Gavin Tucker Vs. Sam Sicilia: The Arrival of an Interesting Prospect (Technical breakdown Part 1 of 2)

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Sicilia vs Tucker
Feb 19, 2017; Halifax, NS, Canada; Sam Sicilia (red gloves) fights Gavin Tucker (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scotiabank Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

One of the beauties of tuning into a UFC card is that you sometimes come across new fighters on the scene. You never quite know what kind of prospects will show up, but that’s part of the fun of keeping your eye out for potential talent. Once and a while, we find ourselves overseeing a guy like Lando Vanata coming into the scene to set the cage on fire with a groovy performance. Once again, we were gifted with yet another intriguing performance from UFC Fight Night Lewis vs. Browne, when a 15-8-0 Sam Sicila faced off against a 9-0 prospect Gavin Tucker. This fight was very much one sided across various dimensions but it showed something worth keeping an eye out for. Tucker managed to cement a great performance worthy of mention as he managed to land about six times the amount of strikes landed within their 15 minute bout while taking little damage as possible. That alone begs the question of how we was able to pull it off.

The interesting thing is Tucker’s approach and how he is one of the few in the featherweight division to demonstrate a style that closely resembles fighters residing at Bantamweight. You could draw many parallels to the way Tucker fights from comparing him to fighters like Dominick Cruz and T.J. Dillashaw. Gavin Tucker is a unique case that seems to demonstrate what it looks like when fighters draw various strategies from effective fighters.

When we examine Dominick Cruz, one of the basic principles of his style revolves around the idea to hit and not get hit. Cruz primarily relies on creating angles where he can avoid damage to accomplish this. Like Cruz, Tucker will often follow the same approach to attack while avoiding damage. Tucker doesn’t typically string together long combos, but instead picks and chooses his openings carefully and then utilizes footwork to evade the opponent’s chances of retaliating. Staying too long inside of the pocket exposes you to takedowns, clinching, and other various threats, so by minimizing his time on the inside, he limits his opponent’s opportunities.

One of the similarities we see from Tucker is his tendency to use shifting in order to exit out at a defensive angle. We’d often see fighters like Dominick Cruz, T.J. Dillashaw and even Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson use this.

tucker wonderboy shift escape comp.gif
Goes in to attack, exits at an angle. 

While throwing the rear cross, they shift the rear leg forward. By doing this,  you now position your feet to push off a different angles away from the opponent. This lets you stick and move while getting out of the opponent’s counter range.

tucker shift arrow breakdown.gif

Note that while throwing the cross, Tucker’s lead leg shifts forward. This opens up new possibilities for him to push off into a  new angle.

Tucker’s Signature Moves

The Double-up

More often than not, Tucker constantly moved towards Sicilia’s weak angle (outside of the opponent’s lead foot). We’d often see Tucker throwing his signature shifting double-up cross moving into the weak side.

Double-up moving outside the lead leg.


T.J. Dillashaw regularly darts outside the opponent’s lead leg like he did against Assuncao. He was able to throw his shot while simultaneously hitting a defensive angle where his opponent couldn’t reach. Tucker demonstrated shades of this tactic against Sicilia when he would dart and move out to the weak side.

Darting outside the lead leg.

Uppercut Setup

Perhaps one of the most unique offensive approaches shown from Tucker was his uppercut setup. He would often shift forward to bait a reaction, then position himself to throw his rear uppercut from outside the opponent’s weak angle.

Measure range, feint the rear while shifting forward, punish the reaction with an uppercut.

He would typically measure first to control the hand, but more importantly, as he shifted forward reaching out his rear hand, it created a reaction. That reaction was important because it would often cause Sicilia to defensively lower his head to evade. As a result, Tucker would punish that reaction by slipping down to the weak side into an uppercut.

He would also use a the same setup to throw the overhand but wasn’t quite able to find his mark.


Punish Setup

One of my favorite punishes utilized by Tucker might have had to been his bait off the cross. Tucker would often throw a jab, cross,  and then shell up to bait out Sicilia’s counter. After blocking the counter, he’d return a jab. His jabs are rather nice because he’s either pivoting while jabbing to avoid linear shots, or throwing the jab while on the retreat.

Cross, block, punish with a jab.

Tucker Fights in a southpaw stance. Against an orthodox fighter like Sicilia, it’s a natural occurrence that fighters will hand fight. With a mirrored stance where the fighters lead foot meets identically, their lead hands are also in close proximity. Fighters often reach to measure and seek to control the fight. Tucker would often look to seize control of the lead hand in order to manipulate openings. One of the signature tactics Max Holloway uses in hand fighting is to reach out to get the opponent into a rhythm of reaching to meet his hand. After establishing that rhythm, Max would break the rhythm by throwing a hook around as the opponent looked to reach forward.

Max hand bait into hook around
Max (black shorts) draws his opponent to reach forward. He then changes his pattern to hook around as his opponent reaches out to expose his openings.

This was something Tucker would often use as well when hand fighting Sicilia.

Tucker reaches forward to draw Sicilia’s lead hand, then hooks around it.


We continue forward on part 2 [click] to explore unique movement patterns and different principles.



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