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Rising featherweight contender Renato Carneiro will return to the Octagon for his second appearance of 2019, as he takes on Chan Sung Jung in the UFC Fight Night 154 headliner on Saturday at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. “Moicano” succumbed to punches from former champion Jose Aldo in February, but with the 145-pound weight class as open as ever, a few strong wins could put him right back in the title hunt.
Carneiro, 30, steps into the spotlight in this installment of The Film Room.
Carneiro’s entire game revolves around sound defense, precise footwork and a quick jab, which means most of his striking is done on the counter. Take away one of these pieces and his game plan goes out the door, and he has shown in the past that he does not excel at mid-fight adjustments. However, opponents who allow him to circle the cage while jabbing his way into the pocket to set up combos, all while staying defensively responsible, are in for a long night. Carneiro is one of the tallest and longest fighters in the division and uses his length, along with adept footwork, to keep opponents at distance and set up his counters. Carneiro is a patient fighter, but most of his counters are multi-strike combos instead of single precision strikes. Many of his counters start with a quick jab to stifle the opponents’ movement and set them up for more counters.
Since Carneiro’s reach is roughly four inches longer than the featherweight average, his jab can land while he is out of range of the opponent’s strikes. He mostly uses his jab on the counter to stifle the opponent’s leading attacks, but he will also use it to set up combos in the rare moments where he is the leading fighter. He will often double up on the jab and even uses it to the body. Jabbing the body has never picked up in MMA but has always been prevalent in boxing, with fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Roberto Duran routinely throwing jabs to the body. Carneiro’s liberal use of the jab on the lead and on the counter would surely thrill James J. Corbett if he were alive today.
Now that Alexander Gustafsson is retired, Carneiro is the new gold standard for the hit-and-not-get-hit philosophy in MMA. “Moicano” took a lot of heat for his performance against dangerous power puncher Jeremy Stephens, as he spent most of the fight circling away from the Alliance MMA rep’s power hand while picking him apart on the outside with jabs and 1-2s down the middle. This is the intelligent way to fight someone like Stephens, and Carneiro used his footwork and lengthy outside game to great effect: Stephens landed a career-low 27 percent of his strikes in their encounter. In his most recent fight with Aldo, Carneiro seemed to be trying to prove a point that he is not just a footwork-based outside fighter and attempted to push the pace and strike in the pocket with the former champion. This was not a smart tactic, and Aldo finished him early in the second round. Perhaps he learned from that loss and realizes it is best to rely on what got you to the dance rather than try to prove a point.
Something to notice about Carneiro’s defense is his ability to use the clinch to get off of the cage. He will dip his head under the opponents’ strikes to get an underhook and use their momentum to turn them around and separate. Carneiro’s footwork and timing are usually good enough to stay away from the cage and at a favorable range, but he has a plan if he gets trapped.
Early in his career, Carneiro was much more aggressive and worked on the lead a lot. However, these days, he is smart enough to know where his advantages rest and only occasionally leads. Most of his leading strikes are simple 1-2s down the middle, but he will mix in kicks to the body and periodically a spinning attack.
Since Carneiro’s game relies on movement and slowing down opponents, he intelligently chops down their legs early and often. “The Korean Zombie” earned his nickname for his ability to constantly plod forward with strikes, and these leg kicks are the perfect technique to give someone like Jung pause while taking away his best weapons.
Carneiro is predominantly a striker, but he does have two rear-naked choke submission victories in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and his exceptional scrambling and transitional grappling skills allow him to get back to his feet when taken down. Carneiro’s only loss came to Brian Ortega in a fight he was winning before foolishly shooting for a takedown and wandering into a guillotine choke in the third round. Jung is not as proficient as Ortega on the ground, but he does have eight submission victories on his resume, so it will be interesting to see if either man attempts to take this to the ground.