The Severe Spotlight: Steve Erceg

Flyweight is on fire in the UFC. On a night where much of the media attention surrounds 23-year-old Muhammad Mokaev, Australia’s Steve Erceg ensured he stole some of the limelight with his 5:26 second destruction of Matt Schnell.

The performance on Saturday night wreaked of fight IQ, shot selection and the ability to make and then act upon reads.

Schnell is a fast starter and so set about the first 15 seconds with his usual electric pace. Erceg uses his angled stance, his head movement, and his superior footwork to manoeuvre himself into safer positions. With twenty seconds on the clock, Erceg makes his first read, he plants his feet close to the cage. He baits the jab from Schnell with a feint jab. As he pulls it, he lands his own jab, his left foot already strafing, the right hand comes after, but Schnell makes a choice to dip his head to the right, the Erceg left hook is waiting but narrowly misses.

A 1-2 left hook isn’t an uncommon combination, but the strafing of the Erceg lead leg as it was beginning hints that either the camp were aware that Schnell dips his head to the right, either by choice or by overthrowing on his own left hook. Or that Erceg has made the read inside the opening 25 seconds.

The first clinch exchange see’s Erceg land a clean knee as the hips separate and a beautiful elbow on the break. That break leads us right back into the clinch where Erceg uses his underhook to stabilise himself and can offer his free hand to strip the forearm frame blocking him from accessing better head position.

Back in open space and Erceg is showing Schnell the openings in his game. Every time Schnell loads up, Erceg takes a step back and offers the left hook feint, the right-hand feint or is primed for a left shovel uppercut. Schnell must now respect that his main attacking options have been seen, and reads have been made, counters are primed and so a change in approach must be made. The clinch isn’t a good option as after two forays neither has been positive for the Schnell camp.

The first option Schnell chooses is a slower, outside of range game where he tries to feint his own way in and land longer, crisper jabs. But the defensive head movement, the covering guard and the counters of Erceg prove too much here also. Which leaves Schnell with his other option: pocket exchanges.

The only criticism we can offer of Erceg in this fight is his willingness to engage in the pocket exchanges during the final couple of minutes in the fight. Even though he opens a wicked cut over the left eye of Schnell with a beautifully placed right hand as both men exited the clinch – the willingness to position himself in pocket exchanges felt like a risk that was unnecessary to take. Specifically, when the range game, footwork game and head movement battle on every other plain felt like it had been won.

In the pocket however, Erceg does a fantastic job of riding the shots coming from Schnell and looking to find the left hooks and the right hands and does so on several occasions.

As a testament to the variety of Erceg and his cerebral awareness of variety a level change is thrown in with just under a minute left, whilst unable to complete the takedown it again forces Schnell to be defensively aware of another weapon.

We barely get a chance to start the second round before the finish comes. Erceg is circling to draw Schnell toward the left hook, and Schnell is obliging trying to split the stance of Erceg with his long lead foot and jab. The finishing sequence comes when Erceg takes a double strafe to his left instead of a single. He draws the big right hand from Schnell by feinting the right hand, dipping his head and landing a right hook to the ribs, as the body shot lands watch the lead left leg of Erceg, he gains so much core rotation from the body shot that he is able to almost touch his lead knee to the lead knee of Schnell.

The left hook is unleashed, and Schnell’s right hand is not on the jaw, as soon as the hook lands Schnell folds like a deck chair, and Erceg knows he doesn’t need any follow ups – his whole body relaxes, no celebration he saunters off to speak with the doctor before checking on his opponents. A dangerous, class act.  

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