This fight is one of the reasons to love the UFC and MMA. Two fierce fighters who love to throw down. There will be a lot of action in this fight from two strong strikers. Both Jessica Eye and Leslie Smith fight with heart and have excellent chins. It sets up as an intriguing matchup. Let’s break it on down.
The Evil Eye and The Peacemaker
As a fight fan it is easy to fall for Eye’s aggressive style. She loves to bring the fight to her opponents. Eye has some excellent boxing as her base and is a solid defensive grappler. She has one win and one loss by submission in her career. You see her using it to either keep the fight standing or get back to her feet in her fights.
The exception to her defensive grappling is her clinch work. There she likes to be very offensive. Attacking with tight elbows and short crisp punches. We see some of that here in fights with Sarah Kaufman and Alexis Davis.
Here is an elbow early against Kaufman.
Then in the same clinch before they break apart she lands a couple of nice punches.
This is some sweet sublime striking here. Eye ties up Kaufman’s left arm, then snakes her righthand underneath for an uppercut and quickly loops it around on the outside landing a little hook before they break apart.
This inside work will be important against Smith who despite being long, tall and effective fighting from a distance likes to get in close during her fights. The fact that both fighters are effective fighting at all distances makes this an intriguing standup matchup.
It is also easy to fall for Smith’s fighting style which is hyper-aggressive. Like Eye, she uses her grappling more defensively and seems to also enjoy playing punch and kick face. As mentioned above she can fight out at a distance but likes to mix it up in tight.
Once she gets in close her opponents have to watch out for her kicks to the face. Here is one against Kaufman in their first fight as they break.
First the flurry of punches that pushes Kaufman to the cage. Then on the last punch Smith turns and cuts-off Kaufman’s path, forcing her to circle to her right. As Kaufman tries to circle away Smith’s step not only cuts off Kaufman but also puts her in perfect position for the left head kick. It grazed Kaufman but caught enough of her to drop her. It just highlights how dangerous Smith is at all times in the fight. She can and will strike from any distance and any angle.
When Smith does attack it is almost always with a combination and she mixes them up beautifully. Here is one early in the Jessamyn Duke fight.
Just beautiful work from Smith on this one. First the right low outside kick, then that flows into a left head kick that Duke has to block. She brings her left arm over to help and leaves herself open to the right hand that follows. Each kick leaves her in position to land the next strike and the combo is all to land the big right hand at the end.
Eye also likes to use combinations only she likes to start them with her crisp jab like this one against Kaufman.
Here Eye starts with a jab that grazes Kaufman at the top of her head. Then the second jab is set and ready to catch her as she comes in and then a little right hook at the end. Eye showed some very fast hands in this sequence and an excellent sense of timing. She also uses good head movement to just avoid Kaufman’s strikes while staying in position to land her own. An excellent example of employing good defense while still staying in position to be offensive at the same time.
Another area where they both excel is striking on the breaks and scrambles created by their clinches. For Smith we looked at the kick against Kaufman as an example of what she likes to do in these situations. It is something she likes to use a lot. As we showed she is excellent at cutting off the octagon and then she gets her leg up so quickly and easily making her extremely dangerous.
For Eye, she likes to uses her boxing more in these situations. Above we saw her landing an elbow in the clinch and then landing a couple of more punches in the clinch with Kaufman. Here she landed a combination against Davis as she breaks off the clinch.
One of the things you notice is Eye’s hand speed. She easily has some of the fastest hands in the division and augments it by throwing her punches in combinations like the one above. A quick right-left-right as she backs away out of the clinch. Her speed keeps Davis on the defensive and allows Eye to re-establish herself in the center of the octagon.
Where victory could be found or lost
They are both excellent strikers who are effective at fighting from all ranges and distances. Smith likes to use her kicks more and flurries to the body in her attacks. While Eye uses more crisp boxing behind one of the better jabs in the UFC and throws almost everything as a part of a combination.
They both are tough and fight with a lot of heart. They are in that warrior class of fighters. The ones who feel the pain but keep coming forward.
Normally the keys to the fight would come down to who picks up their sense of timing the quickest and the best, controls the distance of the fight and imposes their will the most effectively with their footwork. All of those elements will factor into who wins or loses this fight but it could come down to the takedown.
As a fan of striking I hope they throw down on their feet. If they do that they have the potential for one of the most exciting fights of the year. There is a good chance that is the way this plays out and we are treated to one of those instant classic fights. It also might not.
