at bantamweight. Her pedigree on the feet and the development she has had in grappling is enough to allow her success. The problem in her UFC run, win or lose, has been her lack of dynamic physical talent and a very shallow set of tools in the areas of wrestling and grappling. There are paths to victory for Länsberg against fighters such as the recently released Leslie Smith, Bethe Correia, the aforementioned Pennington and Kunitskaya, and the newly signed Megan Anderson. These fighters skew toward styles that at least give Länsberg an opportunity to have success.
Unfortunately for Länsberg, her next opponent, Mazany, is pretty much the polar opposite of these fighters in style and strategy. Mazany has an amateur boxing background, but she is a much more punishing, physical and grinding fighter than she is a slick, defensive fighter or high-level, technically elite striker. Mazany likes to to engage early, pressuring her opponent by using punches to create the ability to transition into clinch or shot attempts and exhausting opponents by forcing them to defend and engage in extensive grappling exchanges on the feet, where she can chip away at them while looking for opportunities to get takedowns and finishes.
Mazany’s game is as meat-and-potatoes as one’s game can be at this stage of history in MMA. However, she is facing a striker who likes to pressure, put combinations together and work in the clinch, all of which are things that put Mazany in position to impose her will and play the game she wants to play. Since Länsberg lacks the mentality to stick and move, she won’t be very effective in making Mazany work to find her and get to the positions she needs to be in to be successful.
As big a gap as there is between Mazany and Länsberg on the feet, Länsberg’s desire to back opponents up, put shots together and gain clinches guarantees that Mazany will have opportunities to land her own strikes versus a fighter who isn’t particularly durable. Most importantly, Mazany, a limited grappler who lacks a dependable offensive or defensive game off her back and hasn’t shown a great ability to create scrambles or get back to her feet, is the better wrestler/grappler Länsberg has seen. Mazany is also the more physical and durable fighter. Much like when Länsberg faced Cyborg, Pudilova and Ladd, she won’t be able to dissuade Mazany from pressuring and, as a result, won’t be able to control the pace or place of the fight. This all but guarantees Mazany gets her hands on Länsberg and forces her to the fence before taking her down and dispatching her.
Länsberg is a very accomplished combat-sports athlete. Her combination of world-class technical striking, experience and poise has allowed her to get to the UFC and show that she can compete on the biggest stage in MMA. Yet, in all three of her UFC outings, she has been shown to be wanting in regards to her all-around grappling and wrestling ability. Of bigger concern is that, despite her world-class striking, she has still absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment on the feet. She hasn’t been dominant on the feet, either.
Länsberg still has value. She is a world-class striker who has shown some flashes of skill in the areas of grappling. She has the ability to compete at bantamweight and featherweight, too. Unfortunately, at her age, she isn’t the athlete she used to be. Between her physical decline and the huge amounts of mileage on her body through Muay Thai and now MMA, she isn’t athletically gifted enough to consistently win at this level, nor is she durable enough or skilled enough to do so. Länsberg can win against Mazany, who isn’t as experienced and is just as shallow in her depth and range of skills. However, the real question is whether Länsberg can continue to win and eventually contend. The answer is no.
Länsberg has value as a skilled, seasoned, established and competitive fighter. She provides the UFC with depth and a barometer to gauge the fighters above and beneath her in the division. Saturday, win or lose, we know what Länsberg has. We know who she is. What we don’t know is how much more she can get out of her physical tools, experience and skill set.