In her most recent title defense, Joanna gave Jessica Andrade a clinic on fighting long. She completely neutralized Andrade’s game, outstriking her by a huge margin and stuffing almost all of her takedowns. In this article, we’re going to break down the fundamentals of fighting long and see how Joanna was able to dismantle the pressure of Andrade.
As you might expect, fighting long is all about control of distance. The longer fighter wants to keep the opponent at the end of their reach, a distance where they can hit but are too far away to be hit. The shorter fighter will naturally be looking to close distance, so there must be some type of deterrent. The most effective tool to keep the opponent at long range is the jab, and very few work behind a jab like Joanna.
Early in the fight, we see Joanna establishing her jab. With her lead hand constantly feinting, Joanna makes it difficult to time as she bounces in and out. When she throws it, she snaps it out pulls it back just as quickly. After measuring distance, she chops in a quick low kick and circles out when Andrade responds with forward pressure. From her new angle, Joanna flashes her jab to set up a straight right—note that she sits down on the punch instead of punching downwards at Andrade, which allows her to maximize reach and keep her shoulder in good defensive position. When Andrade tries to swarm again, Joanna uses her jab hand as a stiff arm while she circles out. Joanna’s in-out movement and long straight punches form the base of her success at long range.
She uses her jab to break the opponent’s rhythm, stop their momentum and set up her right hand. However, an opponent as tough as Andrade will eat those punches all night but keep coming forward. When Joanna needs more stopping power, she uses front kicks and body shots because they can’t be walked through:
Joanna is very good with her front kicks to the body and body jab. When she needs to push the opponent back, she often does so with those techniques. They serve to sap the opponent’s energy and keep them at range. As a volume fighter with endless cardio, I’d actually like to see Joanna attack the body much more consistently. She lacks power, so it would be wise to make up for that lack of power by pushing the pace and chipping away at the opponent’s stamina. When she does throw them, her punches to the body are some of her best shots.
Joanna snaps a jab, continuing to measure distance and keep Andrade on the defensive. Andrade is doing a good job of parrying all her shots, but she’s coming forward with a square stance that leaves her torso as a big target. Joanna sees the opening, so she flashes a jab feint to cover the right hand to the body. When watching this live, I immediately noted that Joanna had Andrade reaching to parry the body shot in addition to the head punches. I really would have liked to see Joanna go to the body more then feint low and swing over the extended arms, but she mostly allowed Andrade to get away with this terrible defensive habit. Anyway, after eating the right hand Andrade rushes straight in swinging wildly, forcing Joanna to pivot out. Joanna uses her lead arm to control Andrade’s head and guide her off to the side, though she does get clipped by a wide right hook.
This brings us to an important point. It isn’t possible to simply jab at a pressure fighter and keep them away from you all night. Any self-respecting pressure fighter will find a way to close distance, whether it’s with craft or with sheer toughness. The solution to a fighter coming straight forward when you can’t meet them head on is to take angles, and Joanna’s angles have never looked so good.
Joanna bounces in and out, feinting slightly to her left and gets Andrade moving slightly in that direction. However, she uses a walk-off side step to change directions and head to the right, getting ahead of Andrade. As Andrade tries to catch up, she walks directly into a right low kick that buckles her knee. Lunging forward in a desperate attempt to catch Joanna, she gets stopped in her tracks again by Joanna’s jab. Another quick angle change by Joanna causes Andrade to rush past her and gives Joanna a ton of space to circle back to the center of the cage, where she intercepts Andrade with a body jab. Not only does Joanna pivot to angles, she uses foot feints, misdirection and direction changes to completely outmaneuver Andrade.
As you watch Joanna’s footwork, pay close attention to the fact that she is always threatening. She avoids standing up tall, crossing her feet, bringing her feet together or otherwise getting out of position. Because she maintains her stance even as she moves, and never overcommits to moving, she is always ready to attack. She uses her angles to walk Andrade into traps, then changes directions to escape. When Andrade gives up on cutting her off and blitzes near the cage, Joanna again makes great use of her lead hand to control Andrade’s head and toss her towards the cage as Joanna pivots back to open space. This is a great example of how to use your footwork when fighting long, standing in stark contrast to the dangers of fighting tall—which were analyzed brilliantly by /u/csardonic1 in his recent article http://cagepages.com/2017/05/21/ufc-alexander-gustafsson-perils-panic/. Joanna controls the chaos by fighting long, instead of being overwhelmed by fighting tall.
While using her long straight shots to the head and to the body for distance control, as well as working her angles, Joanna will rack up points at long range with her low kicks.
She doesn’t throw them with a ton of heat, preferring to throw them quickly and immediately disengage. Her footwork after each kick takes her out of range, again demonstrating the important of her ability to move in and out quickly. Even when Andrade rushes off the low kick, Joanna is already retreating and sticking her jab hand in Andrade’s face while circling out. She is constantly stinging her opponent’s legs with those kicks, keeping them off balance and building up a big advantage on points that forces the opponent to work hard to overcome. While her kicks to the legs wear the opponent down and score points, her high kicks do the real damage.
