The Severe Spotlight: Ismael Bonfim

The 155lb division in the UFC is like playing Minesweeper on extra difficult. Ismael Bonfim walked side by side with his brother Gabriel into their full debuts for the promotion, both coming off Contenders Series wins and both looking to make a splash. Across the cage from Bonfim stood five fight UFC veteran and well touted prospect, Terrence McKinney.

McKinney’s style is a baptism of fire for any debutant, but as an opponent his attributes offer some very unique challenges; the height and range, the big finishing power he carries. Bonfim began the fight as he meant to go on, intelligently. Pressuring McKinney, being on the front foot and using his footwork and range management to tease out individual shots from McKinney to counter.

Bonfim quickly read the timing of McKinney and began to annotate his plans with the shot selection to a variety of feints, the first notable counter coming a minute and change into the first: McKinney overreaches on a left hand straight, Bonfim slipping just out of reach and putting a left hand hook shaped wall in the path of McKinney’s nose. McKinney to his credit made those opening stanza’s difficult with fluid stance switching, but irrespective of the stance, the cadence with which Bonfim orchestrated the fight with continued, which forced McKinney to fight in a similar fashion.

The intelligence shone throughout the fight. Range, timing and footwork aside, the adherence to a gameplan of using the former to get reactions and punish those reactions requires supreme focus. The variety of punishments deviated from striking to a beautifully timed single leg takedown, hidden behind a fake right overhand. The eventual result of the takedown was Bonfim defending a back bodylock, with McKinney the offensive man but its important to note the blending of facets, threats and lacing in further tactical awareness for McKinney.

His defensive capabilities were on show in the resulting grappling exchange, as McKinney wrestled up into a bodylock, Bonfim began to circle, finding his whizzer and some wrist control, negating the initial potential of a impactful mat return moving into a more familiar and far safer cage wrestling situation. He found an underhook well, and looked to peel McKinney off him with a collar tie. After being unsuccessful Bonfim creates himself some space with his frames, throws a impactful knee up the middle and uses that to find his escape route.

The use of damage, to either off balance or to create space in grappling situations is something that highlights a level of cerebral awareness of how to blend the game together and Bonfim treated us to just that in the next grappling exchange. Bonfim lands a right-hand counter, sitting McKinney down for a flash. McKinney pops up into a single leg and turns Bonfim to the cage wall. The usual defensive configuration from Bonfim ensues, the attacked leg being used a frame across the hip and thigh of McKinney, an underhook and a spare frame. Instead of just pushing with his hip/thigh frame to create space he scrapes the frame down the leg of McKinney landing a toe stomp, and bouncing that foot off the mat into a knee to the body to create space and improve his pummelling position in the upper body battle. Damage first, multitasking blending of the arts, gorgeous nuances.

Late in the first round McKinney commits cardinal sin by pulling Bonfim’s hips on top of his looking to take his back. If you are unable to secure upper body or cross body controlling grips, this position will almost always result in both a scramble, and the offensive man ending up in the bottom position. Bonfim confirmed that hypothesis by clearing his legs and turning in taking top position. McKinney is then forced to expend unnecessary energy to get up.

The final showing of beautiful blending from Bonfim comes with around 40 seconds left in the first. He finds a back bodylock on McKinney, who is defending his back well by leaning heavily into the cage wall. Bonfim off balances McKinney by swinging a battering ram knee into the hamstring with his inside leg, this shifts McKinney’s weight forward, as he corrects himself, Bonfim steps his outside leg across the back of McKinney’s legs and pulls him over it. Mixture.

Round one out of the way and the confidence of Bonfim is brimming. Eight seconds into the second round and he is right back on the front foot, pressuring McKinney back behind the tramline. Calmly Bonfim stalks and McKinney is struggling to find an answer for the counters coming. The end begins with a smartly chosen sequence, a left hook after slipping a bowling ball right hand from McKinney, following up with a right uppercut down the pipe, a left hook behind the ear. The eventual finish comes from a reaction Bonfim had logged a little while earlier – McKinney dipping his head when he is throwing his hooks. Bonfim pulled this out of him by stepping in, no selling the knee but instead showing a penetration of space, McKinney looks to dip his head, and is met by a beautiful jump switch knee.

That’s the way to make your full promotional debut. Ismael Bonfim is going to be in some fun fights in the UFC.