The Severe Spotlight: Tatsuro Taira

In his 6th fight in the UFC, a main event came calling for Tatsuro Taira in unexpected fashion. A fight between him and fellow prospect Joshua Van had been signed sealed and delivered on this card. A shuffling of the dominoes saw him then re-sign to fight perennial top 5 name Alex Perez.

It should not be understated as to the incredibly steep incline in competition moving from Van to Perez, a steep incline in media obligations, and of course the first five round fight camp of his UFC career.

Much of the handling of a young prospects career determines how well they can perform when the physical, mental and skillset variables begin to align. Jon Jones is not something that can be replicated in the 2024 era, the meteoric rise at such a young age and the vast acquisition of skill that led to such a complete fighter so early on in his career. Muhammad Mokaev is the closest we have seen in terms of rise, but every fighter in this magma chamber that is modern MMA has holes that are exposed.

That magma chamber fed into much of the rhetoric that surrounded fight week, questioning as to whether this was too soon for Taira, whether a win here vaults him into realms he is unable to handle? Opposing questions of excitement being that if he is ready and does get the win that 125lb has a brand-new injection of young thriving life.

The first round begins with Taira in his usual long stance, landing the opening strike of the night with a sharp low right leg kick to Perez. He skulks the centre of the cage like a wild animal looking to pounce, but his body posture is that of a sullen, anger stricken young man.

The physicality of Perez immediately comes into play as Taira becomes too comfortable in the range games, and Perez sprints through them to force Taira into a clinch battle against the fence. Beautifully Taira continues to angle out to his right-hand side, looking to find the outside hip of Perez, either to begin back exposure, to circle out to a reset, or as we saw on his third attempt, to find a gap to land the knee to the midsection. That knee allowed enough space to reverse the clinch and Perez was sent back to the centre of the cage with a right hand.  

The range control of Taira isn’t good enough in the next minute, as he struggles to find the space for his straight shots. Perez on the other hand is doing a fantastic job at throwing in four to five punch combinations, whilst these shots are coming from wider angles, the circular footwork of Perez is forcing Taira to consistently reset to avoid them, rather than being able to plant his feet and throw significant counters.

As we enter the third minute of round one, Taira has made an impressive adjustment. That adjustment is to be using the right uppercut as he takes his head off the centre line anticipating the Perez blitz in, and he is ensuring to be always at the very end of his own jabbing range, allowing him to find more time to mitigate the blitzing.

The final minute see’s Perez make an adjustment and land a takedown on Taira, whilst no damage occurred on the ground and Taira moved slickly between a pendulum sweep and a wrestle up from underhook half guard, it allowed Perez another element of attack. As Taira walks back to his corner, he has been offered his first tase of elite competition at 125lb.

A stiff and pronounced lead fist keeps Perez at bay in the first minute of the second round. Both that and the second minute consisted of Perez once again being able to punish Taira for some of his misgivings in the range battle, but Taira still looking for the right uppercut and the safety of the Thai clinch.

With 2:50 on the clock, Taira launches into a right sided double, he fails the double but manages to collect the single, throwing his left arm over the shoulder of Perez he manhandles him to the ground. Perez, forced to build up against the cage wall gives Taira his first hook, and shortly his second. The Japanese native immediately hunts for the neck instead of going for double unders to secure the body triangle and keep himself stable on the standing back control. Instead he uses the choke to anchor his upper body and make his hips light enough that he could move from crossed ankles to a body triangle.

Often fighters will lock the top leg of the body triangle underneath the near side hamstring of their opponent to help to take weight off the legs and instead transfer it to their partners hips. Taira here is using the Renzo Gracie style of anchor, which is on the opposite side of the locked body triangle. Whilst this compromises his chest to back connection, he can lean off wildly from the back and attempt to drag Perez down to the mat with him.

Taira uses shots from the obscure angle to force Perez to use his hands to defend himself as he leans again violently backwards. This time, Perez not only falls with him, but badly twists his knee and is forced to tap as soon as the pair hit the mat.

The ending here may be deemed as controversial, but it is anything but that. This is an obscure but very legitimate use of weight distribution to drag a partner back to the mat from standing back control. It is unlikely that Tatsuro Taira intended to buckle and injure the knee of Perez with the pull, and the isolation of the second leg, this was an unfortunate collateral. However, the movements were certainly intended to end where Perez eventually fell, belly down back mount.

Still plenty of improving for Tatsuro Taira, but he did not look out of place with what is, the elite of 125lb.

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