The Severe Spotlight: Ian Garry

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 13: (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

As a fighter’s journey progresses, it’s inevitable and necessary that they run into tests. The tests allow us to determine the ceiling and the floor for a fighter; this shapes the narrative around them both from a media perspective but also from a fan’s perspective.

Ian Garry blew through the barriers of his latest test with dynamic, accurate precision.

The 25-year-old Irishman came into UFC Charlotte riding the high of a life being lived at full capacity. Chasing a dream, alongside a wife and newly born child he walked into the spotlight built by his skills with his shoulders back and his chest high. His opponent offered some interesting questions; the highest ranked fighter Garry had fought in his career, a tough man with a good generalist base. The largely touted, highly scrutinizes element of this test was to be how did Garry respond after being dropped and hurt by Song Keenan in his last outing.

The answer was effortlessly.  

The single critique of the performance lies with the time it takes Garry to switch on. To “switch on” is to come to a state of pure focus. He found that state after the first exchange left a jab sized marker on his forehead. To his credit, he found his rhythm, timing, and range far faster in this fight than in previous UFC performances, and so the trajectory of improvement is plain to see, but this is something that will need to occur from the first pace out of his corner at the opening bell in future.

From that first jab landing, Garry imposed his will. The serving of humble pie began with the base layer, the pastry base if you will: footwork. Garry moved in and out of the pocket, circling to his right, circling to his left, switching stances, moving from a square stance back to a staggered stance with an ease that caused Rodriguez to second guess his own offence. The cinnamon dusting on that base was the upper body feints of Garry.

The sugary fruit mix that makes up the bulk of our pie was the ability to land with variety. Garry landed two sharp right body kicks to Rodriguez early, the first welcomed Rodriguez back to the centre of the octagon after Garry gorgeously slipped a reaching left hand. The second 27 seconds later to stifle an advance from the LA native. Those set the tone for the use of said right kick further down the line, but the crisp inside striking, the clean pull counters were just as influential.

3:27 of the round left, and we see the first clinch exchange, Garry initiates after assessing his routes away from a Rodriguez advancement. Initially looking to get hands to hips, his acute awareness of posture forces him to switch to an underhook and inside frame. With good head position he turns the corner, retreating his body away from the clinch and disengages back in the centre of the octagon. This is a small exchange, but a large offering of Garry’s ability to deal with pressure, and his ability to use a multitude of skills to navigate a fight.

The largest statement of the fight was not the right high kick to finish, or the fact that he had called the shot. It wasn’t the footwork, but it was the proof that he has worked ostensibly on his defensive striking. The Song Keenan fight saw Garry be naïve in the pocket and punished as a result. With 2:40 left in the round Garry lands a solid jab. Rodriguez bounces out to reset and then looks to close the distance, Garry attempts to circle off to his left, but Rodriguez has entered the pocket before the Irishman has a chance to cut his angle fully. There is a decision to make here; he can stand his ground, he can give up space or he can attempt to continue to circle and overcorrect for his mistake.

Garry opts to stand his ground, refusing to give up ground and refusing to take the risk of over correction. Instead, he watches Rodriguez plant his feet, load up the left hook, and perfectly rolls under it, offering his own left counter in return. This is a big moment. It’s a big moment because it shows tangible proof that he understands the issues of the last fight and has grown from it.

The right high kick that begins the end of the fight follows shortly after. It feels when watching Ian Garry perform a nature to him that enjoys the play of a fight, there are boundaries to his play, but the play is enjoyment. He finds joy in the ability to be in a fight, to be in a contest, to offer looks to his opponents and to see what they do in return. However, there is also an ego bubbling under the surface, and the moment he feels threatened or slighted, or forced to breach the boundaries of what he determines as play, he ups the gears and the menacing, ruthless side of him arises.

It felt that way against Song Keenan, and it felt that way after Rodriguez won a footwork battle and forced Garry to evade the left hook with the roll. Because at 2:22 left in the round, the left hand of Rodriguez is by his chin, but the footwork and the intent of the bouncing feints from Garry ups. Garry sits into the feints a little more, the hips activating as if to throw a fourth right body kick – Rodriguez is tactically aware and so begins to lower his left hand. Garry notices that, so does one more lap of the outside range before advancing into the pocket, loading the right high kick and picture perfect, Rodriguez lowers his left hand and braces for a body kick, instead he eats a shin across the jaw and wrapping around the soft tissue behind the ear.

The poise in Garry in the follow up is impressive. A short-left uppercut follows a retreating Rodriguez, a long right hand pushes him over his posts and to the mat. Two right hands cause Rodriguez to begin to cover up, as Garry towers over him in a leg drag situation. Garry takes a collar tie/inside frame with his left hand to hold Rodriguez in place as he begins raining blows with his right hand. Sensing the lack of movement, he releases the frame and begins smashing with the left hand also.

The referee steps in and saves Rodriguez from more punishment and Garry wheels away in victory. Stiffer tests are to come, but as the anti ups, it seems as though the performances of Garry mirror.

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