UFC Women's Bantamweight Newcomer Irene Aldana
has 7 has never been to a decision. In her seven wins, five have been by knockout and the others by submission. Her only losses are also by knockout. She enters the UFC having won four of her last five fights with all of those wins coming by 1st round finishes. Her opponent, UFC Veteran Leslie Smith, is coming off of a first-round knockout loss to Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino - the woman proclaimed by almost everyone as “The baddest woman on the planet” and perhaps the most evaded fighter in the UFC. There's no shame, however, in losing to Cyborg Justino because Justino is a current champion of the weight division higher up and finishes all of her opponents in quick fashion - while most female fighters weigh close to 150lbs outside of fighting, Cyborg walks around closer to 165lbs. All of Leslie Smith's fights in the UFC have been action packed and there's no doubt that both Smith and Aldana are warriors who leave everything on the line. Smith lands an average of 5.14 strikes per minute. To put that into perspective: in Ronda Rousey's action-packed career her average was 4.05 per minute and current UFC Bantamweight Champ Amanda Nunes lands an average of 4.23.
Irene Aldana will keep a high or tight guard while advancing or retreating. When she comes out of that defensive shell, she'll slip her head away from strikes while throwing her own. In her first fight in Invicta FC against Peggy Morgan, Irene Aldana used the retreat to set up the first knockdown of the fight. As Aldana moved backward, it prompted her opponent to move forward. Aldana caught her opponent with a two strike combination in the center of the cage, circled along fence, and fired a counter combination which almost ended the fight. Morgan tried to stop her circling by closing the distance, but Aldana kept her hands high waiting for her opponent, and used the opponent's jab to start her own attack. Aldana slips her head away from incoming strikes while throwing her own – she lands it spectacularly, but more importantly she follows up. Most kickboxing stylists are either combination strikers or pot-shotters – that is, the latter category of kickboxers throw single strikes when it's most opportune. Aldana is the best of both worlds in that she followed her first strike with a hard jab, another hard right hand, and pauses slightly after finishing with a jab. As her opponent tries to clinch to recover, Aldana fires another right hand, left hook combination which drops Morgan before Aldana can grab the clinch and throw the knee. Aldana improvises to land the knee as her opponent is dropping to the mat. Morgan would survive the ground and pound which followed, but was subsequently met with a right hand which allowed Aldana to finish the fight with a rear-naked choke in that round.
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Leslie Smith is one of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster. In her earlier career she looked like a wild woman, throwing high volume, unorthodox combinations, and constantly moving toward her opponent. Smith's unorthodox punch and kick combinations often catch her opponents off guard. In her first fight in the UFC, she took the fight to UFC veteran and former Strikeforce Women's Bantamweight Champion Sarah Kaufman. Smith pressed the action from the get go and one of the first flurries she threw came in the first fifteen seconds of the round. In the graphic below, both fighters have already thrown jabs at each other and followed up with right hands while simultaneously taking their heads away from the line of fire. Kaufman used the right straight while Smith elected for the looping overhand left. To return her balance – and potentially catch her opponent off guard – Smith fired the backhand and let it flow into a beautiful left high kick which Kaufman blocked. The combination didn't end there, she attempted another jab, and cross before falling into the clinch with Kaufman. Kaufman's experience as a champion and her deep defensive skill set enabled her to avoid damage and take advantage of Smith's constant forward motion. Although Smith would go on to lose the fight on points, she showed this sort of gritty offense from the opening bell to the final one.
