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Comfort Under Fire: Fundamentals of Defense Featuring Shane Burgos

I was recently introduced to a fighter I hadn’t heard of yet, Shane “Hurricane” Burgos, through this great piece written by reddit user /u/dmarty77 :
His post inspired me to binge Burgos’ fights and he instantly became a new favorite of mine. What really stands out to me is how comfortable he is under fire. MMA fighters in general tend to be very skittish because there are so many threats they have to be prepared to deal with, which is why so many rely on jumping out of range or running to relieve pressure. Burgos is so confident in his defense that he’ll spend the entire fight walking right at the other guy, and he’ll almost never get hit clean doing it. His defense is systematic, nuanced and layered–which lays the perfect foundation for his counters. Today, we’re going to take a look at the fundamentals that allow Burgos to always be right in front of his opponent, but never be there to be hit.
The first thing I want to talk about is Burgos’ vision. He’s always using his eyes, scanning the opponent for any signs of movement. One of the most fundamental requirements of great defense is the ability to read the opponent, which naturally requires that you’re keeping your eyes on them. Burgos is careful to keep his vision focused on his opponent, regardless of what he’s doing or what strike is coming his way.

In this gif, Burgos throws a cross counter over Rosa’s jab, then pulls from a left hook using a bit of a head roll. I don’t want you to look at the techniques though, I chose this sequence because the camera angle gives you a good look at Burgos’ eyes. Even when he’s throwing and evading punches, his eyes remain fixed on Rosa. This allows him to adapt and make intelligent defensive decisions, as opposed to shelling up or turning away and being forced to reset or rely on guesses. With his eyes always on target, Burgos also maintains his sense of distance.
Distance is the first layer of defense. Every strike has an ideal effective range, and will be rendered ineffective if the defender can move either inside or outside of that range. Burgos is proficient both at pulling back to let his opponents’ attacks fall short, and at moving in to smother them.

Here we see an example of Burgos creating distance for defense. He cracks Pepey in the mouth with a stiff jab, then pulls back. His head shifts into range on the jab, then rocks back out of range and over his back foot as Pepey’s counter hook comes. When the hook falls short, Pepey is stuck with his left hand out of position and his balance off, while Burgos is in a lowered position with his lead hand measuring and his rear hand loaded like a cannon. Burgos unloads that cannon and puts Pepey on his ass. Next, let’s examine his use of smothering:

In this sequence, Burgos smothers two of Rosa’s kicks to counter them. Marching forward, he first counters a low kick attempt. As the kick comes, Burgos braces his left leg to absorb the impact, at the same time he steps his lead leg forward to throw a shifting right hand.  Rosa stumbles back off-balance as a result of the smothering, and when he regains his footing he feints a jab to disguise an attempted spin to catch Burgos walking in. Initially, Burgos responds to the feint by pausing his forward movement and raising his hands to parry, which was Rosa’s intention. However, instead of freezing, Burgos rushes forward and slightly to the left as soon as he sees Rosa’s back turn. This step in at an angle allows him to get inside the arc of the kick, where his right arm is able to underhook the kicking leg and drive Rosa to the mat. Whether he’s moving in or out, Burgos’ ability to control range is very advanced.
The next layer of defense we’re going to discuss is positioning—simply the ability to move into better positions to hit the other guy while taking yourself out of position to be hit cleanly. As Burgos executes his various defensive tools, note that none of them are big, exaggerated. He uses small, subtle changes of position to not only deflect, block and evade his opponent’s attacks, but to put himself in position to counter them. Let’s start with his parries.

Burgos begins by demonstrating his ability to smother again, ducking inside a hook then slipping and pivoting outside a cross to evade the 3-2 combo. From his new angle, watch Burgos immediately raise his guard in anticipation of a punch, before pulling back from the jab Pepey throws. A second jab is picked off by a clean, effortless parry. Throughout this sequence you can see the things we’ve already talked about—his eyes are intensely focused on Pepey, he moves in and out of range smoothly, and now he’s using small movements of his hands to actively defend. All of his movements are controlled and balanced, whether he’s slipping, pivoting, ducking, blocking or parrying. Observe another example of his fluid, subtle handwork:

Advancing towards Trator, Burgos’ rear hand is slightly lowered. Trator attempts to capitalize with a lead hook, but Burgos shifts his weight slightly to his front foot and brings his right hand up while tucking his chin, effectively bracing against the blow. He then uses the loaded weight on his front foot to unleash a counter left hook, though it falls short. This classic catch and shoot counter is a great technique in his arsenal, despite missing here. In addition to his parries and blocks, Burgos has excellent head movement.

Walking down Pepey, Burgos pays attention to Pepey’s stance and footwork. As Pepey plants his feet and tenses up, Burgos knows a strike is coming. Pepey drops his lead hand, telegraphing his jab. Burgos continues to walk forward, only as his left foot is stepping forward he engages his right hip and slips  very slightly to the outside of the jab. Notice how close that jab comes to him, grazing the side of his head as it just barely slips by. Not only is Burgos able to move his head while stepping forward, itself a rarity in MMA, he’s able to do it without moving even an inch more than he needs to. This keeps his posture upright and his eyes on the target while loading up his counters. In addition, it significantly mitigates the risk of head kicks, knees and clinch attempts, as seen when he easily disengages from Pepey’s clinch and knee. While his followup punches weren’t the most effective in this case, he’s entirely capable of hurting the opponent of this slip.

