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The Top 8 jabbing performances in UFC history
With New England’s Rob Font reminding the masses of the importance of the jab this past Saturday, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to revisit some of mixed martial arts’ most memorable jabbing performances.
There’s obviously no way to include them all, so I limited myself to my favorite fights within the UFC. I suspect my selections still will provide plenty of examples of both practical and tactical executions of the jab. I also elected to rank the following in chronological order to help paint a better picture of the history and growth of jabs in MMA – though I’ll readily admit trying to rank these performances strictly subjectively would still be nightmarish given the wide-ranging context throughout.
Nevertheless, I still encourage you to hit me up on Twitter at @DanTomMMA to let me know about any matchups or hidden gems that I may have missed. In the meantime, I gladly present to you my top 8 jabbing performances in the UFC.
No. 1: B.J. Penn vs. Sean Sherk at UFC 84
B.J. Penn vs. Sean Sherk
Despite the next selection often being referred to as the first meaningful jabbing performance in UFC history, I still have to give the nod to [autotag]B.J. Penn[/autotag]'s battering of Sean Sherk back in 2008. An MMA classic that's worth revisiting (especially for newer generations of fans who aren't familiar with Penn's prime work), the Hall of Fame Hawaiian helps pave the way for future fighters who are looking for ways to help deter opponents that, ideally, would like to either pressure or grapple. https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1397408330637742083?s=20 Penn may not circle or L-step as much as other selections on this list, but – for the time this takes place – he does demonstrate solid offense in the form of subtle feints and lead-handed finishes. In fact, whenever Penn did land clean crosses in conjunction with his lead hand, you could almost always count on an off-beat jab to follow soon after. Finishing with the lead hand (whether it be a hook or a jab) can also be a simple and effective way to counterbalance attacks, as Penn, even during the more forgettable parts of his career, was seldom seen off balance.
No. 2: Georges St-Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck 2 at UFC 124
Georges St-Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck
As alluded to in No. 1, [autotag]Georges St-Pierre[/autotag]'s rematch with Josh Koscheck still stands the test of time for being one of the most notable jabbing performance in MMA history –– and for good reason. We all remember St-Pierre's patent superman jab, but it was the quiet technical acumen at play that impressed me most when going back to rewatch this gem from 2010. Whether we're talking about the insane spring that "GSP" generated from his rear leg to the defensive awareness he attached to his circling jab, the legendary French-Canadian fighter displayed a beautiful example that night at the Bell Centre of how brutal a tool it can be. https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1397470884508569604?s=20 This refined tool, of course, married well with the wrestling threats that St-Pierre surprised Koscheck with the first time around – making him an even more complete threat than before. If I were ranking this list subjectively, then this performance would probably be sitting at the top of the pile.
No. 3: Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone at UFC 141
Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone
Call it southpaw bias or golden age nostalgia, but [autotag]Nate Diaz[/autotag]'s memorable matchup with Donald Cerrone snakes a spot on this list. Firing jab-cross continuums with the snap of a coiled cobra, Diaz will off-set striking rhythms, disrupting a fighter’s timing and subsequent approach. And with the help of some size parody, Diaz was able to overload Cerrone's competent use of the art of eight limbs by lighting him up down the centerline. https://twitter.com/mmagonewild/status/1164037318962905088?s=20 With the jab getting through the closing elevator doors of Cerrone's high guard with regularity, Diaz was able to follow up in combination, finishing with the previously-noted lead hand. The younger Diaz brother also did a decent job of going to the body, as he seemed to be truly coming into his own at this time.
No. 4: Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar at UFC 156
Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar
For a fighter with such a rich catalog to get lost in, it can be easy to forget just how good [autotag]Jose Aldo[/autotag]'s jab was against Frankie Edgar in their first meeting back in 2013. Though I still believe that their rematch is a worthwhile watch for examples of defensive brilliance, I was reminded of the important gems in this matchup by fellow fight analyst, Ryan Wagner. At this point in Aldo's career, fighters were desperately trying to either pressure or pull the then-champion into deep waters after seeing possible stamina issues rear its head in his promotional debut opposite Mark Hominick (a fight where the Brazilian went through a notably bad weight cut). However, after spending some time sharpening his striking abroad, Aldo would unveil an important weapon in his arsenal that helped secure his reign. https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1397361356437811205?s=20 Not only would Aldo lean more on his jab in a defensive manner to help discourage Edgar's approaches, but he also utilized it cleverly in regards to managing pace. From slick pivots off the center to selling threats through feints, Aldo was able to better detect and defend incoming takedowns by limiting the target and space to complete potential shots.
