David and Goliath
By Michael DiSanto
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
That is an all-too-familiar phrase to anyone in the world of sports, and it seems to be the mantra of every smallish athlete out there trying to find a home among physically massive professional athletes.
But the concept of rooting for the little guy long precedes any sports-related phrase, as the First Book of Samuel in the King James Bible spins a fabulous tale of the ultimate underdog success.
It’s the story of David and Goliath.
According to biblical lore, Goliath, a fearsome Philistine warrior standing more than nine feet tall, issued a challenge to the Israelites to have any single man face him in a one-on-one battle to decide an impending war between the two armies. Goliath was such an imposing figure, according to the tale, that all other warriors fled from him in terror.
However, a youthful man named David, no larger or stronger than the average soldier, stepped up to face the vastly larger Philistine “champion.” David shows up to the duel to the death with merely a stick and five small, smooth rocks. Although Goliath taunted his foe amidst laughter, the Israelite defied seemingly insurmountable odds by slaying the giant with a well placed stone to the forehead.
More than three thousand years later, the story still serves as the embodiment of the notion that the little guy can win.
On Saturday night, when Jeff Monson steps inside the Octagon to face UFC Heavyweight Champion Tim Sylvia at UFC 65, he is going to be searching for that same magic that David found against Goliath – literally. Can he find it? Let’s break down each man’s keys to victory and see.
For Sylvia, this fight is about two things: keeping the fight on the feet and maintaining enough distance to land good, effective punches. It is no big secret that Sylvia wants keep the fight standing as long as possible on Saturday night. With a nearly one foot height advantage and an untold reach advantage, there is simply no way for the challenger to win a kickboxing contest, aside from the proverbial lottery punch.
Sylvia, therefore, will look to keep Monson on the end of his punches by establishing the jab early, which allows him to set the distance for one of the most devastating right hands in the US. He doesn’t need a tremendous amount of distance to land his scud missile right, rather just enough to set his feet, explode with his hips and punch through the target.
Basically, he doesn’t have explosive, “backing up” knockout power like Chuck Liddell, who can knock a guy out with either hand regardless of whether his feet are set. But that isn’t abnormal for very tall, long guys. Even the tremendously powerful boxing world champion Lennox Lewis needed some separation to set his feet and turn through his shots.
Moreover, if Sylvia is able to keep the distance, he can use leg kicks to further sap the strength out of the challenger. We probably won’t see another breathtaking high kick to the head like he landed against Tra Telligman at UFC 54 though, because Sylvia will be too preoccupied with exposing himself to a takedown. But he can really sit down and put some leverage into leg kicks because Monson will still run the risk of colliding with a lights out right hand if he carelessly rushes in after a kick.
Monson, by contrast, wants to smother Sylvia’s punches by closing the distance so that Sylvia cannot hit him with any snap or real power. He can do that by keeping his hands very high, moving his head, rushing in off of a slipped jab and forcing a clinch.
Once on the inside, he can use his lower center of gravity and tremendous physical strength to pin Sylvia against the cage and methodically work for a takedown from that position, effectively (albeit somewhat boringly) scoring points with the judges in the process. While forcing Sylvia to the fence, he must make sure to get all the way inside the champion’s chest, so to speak, to avoid knees from the clinch.
Although Sylvia isn’t known for brutal knees, Monson’s chin is almost basically at knee height when the pair lock up – okay, not really, but the point holds that it doesn’t take the same flexibility or effort to deliver a fight-ending knee when one has an 11-inch height advantage.
Matt Serra basically used that same strategy to beat Chris Lytle, a vastly superior striker, in the fourth season finale of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
But each and every round starts on the feet, so Monson better have a more effective plan than rushing in haphazardly for five rounds and hoping for a clinch. For the challenger to truly turn the odds of victory in his favor, he needs to find a way to get Sylvia to the ground and keep him there because Monson has few peers once the action hits the canvas.
Just like it’s no secret that Sylvia has a massive standup advantage in this fight, Monson similarly has a monstrous edge on the ground.
“The Snowman” is a two-time champion at the Abu Dhabi World Submission Wrestling Championships. In other words, Sylvia’s tremendous height and reach advantage suddenly become very real liabilities once the fight hits the canvas.
Why? Because Monson, who is riding a 16-fight winning streak, has the skills to take one of those very long limbs or his neck and secure a submission hold in the blink of an eye, just like Andrei Arlovski and Frank Mir did to Sylvia in his only career losses.
Put another way, if Sylvia isn’t ultra careful when trying to regain his feet after a takedown, Monson will strike at his neck or limbs, securing the champion in an inescapable position much like a python exploding onto and wrapping up a wandering mouse at dinner time.
His jiu-jitsu is that good.
If Monson wants to play it safe, he can use his jiu-jitsu to try and pass Sylvia’s guard and then rely on his wrestling base for control while he pounds away at the champion in search of a stoppage due to strikes.
But, alas, the question remains, how will Monson bring the giant champion to the ground?
Wrestling skills and effective takedowns are great, but when a guy is forced to shoot from five feet away because he cannot get past a guy’s jab, takedown skills are almost useless. Thus, the overriding key for Monson winning, as said earlier, is to close the distance early and keep it closed.
At the end of the day, the champion is probably a true value bet as a 3-1 favorite (yes, you read that correctly). He is probably closer to a 6-1 or even 7-1 favorite based on the matchup.
Then again, I probably would have laid 10-1 odds on Goliath back way back in the day, and we all know how that one turned out.