Dipping Jab: The Noob Tube of Fighting

Julianna Peña vs. Amanda Nunes

Jack Slack is one of the best combat sports writers out there, known for insightful analysis. He never fails to educate even veterans who have been training for decades, and I recently experienced the Jack Slack effect for myself. His analysis of Julianna Peña’s upset victory over Amanda Nunes for the UFC women’s bantamweight title greatly informed my viewing of their rematch. The way Peña flummoxed Nunes in that first fight was ridiculous, especially for Nunes. Let’s talk about the dipping jab, a technique that borders on cheesy.

Cheese in video games is any strategy or tactic that is meant to exploit lack of knowledge, experience, or preparation in exchange for quick gains or even victory. But if you’re prepared for it, you’ll see it coming and be able to address it. It’s basically something that shouldn’t work, but somehow ends up working because it’s hard to deal with if not anticipated beforehand.

In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the grenade launcher is considered a cheesy weapon because it yields one-shot kills with little to no skill — just aim at the ground near them and fire. I myself have pushed someone to the brink of enacting physical violence in the net cafe due to how much they hated getting killed by what is colloquially known as the noob tube. It’s cheesy as hell and only noobs like me would ever use it and not feel any shame.

Going back to the dipping jab, the way it threw Amanda Nunes off her game in that first fight was so pronounced that it made me consider the dipping jab as the noob tube of fighting.

How Cheesy is the Dipping Jab?

The dipping jab is basically a jab thrown while also dipping the head down to take it out of the centerline. It’s the same jab Rocky Balboa would teach Apollo Creed’s son Adonis in Creed. It makes sense as a textbook technique since boxing is the art of hitting without getting hit, so hitting with your jab while automatically taking your head out of the way seems apropos.

But it’s not as economical in motion as only jabbing, so it’s not as often used. But it has a peculiar quality of being perplexing for opponents who don’t expect it. Like button-mashing in fighting games, it can throw even superior opponents for a loop as addressing it needs to be methodical. Trying to deal with either button-mashing or the dipping jab with more aggression and brute force will only result in salt and rage.

That’s exactly what happened to Amanda Nunes when Julianna Peña was touching her with the dipping jab. She tried to power through it with more aggression, and she only ate more.

To be fair, it’s not exactly “cheesy” in the strictest sense of the word. It’s a basic technique that’s the extreme opposite of throwing a jab while standing completely straight and with your chin high in the air. And with the way Peña threw them against Nunes, with her elbows jutting out like chicken wings, it really shouldn’t have worked. It’s the sort of thing that armchair coaches rant about. But as long as the punch hits and it hurts, it just works. And if it’s works, it ain’t stupid.

On the other hand, what makes it cheesy is how simple it is to counter, yet also how often it can perplex fighters who are supposed to know better. It’s that combination that makes it cheese by definition. It’s a tactic that will rightfully get you a “You should’ve known better” from your coach.

It’s funny how this one technique can get consistently punished with check hooks upside the head in most gyms by any Joe or Jane who trains for at least six months, but it also wins a professional fighter fame and a world title. That’s really what makes it cheesy.

BJ Penn made a whole career out of the dipping jab, and it won Julianna Peña a UFC title against who, before then, was being considered as the greatest of all time in women’s MMA.

Just calling it cheese isn’t fair since it’s just a variation of a basic technique. With enough practice, anyone can do it and be fairly successful when combined with other stuff. The dip lowers the head and takes it out of centerline, which prevents it being hit by cross counters — the most common way to counter jabs and exactly what Nunes was trying to do in the first fight when she was getting hit by Peña’s dipping jabs. However, she was not able to connect since Peña’s head would be out of the way.

Of course, that’s not the only thing Peña did. She would follow it up with right hands and then take the fight to the ground to finish Nunes. But the dipping jab was what led her there.

What’s Wrong with the Dipping Jab?

There’s nothing really wrong with it, actually. It’s a perfectly good technique that lets you prod and blind while also having a built-in defense against the most common counters. But as with everything else in fighting, nothing has perfect defense and doing only one thing one way makes you predictable — one of the worst things you can do in fighting.

If it were such a one-size-fits-all solution, then we’d see everyone doing the dipping jab. While it’s still a technique that’s regularly used by many good fighters, it’s usually done with other techniques as well for a more well-rounded game. But what made the first Peña-Nunes fight so notable is how much Peña’s use of it dictated the pace of the fight. Until the rematch, it looked like the Lioness’s kryptonite.

