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The Striking of Igor Vovchanchyn: Part 1 - Backstep Punching

With no major UFC or Strikeforce event on the cards for a couple of weeks, those of us uninterested in The Ultimate Fighter will have to find other ways to entertain ourselves. One of my personal favorite activities at a time like this is to dust off the videos of legendary Ukrainian mixed martial artist, Igor Vovchanchyn. Igor's power was paralyzing, his style inspired tension until the match's conclusion, and his ability to leave bigger men in crumpled heaps gave birth to fear and admiration in equal measure.

One of the most fascinating features of Igor Vovchanchyn's life is that he was essentially a kickboxer when he entered mixed martial arts. Despite this being thought at the time to be a handicap, Igor went on an unparallaled winning streak against bigger, stronger, wrestlers and grapplers - becoming the single consistent exception to the "grappler beats striker" rule of early MMA.

Vovchanchyn is always given the credit he deserves as a terrifying power puncher, but he is rarely celebrated, as he should be, for his technical ability. Many observers simply see the wide swings and assume that Igor was a barn-burning brawler and no more. But brawlers had never had results knocking out grapplers - striking wide was an invitation for a clinch or takedown. Limited in the number of punches or combinations he threw, Igor had means of dragging grapplers into exchanges wherein he could knock them out nonethless. In this series we shall examine a few of Vovchanchyn's slickest tricks.

Back-step Punching

Anderson Silva has famously said that any man alive can fight well going forwards, it is fighting while going backwards that separates the men from the boys, and this is certainly true. Chuck Liddell, Anderson Silva and even the not so hard puncher, Muhammad Ali shared the ability to drop a man to his knees while they themselves were on the retreat. Igor Vovchanchyn pioneered this technique in mixed martial arts and it has caught on with top level strikers since. In the "Mister Powerman" tournament's final round, a young, trim Igor Vovchanchyn knocked his opponent out cold with the first punch he landed by drawing him in and punching him while on the retreat.

See all the details after the jump.



Just as when you are walking it is natural to swing your right arm forward with your left foot, when stepping backward and punching, the right hand should punch as the right foot touches down and twists the right hip forwards. Punching while going backward is generally frowned upon as it is believed that one cannot get his weight behind his punches if he is moving away from them. The secrets of this back-step punching are manifold:

  • One is moving away from his opponent's strikes, meaning one is unlikely to get hurt even if the strikes connect.
  • The opponent is moving onto one's own strikes. Meaning that even a partial punch does not need weight behind it because the opponent's weight is behind it.
  • Even experienced strikers tend to flail when they are chasing - watch Shogun Rua chasing down Lyoto Machida to witness this fault even at the highest level.
Vovchanchyn navigated is way through dozens of bare-knuckle promotions with this technique scoring him free power punches, then brought it to PRIDE, where he still had great success with it. In both of his matches with the aggressive power puncher, Gary Goodridge, Igor was able to keep the larger man off of him by tagging Goodridge with punches when he surged forward. Igor was often criticized for not using straight punches often, but against Goodridge he used them in his back-step punching to keep Goodridge off of him while he scrambled to his feet. Igor's use of a ram-rod straight, followed by a looping hook while on the retreat effectively stopped wrestlers and grapplers from clinching him, while punishing them for chasing.


It is worth noting that Goodridge had competed at the top level of K-1 at the time, and was rarely caught coming in by even the best strikers - often overwhelming them with his power and aggression. The smaller gloves utilized in MMA often mean that it is easier to sneak back-step punches in, and often they are felt more due to the lack of padding over the fists as they are thrust out for the opponent to run on to.

Punching while on the retreat is still not common place among Mixed Martial Artists, and while the over-all level of striking in mixed martial arts continues to improve, there are still very few who use elite tactics to draw their opponent in such as Igor did. Anderson Silva effectively drew the mediocre striker, Chris Leben on to his own back-step punches, but Silva carried a reach advantage that Vovchanchyn rarely held, and was able to fire his punches almost square on to Leben without fear of retaliation. Fedor Emelianenko, who Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten compared favorably to Vovchanchyn, utilized backstep hooks to land free punches on over-aggressive opponents, particularly in RINGS. Emelianenko dropped Chris Haseman with the first retreating punch he threw, and had great success in hurting the larger, Matt Hughes trained, Kerry Schall at the beginning of their match with retreating punches.


Jack Slack's first ebook - "Advanced Striking: Tactics of Kickboxing, Boxing and MMA Masters" will feature in depth breakdowns of the techniques and gameplans of 20 of the world's top fighters with demonstrative photography, and will be available around Easter.

