Fabio Maldonado has been praised for his brilliant body work and punching power which he developed through his pre-UFC boxing career. However, punching power and effective body punching do not make a great technical boxer and Maldonado's boxing game has glaring holes. Jack Slack takes a critical look at Maldonado.
Fabio Maldonado has been one of the most requested fighters for analysis in recent months - partly due to his upcoming bout with Brazilian stand out, Glover Teixiera and partly due to the continued assertion that because he has good body work he has good technical boxing. Now the light heavyweight division and MMA in general aren't stacked with guys who have excellent boxing technique and strategy - in fact most are just above passable - Maldonado's successful boxing career should put him head and shoulders above most in the division, and yet even against middling opposition he has looked nothing like a world beater in the striking department.
Maldonado has fantastic body punches and this has garnered him great attention because the body attack is firstly so underused in MMA as it is, and secondly it is such an effective means of visibly hurting and opponent. Kyle Kingsbury is an ultra tough guy in terms of durability - that much should be clear from his last two fights - but he was giving up the Thai plumm because of body shots that Maldonado was landing while stooped over and eating knees - that's pretty much unheard of. The only other individual in main stream MMA who throws body shots while defending the Thai plumm is Nick Diaz, and he's never visibly hurt anyone while doing it.
If Maldonado hits hard, works the body well and has a granite chin - how can I possibly say he doesn't have good boxing? The heart of boxing technique is attacking while attempting to stay safe oneself but Maldonado's defence is laughably bad when he steps forward. I have often referred to what I call "Rashad Evans Syndrome" - where a fighter bobs his head back and forth as if he is a professional boxer, only to stand bolt upright as he steps in with punches. Where Rashad Evans, Frank Mir and others in MMA at least convince themselves to move their head when they're not punching - Maldonado NEVER moves his head. His approach to striking has been to walk forward and grind his opponents down as he would in a boxing match but he lacks the large gloves to hide behind when pressing forward.
In order to get inside to do his brilliant body work, Maldonado must close the distance. Where a good boxer would throw a dipping jab, eliminate his opponent's lead hand or move to an angle and move in while his opponent turned to face him - Maldonado simply jumps in with his head up and his shoulders down.
Notice here how Maldonado jumps in with a jab to the body and because his head remains completely vertical, with his chin up, his head is easily snapped back by Kyle Kingsbury's jab. Compare this to a good technical boxer - such as Anderson SIlva.
Notice that Silva jumps in with his head off line - so that he is hard to hit. When jabbing at an opponent the majority of the time their vision will be obscured even if you miss, so following your head is a tough task. If you keep your head in the same spot as in your normal stance every time you jab however the opponent can throw a punch with his eyes closed and still know where you're going to be. Notice that in frames 3 and 4 Anderson is standing almost on a line with his lead shoulder high and his right arm hiding his ribs and chest. In 3 and 4 Anderson wants Okami to come back so that Anderson can shoulder roll or duck and then counter - this is high level stuff. Maldonado simply wants to get inside and get to work - not set up a counter-counter, but if he moved his head when he lunged in it would certainly be a much less arduous task to close the distance.
Later in the same fight between Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami, Silva demonstrated how effective a jab with correct movement could be:
Notice that Silva's punch connects while Okami's misses. This isn't magic or chance - it's having good head movement and awareness of what an opponent is likely to throw in most situations when you jab.
Many of you might be thinking "Sure Maldonado gets hit coming in occasionally, Jack - but who doesn't?" I think that because of Maldonado's brilliant body punches it's easy to pretend he is a much better boxer than he is. He doesn't get nailed coming in once or twice a fight - it happens dozens of times. I present to you the Fabio Maldonado Collage of Agony:
In every single one of these frames Maldonado is getting hit in the face by Kyle Kingsbury (himself not a great technical boxer) with a stiff straight punch as he attempts to move in. In almost every frame his head is bolt upright and his chin is sticking out. What's more this only came from the first two rounds of a single fight.
Maldonado's complete absence of head movement is a terrible habit for an infighter to have (as their game relies entirely on closing the gap) - and certainly his habit of jabbing with his head bolt upright will be cause for concern against Glover Teixeira - whose entire striking game revolves around throwing the right hook over his opponent's jab.