Otherwise, it’s not that hard to counter. For instance, while the head goes out of the way of a right straight over the top with the dip, it’s fairly open to a right uppercut. I know from first-hand experience that if timed right, dipping can add to the power of the counter. Joe Frazier tasted that with a George Foreman uppercut and Daniel Cormier with a Jon Jones head kick.

Also, it may not be as good against dirty boxers who are looking to clinch up and get nasty. Since the dipping jab is mostly for keeping opponents at bay, it stops being effective when it’s taken as a chance to get a hold of your head and neck, which is presented with the dip. The head can be pushed down and either further controlled with a collar tie or kept in place for a knee strike or uppercut.

What’s wrong with the dipping jab is simply being a technique that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. The latter is simply due to the fact that there’s no such thing as a perfect technique. But if you can make up for its flaws, you can make it perfect for you, just like BJ Penn did all those years ago.

How Did Amanda Nunes Address the Dipping Jab?

In the first fight, when Nunes was getting hit with the dipping jab, she tried to fire back with a right hand that couldn’t hit anything since Peña’s head was always out of the way. In the rematch, she had a fairly simple answer — by standing southpaw.

As the fight progressed, you can get a sense that she’s not totally comfortable in southpaw as she would often end up back in orthodox before switching back to southpaw in order to stick with the game plan. It had an immediate effect as Peña’s dipping jab didn’t work like it did in the first fight as the right hand can now hit her head more quickly and easily with a check hook.

Southpaw versus orthodox is what’s called open stance (or open position). Both fighters’ lead hands are directly right in front of each other, which makes jabbing a bit more difficult as there’s no clear and direct line to the opponent’s face. Much of the fight then is getting the dominant position, which is having the lead foot outside the opponent’s lead foot. This angle opens the opponent to power shots while keeping them from being able to hit back.

Vasyl Lomachenko’s entire style is based on getting the dominant angle and staying there for as long as possible, letting him be a matador fighting a hapless bull.

Jack Slack is somewhat right in that Nunes’s southpaw strategy wasn’t exactly a direct counter to Peña’s dipping jab and boxing in general. The prior knowledge and experience of the dipping jab, what it was doing to her, and understanding that it must be addressed methodically and not with aggression alone — those would’ve been enough to win the rematch. All she really had to do was not to get hit by the dipping jabs.

Peña won the first fight not because she was the superior opponent, but because she caught Nunes unaware like a rat getting caught in a bottle trap. Nunes won the rematch by learning to throw a check hook from southpaw.

Conclusion

Women’s MMA is still in that strange place where below the top two or three fighters in a weight division persists a huge drop-off in skill level. That gap has narrowed since the heydays of Ronda Rousey and the fall of Cris Cyborg, but there’s still a significant chasm. 

The techniques employed in WMMA are more basic and even old-school. Aside from the champions and top contenders, everyone else is still on the meta that had been popular during the Pride era. For instance, Ronda Rousey’s preference for the harai goshi has carried over to today’s WMMA, while it’s not as prevalent in men’s MMA.

Mind you, WMMA is still lightyears ahead of other women’s sports due to the nature of MMA events. While the WNBA hold their own games separate from the NBA, women’s mixed martial arts fights are held alongside men’s fights in the same event, thus giving them equal exposure. In fact, the Nunes-Peña rematch had been the main event of UFC 277.

However, that does beg the question of how women’s mixed martial arts could be so much more popular than women’s boxing that more female boxers are transitioning to MMA, as opposed to men’s MMA where a lot of its superstars are doing the opposite. That’s mostly due to the marketing machine of the UFC and the phenomenon that was Ronda Rousey, who hit her peak almost a lifetime ago during her annus mirabilis of 2015.

Then Ronda tried acting and people found out that she has the same acting ability as an MMA glove — slightly uncomfortable and with minimal padding. At least she’s doing alright in WWE these days.

To that end, MMA is a beacon for women’s sports, and we’re bound to see more classics from its competitors, who are improving at a quickening pace. While we may have already seen the best of the current generation thus far, the ones that will succeed are bound to take things to a higher level that’s on-par with the men.

Or like in the case of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, even better than men in certain technical aspects.

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