Generally Smith is happy to fight it out on her feet but she will go for a takedown. Against Barb Honchak she went for a couple as she was struggling with Honchak’s timing early in that fight. We also saw her take Jennifer Maia to the ground in their fight.
In that one she timed a kick from Maia, caught it and took her down and immediately start dropping elbows and punches. On top, Smith has a heavy ground and pound oriented attack. This was an area that Eye struggled with a little in the Davis fight and was the difference in it.
On their feet in the striking it was essentially a dead even fight but Davis got a late takedown in the first round to take that one. She ducked under and around one of Eye’s jabs. Then in the second Eye threw a naked kick that Davis timed and took her down. Davis won the fight there on the ground. Eye came back to take a close third round but lost the fight.
Now Eye does not throw a lot of kicks but if she does throw a single one by itself then Smith could take the fight to the ground. The other scenario where Smith may look to take the fight to the ground is if she struggles with Eye’s jab and hand speed. It is something we saw in the Honchak fight.
Even if Smith looks to take the fight to the ground it does not mean that the fight will go there. Eye has evolved in career and has most likely worked on her grappling and takedown defense since her fight with Davis.
Time, Space and Distance
The fight will start out standing and very likely play out in the standup. If it does it will come down to who can control the timing, distance and space of the fight. Normally one fighter is effective outside and the other on the inside and it is a battle of who can control that battle. These two can fight anywhere so it could come down to which fighter can find an advantage at one of the ranges and keep the fight at that one.
They both have excellent footwork and move well in the octagon. They can take a shot and have good head movement though Eye’s is a little sharper and she uses it more. This is an area that Smith could exploit through her fakes and feints, and her ability to land a head kick from in close.
Often the key to winning the fight is who can get a sense of the other’s timing the quickest in it. They both have a good sense of timing and usually the slower fighter has a little more pressure to gauge the timing. It is the most effective way to offset a speed deficit. A superior sense of timing will allow the slower fight to land their own strikes and avoid their opponents.
In this case they both have a speed advantage. Eye has the quicker hands while Smith has the faster kicks. Now both fighters use their hands more frequently so it will be important for Smith to find her timing quickly but Eye cannot afford to get caught with a clean head kick.
They both are good at varying the speed of the their strikes to help disrupt their opponents timing. Smith does it more with the cadence and speed of her combos. You see a little of it in the combination against Duke that saw the two kicks come at one speed and the righthand was faster.
Eye does it more with the speed and distance of the strike. In the double jab into a right hand against Kaufman not only shows her ability to stay offensive while using good defense but also her ability to disrupt timing with speed and distance. The first jab is a standard jab. The second one travels a much shorter distance as Eye does not bring it all the way back to block but kept it out in front. It landed and kept Kaufman’s attention long enough for her to get the right hand in on the exit.
Expect an Instant Classic
Even if this fight does go to the ground I do not expect it to stay there for four minutes like in the Davis and Eye fight. When Smith goes to the ground she is looking to do damage and the same applies to the few times Eye finds herself there. Look for most of this fight to take place in the standup.
They both just seem to enjoy punching people in the face and are very good at it. Look for action, a lot of action, and expect the momentum to shift subtly back and forth. In so many areas they are closely matched like their toughness.
While they both use good footwork and movement to avoid strikes they are not afraid to get hit. Not if it means that they get to land their own. With strong chins they can absorb strikes and land their own. They are just not looking to get hit needlessly while doing it.
This could lead to a technical brawl with both of them biting down and firing away at times during the fight. Which each of them trying to impose their will on the other. It could come down to which fighter can make the other go backwards.
Smith has the most recent finish with her stoppage over Duke earlier this year. It was not about Smith’s power but more her ability to flurry if she gets you up against the cage and she can unleash a controlled chaotic fury type of attack.
Again nice work from Smith here as she goes up top with several strikes coming out of a knee. Then the quick lefthand to the liver and then the head kick. Duke went down about a beat later and Smith quickly finished it off on the ground.
Eye has much better movement than Duke, and as we saw with her combination above with Kaufman, she does not always need to move her feet too to avoid strikes. Given Smith’s ability to get her left leg up quickly in close spaces like this one against Duke. Eye has to be careful to not get faked or feinted into one of them using her head movement against her. Smith’s head kick is a game changing type of strike when she lands it. She dropped both Duke and Kaufman with it.
I expect a battle between two warriors that should be an instant must re-watch fight. Look for it to be one of the best fights of the year. I also expect that you will come away a fan of both fighters after they throw down at UFC 180.
photo credit – UFC