Whichever striking sport you practice, one rule applies to all, “hit and don’t get hit.” Developing good reflexes, fast footwork, and, most importantly, good head movement is necessary to act as the rule dictates. It is no coincidence that the best MMA strikers in the world have excellent movements, which is one of the main reasons for their success. This game is painful enough, and it’s up to you to protect yourself as best you can. This way, you can have a longer career and a healthier life outside the arena. Maybe this article will motivate you to finally start working on head movement when you read how the champions do it.
We open the list with a man who is a textbook and the best example for our discussion today: the legendary Anderson Silva. Anderson da Silva was born in 1975 in Sao Paolo, Brazil. This master of martial arts and evasive movements began to sharpen his skills in his teenage years.
Highly ranked in all striking sports, Silva was a world power in his time in the UFC middleweight division, and his reign lasted seven years. He was practically untouchable to his opponents, dodging punches as he stepped out of the Matrix. His head movement was unreal, and Silva acted like he could see the future three seconds ahead.
Silva would relax and taunt his opponents, enjoying his every move and making a show out of the fight until he decided to cut them out of consciousness with quick counterattacks. The best display of his movements can be seen in the fight against Forrest Griffin.
Fortunately, after Silva’s reign, God involved his hands in martial sports, not depriving future generations of first-class striking and successful head movements. He assigned Israel Adesanya to continue where Silva left off.
Israel was born in 1989 in Lagos, Nigeria, and his fighting score in striking sports will best tell you about his dangerous fighting style. Izzy has 27 MMA, 80 kickboxing, and six boxing matches behind him, which have allowed him to grow into a top striker who is difficult to hit cleanly.
We are talking about a man who is a walking highlight reel who perfectly implements his game plan in every fight to take as few and throw as many hits as possible. Thanks to this way of fighting, he cleared the middleweight division. He took over the championship, which he actively and successfully defended later on. It is safe to say that whichever Izzie fight you turn on, you’ll see what we’re talking about.
Dominick Cruz was born in 1985 in San Diego, California, U.S., and began his martial arts adventure with a wrestling background, which is ironic because he possesses the footwork of a high-quality boxer.
Dominick’s fighting style is perfectly described by his nickname Dominator, and his high fighting IQ throughout his career was responsible for why Dom saved his brain cells. His specialty is in his footwork above, which allows him to take fights to a decision without absorbing too much damage.
The only way to beat Cruz is to knock him out as Chito Vera did or, in the case of Cody Garbrandt’s fight, who was the only one who managed to beat him by decision. Cruz was untouchable as a champion in his prime, and his injuries were his most dangerous opponents.
Despite the unfortunate defeats, Dominick has 24 victories against top-notch opponents. He remains the king of judges’ decisions. He is considered one of the best bantamweight fighters in the sport’s history.
Everybody is a top fighter and boxer until they step into the Octagon with Max Holloway, who successfully imposes his simple but effective fighting style on any high-ranked fighter on his way to the featherweight title.
Jerome Max Keli’i Holloway was born in 1991 in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., and grew up in a place known for fighting. Max started honing his striking skills in kickboxing classes when he was 15. He won his first amateur fight after only three days of training.
Holloway is a former featherweight champion and a guy who enjoys every second spent in the octagon. His head movement is best shown in the fight against Calvin Kattar, and he says that playing UFC on Playstation and deficit sparring when preparing for the match plays an important role in his fighting style.
His recipe for victory is fluid, evasive head movements accompanied by jab-cross combinations. This fan-favorite fighter also holds numerous records in the UFC and continues to be successful and active.
José Aldo da Silva Oliveira Júnior was born in 1986 in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. The former featherweight king and UFC hall of famer, Jose is a freshly retired MMA fighter who, during his reign, fought in matches against the best fighters in the world and successfully defended his throne.
His 18-year career has been accompanied by his killer attacks and slippery defenses that have kept his name at the top of the division for a long time, which he has defended seven times. Aldo is also a former WEC champion with two defenses.
