T.J. Dillashaw vs Raphael Assuncao 2: Changes since their first fight (Skill breakdown part 1 of 2).

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The preliminaries for the UFC 200 event kicked off with a series of fantastic fights. One of the hidden gems within the lineup was the long awaited rematch between T.J. Dillashaw vs Raphael Assuncao. Assuncao had beaten Dillashaw in their previous bout and came into the rematch fresh off a long layoff due to injury. This second time around, Dillashaw vs Assuncao showcased an interesting fight that told us a lot about Dillashaw’s growth. T.J. tends to use confusing movement, so bare with this write up as I dissect the small details to clarify his technique (I’ll revisit old ideas to keep new viewers up to date).

Over the years ever since Dillashaw’s loss to Assuncao, he’s added a vast variety of offensive footwork in his arsenal. I’ve written about his style extensively while contrasting how he defers from Dominick Cruz if you’re curious about his craft (write up listed in my home page).

When the rematch with Assuncao came around, Dillashaw wasted no time initiating his offensive footwork while adjusting to what worked and what didn’t.

Understanding the Weak Side Angle 

It’s not quite easy driving right into T.J. Dillashaw’s craft, but by understanding the advantages of moving to the opponent’s weak side, it becomes easier to understand how his offensive footwork finally comes together. Before we get into his footwork, revisit the concepts about the weak side/ power side angles of fighting to remind yourself how it works.

To quickly recap, the weak side and power side angle is, I’ve put together these illustrations show the angles where a fighter has an optimal range of motion to offensively throw strikes. The power side shows a fighter’s most dangerous range while the weak side is illustrated as the range of motion where a fighter will have trouble reaching.

power side illustration angle.png
Power side noted in the range highlighted in red.
power side illustration words.png
Weak side resides outside of the fighters lead leg in striking.

The advantages of using lateral footwork combined with the concepts of attacking the opponent’s weak side make up a big part of what makes Dillashaw’s footwork so successful. T.J. Dillashaw is a fighter known for his excellent offensive footwork, high pressure style, and his a unique ability to close distance using advantageous angles. These angles often means that he’ll try to move into the weak side. This allows him bypass the opponent’s ability to effectively counter his movement. See his movement in this next sequence:

Tj shifting cross arrow breakdown.gif
Shifting Cross: T.J. using good lateral head movement while moving into the weak side as he shifts outside Renan Barao’s lead leg. 

tj vs barao weak side power side pic.png

Click here to see the Full Sequence


  1. T.J. Slips his head off the center-line to step towards the weak  angle.
  2. T.J. throws his cross while shifting his stance into soutphaw.
  3. T.J. then steps laterally by bumping his position even deeper into the weak side. (denoted by the orange arrow)

In short, T.J. Dillashaw has a variety of offensive approaches and some of them centers around the idea of closing that distance in a way where he can hit you and you will have troubles hitting him. With an ability like this combined with his wrestling, it allows T.J. to constantly pressure forward. His footwork isn’t exclusively confined to just moving to the weak side, so it’s normal to see him approach from other angles as well.

A Counter to Dillashaw’s footwork 

Dillashaw’s use of the shifting cross worked well on opponent’s like Renan Barao. An interesting sequence in the fight was when Assuncao was able to counter this at one point. See this next example how Assuncao adjust his angle in order to catch Dillashaw’s new position.

assuncao counters TJ's shift arrow breakdown.gif
Assuncao adjust his angle in order to align his power side to Dillashaw’s new angle. 
assuncao power side adjust.jpg
Assuncao Adjusting his power side to align with Dillashaw’s new position. 

T.J. attempts to throw his shifting cross, bumping out towards the weak side indicated in the orange arrow. All Assuncao had to do was pivot his lead leg to adjust his angle. After Assuncao adjusted, his power hand was perfectly aligned to catch Dillashaw’s new position. Assuncao wasn’t quite able to recreate this counter consistently as he was more inclined to sit in the pocket in order to counter T.J. but we’ll see more of that in later examples.

The Craft of Switch Footwork

One of the strategies that worked well for T.J. was the use of his switch striking / switch hitting. To familiarize you with this footwork, this works by using a switch step while throwing the lead hand to strike. This particular footwork is useful for a variety of reasons. When you throw this technique, you dynamically switch your stance while throwing a strike at the same time. This is a common footwork from Muay Thai but slightly altered to utilize a punch. The following example should make it clear.

Switch and Angle Off 

The initial strike serves to occupy their attention or stun them. This allows you to deceptively switch your stance without them noticing as their attention is occupied by the hands. When you’re fighting, it sometimes becomes a challenge to get into a stance match-up you want the fight to be in. When you switch your stance, the opponent might be inclined to adjust their stance as soon as they see you change. So by using the switch cross, you can effectively hide your stance change in a more subtle manner. Check out the execution of the switch step cross (switch cross).

tj switch cross escape comp.gif
Notice how T.J. moves his head laterally off into the opponent’s weak side while changing his stance.

At the time of their fist fight back in 2013, T.J. had not yet adapted the ability to move further into the weak side using this switch step. Years later, T.J. had built on more variety to his offensive footwork and used it a few times in the rematch against Assuncao.

T.J. habitually uses this footwork to move outside of the opponent’s lead leg. He also has a wide variety of options after using the switch cross. Check out the other example below.

TJ switch cross, lead check hook slow
T.J. switch steps and changes stance while flashing the cross, then follows up with a check hook.

He’s uses the switch cross, moves outside the opponent’s weak angle then throws a check hook to move even deeper into an angle where the opponent can’t reach him.This type of footwork allows him to blind them with the cross while moving at a good defensive angle where he can’t be countered easily.

T.J. used the switch footwork to tag Assuncao but it didn’t quite provide much chances for offensive output because T.J. was more inclined to move away than to follow up with an attack.

Switch and Cancel 

Another nice addition to Dillashaw’s arsenal is that he now uses the switch cross to feint the opponent. He does this to throw off their rhythm. Since the opponent generally expects him to finish the sequence, T.J. can kill the opponent’s timing by cutting off the movement early. By baiting a switch cross feint, Assuncao reacts by trying to counter while T.J. capitalizes after Assuncao misses.

tj switch step cancel comp.gif
T.J. switch step, cancels the movement, Assuncao tries to advance, but T.J. reacts accordingly with attempts to punish.

Switch and head kick 

T.J. managed to land the head kick using the switch cross head kick like he had managed to do against a few previous opponents. T.J. can effectively bait two different attacks with this type of footwork. First, he flashes the cross, then he lowers his level as though he were going for a takedown. At the end he transitions into a head kick.

TJ switch cross kick.gif
T.J. throws a switch cross, lowers his head level, and transitions up into a head kick. Assuncao drops his level or opens his guard from the various threats.

This type of attack is tricky because you don’t quite know if the which threats are coming, then out of nowhere, T.J. delivers a surprise head kick.

This is the end of part 1, follow up on part two to see more about the strategic footwork and differences from their first fight. Here for part 2


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