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Ian Machado Garry studied NFL wide receivers to evade Geoff Neal’s power at UFC 298

Ian Machado Garry studied NFL wide receivers to evade Geoff Neal’s power at UFC 298

Ian Machado Garry is known as a world traveler of MMA gyms, but for his UFC 298 fight with Geoff Neal, he took additional inspiration from another corner of sports.

Watching a BBC documentary on Pep Guardiola, a former soccer star who now manages Premier League team Manchester City, Garry realized there were lessons that could keep him conscious when Neal started throwing bombs.

“I was talking about how a handball influenced his way of playing football, and the fact that it’s harder to get the ball than it is to maintain possession,” Garry said Monday on The MMA Hour. “So if we can maintain the possession, we can score easier.

“It’s the same with fighting. If you’re harder to hit, then it’s harder for your opponent to have success. If you’re constantly moving and being fast and fidgety, and just lightning quick, Geoff Neal can’t have success.”

For a blueprint, Garry looked to the sport where evasiveness was a job requirement and lapses in speed led to concussive results: the NFL. Much of Neal’s power resided in his ability to get close enough to put his hands on opponents, and if Garry wanted to avoid that, he’d need to move a lot more than usual.

“It’s like, I gotta keep moving and keep on my toes, because the minute he gets planted, he has so much power,” Garry said. “So that movement has to be constant the entire fight, shifting from left to right, left to right. … I was studying a lot of NFL wide receivers, people like [Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver] Ja’marr Chase and [Minnesota Vikings wide receiver] Justin Jefferson, and the way they get off the line, and they throw off the corners, purely based on the ability of trying to trick the movement, or trick the eyes into which direction you’re going to move and you’re going to go, and I used that a lot in this fight of, just switching really quickly to make them think I’m going to go right, then go left.

“And next time I’ll change it up a little bit differently, maybe still go left, throw him a lot of feints. That was really important for me, to just keep that consistent, constant movement to unsettle Geoff and make it hard for him to have success.”

Garry wasn’t ordered to do this by his coaching staff at Chute Boxe, the gym he settled on after his departure from Kill Cliff FC in South Florida and, prior to that, Team Renegade MMA in Birmingham, England. The inspiration for that part of his camp was…himself.

“I wanted to study them,” he said. “Firstly, I respect any elite level athlete, and you watch these guys, they’re so fast off line, and they have the amazing ability to just cut on a dime and just turn in a different direction, and you see people just break ankles, and they get lost, and I feel like we see it with sports a lot, and I was watching them.”

The crowd at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., was, to put it mildly, not supportive of Garry’s strategy. The line between smart movement and old fashion running can be thin in the eyes of many fans, and the boos that rained down in later rounds revealed the audience’s perception of what the Irish star was doing.

More concerning, it may have had an effect on the judging of the fight. After 15 minutes, Garry heard the beginnings of a split decision and braced himself. In the end, two scored the fight 29-28 and 30-27 for Garry. But one gave Neal all three rounds, 30-27.

“I even went over to the commentators, like I hate giving s*** to the judges, because it’s exactly like that one judge – two could have had that view,” Garry said. “I don’t see how. Statistically, I dominated in the significant strikes. Geoff had more clinch time and control against the cage, but did absolutely nothing with it. Tried to take me down, couldn’t. I was dominant in the head fight and the hand battle. I just sat there going, ‘How the hell on earth do you score that 30-27?’

“Geoff Neal, like if you want to give him a round, I could understand that, if you wanted to say 29-28 unanimous decision. They weren’t the easiest rounds to score from a clear point of view of Ian definitely dominated that round. But when it comes to leading the dance, when it comes to output, when it comes to control of the positions we were in, I feel like I dominated them in every facet of the game.”

In the end, though, Garry’s strategy paid off, so he can only shake his head so much. Staying mobile worked. Per UFC stats, he outlanded Neal in total strikes (80 to 57) and significant strikes (67 to 46). He didn’t take many brain-rattling shots. His performance may not have dazzled the audience, but he’s become a lot more comfortable with that as a perpetual lightning rod for the hardcore audience.

One of the most important judges of the fight, in Garry’s eyes, was Neal. He believes the veteran welterweight knew the real score.

“When two fighters fight, both fighters know who won,” Garry said. “Geoff can put his hands up in that octagon or not and then try to show the world that he thinks he won. But in his heart, he knows. In his heart, I know he knows, because I outworked him, I outpaced him. When he wanted to have success, he didn’t.

“So I know he knew he lost that fight. If you wanted to give him the one round, fine, I have no issue with that. But don’t tell me that that wasn’t a unanimous decision. This is why we don’t leave it in the hands of the judges.”

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