February 9, 2016

UFC Fight Night 82: Stephen Thompson and Justin Scoggins Epitomized the Evolution of Striking With Their Performances

By Raphael Garcia

In sports, the predominance of one phase over another is often cyclical. There are periods defined by batters flexing their power against pitchers in the Major Leagues, three-point shooting teams excelling in the NBA, and offensively-sound teams winning in the NFL. Mixed martial arts may be in the midst of this type of offensive age, as strikers are currently controlling much of the climate in the UFC. Holly Holm, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Dominick Cruz, Conor McGregor, and Luke Rockhold are all champions that can be considered “strikers” as opposed to any other aspect of MMA. At UFC Fight Night 82, Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson and Justin Scoggins used their victories to gain further recognition as high-level strikers, and reach turning points in their respective careers.

Thompson solidified himself as a top ten competitor in the UFC welterweight division with his knockout victory over former champion Johny Hendricks. He needed less than one round to put Hendricks away in unexpectedly dominant fashion. While Scoggins didn’t defeat a former champion, his win over Ray Borg was a clear-cut decision over a grappler in that was riding a three-fight win streak. In achieving their wins, both men exhibited similar attributes, attributes that are becoming vital in today’s MMA world.

One similarity between Scoggins and Thompson is the fact that they are both Karate black belts. Scoggins holds a black belt in Kempo Karate while Thompson holds two; Tetsu Shin Ryu Kempo Karate and in American Kickboxing. Watching the two competitors fight, one can see a number of approaches that reflect their traditional martial arts backgrounds being incorporated into well-rounded MMA games.

Scoggins and Thompson used kicks to not only cause damage on their opponents, but to control range throughout their fights. Much the way the boxer Lennox Lewis leveraged the length of his jab during his run as heavyweight champion, both Scoggins and Thompson landed well-timed leg strikes to push Hendricks and Borg back when they entered range.

Scoggins' attacks allowed him to rack up points and control en route to his decision victory, while Thompson’s kicks eventually caused Hendricks to wilt under the pressure and open himself up to additional damage. Both men used their limbs to control range in ways that negated the grappling of their opponents, all while out-landing both men in one-sided fashion. Thompson landed 27 significant strikes to Hendricks 7, while Scoggins landed 57 to Borg’s 20. Using kicks to control the range was both a defense and an offense for each of these competitors.

To go along with that, their movement was key to their success, even if it challenged the notion of "aggressiveness" as defined by the Unified Rules of MMA. Both Scoggins and Thompson continually backpedaled and circled their opponents rather than push forward. Whenever their backs approached the cage, they would shift directions and move back towards the center of the cage, in a way that is very similar to the footwork that Holm and Floyd Mayweather used throughout their careers. Thompson and Scoggins may not fit the idea of aggressive by the narrow definition of the rule, but they controlled exactly where their fight were contested.

Their footwork is vastly different than that of traditional Thai fighters, and even that of another Karate black belt in Lyoto Machida, Thompson and Scoggins were able to control the pacing and spacing of their bouts in the Octagon. Both of these men are pushing their way up the ladders of their respective divisions, and as they do, their fights are showcases for the continued development of striking in MMA.