The Film Room: James Vick

By Kevin Wilson Jul 19, 2019
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After suffering two of the most difficult losses of his career, James Vick will return to the Octagon when he takes on Dan Hooker in a UFC on ESPN 4 lightweight showcase this Saturday in San Antonio, Texas. Vick remains part of the Top 15 rankings at 155 pounds, and a victory over Hooker could drive him further up the ladder in arguably the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s deepest division.

Ahead of his battle “The Hangman,” Vick serves as the subject in this edition of The Film Room.

Although a skilled and well-rounded fighter, Vick’s primary advantage in the cage is his enormous height and reach advantage. Standing 6-foot-3 and wielding a 76-inch reach, he is one of the tallest and longest fighters in the division and is slowly starting to figure out how to use his length to his advantage. To put his height and reach in perspective, Hooker stands 5-foot-11 and has a 75-inch reach, and he is almost always the bigger man. The problem with most long fighters is that they either do not know how to use their length or choose not to do so. Just look at Stefan Struve as an example. However, Vick is an intelligent fighter, and his entire game revolves around using his height and reach, starting with the jab. He will use it to set up his long 1-2s and other combos, but he is also adept at using it while moving back to stifle the opponent’s movement. He will feint and double up on the jab, even occasionally throwing it to the body. He has been known to reach on some of his strikes and leave himself open to being hit.

Vick’s most used combo is a simple double jab while taking an angle to his left to set up the right straight down the middle. He can be predictable since he uses this combo so often, but his timing and understanding of angles is usually enough for him to land it with ease. However, many of his opponents have exploited this tendency to throw the same combo, and smart strikers can draw this out of him and look for counters. To make this less predictable, he could switch between inside and outside angles to set up the right hand or mix in some lead hooks and shots to the body.

Vick’s game is rather simple, and he relies on intelligently using his length and perfecting the basics for success. Vick’s other go-to leading attacks are a jab to right hook combo, lead-leg body kicks and the occasional leading uppercut from either hand. Since Vick knows how to use his range and has good timing, he does not need to overwhelm his opponents with options. Just being able to land these simple combos and immediately moving out of range has been enough against most opponents, but his last two fights have shown that changes are needed. At the highest level, any fighter knows how to take away someone’s range, and Vick’s footwork has not been good enough for him to stay in the center of the Octagon, where he needs to be to set the pace of the fight. Something else concerning about his leading attacks is that he often runs forward face first while crossing his feet and can be convinced into trading in the pocket, a route a tall and long fighter should never take.

Vick can get flustered under pressure, but at times, he is calm enough to focus on his footwork and land some counters. His long counter right straight has been his go-to punch and is responsible for some of his greatest knockout wins. His most recent knockout against Joseph Duffy was started with a beautiful counter rear uppercut before he finished with ground-and-pound. Most of Vick’s counters are just jabs to keep the opponent from closing the distance. It would be nice to see him develop some retreating counters since most of his opponents attempt to bull rush him.

Vick’s biggest drawback has always been his defense, and his most recent fights with Justin Gaethje and Paul Felder showed he still has not worked on the problems that have plagued him throughout his entire career. He keeps his hands far too low and keeps his torso upright, which leaves him wide open. He is also not effective at staying defensively responsible while working on his back foot and again drops his hands while leaving his head upright and ready to hit. In addition, he struggles at getting off the cage, a weakness Gaethje beautifully exploited. Hooker is a good matchup for Vick since both men are at their best when staying patient and working from the outside. However, Hooker is an intelligent striker, so it would not be surprising to see him push the pace more than ever before to try to exploit Vick’s inability to stay off the fence and deal with pressure.

Many people see Vick as a striker, but he actually has more wins by submission (five) than he does by knockout (three). His prefers guillotine and brabo chokes, which become easier to lock up with his long limbs, and he lands a lot of them while the opponent is trying to take him down. Neither Vick nor Hooker is an elite grappler, but Vick has more experience in the sport, so one would suspect that he would have an advantage if the fight hits the ground. Advertisement


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