When you think of the nation of Georgia in relation to mixed martial arts, Ilia Topuria and Merab Dvalishvili usually come to mind. Competing at featherweight and bantamweight respectively, the pair have been at the forefront of the countries recent explosion into the mainstream, with many firmly riding their hype trains heading into the new year.
Despite just picking up his own ranking, 2022 was nothing short of a perfect year for middleweight Roman Dolidze (12-1), who finished all three of his opponents in relatively quick fashion. Earning ‘Performance of the Night’ honors in each of his outings, it was Dolidze’s most recent win over the reputable Jack Hermansson that catapult him into the top 15.
Although his grappling has always been on display since joining the UFC in 2020, it’s largely his striking that has been a focal point throughout his tenure. With big knockouts over Khadis Ibragimov and Kyle Daukaus, it’s no secret that he packs some power in his strikes. As of late, however, his response to wrestling and work from guard has stolen my attention…
Dolidze doesn’t seem to like combinations. Often found throwing singular shots, he’s able to find success through pressuring, switching stances and offering feints and throwaway punches. Damage and precision are rightly a priority for him, hence why he sports a rigid stance and keeps his guard high enough to block incoming strikes. This is important when discussing his grappling, as it leaves him more susceptible to being taken down.
Phil Hawes and Hermansson were able to capitalize on this, getting in low, deep or simply behind Dolidze before getting him to the mat. While this consequence is significant, he doesn’t seem all that bothered about denying these attempts. Clearly trusting his abilities, Dolidze is more than content to work out of his guard in order to pile on the damage or create space to find the sweep.
Dolidze recognizes he’s in an unfavorable position and rolls onto the ground to quickly establish his guard. He immediately goes to work with elbows.
Punishing his opponents for either considering or going to ground with him is a common theme. It demonstrates activity and in some cases dominance over his foe. Judges often assume the fighter on the bottom position is losing, particularly when they’re being inactive.
Its enjoyable to see an MMA fighter – especially one you didn’t expect – using his guard for all the right reasons. While it offers an opportunity to rest/recover, its primary purpose should be to set up sweeps, score damage or create openings to get back to your feet. Laying in or working within ones guard means submissions remain a threat. But renowned ground and pounders or top players such as Glover Teixeira have built solid strategies to counteract this. It includes carefully placed shots along with the correct frames and posts to consistently find success: posting offers huge benefits, allowing you to pin down an adversaries limb en route to landing a strike.
Dolidze aims to make styles such these go through the maximum amount of suck, never not punishing them.
Roman counters the takedown with a guillotine. This threat forces Hermansson to focus on escaping and grants Dolidze the time to find his guard.
Roman Dolidze has recently unveiled a new layer to his guard playing ability with a look that isn’t seen often in the cage.
Known as K Guard, this position is tricky to pull off but provides a number of benefits if done so. It involves having your opponent either standing or kneeling, and can be done from closed or open guard. You must have your knee inside of theirs, with the foot resting on the outside, usually on the hip. The other foot is cupped under the armpit. To the right is a picture for reference.
K Guard, named this as it looks like the letter K, is extremely useful for performing sweeps or gaining access to the legs. The foot cupped around the armpit is important as it pulls the opponent towards you, upsetting their balance and enabling you with a number of opportunities. Notice the grip used to control the leg – a crucial touch.
From K Guard you can find a heel hook, or even work towards triangles and armbars, making it an offensive and aggressive position. It isn’t bulletproof, however, and is a rather risky option if your grips are incorrect or the opposition doesn’t allow your knee to reach the inside of their leg.
For Dolidze, this is where the elbows and punches off his back tie into the set up of K Guard.
Against Hermansson, his shots were that much of a nuisance that it resulted in the Swede extending his arms to avoid being clattered in the face. Dolidze took full advantage of this by gripping the leg and sliding the knee further inside.
In spite of not having a foot cupped on the armpit, Dolidze is able to generate enough force to sweep Hermansson.
As seen above, the Georgian manages to reverse the script and put his adversary on the defensive. Sure, he isn’t able to retain top control for long, but he presents his prowess in the grappling department. And unfortunately for Hermansson, he’d have to endure this position again in the fight, which ultimately lead to his undoing.
Dolidze uses wrist control this time around, but Hermansson defends well.
Although he doesn’t collect a sweep, Dolidze shows K Guard’s effectiveness as he transitions to an armbar. When this proves unsuccessful he falls back on the position.
Roman finds a dominant position where he can rain down punches.
Hermansson was trapped, offering little to no indication that he was escaping the pain coming his way. The fight would be waved off due to this, earning Dolidze his seventh career knockout.
So far we’ve witnessed Dolidze use K Guard to sweep or punch his way to a stoppage. But how about for leg locks? Against Phil Hawes in July 2022, he seemed focused on heel-hooking his way to victory…
Numerous elbows and a failed armbar attempt allow Dolidze to set up K Guard, where, in the end, he shreds Hawes’ knee.
Currently scheduled to face Marvin Vettori on March 18, Dolidze is quite clearly in the form of his life. The 34-year-old is determined to make 2023 his biggest year yet, and with Vettori occupying the number #4 ranking, he’s in a somewhat win-win situation.
Losing against a top contender would definitely be a setback. However, he’d likely retain his ranking and have to fight someone beneath him next time out. A couple more wins and Dolidze would find himself once again being matched with someone ranked higher; another shot to break into the top 5. A victory over Vettori, though, would do nothing short of fantastic things for his career.
With champion Alex Pereira likely rematching Israel Adesanya, the only man in the top 5 with a claim to fight for the belt would be Robert Whittaker. A positive result at UFC 286 could see Dolidze position himself nicely for a number 1 contender matchup.
Having improved smoothly since his promotional debut, Roman Dolidze is looking like a solid middleweight who continues to add tricks to his repertoire. The addition of K Guard not only makes for enjoyable viewing, but forces us spectators to reassess his skills and perhaps start judging him in a higher light.