No. 5: Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero 2 at UFC 225
Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero
In one of the most memorable fights from one of my favorite fighters to break down, [autotag]Robert Whittaker[/autotag]'s valiant effort in his rematch with Yoel Romero deserves to be on this list, regardless of how you scored it. After already beating Romero with practically one leg the first time around, Whittaker was tasked to do so again after the Cuban challenger knocked out the former champion, Luke Rockhold, back at UFC 221. Unfortunately for Whittaker, he would once again suffer a compromised limb in the first round, being forced to continue to war on with just one good hand. https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1397627348489424896?s=20 Whether Whittaker was springing forward offensively or checking defensively, the former middleweight champion can both build and counterbalance his attacks through his jab. Once establishing this threat, Whittaker will start to get a bit more looser with his swag, traditionally stinging foes with his version of the double attack in order to disguise head kicks (something that was on full display when he fought Kelvin Gastelum). Whittaker is also good about hooking off of his jab or using it to set up bodywork, as I suspect there will be plenty of jab-heavy performances in his future.
No. 6: Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar at UFC on ABC 1
Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar
Although my admitted Hawaiian bias makes me feel like I'm cheating by incorporating [autotag]Max Holloway[/autotag]'s machine gun-like attacks onto this list, I just honestly found it hard to deny the self-proclaimed "best boxer in MMA" some shine. Obviously, there is a lot more going on with Holloway's game than just a jab. That said, it's still a key building material for the builder in Holloway, as he provides solid examples of how both body and throwaway jabs can help open up the floodgates for his volume-centric style. Sure, I could just as easily of highlighted the measuredness Holloway demonstrated against Frankie Edgar or the sequence that sparked off his first finish of Jose Aldo, but I believe that his fight with Calvin Kattar is also appropriate for this list given that the New England native is also known for his jab. https://twitter.com/TommySledge/status/1350580472204693509?s=20 Despite Kattar trying his damndest to make his jabs and crosses count throughout the contest, Holloway's overall process of feinting, pulling and punctuating ended up overloading him as the Hawaiian pierced through his high guard with straights and ruthless body assaults. Whether he is countering jabs or building off of his own, Holloway's ability to jab competently from either stance deserves a shout.
No. 7: Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns at UFC 258
Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns
Speaking of competently jabbing from either stance, in steps [autotag]Kamaru Usman[/autotag] at the number seven slot for his stance-switching destruction of former teammate, Gilbert Burns. https://twitter.com/fightgamecanada/status/1379145032083587075?s=20 I, amongst others (like striking coach Sean Madden cited below), was quick to remind people the masses that there was a lot more to Usman's performance than just a jab thrown from both stances. https://twitter.com/seanMFmadden/status/1361379726682591233?s=20 As Madden states in the tweet thread above, positional dominance played an overarching role in Usman's success. After getting caught early when drifting into Burns' power side, Usman smartly incorporated L-steps to help stay safe and make the challenger turn with him, hence allowing him to get a beat on his opposition (which is crucial in any phase of fighting). In this fight, you can really start to see Trevor Wittman's influence attach onto the solid fundamentals that were already ingrained into Usman by his former coach, Henri Hooft. And though shifting stances in attack was nothing new for the Nigerian champion, the ability he showed to get off the centerline and control a fight behind a jab against Burns is something that I suspect will serve him well until the end of his career.
No. 8: Rob Font vs. Cody Garbrandt at UFC Fight Night 188
Rob Font vs. Cody Garbrandt
Last but not least, we have the New England Cartel's [autotag]Rob Font[/autotag] to help close out this list after turning in one of the most measured uses of a jab opposite former champion, Cody Garbrandt. Proclaiming himself as the best active jabber in the UFC, Font's body of work can be difficult to disagree with (though I believe he'd have to beat Aldo for that title). Intelligently utilizing his jab as both a battering ram and connecting piece for crosses and kicks, Font will occasionally attach it as a check to catch his opposition on the way out of exchanges. https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1395515971117346820?s=20 However, what impressed me so much in his fight with Garbrandt was his ability to walk the line between disciplined and suffocating for five straight rounds (in his first five-round affair, no less). Whether Font is feinting or looking to create corralling angles with his step-offs, his quietly improved wrestling should help secure more jab-friendly performances in his future.