If you look at his score, you will see what kind of killers he shared the octagon with, and, incredibly, his striking defense statistics is 60% all the years in such competition. The best display of this can be seen in the fight against Frankie Edgar, where he imposed an MMA masterclass. It was clean, by-the-book, and technically flawless. This is the type of performance every learning striker should try to emulate.
Cody Garbrandt was born in 1991 in Uhrichsville, Ohio, USA, and is a former UFC bantamweight champion. This knockout artist comes from a wrestling and boxing background that proved an excellent basis for his competing in MMA.
One of the unluckiest former truth-to-be-told champions who, after a streak of 11 wins and a title win from Dominick Cruz himself, has five losses in his last seven fights. But make no mistake, Cody is a dangerous fighter with incredible hand power and extra good head movement.
His only problem is his impatience and tendency to get into slug fests with anyone who emotionally upsets him. Because Cody is pretty emotional for someone nicknamed “No Love.” If you watch the fight against Dominick Cruz, you can conclude what kind of defense it is. Cody has never been better than in that match, and the only thing left is to hope that he will mature and return to the championship paths.
Jorge Masvidal was born in 1984 in Miami, Florida, USA, and is known for one of MMA’s longer and more exciting careers and superior striking ability. This retired sports veteran shared the octagon with the best in more than fifty fights and clearly enjoyed every moment.
Masvidal has been a fighting character since he was young, making a long journey from backyard fights to the famous UFC Octagon, earning his nickname “Gamebred.” Henderson, Cerrone, Iaquinta, Usman, and Burns are just some names that fill a 20-year-long career.
Jorge is known for attractive striker exchanges, and with a 64% striking defense, he gives more shots than he receives. Growing up, he was a big fan of the boxer Pernell Whitaker, whose defense he tried to adapt to himself to receive as few blows as possible. His head movement and blood lust can be seen in almost all his matches.
Jonathan Dwight Jones was born in 1987 in Rochester, New York, and has been considered one of the most dangerous and best fighters on earth for many years. That is justified by the fact that Jones has been fighting for titles for a decade and is known for going the distance with the best challengers and defeating them without much damage to his face.
With 64% striking defense through many high-profile fights, Jones’ defense does not look as attractive as we are used to with Adesanya or Silva. Still, it cannot be said that it is not functional. For someone with more championship hours in the octagon than the average fighter in regular matches, it’s a real miracle how he kept his sanity with his superb defense and remained intelligent with no signs of CTE.
Even if a clean shot slips through his impenetrable defense, Jones has proven time and time again that he can take a beating but would rather avoid it.
The Diamond was born in 1989 in Lafayette, Louisiana, USA, and think what you want about him. Still, the man knows how to give a beating and, at the same time, avoid it. Dustin’s fighting style fits his personality perfectly; you can see he’s been doing it forever.
The only reason he takes clean shots is because he likes slugfest fights. UFC statistics show that Dustin has a 53% striking defense, which would be much higher if he fought smarter. His fighting IQ, developed after years of fighting, allows him to sense incoming punches a mile away.
Yet, Dustin would rather dish out some more punishment at the masochistic cost of taking a punch himself. Although his every fight is a boxing highlight reel, his superb head movement can be seen in the second fight against McGregor when he evaded dangerous punches and knocked out one of the best strikers in the UFC.
Conor Anthony McGregor was born in 1988 in Dublin, Ireland, and, as we all know, is the biggest MMA star in the world. But his fame did not come overnight, and the title was not simply given to him. Despite the “Dana White Privilege” he acquired after doing well, Conor’s rise to the top was justified and successful.
McGregor is a master of head movement, allowing him to avoid shots by inches while serving a killer combination and leaving the dangerous area. The former double champion is known for his phenomenal counterpunches, with his lethal left hand playing an executing role, making Conor a man you don’t want to miss.