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In her next fight, Leslie Smith took on the long and tall Jessamyn Duke. Duke primarily worked behind a jab and lead low kicks while attempting to circle. Leslie works well in combinations but circling will often prevent Leslie from firing those combinations. In the center of the cage, Duke was able to keep Smith at bay. As seen earlier, Smith has a series of looping strikes which can prevent an opponent's movement; against Kaufman, Smith showed that she prefers to stop any movement beyond her own left side. The prospect of left kicks and backfist will either force an opponent to stay in place or circle to Smith's right side. Duke, a jab heavy fighter, instead circled to Smith's left and was met with a number of low kicks. Duke then adjusted by catching the kick and punishing Smith while her leg was trapped. Smith made her own adjustment by preventing Duke's circling attempt by instead utilizing the overhand right. The arching motion ensures that unless the opponent weaves under it, they will run directly into it. That's exactly what happened. As Duke circled, she was walked into the overhand right which was followed by Smith's favored left body kick to prevent any escape to the other direction. With her opponent trapped along the fence, Leslie displayed the aggression she's known for: Smith's right hand pinned forced her to opponent to block high, smith then planted a left then a right hooks to the body, which in turn opened up Duke's head; a few more strikes to the head forced Duke to shell up where Leslie quickly grabbed the clinch and landed a knee.
Unfortunately for Duke, but fortunately for any fans of body shots, Smith was allowed to continue her lengthy and creative combination – the sort that has made her a fascinating fighter to watch. Two shots to the head again set up that sweet left shot to the liver. The 1st panel below shows that Duke is in no position to defend because her guard and stance have been manipulated so that her balance is compromised and her liver is in prime punching position. Another body shot in the 3rd panel ensures that the hands drop and two more punches to the head are followed with a surprisingly limber left high kick. The kick is blocked, but that works for Leslie because, as in her fight with Kaufman, the head kicks is proceeded immediately with straight punches to the head. Duke circles out, but is met with another hard left hook to the body which crumbled her and caused the ref to step in and declare the fight as finished.
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Smith's sophistication with her combinations provides a lesson in the skillful use of recursion in combat. Many fighters fire rote combinations or sloppy flurries to the head, but Leslie Smith is capable of throwing extremely long combinations while mixing the targets thoughtfully enough to take advantage of the openings that will inevitably come when an opponent chooses to defend themselves.
One of Irene Aldana's two recent first round knockout victories came against Duke as well. The bout had a detectably different dynamic: Duke came forward as Aldana circled because Duke is neither significantly taller nor longer than Aldana. Jessamyn's best attacks come along a straight line and she performs much better when she's able to land the jab. Irene's lateral movement prevented Duke from establishing the jab and Irene was largely able to stick and move for most of the bout. By the first half of the round, the left side of Duke's face was red from the right straights that Aldana was repeatedly able to land. Aldana's lateral motion forced Duke to chase ineffectively; Aldana's in and out movement combined with feints threw Duke off until the two exchanged right hands in the center. Both landed, but Duke came out worse off. Aldana saw this and immediately pursued. Irene corralled her opponent to the fence with the left hook in panel 4, then stopped any hope of an escape with a low kick.
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Although Duke blocked the low kick, it locked her in place for Aldana's combination.The jab leads to the straight right cross. Aldana takes a slight pause before throwing another 1-2 combo which are throw-away punches only meant to bait a reaction such as Duke's tendency to shell up. Aldana slips the left hook into her opponent's liver in panel 1 below and uses two more shots to the body to draw Jessamyn's guard away from her face. Like Leslie Smith, Aldana manipulates the guard by landing strikes which painfully convince her opponents to follow a fairly determinate pattern. A fighter in this situation is forced to neglect protecting their head by sheer force of pain. Aldana's right hand lands flush on the target and the following left hook to the liver takes Jessamyn Duke out of the fight.
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In Aldana's next fight she pushed forward looking to outbox her opponent. Irene decided to work through pressuring the opponent, moving her head, while working behind straight punches until her opponent was caught with a clean right hand. Very few fighters are able to constantly move forward against Smith so perhaps we may end up seeing more of Aldana's counter striking capabilities. And although Smith likes to work through combinations, some of that potential will likely be taken way in the first half of the 1st round due to Aldana's tendency to intelligently start the fight by moving laterally. Leslie Smith pushes a pace that very few can match so seems hard to conceive of Aldana being able to avoid getting into a firefight with Smith. Considering how the two match up, it would not be surprising to see an interesting conclusion to this weekend's contest between the two bantamweight contenders.