The Severe Spotlight: Belal Muhammad

Belal Muhammad sat aloft the prelims at UFC 280. The “Prelim Main Event” has become a coveted spot in recent years, this is used from a marketing perspective as a final push for fans to purchase the PPV. For Belal Muhammad it was yet another chance to prove himself, for people to acknowledge, let alone remember his name – to add to his 8-fight winning streak.

Going into the fight there were questions of how Sean Brady the uber prospect was going to push Muhammad back. Belal Muhammad is an interesting style to break down, the initial blows of any fight cause a tremor in the mountains, and those tremors cause a snowfall, that quickly turns into an avalanche. That avalanche is very difficult to turn back; when the momentum and the violent rhythm of the snow builds up speed.  

In the first two minutes, Brady had firmly attached his snowplough and in bursts was forcing Muhammad back, stepping in 1-2’s, catching a kick and forcing Belal to the ground. The snowflakes were falling as Belal stalked Brady in the usual fashion, but the left hook, right hand combination was doing a good job of detracting Muhammad from wading in. Thew first wrestling exchange landed heavily in Muhammad’s favour – a low leg kick caught, and a low calf/tight waist grip set initiated. Belal immediately got head position, began circling to remove the threat of the tight waist/underhook, gained right hand inside control and continued creating distance.

With two minutes left in the opening round, the foreshadowing was there. Brady, no longer instigating the action, was reacting to the building pressure of Muhammad. He was landing, a clean left hand after the high kick, the right hand amid a flurry from Belal kept Muhammad honest, but the tide had shifted, and the waves were beginning to build height. Belal had realised that the footwork, the cage cutting, and the feints had begun to cause Brady some processing problems.

In the second, Belal had an interesting puzzle to solve. Brady was still finding it difficult to circle out, or to create space and was left with low percentage takedown entries to cause Belal to take a step back. These were short lived as Belal stepped right back onto the pressure pedal, however when you corner a live animal, and begin to cause that animal panic and limit its options of freedom, it becomes aggressive and dangerous – and that’s what Brady is here. Penned in, cornered with limited routes for escape, he is looking for the big swing, the big shot and Belal is looking to erode the aggression, and circulate round the island with his shots. The jabs to the slight left angle steps, the low stance and the marauding and pawing of his hands looking to draw the big reaction from Brady, allowing a counter opportunity from Belal.

The variety of Belal began to add up, the range changes, coupled with the pressure, married by the level & stance changes were held in ceremony by the shot selection. Four punch combinations with jabs and right hands coming from odd angles, left hooks finishing. High kicks after level changes, pull counters. The accumulation of the shots was to be seen on the nose of Brady, a nose that had begun to agitate him.

With just under two minutes left in the round Belal has brady tracing the outline of the fence, he feints in and pulls a Brady right hand, as he ducks back to his right-hand side, opening a central channel for a jab. He throws that jab and lands stiff on the nose of Brady. The reaction from Brady is telling, the poker face in the facial expression stays painted on, but the body language changes, the head ducks, the chin folds to the chest, hiding the nose, retreating from a postural perspective. The tide has not just turned, it’s started to overwhelm.

55 seconds left in round two, Muhammad feints a jab, a level change and a second left, coming over the top with an overhand right, catching Brady clean. A reaction akin to a sigh, streams across the eyelids of Brady as he centres, a knowing only a fighter can understand that the contest is racing away from them, the pain is accumulating and the ability to turn it around is waning. The onslaught sprint to the end of the round begins.  A 1-2 crashes into Brady the opening notes of a 46 second survival piece. Straights, body kicks, hooks, uppercuts. Belal is coming with the full arsenal, the trumpets loud and the horses cantering; the cage cutting adding to the panic. Another right hand threatens to put Brady’s hands on the canvas, but he does excellently to stick in, right up and paw out a mercy jab.

The acid rain continues to erode the top layers of skin of Brady as the cuts and lacerations continue to open. Unable to find a way out, unable to find a break, he stands tough, desperate to make the bell. Referee Lukasz Bosacki deemed that Brady was not defending in an intelligent manner, and calls a stop to the contest, and rightly so.

Belal, reels away in jubilation of one of the best performances of his career. Remember the name.