Burgos uses two outside slips here to evade the lunging left straight of Rosa. Rosa tries to walk off in the southpaw stance to draw Burgos into a trap and walk him into the left hand, but each time Burgos is aware of distance and easily slips the punch as it comes. The first time, he uses a frame as Rosa tries to turn into him and smother him. Burgos shoots his hips back and pushes his left forearm across Rosa’s neck to prevent him from facing Burgos properly or closing distance. As Rosa continues to drive forward while reaching with his left for an underhook, Burgos lets him walk straight into a right elbow before knocking him back with a left hook. Rosa returns to southpaw and circles back and to his left, again trying to set up Jersey Joe’s famous trap. When Burgos slips it the second time, Rosa tries to retreat outside his lead foot. Unfortunately for him, Burgos has great pivots. He transitions from his slip to a pivot while using his hands to keep track of Rosa, taking an excellent angle as Rosa attempts to retreat. From that angle, Burgos puts Rosa down with a beautiful right hand before cracking him with a left that forces the ref to stop the fight. We’ve now discussed how Burgos controls distance and positioning through his defense, which leaves us to discuss his timing.
The least tangible layer of defense is timing. A well-developed sense of timing and rhythm is a vital component to any defensive arsenal. Without a sense of when the opponent is likely to do certain things and how fast they’re likely to do them, the defender is left guessing. Burgos solves this problem by moving proactively, reading his opponents and forcing them to throw when he wants to.

Here we see a great example of Burgos tuning into Pepey’s rhythm. Pepey fell into a predictable sequence of movements: he would bounce around or move, then plant his feet, then attack. Essentially his rhythm went exchange, reset, exchange, reset, with little variety to disguise the tempo. Note that as a result, every time Pepey sets his feet, Burgos is ready to defend and counter. First, he ducks under an overhand and comes back with a 3-2. Next, when Pepey plants his feet after stumbling back, Burgos raises his right arm in front and extends his lead arm slightly, preparing to parry Pepey’s jab and throw a counter hook. Pepey resets again, but this time leans forward with his guard up, indicating that he’s not preparing to throw. As a result, Burgos snaps his head back with a sharp jab. Pepey resets again, then steps in with another jab that Burgos easily parries. On the next reset, Pepey hesitates again, telling Burgos that it’s time for another piercing jab that gets Pepey to check his nose.
This is one of the brilliant parts of Burgos’ style. He literally walks at you, forcing you to do something to make him back off. This makes the timing of your attacks predictable, because as soon as you stop moving and let him enter range he knows you’re getting ready to exchange.

Pepey circles around with some flashy footwork, then as soon as he returns to stance he jabs. Burgos slips outside it and throws a dipping jab counter (enjoy how impressed with himself he is). Pepey resets, and Burgos again pushes him back with his jab. This demonstrates another important aspect of his timing—Burgos is able to attack and counter on different rhythms in order to make his strikes much harder to anticipate.

Here we see two counter left hooks. First, the same catch and shoot left hook we saw earlier, then a pulling hook to counter the jab. The first is a defense then counter, the second is a simultaneous counter. Burgos’ ability to move his head by shifting his weight allows him to throw at the same time as his opponents and catch them clean while slipping their shots, and his clean defensive tools like his slips, blocks and parries allow him to catch them after their shots. He can even catch guys in between their punches:

Note again the smothering then pulling—perfect distance management.
Let’s watch him put all of this together:

He displays beautiful defensive skill while moving backwards against Trator. Slips and counters, jabs then pulls, rolling with punches, ducks, proactive head movement, pivots, it’s all there. The most amazing thing is how he’s able to defend so well against all different types of attacks coming his way:

Here we see him work his jab, duck an overhand, parry a jab, block and step with a kick, then use an underhook and hip pressure to force Pepey down an a failed shot. Jabs, power punches, kicks, takedowns, Burgos walks forward and deals with them all calmly. Watch here as he’s completely unphased by all the weird shit Rosa tries to throw his way:
Spinning shit, backhands, shifts, none of it phases him because he sees it all coming and is control of distance and positioning.
While this post has focused primarily on defense, that alone isn’t enough to win fights. Defense is at its most effective when it paves the way for effective offense. Burgos illustrates this principle extremely well, as he’s managed to drop every single one of his UFC opponent’s so far.
Burgos walks Trator down in his trademark style, leaping in with two lightning fast lead hooks that stun Trator. Pay attention to the inside angle he takes as he attacks with those hooks—pivoting to catch Trator square. After hurting him, Burgos moves forward with a third left hook and Trator ducks down and leans forward, trying to smother Burgos. However, Burgos brings his left elbow back in quickly and wedges it between himself and Trator, creating space that allows him to put Trator down with a beautiful right uppercut.
Burgos beautiful defense is on full display again in his first knockdown of Rosa, parrying a kick, using a head roll to evade a spinning backfist then a sidestep and slip to evade a straight. He then rolls with the punches before using that right uppercut to stand Rosa up directly in the path of a powerful left hook. Notice the difference in positioning. Rosa is all over the place, shifting out of stance, ducking all over, then turning his head to the side, then standing straight up and getting clipped. Burgos stays in a good stance the entire time with his eyes on Rosa, which allows him to get the better of the exchange as it goes on.
Finally, we see him drop Pepey with a perfectly placed left uppercut to the body, set up by a right hook upstairs to keep the guard high and wide. By this point Pepey had been put almost purely on the defensive after eating so many counters, which allowed Burgos to walk him down with impunity and hurt him late in the third.
Burgos is young, undefeated and dangerous. He shows defensive skills that are rarely seen in MMA at all, and almost never seen by a man with only 10 fights under his belt. He has the defensive savvy of a grizzled veteran, the toughness and durability to take a few shots but never stop coming forward, and the relaxed demeanor of a man who simply loves to fight. He’s one of the best prospects in the UFC and every fight fan should know his name. It’s Hurricane season.
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