The Severe Spotlight: Tom Nolan

The “UFC level”.

This is a statement that is echoed through the lower echelons of the rosters divisions. The UFC level is something that determines whether a fighter belongs both in the organisation, (by the standards largely of its fans) and is the first hurdle that most athletes must clamber over to gain legitimacy in their prospective division. It is often specifically how an athlete attempts to or does clear that hurdle as to how we begin to sculpt our thoughts on that fighter going forwards.

Its often not the outcome of the fight that matters either, instead the application of the fighter inside the contest is the thing that is judged. Armen Tsarukyan made his UFC debut against Islam Makhachev and lost. However, his performance in that fight showed us that his potential was significantly higher than average. That first hurdle can also teach a fighter about what is and what isn’t applicable at the new level of fighting.

Tom Nolan on Saturday night learnt a bunch of lessons about the UFC level. 6”1 is a very interesting physique and frame to have at 155lb. Your gait, range and length is often going to be very different to the fighters you will be competing against on fight night. From the opening bell Nolan used his range well, barely having to use his hands at all as he peppered Victor Martinez with a barrage of kicks.

The inside low kicks set up the body teeps, those set up the outside low kicks. Upon entrance to the pocket, Nolan would look for a lead knee, and when out in the longer ranges, the back leg high kick was effective. This barrage of kicks left Martinez with one large problem and two main solutions. The problem was his inability to get inside of the kicking range of Nolan, each time he inched forward a kick of increasing variety was lashing into him. His first solution was to grapple, however in attempting to close the distance the knee through the middle presented itself. His second option was to attempt to time the kicks beginning and make his way into the pocket with strikes at that moment.

The second option is more dangerous than the first, given that Nolan has already shown us a variety of kicking options in his arsenal, conventional paired with a beautiful spinning hook kick with almost no wind up that whizzed by the nose of Martinez who just managed to find his exit via the cage wall. However, Martinez chose the second option.

It was here that Nolan began to learn that the margins of error at this level of the UFC’s octagon are not inches, but centimetres.

Nolan having pushed Martinez back toward the lining of the cage throws another attempt at the spinning hook kick, knowing Martinez is slightly closer to the cage wall with less time to angle off. This time Martinez see’s the kick and blocks it with his left hand, so when Nolan completes his spin Martinez is perfectly in the middle of the pocket in his own range, whereas Nolan is crowded. Martinez goes left hand to the body and right hook to the dome, sending Nolan staggering backwards and to the mat.

What we see next should give us all hope of the level of Nolan, in that he swiftly regains awareness of his situation and deftly keeps the posture of Martinez broken inside a closed guard as he fully regains his composure, landing some cutting elbows from the bottom before returning to his feet via the four-point position. No sooner as he rises and resets to the centre of the cage does he know he needs to make a statement. His opportunity comes when Martinez opts to throw the same overhand right that had gained him so much success mere minutes ago, however this time Nolan has wanted the level of Martinez dip slightly, has parried both arms out to his left-hand side to block the right hand, and used that core rotation to launch a crisp left knee crushingly direct to the right ribs of Martinez.

The knee lands and Martinez crumples. A few shots from the top see’s referee Mark Smith brings an end to the fight. Nolan is someone to watch, both as his skillset expands and his evolves, his shot selection will improve, and we will see more of his grappling options – but the ability to make an adjustment and read right after being dropped, the confidence and dexterity of his kicking game, and his calm when delivering the finish is something to keep a grip of.

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