Stephen Thompson Vs Rory MacDonald: Post fight technique and Strategy (Breakdown Part 1 of 2)

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It’s true that we didn’t see as much violence as we typically would have compared to a classic Robbie Lawler fight (A fighter known for putting up violent battles), but there were many beautiful mechanics at play to portray a telling story about the execution of excellent strategy and technique. It’s important to keep in mind that Thompson and MacDonald had been nullified with good strategy; it’s no surprise to see this between top-tier fighters who come prepared. Just as Dominick Cruz used his defensive footwork to undo the excellent offensive footwork of T.J. Dillashaw, similar dynamics can be see in the fight between Thompson and MacDonald.

Using the Push Block

There were a lot of things at play in this fight. The most obvious one was Rory’s arm extension. To provide you with a background to this technique, it’s a commonly used technique from Muay Thai known as push blocking, stiff arming or framing. In Muay Thai, this is used to protect various points of contact and provides multiple lines of defense.  The following example should illustrate the various ways this allows you to defend several points of contact.

The rear arm rises high enough to protect the base of the chin. The long arm serves to intercept the opponent to disrupt their momentum.Take a look at some of the defensive benefits of this technique.

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You can tuck your chin into the gap of your rear arm to defend uppercuts as well.
  • Clinch Prevention: One of the main principles of this technique is that it serves to impose a defensive distance by posturing the arm out to intercept the opponent. By creating this distance, it denies the opponent from imposing the clinch because it prevents the opponent from closing that gap to properly engage in the clinch.
  • Technique disruption: The push block also disrupts the opponent’s own offensive technique, thereby preventing them from fully rotating their body. You can aim to one of the shoulders, head or chest and prevent them from rotating the body. Instead of shelling up to block a punch, you can shut down the offense by cutting it off at the source and taking away its momentum. That said, this is a defensive movement that works best by intercepting the opponent with appropriate timing.

In Muay Thai, the push block has a larger variety of defensive contingencies. Looking at Buakaw’s technique, you can observe different layers of defense to such a universal technique. Take a look at Buakaw’s technique.

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  • Lifts his lead leg up to check kicks to the body if needed. If they attempt to kick him, his lifted leg is positioned and ready to fire off a push kick to disrupt them.
  • Lead arm creates a distance from punches and clinching.
  • The rear arm covers openings on the side of the face.
  • The shoulders are raised to protect the base of the chin.

The push block is a universal defense technique that can be applied to various offensive tools. Take a look at how this played into the fight with MacDonald and Thompson.

Defend the Blitz, kicks, and Exchanges

It’s so common to see Thompson land so many of his strikes in a fight but in this fight, he wasn’t able to connect with the same kind of success. He heavily depends on a reaction to bait openings. However, when you apply a universal defense instead of specific defense, it makes it difficult to penetrate through someone’s defense. Rory used the push block as a universal way to stop a large variety of Stephen’s offensive Craft and didn’t need to rely on too many specific defenses that would have left him open. Check out the various attacks that were blocked using the push block.

When Thompson attempted to hit different angles with his dynamic kicking game, Rory was able to push block it off. Rory protected his centerline and chin keeping his technique in tact to guard his chin.

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Push block the kicks.

The push block was capable of blocking off uppercuts and punches down the centerline as well whenever Rory kept his technique tight.

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Thompson is good at timing the blitz on opponents but was blocked off by the push block.

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. Push blocks the blitz

The push block helped Rory to defend the blitz, but what really kept the blitz at bay was Rory’s threat of potentially taking him down. Thompson had realized Rory was also looking to patiently time a grappling exchange off his blitz and chose to reserve using the karate blitz in this fight.

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Rory times a grappling exchange on Thompson’s blitz. Thompson lowers his head below Rory’s level.

Thompson was well prepared and quickly dropped his center of gravity to gain a more advantageous posture to defend potential takedown transitions.

