by Don Heatrick
I’ve been asked why I thought Jonathan Haggerty, at only 22 years old and 16 professional fights to his name, managed to defeat Thai legend Sam-A (with 336 wins and only 46 losses) to claim the ONE Championship flyweight Muay Thai world title.
So here are my thoughts…
I’ll begin by putting fight records to one side and look at the key elements affecting fight performance:
When Muay Thai technique is relatively equal…
And when physical preparation is relatively equal…
Strategies and Tactics separate fighters.
Let me explain how I define each of these.
Muay Thai technique refers to the stance, footwork, punches, kicks, elbows, knees and clinch technique. The building blocks.
That’s the balance and execution of these individual techniques, first in isolation, then in combination.
Physical preparation refers to strength and conditioning – the degree of strength, power, speed and endurance a fighter has on top of their mobility and movement foundation.
Strategy refers to the overall long-term gameplan. While tactics refer to a fighter’s combined use of both fighting mode and fighting range at any one time in a fight – in response to the mode and range used by their opponent. Their style and fight IQ.
This breakdown is a principle-based approach – an overarching perspective, free of the detail of individual Muay Thai techniques or combinations…
Those details emerge automatically when you adopt a certain fight mode attitude and work at a certain fighting range.
I’ve spoken about these particular terms before in my video, Muay Thai Fighting Styles And Becoming A Complete Fighter.
If you’ve not seen it, I recommend you watch that first before reading the rest of this article.
Now to the fight.
Having watched the fight, let’s review the key elements affecting fight performance.
Despite his less mature fight record, Jonathan Haggerty’s Muay Thai technique was adequate to meet Sam-A’s. That’s the first differentiator levelled.
Jonathan Haggerty’s physical preparation (also being younger) was also adequate to meet Sam-A’s. That’s the second differentiator levelled.
Strategy and tactics are where Haggerty takes the lead on the night. Styles make fights, and Jonathan Haggerty’s style messed up Sam-A’s.
But why did Haggerty’s style mess up Sam-A’s?
Ahead of the fight, Haggerty’s strategy was to disrupt Sam-A’s timing by attacking the legs, and to use feints and angles to open up other opportunities. Whereas Sam-A’s strategy was to get into closer range, inside of Haggerty’s longer reach, and to move forward and put on pressure.
Both of these strategies are sound – based on each fighter’s physical and technical characteristics. But it’s the live tactics used in the fight itself to achieve these strategic objectives that determined how the fight went.
Tactics relate to the transient fight style…
As I explained in my fighting styles video, your fight style is not a fixed attribute. It’s fluid in response to your opponent’s style in that moment.
It depends on the combination of fight mode and fight range along with the Muay Thai techniques used at any one time.
Now, understanding the intended strategies of both fighters, let’s briefly look at the predominant fighting styles used by both fighters round by round.
Haggerty employs aggressive/tricky and counter/tricky modes mostly at long range…
Constantly pecking a teep at Sam-A’s lead leg to stop him closing the range, and allow feint set ups for tricky follow ups.
Sam-A predominantly uses aggressive mode at medium to long range…
Taking his time in the first round, trying to find his way around Haggerty’s disruptive lower body teep.
Haggerty continues using aggressive/tricky mode, but switches to mid/close range…
Faking the disruptive teep to set up punches and elbows.
Sam-A also continues to use aggressive mode, but finds himself trading at mid/close range…
Punches and elbows are the weapons of choice, and although Haggerty’s nose is now also broken, Sam-A is visibly cut with an elbow – and the referee sends him to his corner a medical assessment and clean up.
Haggerty starts the round once again in aggressive/tricky mode at long range…
Feeding his disruptive teep and faking to set up other kicks.
Sam-A begins by adopting an elusive/counter mode at long range…
Backing up and picking shots as Haggerty advances.
Haggerty lands a well-timed teep to the face as Sam-A attempts a kick and sends him to the canvas.
Sam-A begins to shift to a more aggressive/counter mode and catches Haggerty’s teep and sweeps him.
Haggerty immediately lands a right cross in an aggressive mode, medium-range exchange, giving Sam-A an 8-count.
Sam-A continues in aggressive mode and closes to close/clinch range punches and elbows – with Haggerty responding with an elusive/counter mode.
Sam-A continues to push in aggressive mode at close and clinch range, using kicks, punches, elbows, knees and clinch.
Haggerty manages to keep with it at this close and clinch range, adopting elusive/aggressive and elusive/tricky mode switches.
With Sam-A finding some success with body punches and knees at close range, Haggerty shows signs of fatigue. And then struggles to maintain the mental focus needed to continue to disrupt Sam A’s aggressive closing with teeps, extra tricky feints, and switches…
Although, Haggerty does manage to land some tricky mode spinning elbows amongst Sam-A’s aggressive mode onslaught.
Sam-A immediately continues in aggressive mode looking for medium range punches and kicks, while Haggerty adopts an elusive mode switching to aggressive/tricky mode at long range…
Resulting in a jump knee to right cross that gives Sam-A another knockdown and an 8-count.
The round finishes up with Haggerty using a predominantly elusive mode at long range, with aggressive/tricky mode switches. While Sam-A tentatively advances in aggressive mode looking for medium range exchanges to see out the fight.
As a result, Jonathan Haggerty was rightly awarded a unanimous decision and claimed the ONE Championship flyweight Muay Thai world title.
He’d successfully developed strategies and adopted tactics to overcome Sam-A on the night.
Fight experience can be telling very early in a fight career, but there are other ways you can level the playing field if you train to become a complete fighter.
If you’ve successfully developed the key elements – Muay Thai technique, physical preparation, and strategy and tactics – then you stand a fighting chance against any opponent.
If you know about your next opponent, develop a strategy that should negate their advantages and play to yours.
Then practice tactics to fit that strategy…
Rehearse and drill your movements so they become automatic, and remain robust under pressure and fatigue.
Develop a sensitivity for the fight modes and ranges that you must adopt for these tactics to automatically fire for you in flow-state.
Practice accessing these modes and ranges in padwork and sparring.
Also develop a feel for the modes and ranges that your opponent is likely to employ against you, and practice adopting modes and/or ranges that can negate it.
If you don’t know anything about your next opponent, then you’ll need to test and respond in the fight itself…
Which is a whole lot easier if you’ve practiced responding to the “live” fight styles with various opponents in sparring. Develop this skill, it will serve you well!
Beyond the mix of practical qualities we’ve discussed; Muay Thai technique, physical preparation, and strategy and tactics – which I categorise as Mind & Body, or Mental & Physical…
There’s another crucial quality that Haggerty controlled effectively in this fight.
Spirit, or the Emotional.
A fighter can have the mind and the body side of the equation totally sorted, but fall flat when it comes to fighting spirit. They simply lack heart, or emotional control.
Sam-A broke Haggerty’s nose in early in the fight. But despite this, Haggerty remained focused on his strategy and sealed the win. That’s the kind of heart needed to be a champion.
When mind, body, and spirit are all playing their parts equally, then you have a complete fighter, a challenger not to be underestimated, and a champion that’s hard to beat.