March 13, 2018

Bellator 195: Kristina Williams: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Schwan Humes

Last Friday, Bellator 195 featured an important matchup for mixed martial arts newcomer Kristina Williams, who was coming off an “upset” win over crossover boxing star Heather Hardy. On the opposite side of the cage was Emily Ducote, the perennial number two flyweight in Bellator, who was coming off of a submission loss in the promotion’s inaugural Flyweight Championship bout. Both fighters sought to establish themselves, Williams as more than the woman who beat Hardy, and Ducote as the biggest threat to Flyweight Champion Ilima Macfarlane’s reign. Williams was successful, winning a split decision in a spirited bout, proving she was a legitimate fighter and a potential contender for the belt in the future. Today I will take a look at the good, bad, and ugly about Williams based off her two wins, as well as provide an idea of what her future might look like as a result.

Athleticism/Attributes

The Good:

Kristina Williams benefits greatly from her specific physical traits, which work to her advantage within the context of combat sports, mixed martial arts specifically. One huge advantage she has is her most noticeable advantage -- at 5’8 Williams is one of the tallest fighters in the division. This works in her favor in two ways: The first benefit is the offensive freedom it allows her. On top of being able to work jabs, crosses, and straight punches at a range that her opponents can only kick at, she is also able to take full advantage of her taekwondo-based kicking game. The second benefit of her length is that it acts as a line of defense; Williams’ footwork and positioning doesn’t have to be on point because the range she has provides her a greater margin for error than many of the shorter fighters she can or will face.

As demonstrated in fights against Hardy and Ducote, her range allowed her to land with impunity against both fighters and to pressure them in spots. More importantly, her length limited their ability to land at the rate, or with the accuracy, that both fighters would have liked.

Another trait, and probably most important physical trait she has, is her chin and durability. Her range provided her a layer of protection, but in numerous instances Williams was caught flush with power shots from Hardy and Ducote, two of the harder hitting fighters in the division, and was able to walk through them without hesitation. This allows her a certain amount of creativity and physicality in how she strikes; it also allows her to showcase her poise, another trait that has been oft referred to in her brief tenure in mixed martial arts. The security in knowing you can take what is coming at you creates a sense of control and deliberateness that doesn’t exist in fighters whose chins betray them in fights routinely. This allows her to remain cool when under duress or taking heavy fire.


The Bad:

As much of a benefit that her size, length, chin, poise, and durability has provided her against two much more experienced (and in the case of Hardy, physically superior) opponents, the fact of the matter is Williams isn’t a dynamic athlete in any real sense. While she has shown flexibility and balance, Williams hasn’t shown standout power, explosiveness, quickness, or physical strength. In her fight with Hardy, the difference in hand/foot speed and mobility were painfully obvious, as Hardy was able to outmaneuver Williams and land numerous flush power shots. The problem for Hardy, however, was she couldn’t back Williams off or slow her down, which resulted in the inexperienced Hardy being walked down and eventually overwhelmed by the volume and cleanliness of the strikes flashed by Williams.

In the fight against Ducote, who is actually a natural strawweight, Williams was countered early and often with Ducote’s patented right hand, but what is of even more concern was the effectiveness Ducote had in kicking Williams to the head, body, and legs. Given Williams’ length and kicking game, you would assume she could limit a willing but still raw striker like Ducote, but from late round one on, she was able to beat the longer and more experienced striker to the punch. On top of that, Ducote was able to repeatedly catch Williams’ kicks and attempts, as well as complete takedowns off of them as a result, which is another indictment of her explosiveness and foot speed.

The second issue for Williams would be her physical strength. A fighter like Williams tends to skew towards a physical style of fight, one buoyed by her aggressive countering, willingness to strike in clinches, and her so far supernatural durability. Given her size advantages over both Hardy and Ducote, you would expect her to impose herself on the smaller, quicker, and more athletic fighters, especially considering both fighters’ ineffectiveness when forced back and their lack of top end grappling off of their backs. Williams may have avoided that due to her ability to dictate the pace and place of the fight on the feet, but it is something to keep an eye on.


The Ugly:

Williams’ style is heavily dependent on her durability and length. In theory she should improve defensively in regard to her takedown defense, and especially in regard to her striking defense. That being said, more accomplished fighters had the same expectations of them in their early stages, yet they now find themselves in the same dire situations as a result of poor fight IQ, all due to a style of fighting built exclusively around their physical traits. Fighters such as Anthony Pettis, Ovince St. Preux, Cat Zingano, Bec Rawling, Lauren Murphy, and Justine Kish once used their physical attributes as a crutch, but they are now paying a high price against a higher level of opposition due to that dependency.

Another area of concern for Williams is the fact that she doesn’t seem to have a great deal of power. Ducote and Hardy are both experienced combat sports athletes, but her inability to cleanly put either away given the volume of shots she landed lends itself to the idea that she isn’t a very big hitter. Being a defensively limited, slow fighter who lacks both explosiveness and power isn’t a recipe for prolonged success against fighters who can match pace and physicality; without the explosiveness to keep or force the fight where she wants it, or the power to make opponents hesitate in how they attack her, her durability and defense are going to be routinely and severely tested. It happened to the aforementioned fighters, and they had the traits that Williams is missing, so you know it’s going to happen to her.


