Hendo vs. Shogun: The Lost Art of the Sneaker

Jack SlackLead MMA AnalystMarch 25, 2014

Jun 15, 2013; Winnipeg, MB, Canada; Dan Henderson fights Rashad Evans (left) during their Light Heavyweight bout at UFC 161 at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

I want to take a look at something that is both painfully absent from most fights and very much in vogue at the moment following Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua II: striking out of the clinch.

I said on Monday that body work is criminally underused in MMA, but striking on the exit from the clinch is underused everywhere.

First, let's take a look at how the knockout came about. Henderson was getting worked over handily by Rua, who was actually looking like he understood his striking advantages. He refused to trade Henderson right for right.

Henderson looks bad at distance. He is slow and cumbersome in closing the gap, and it served to make Shogun look like the much better fighter and help him evade punishment. If an opponent is standing in front of Henderson, he'll uproot the lead leg with the inside low kick and then drop the hammer with his right hand.

If an opponent isn't within distance to do that, though? Hendo will clumsily run across the ring, miss his target and keep running past. He never looks more like a 40-year-old man than when he is fighting an opponent who keeps his distance.


Henderson's squatting stance and tendency to stand almost side on—loading up his right hand and taking almost all the power out of his leftalso make him susceptible to low kicks. Rua's better connections were nothing like the kicks of his heyday, but they buckled Hendo's legs, and the American MMA legend struggled to come back with anything while recovering his stance.

One thing that looked brilliant throughout the fight was Shogun's jab. In the first match, when all he threw were right hands, Henderson answered with a right hand each time that consistently landed. But the jab cuts so tightly inside an opponent's right hand that it will beat it 90 percent of the time.

Additionally Henderson keeps his head so far off line to his right that to slip inside Shogun's jab and throw the right hand over the top (in a cross counter) would be a large movement and far too slow to beat the jab.

Shogun's jab cut Henderson in half and left Hendo's big weapon (his right hand) on the outside of Shogun's shoulder, behind which he tucked his chin.

The jab stopped Henderson from throwing counter rights, which allowed Shogun to have success with his own right hands when he sprinkled them in occasionally. In the first fight, he tried to take advantage of Henderson's bent-over posture, but because he never set his punches up, it worked out like this:


In this match, Shogun's jab and low kicks had Hendo worrying and holding back his right, which allowed Rua to land a headache-making uppercut according to plan.

Henderson knew that he had to close the distance to be effective, but his standard setup (inside low kick to right hand) wasn't cutting the mustard. So he started trying to duck in on Shogun's hips. Here's an attempt in the first round:


And here's a horrible attempt in the second:


In the third, Henderson ducked under as Shogun moved in and stuck to him. Turning Shogun around as he looked to break free, Henderson landed his money punch.


The Sneaker is a punch described by Jack Dempsey in his classic Championship Fighting. In boxing, punching on the break is illegal if the referee does the breaking. But many boxers forget that if the clinch is broken by the participants, it is entirely legal to punch on the break.

Some savvier boxers (Roberto Duran especially) would body punch their way into a clinch a few times, each time going limp as if to say, "OK, we'll break." As soon as the opponent broke without the referee actually saying anything, bam!—in would come the right hand or the left hook.

It's essentially a sucker punchhitting the opponent when he isn't thinking about fightingbut the results can be remarkable.

Henderson also turned Shogun around to meet his right hand, and boxing has similar examples of fighters doing the same thing. Georges Carpentier famously used to "waltz" his opponents into punches. Here's a nice example of Gerald McClellan throwing his right hand, acting as if to enter a clinch, and then turning his opponent and coming up with a left hook. He puts the exact same principles in action, and they work wonderfully:

Gerald McClellan

Striking out of the clinch has always been undervalued, and it saved Henderson's bacon in this match. The flagrant hammerfists to the back of Shogun's head as he turtled probably finished the fight (which is a shame; it seems like anything is legal if the other guy is already hurt), but without the clinch, turn and right hand, Henderson would have likely been diced up at range all night and gassed by the end of the third as he always is.

I'll leave you with another beautiful example of striking out of the clinch in MMA. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic defends Fedor Emelianenko's judo and feels pretty good about it until he gets his bell rung by a hook on the exit:



Pick up Jack's e-books Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking from his blog, Fights Gone ByJack can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.