Do Fighters Really Fight to the Level of Their Opponents?

“They fight to the level of their opponent” is a common discussion you find surrounding popular fighters that seem to get better or worse depending on the level of their opponent. A popular example might be Tyson Fury having a hard fight against Tom Schwarz whilst looking undeniable against Deontay Wilder, or more recently, Robert Whittaker getting whooped by Dricus Du Plessis. Let’s discuss how true this phrase could be.

Styles Make Fights, Sometimes Bad Fighters Are the Harder Fights

You’d know this if you’ve ever sparred or competed; sometimes people with uneducated technique are harder to fight. Maybe the opponent flares their elbows on straight shots or they throw 12 punch combinations, the most dangerous strike in fighting is something you don’t expect. This operates at every level, but it’s more common in the lower levels of fighting, which might be why elite tier fighters sometimes struggle with lower-tier opposition.

This happens a lot in MMA, where short-notice opposition is very frequent. Because a fighter is ‘unconventional’ and doesn’t do things by the book, they’re harder to read, and as such, they can find success with the ‘wrong’ technique. However, this does beg the question of whether there’s such a thing as truly ‘wrong’ technique.

Rhythm is Everything in Fighting

The most common element that can throw a good fighter off is rhythm, and that’s probably where a lot of lower-level fighters deviate the most. To the layperson, a fight is just a fight, but it’s much more; fights have a rhythm, a beat that they follow, and every fighter has their rhythm.

Next time you’re training, pay attention to your strikes, are you hitting the pads at the same pace every time? 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 2-3-2… or are you breaking your rhythm? 1-2 – pause – 3! 2 – pause – 3-2. If you’re drilling a combination, are you waiting the same amount of time between hitting the pads? Breaking your rhythm on purpose is an advanced technique that can confuse superior opponents. Breaking rhythm can draw out parries or counters from an opponent that thinks they have your beat.

I could go further into rhythm, specifically the rhythm step, but that’s something for a separate article.

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Mathew Riddle