Fight Skills

The Good:

Kristina Williams is a striker by trade. A Taekwondo black belt who has experience in kickboxing and American boxing, Williams has a certain level of seasoning and awareness to her approach that many in mixed martial arts lack. Unlike the majority of fighters, who are learning to strike and are buoyed by their enthusiasm and athleticism as much if not more so than their skill, Williams has a comfort that comes from having a defined identity as a striker. She is a fighter who uses her physical dimensions intelligently, fighting tall and playing a fairly aggressive counter game, unlike fighters who will eschew their height to get inside or to exchange.

Williams establishes a distance and attacks it, using single kicks to maintain it by disrupting her opponents’ attempts to close. Or she will counter in combination, extending the distance, forcing her opponents back, and allowing her put them on the defensive exclusively. Front kicks, snap kicks, head kicks, leg kicks, body kicks, spinning kicks, and lead/rear leg kicks are just a few of the strikes Williams uses often and uses effectively. This allows her to manipulate distance and her opponents’ timing. Due to the versatility in her kicking game, she can lead, counter, or mix them in with punches. That versatility was highlighted in fights with both Hardy and Ducote, as both were kept outside or inside of the range they wanted to work at. This didn’t allow them to get their timing, put offense together, or set up the offense they wanted.

Williams throws straight and crossing punches, which also allow her to establish range, setting the table for her kicks to come into play. Straight shots are the most efficient strikes and the strikes that are the safest to use for a fighter with Williams’ heat and long-ranged weapons; she alternates between a jab, a right hand, and a right cross. The most surprising aspect of her game, especially given her length and kick heavy offense, is her willingness to lead and counter with elbows. Elbows are still an underused weapon by the majority of fighters, especially in open space and as a lead or counter. But Williams has shown a willingness and effectiveness in using them in both fashions. Williams’s willingness to fight tall shows that she is maybe a little more disciplined, schooled, and developed than some of her peers.


The Bad:

Williams is a diverse striker who can do a bit of everything -- not necessarily spectacularly but effectively. Her kicking game is strong due to the versatility of her targets and lines of delivery. Her elbows aren’t sterling, but the fact she can and does use them so frequently and comfortably puts her ahead of most fighters competing in the sport, period. Where her game suffers is her punching. Williams has a bit of old school Donald Cerrone in that she reaches with her punches, pushing with them, and while she can land with them, their biggest use is a distraction that allows her to maintain range, pressure, and most importantly, set up her kicks. Very often, Williams leans in with her punches and attacks in straight lines with them, and as a result, she smothers and overshoots her shots, making them even less of a threat. When faced with opponents who are willing to punch with her, or aggressively counter, she gets hit early, and often with flush punches.

As mentioned earlier, Hardy beat her to the punch on numerous occasions, and due to the predictability of Williams’ punches, she was able to elude, counter, and get inside of those punches over and over. Some may say Hardy is a world class level boxer, so that means nothing because she can do that to everyone, but that would be wrong, as Emily Ducote, an inexperienced striker at best, was able to repeat that feat. Williams’ limited range of effective punches, and her less than stellar technique, has gotten her punished. I believe it will continue to do so moving forward.


The Ugly:

Williams’ overall defense, as well as her defensive and offensive footwork, is nonexistent. She essentially relies on her length and height to establish her offense and protect herself defensively. But when an opponent has been willing to step in, or an opponent has been able to jump right on her, her lack of head movement, defensive blocks and parries, or defensive footwork has been exposed. What makes this even more problematic is Williams’ inability to consistently use footwork to create opportunities to get punches off while pushing opponents back. Because more times than not she smothers her shots or overshoots, she often allows opponents to counter or get inside to attempt takedowns. To make matters worse, Williams hasn’t yet developed the habit of using feints or setting traps to create openings, whether it’s to lead, create counter opportunities, or create clean exits or entries. Once again, against a boxer in Hardy it’s not the biggest concern, but against a fighter with somewhat limited but aggressive striking, Williams was unable to really consistently back her opponent up, or get away from her strikes.

Kristina Williams is only two fights into her career. That being said, she has two high profile wins, which means she will be on the way up the divisional rankings very quickly. And while she has shown the potential to do a lot of damage, she has also been shown to have enough holes that she can have a lot of damage done to her on the fast track. Williams has time to develop the nuances and subtleties of the game, but many young talents had the same said of them, and due to physical attributes and stylistic approaches that produced more wins than losses, they never developed as fighters. This led to inconsistent results as the quality of opposition improved, and disastrous results as their physical tools declined, were matched, or were overshadowed. Williams is off to an excellent start, but fighters like Stefan Struve, Juliana Lima, Pettis, Murphy, and Kish had similar early returns, and all hit rough stretches as a result of lack of development. We will see if Williams breaks that trend or becomes a victim of it.


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