2021 had just about everything us fight fans dream of. High stake firefights. Technical wars. Top notch finishes. It’s hard to remember everything that happened throughout all 12 months, allowing for some performances to fly under the radar.
Paying homage to some of these fights/performances, I’ll be breaking down a few that impressed me over the course of last year.
All Eyes On Yanez
Adrian Yanez vs. Randy Costa opened up the main card of UFC Vegas 32, an event that marked the return of former bantamweight king TJ Dillashaw. Despite being a ‘Fight Night’ card, the exposure gifted to both men is something many bantamweight prospects can only dream of – Yanez and Costa were both keen to make an impression.
Undefeated in the UFC, Adrian Yanez entered the bout with a 2-0 promotional record, finishing each fight by way of knockout. The buzz surrounding him was high, with many already firmly on the bandwagon. As for Randy Costa, a defeat in his UFC debut saw him bounce back with two impressive victories, as he too finished each win. His most recent, a head kick KO of Journey Newson, catapulted his standing in the MMA world making him a favorite amongst spectators.
When the fight came to fruition, it was labelled a puncher vs. kicker matchup, and rightfully so. Yanez, a man well versed with his fists, was confident in his ability to neutralise his opponents kicking game, all while Costa was plotting ways to keep the fight at his range.
The fight itself turned out to be rather entertaining.
Costa, as he so often does, started quickly, eager to enforce a pace only he could hold. By doing so, he believed the surging Yanez would wilt, falling to the pressure but more importantly, volume on display. Yet in the end only one man would suffer the effects of fatigue.
In the early portion of the opening round, Costa’s game plan had an immediate impact. He opened with leg kicks from his own kicking range, continually switched stances to give different reads and hit all three areas, not discriminating the body. As he left little time between exchanges and maximized pressure, Yanez was left with minimal time to adapt or prepare for the multi-faceted attacks.
Initially, one aspect of the fight he struggled to deal with was the headkicks of Costa. Just like Robert Whittaker, Costa loves to deliver the jab-cross-headkick, masking the kick’s swing behind the cross. He was able to sting Yanez with this numerous times, often clattering the guard or head.
For reference, here’s a clip of him performing the combination.
Used as throwaway punches in this occasion, Costa fires out the 1-2 in order to land the kick.
As well as this trusty combination, Randy’s jab was a tool that racked up quite the number of connections. He was fast to find its timing, dialling in once he did; it wasn’t uncommon to witness him throw three in a row. And when he did, each landed exposing Yanez’s inability to deal with the current distance as well as his penetrable head movement.
Above, Costa shows the capability of his lead hand, prying openings with it whilst landing.
These two tools when partnered with continuous pressure make for a potentially disastrous situation, one Yanez was desperate to avoid. Although eating more shots than he dished out – particularly to the face – he soon made adjustments.
With the aim of taking control, Yanez too began pumping out his lead hand, jabbing his way forwards and turning himself into the aggressor. When placed on the back-foot as the non-aggressor, Costa’s style is less effective, with this fact becoming glaringly obvious as the fight dragged on. It’s worth noting that he often fatigues following the first round, something that’s partly down to the work of his opponent, but also due to his own gas tank.
This played right into the strengths of Yanez, and like a thought out shopping list, he began ticking boxes off as he went along. First up, his jab.
Costa had yet to fully respect the power of Adrian Yanez due to him misplacing counters, and along with this, was able to predict strikes coming his way. You see, Yanez would approach exchanges with a 1-2, or simply fire out a straight punch in attempt to counter. Yet with less than 2 minutes left in the first frame, he shifted his the pattern.
By doubling up on his jab, he was able to push the opposition backwards and make room for his authoritative power hand. Shortly after he lands a beautiful cross-counter, finally having the timing and range of Costa.
Next up: his cross-counter and improved defence.
Seen in the previous clip, Adrian begins slipping the lead hand and firing back with a cross. This slip-counter maneuver began turning the tide of the fight, turning a once fading yet active Costa into a fatigued and battered one.
Yanez eats a jab as he lands an oblique kick, following up with the cross-counter. Note how the jab (which is pushed upwards) forces Costa to dip, thus making him stagnant and more prone to this counterstrike. It also partially blinds his vision.
As a direct result of this double-jabbing and cross-countering, Randy Costa started to overreact and stand static behind his guard, consuming more flush shots than a three-round fight with Adrian Yanez allows. The live odds reflected this also, as Yanez sat as a +180 favorite at the beginning of the second stanza.
By this second round, Costa’s answer to being jabbed up and having the cage cut around him was to counter, and counter hard. If truth be told, he was looking for one big strike, one that would change the seemingly-inevitable outcome of the contest.
Here you can see Yanez searching for openings with his lead hand while offering different looks, giving no breathing room for his withering adversary. He lands big behind the guard, kickstarting the beginning of the end.
Making great use out of his lead arm, Adrian both hits and pushes Costa against the cage. As there’s no consequence to his actions he’s able to find space behind the high guard, hitting the head and ripping the body. Due to these strikes Costa’s defence opens up, allowing an uppercut to penetrate through the middle.
Yanez earned a ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus after knocking down and swarming Randy Costa, making it his third bonus in three fights. And if you thought he was done there, he returned to the Octagon in November, battling Davey Grant in a ‘Fight of the Night’ win.
It seems as if wherever he goes, action follows. This is a trend I for one hope continues well into the new year as Yanez continues his ascent in the rankings.