In 22 victories, this knockout artist knocked out as many as 19 opponents with his fast movements and flashy counters. The downfall of his career came when he changed his stance and game plan, which made him untouchable until then.
Tyler Jeffrey Dillashaw was born in 1986 in Sonora, California, USA. He is a two-time former bantamweight champion and one of the best bantamweights ever. TJ has a wrestling background and spent a long time at Team Alpha Male training with top fighters.
Yet, his quality head movement and avoidance of punishment when throwing attractive combinations can be partly attributed to his striking coach, Duane Ludwig. Under his tutelage, TJ has a black belt in Muay Thai that is incredibly functional and adapted for cage fighting. Using his system of striking and movement from the Bang Muay Thai gym, TJ managed to reach the championship by dethroning one of the more dominant champions, Renan Barao.
It’s not just head movement that Duane managed to teach Dillashaw, but his “shifting” plays a crucial role, as well as finding angles that are dangerous for opponents and safe for himself to implement punishment without getting any. Because as we can see from all the fights so far, Dillashaw is a man who likes to move.
Sean O’Malley was born in 1994 in Helena, Montana, U.S. Sean is fresh and the current champion of the bantamweight category, whose championship he reached with his style that earned him the nickname “Sugar” because, as his trainer says, his striking game is sweet as sugar.
In 17 wins, he managed to knock out 12 opponents, and those who went to the decision with him received many punches without being able to hit him. O’Malley moves from left to right, changing his guard and sniping at his opponent.
His reach advantage also plays a big part in his success, and given his recent fights, he is deservedly sitting at the top of the division. Sean is a real trickster when it comes to striking in the octagon. His hands are fast, long and full of power, and his movements are fluid with incredible measurement of distance and safe entrances and exit into close combat with the opponent.
Kelvin Gastelum was born in 1991 in San Jose, California, U.S. He is the winner of 17 Ultimate Fighters and is a former middleweight title challenger in Fight of the Year against Israel Adesanya, where he was at the peak of his striking abilities.
Although Kelvin had a sudden fall after that fight, we must not forget that this big Mexican head knows how to move evasively. For the last decade, Gatelum has been fighting at the very top of the sport against the most famous names worldwide.
His striking defense statistics are at 58%, which is a quality number considering the competition. For someone of his weight, he is quite fast when it comes to movements, accompanied by bombastic hand strikes.
What is specific about his head movement is that Kelvin needs to be punched cleanly first to remind him that his head should not be in the center line of fire, making himself a difficult opponent to combo on.
Rafael Fiziev was born in 1993 in Korday, Kazakhstan, and his name has yet to be heard on the greatest martial arts scene. Ataman is one of the most decorated strikers in the game, capped with 14 MMA and 47 Muay Thai bouts, and is also a bronze medalist from the 2016 Jönköping World Championships.
His text-book evasive moves can be witnessed in fights against dangerous strikers like Rafael Dos Anjos, Bobby King Green, and Marc Diakiese. Hand punches are not the only thing that Rafael can avoid because, in his defensive arsenal, he often uses the lean-back technique to avoid high kicks and quickly retreats to his stance to punish the opponent.
The multiple Muay Thai champion has adapted his fighting style perfectly for MMA. In the fights against the strikers mentioned above, he has been awarded several times for Performance and Fight of the Night.
Finally, we left a fighter without whom GOAT conversations are questionable, known to everyone as Mighty Mouse. Demetrious Johnson was born in 1986 in Madisonville, Kentucky, U.S., and is one of the best fighters to come through the UFC. Ironically, he comes from a wrestling background, and his flawless striking and movement technique is a masterclass from fight to fight.
Can we remember when Demetrious came out blue and bloody after a match?
He has been fighting at the very top of combat sports for a decade with a 67% signature strike defense, and regardless of his age, Johnson comes out of matches fresh and clean-faced. We’ll sign off with one comment on Demetrios’ flawless technique from himself when he finished the fight without a scar on his face and said, “This is what technique gets you.”
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