Push block Vulnerability

Keep in mind that the push block requires that you extend your lead arm out to bridge a distance between you and your opponent. Because of the nature of this technique, it forces you to rotate your shoulders and consequently, it also makes your hip turn into a more linear stance. As a result, you end up having your legs vulnerable to kicks because you can’t quite block them well from this stance. In MMA, fighters tend to opt out of the option to check kicks because the threat of becoming stationary on one leg.  As a result, you can easily eat kicks out of the push block.


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Thompson throwing the step up lead leg calve kick to kill the balance.

Rory doesn’t lift his lead leg like Buakaw will usually do. Having the lead leg lifted allows you to use a push kick in case a fighters needs to intercept the opponent’s own kicks. Rory kept his leg down, as a result, Thompson was able to land some solid side kicks to the body uninterrupted. Brian Stann had mentioned that using kicks so low on the leg makes it  difficult to catch and you can see that Thompson took full advantage of this.

The Drawbacks of the Push Block

There are a few drawbacks from using the push block. By extending the lead arm, you take away many offensive options with that arm. Since your arms are locked in a defensive position with the arm extended and the other arm blocking your centerline, it’s hard to throw any viable strikes. In general, it’s not exactly a posture that provides a strong variety of offensive options. This why most Nak Muay’s use this in situational opportunities to defend instead of approaching.

It’s true that you’re limited with the options you have for offensively transitioning out of the push block, However, there are plenty of options to offensively transition out of the push block. I won’t go over all of them, but check out a few of these examples.


Push Block Transitions

The clinch: Buakaw will sometimes use the push block in a deceptive manner. He’ll use the stiff arm to intercept the opponent. This gets them used to driving forward. Then Buakaw will switch to leaving the arm out as a trap for the opponent to move past it. He does this to deceptively invite his opponent’s into a clinch range where he sinks in the single collar clinch once they move passed his lead arm.

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Rory can also be seen using the same Push block clinch invitation to trap Thompson into the clinch. Make them think you’re looking drive them back with a push, change the rhythm and deceptively let them move into your own clinch.

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You also have an open push block style where your centerline is open but your rear hand is free to fire straight from the stance.

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Stuff their momentum, fire a counter (Tyrone Spong).

In Part 2 we go on to discuss some interesting strategies Rory and Thompson used in the fight. Go here: Part 2.



One thought on “Stephen Thompson Vs Rory MacDonald: Post fight technique and Strategy (Breakdown Part 1 of 2)”


    I thought this was an interesting strategy on the part of MacDonald & FZ. A tactic to come up with a way to fend off Wonderboy’s advances.

    And while the push-block tactic had some success; overall it came up a failure. WHY?

    These kind of boxing / kickboxing gambits are 1-dimensional in application. Similar to the MMA conventional thought that the ‘jab’ forms the key to an effective striking game. These approaches are built around observation that striker-opponents have had trouble handling their use.

    The reason for the trouble, however, arises from the larger, global problem of the 1-dimensional nature of MMA striking training. And this can include the sport karate fighters such as Lyoto Machida.

    Wonderboy’s tactical karate-kickboxing, as your article points out, is multi-dimensional. And I don’t mean by technique, which is so routinely cited by MMA pundits. On the push block, Wonderboy is smarter than trying to continually run into that block. Or just stand passive as MacDonald moves in with same.

    Sure it’s a good try to catch Wonderboy with the double-hook cut-off launched by a push block advance. Might well work. Might well not. Wonderboy ability to deny a stationary target is going to diffuse most any MMA striking approach.

    To defeat Wonderboy, Phase 1, one has to understand his sport karate-model. Phase 2, then train to match it. Phase 3, rise to over come it. MMA competitors & coaches by-in-large, don’t comprehend how Wonderboy’s MMA striking style works, let alone had devised any plan to match it.

    As a start, a more aggressive Rory might have matched Wonderboy’s style. The scorecard showed FN Ottawa Rory did not.

    Wonderboy’s sport karate model can be described in 3-5 essential principles. MMA just doesn’t get what they are.

    Robbie Lawler, good luck with that….


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