Joanna jabs and sees that Andrade slips to the right. As a result, Joanna tries to set up the left high kick. She feints with her jab a couple times before extending it slightly as she steps up with her back foot and snaps a quick lead leg round kick to the head. She failed to trick Andrade into ducking into it, but landed clean and discouraged her from moving her head later. High kicks are a great tool for the longer fighter once control of distance is established because they make it very dangerous for the shorter fighter to move their head or come in low. Joanna even managed to land them while moving backwards:
Even with long strikes to maintain distance, lateral movement to turn her and high kicks to punish her, Andrade still never stopped coming forward. As a result, she was bound to get her hands on Joanna eventually. It’s an inevitability in fighting that the fighter who wants to close distance will do it eventually, again whether by craft, toughness or sheer luck. A key component of fighting long is the having an answer for once your distance has been taken away. The most common answer, and the one Joanna excels at, is to clinch.
Andrade manages to get too close for comfort off one of Joanna’s low kicks. Instead of exchanging in the pocket or trying to run, Joanna immediately latches onto Andrade’s neck with a collar tie and turns her to the right, landing a hard knee to the body. However, knowing how strong Andrade is, Joanna decides not to engage further and breaks the clinch with a check hook (another direction change) that sends Andrade stumbling. Joanna was initially hesitant to engage in the clinch, and for good reason. Andrade proved to be very strong there.
Andrade swarms off Joanna’s low kicks, as she tried to do all night, and manages to actually get into the pocket as she drives Joanna back to the cage. As Joanna tries to control the neck the same way she did previously, Andrade drops down to her hips to shoot a double. Joanna widens her base and drops her center of gravity, making the double leg too difficult. However, Andrade adjusts her grip and switches to a high crotch on Joanna’s left leg. She lifts Joanna clean off her feet and turns her towards the center of the cage. Joanna tries to use her left forearm to create some space between her ribs and Andrade’s head as Andrade goes to slam her, and when Andrade elevates her left leg Joanna manages to post with her right leg and right arm to stop the momentum. She quickly uses the post on her right hand to kick her right leg out, ensuring she lands on her knees and causing Andrade to overextend. With her weight kept on the opponent, Joanna immediately begins turning into Andrade while working her way back to her feet. Andrade also stands up and bails on her shot, eating a body kick on the way out.
Joanna showed a nice ability to escape, but the strength difference was also clear in the clinch. However, by the fifth round Joanna showed that she could initiate on her own terms.
Joanna ducks under a wide right hook, taking advantage of Andrade’s big miss to immediately take her back. Andrade manages to hand fight, strip Joanna’s grip and turn to face her. Joanna starts to attempt a knee as she turns, but pushes Andrade off with a hard palm to the face. The fight ended with Joanna in a very strong clinch position against the fence.
Joanna again ducks under Andrade’s right hand and tries to take her back. The two struggle for a bit, but Andrade gets her back to the cage and hand fights to turn into Joanna. As she turns, she eats a hard knee to the stomach before cracking Joanna with a right hand and disengaging. As she comes forward again, she walks straight into a right hand from Joanna, who then rolls underneath a left hook from Andrade. Joanna traps that left arm with her own, controlling it as she drives Andrade back to the cage, pinning her there with her arm trapped above her own head. The round ends before Joanna has a chance to work.
Andrade had a very tough night. She needed to close distance, but kept walking into jabs, straight rights, front kicks, low kicks and even high kicks. Whenever she rushed forward, she got outmaneuvered and walked into even more shots. The few times she did manage to close distance, she ate knees in the clinch and failed to control Joanna. The only option left to her was to try to compete at range, which she tried to do with kicks. As you might imagine, it didn’t turn out so well.
As impressive as Joanna was, it would be dishonest to not mention that Andrade did a pretty bad job. She failed to cut off the cage and had no method of closing distance effectively. She constantly missed the same left hook with no effort to jab her way in or measure range. She was essentially a walking punching bag and showed zero ability to defend while moving forward. Every single time she got attacked, her feet stopped moving.
There are two things I want you to pay attention to in this gif. First, Andrade’s cage position. Imagine a line drawn from the center point of the ring to Joanna. No matter where Joanna goes, Andrade should be on this line. Anytime Andrade is off that line, Joanna has space to escape to the other side. At no point in this gif is Andrade anywhere near that line, which is why Joanna is constantly able to escape to her right as Andrade simply follows her, always a step behind. The second thing to watch is Andrade’s feet every time she gets attacked. She constantly walks forward, but every time Joanna attacks she stops in place, waits for the attack to finish then at most rushes once Joanna is already circling out. If she ever wants to be competitive with a fighter like Joanna, she needs to learn to move where the other fighter is going, not where they just were. In addition, she needs to be taught how to combine her defense and her offense. They’re completely separate parts of her game and do nothing to facilitate each other, whereas Joanna’s offense and defense combine fluidly. Andrade is getting by on toughness and strength, which just aren’t enough against scientific striking.
That said, Joanna herself is far from perfect. She finds herself clinched against the cage by almost every opponent, has been hurt in the pocket by Karolina and Gadelha, has a bad habit of extending both arms and standing up straight, will step out of stance on occasion, lacks head movement, never doubles up her jab or hooks off it, flares her elbows on her straight punches, all kinds of stuff. She’s one of the best strikers currently in MMA and her fights are great study material, but the level of competition must be kept in mind. So learn from her, appreciate her skill and study her fundamentals, but also pay attention to the things her opponent’s aren’t doing.