Hiding Behind the Shoulders
The shoulder roll is held in almost mythical regard in modern times - very few attempt to get good at it for fear that they'll get beaten up learning it and instead stick to a hands up, ear muffs style defence. With 4oz gloves there isn't a lot of ear muff to hide behind however, so intelligent MMA boxers such as Anderson Silva and B.J. Penn learn to hide their chin behind their shoulders and take the rest of their head away from the target.
The shoulder roll is first and foremost an evasion - taking the head away from the opponent's strikes - and not a block. The shoulder simply guards the chin. If the opponent is persistent and follows the shoulder roller's head, he will connect with their shoulder and his punch will glance off of it, leaving a hole for a counter punch.
Silva rarely takes punches on his shoulders - but when he is evading strikes he is almost always in position to take strikes on his shoulders. A nice example of Silva using the shoulder roll is against Yushin Okami - who was reluctant to throw anything but his jab simply because he doesn't have any other effective stand up techniques. Silva was throwing a non-committal jab and every time dropped his punching hand, assumed a side on stance and hid behind his shoulder - waiting for Okami to come back at him.
3 and 4 show Silva performing evasions behind his lead shoulder in a very side on stance - hoping for Okami to attempt to strike him.
An excellent of Silva evading punches behind his shoulder is his bout with Forrest Griffin. (G) (G) After leading with a left straight, Silva immediately got back behind his right shoulder as Griffin attempted a counter. Silva also uses his shoulders excellently in the Thai plumm, to avoid his terrified opponent's wild flails.
Part of Anderson Silva's transformation from mid-card journeyman in PRIDE to arguably the greatest champion in UFC history was the enormous improvement that he made in his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when he became a student of the great Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Silva's submission defence had proven a problem in the past, most notably against Daiju Takase, and his takedown defence was never the best so for much of his early career he used the body triangle in guard to stall out ground fights so that the match was returned to the feet.
Many of you will be aware of the body triangle as it is used very often when a fighter has his opponent's back and doesn't want to give him chance to wriggle free. One leg is placed all the way across the opponent and the ankle locks in behind the other knee. It is a brilliant technique but some people struggle even to get this common variation on because of the pressure it places on the ankle joint if the legs are not long enough to ensure that the controlling leg is deep behind the other knee.
Where it is very seldom utilized however is in guard. Anderson Silva's gangly limbs make it possible for him to lock a body triangle over his opponent's back with little difficulty - applying pressure to their spine and making it extremely difficult for them to posture up and deliver powerful punches. Below is an instance from PRIDE where Silva used this technique against Ryo Chonan.
Due to the fact that the feet are locked in place there are next to no attacks from this guard (though Silva did hip bump sweep a low level opponent to mount early in his career) and Silva uses it exclusively for stalling while landing short elbows. Silva used it not only against Chonan but against Carlos Newton, Travis Lutter and Chael Sonnen. Lutter and Newton exhausted themselves in passing Silva's guard and Newton was knocked out as the bout was restarted on the feet. Sonnen, in his first meeting with Silva simply stayed where he was and remained active for four and a half rounds - avoiding a restart on the feet, which is certainly deserving of commendation given how many men Silva has stopped from doing anything productive in guard with this technique.
Attacking the Lower Leg
A common feature of Silva's game against grapplers whom he really does not want to engage with punches under which they could shoot is his attacking of the lower legs. Kicks to the thighs are fairly easy to catch or at least absorb and keep a hold of (more on this in a minute) - but kicks to the calfs, shins and front of the knees are not at all easy to catch and can be thrown from great range.
Hopefully none of my readers subscribe to the nonsense that Anderson Silva could have finished Demian Maia or Thales Leites whenever he wanted. It is enough to recognize that Anderson Silva is the greatest champion in UFC history - without ascribing to him magical powers. In the Demian Maia match Silva landed 60 strikes over the course of the five rounds and over half were kicks to the lower legs. Notice the distance that Silva maintains on each of these kicks.
1. A roundhouse kick to the ankle.
2. A roundhouse kick to the calf.
3. A side kick to the knee joint.
4. A roundhouse kick to the shin.
These techniques aren't hugely damaging but they score points and they keep the referee off of Anderson for inactivity. When fighting a dangerous ground fighter such as Maia there is absolutely no point in running in and trying to knock him out if he can and will drop to guard at any moment. Silva's strategy in the Maia fight was an absolutely sound one but to pretend that he was sending a message or punishing Maia is a foolish way to cover the upset over the realisation that Anderson can't finish at will but rather is forced to fight smart.
Back Stepping Punches
Everyone I'm sure is familiar with these - they are Silva's go to counterpunch against a charging opponent. As Silva steps back with his left leg he punches with his left arm and vice versa. He used this technique masterfully against Chris Leben, Forrest Griffin and most recently in his rematch with Chael Sonnen.
I write a lot about back step punching but it really boils down to drawing an opponent in and ensuring that as you plant a foot behind you, you drive your same side shoulder and hand out in a punch. Here is a nice example of a young Igor Vovchanchyn doing it:
If you haven't seen Silva's knockout of Forrest Griffin you should immediately click HERE
to watch a striker with the striking discipline that Igor lacked performing back step punches.
A staple of Silva's counter striking game is his ability to catch kicks and immediately deliver a counter with his hands. This was on display most notably against Forrest Griffin and James Irvin. Against Irvin, Silva was able to immediately drop and finish his opponent off of a caught kick in the opening seconds.
Silva allows the kick to ride up his thigh to his hip where he catches it with his hand, then delivers a straight right to the jaw.
Against Chael Sonnen, Silva even demonstrated the ability to catch a kick on the inside of his thigh - delivering a downward elbow strike in retaliation.