Jack Slack breaks down striking strategy and technique at his

He can also be found on Twitter @JackSlackMMA

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Favorite old-school pioneer by far. King of the one-night tournaments! Glad to see a breakdown on good ol’ Igor.

Share for share, share alike, you'll get struck each time I strike.

by gzl5000 on Mar 11, 2012 8:47 PM EDT reply actions  

It's pretty amazing to look back at the '90's and think about what MMA was back then.

The idea of joining a multi-fight tournament that you may/may not get paid for, let alone get medical attention if things went south?

That took balls. Giant, Ukranian balls.

"Any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns!"
- Abraham Lincoln

by Forbidden Psychological Technology on Mar 12, 2012 7:14 PM EDT up reply actions  

Good stuff! Vovchanchyn is such a bad-ass, will be looking forward to the coming parts.

"I want to tell me what you see, let's go ahead and see by the fight, what you saw, in the ring."

by Horselover Fat on Mar 11, 2012 10:49 PM EDT reply actions  


aimed at the crotch...

by Damon O. on Mar 11, 2012 11:12 PM EDT reply actions   2 recs

What happened to that guy?

The Internets: Where there are no girls and men become children.

Proud Member of INEPT: 80% More IntellEgent than y'all, WANKERZ.

Draft #: 69--The magic number.

by Unabomberman on Mar 12, 2012 2:46 AM EDT up reply actions  

The fiery depths of hell

that is the wrath of mother Russia

The artful muppet formerly known as KrmtDfrog.
Please read my sardonic wit and over-blown sense of self over at
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"I would dress as a seahorse and let him ride me until his thighs are bleeding" - nywins46

by Cory Braiterman on Mar 12, 2012 6:03 AM EDT up reply actions  

Man alive

That does not stop being awesome

by forkboy on Mar 12, 2012 6:17 AM EDT up reply actions  

What a backstep punch!


It takes two to fight the same as it takes two to fuck - who wants to fuck someone who doesn’t want to fuck? They call that motherfucker a rapist, he goes to jail. - Rampage Jackson

by lowellthehammer on Mar 12, 2012 1:52 PM EDT up reply actions  

Them Russians hit kinda hard...

The Internets: Where there are no girls and men become children.

Proud Member of INEPT: 80% More IntellEgent than y'all, WANKERZ.

Draft #: 69--The magic number.

by Unabomberman on Mar 12, 2012 2:44 AM EDT reply actions  

I like the story of how they would ring the church bells in his home village in Ukraine to warn the villagers that Igor was in a bad mood. Of course the story is untrue.

Igor vs. Wanderlei at 205lbs would have been an amazing fight. Too bad it never happened.

by S.S on Mar 12, 2012 5:00 AM EDT reply actions  

Do you KNOW that it’s untrue?

I'd rather be trollin'.

by thirdparty on Mar 13, 2012 1:21 AM EDT up reply actions  

Igor himself denies it.

Michael Mazur: Is that true that the inhabitants of the village you had lived in, used to clang a bell once Igor got angry.
Igor Vovchanchyn: (Laughs) No, this is just a joke. There was a bell though.

by S.S on Mar 13, 2012 4:43 AM EDT up reply actions  

He’s just being humble.

I'd rather be trollin'.

by thirdparty on Mar 13, 2012 10:17 AM EDT up reply actions  

Jack Slack could write a breakdown of me eating breakfast and it'd be insightful and interesting.

Man that canvas in the first gif is awful, I remember playing around on one at some crap regional show and moving around was really uncomfortable/awkward. Can’t imagine back pedaling and KO’ing someone on that surface. Skills.

I'm just here for the food.
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by menckenstein on Mar 12, 2012 9:01 AM EDT reply actions   1 recs

Yep. And I think he dropped Maia too.

But those gifs are overexposed! ;)

Check out my blog at

Don't miss my upcoming ebook: 'Tactics of Kickboxing, Boxing and MMA Masters'

by Jack Slack on Mar 12, 2012 11:29 AM EDT up reply actions  

I agree, but the more gifs the better. If you have more like this that we haven’t seen though, you won’t hear me complain.

I'd rather be trollin'.

by thirdparty on Mar 13, 2012 1:22 AM EDT up reply actions  

Great job Jack

Big fan of your features

Cecil People's Champs
Still the head conductor of the Charles Oliveira hype train.

by Stiff Jab on Mar 12, 2012 12:58 PM EDT reply actions  

What is he up to these days?

Is he training or coaching anyone?

I thought Lay N Pray was a stupid insult until I watched Tyron Woodley fight.

by DankNabbot on Mar 12, 2012 2:19 PM EDT reply actions  

I heard a while back that he owns a restaurant now and has steel plates in his arms.

Check out my blog at

Don't miss my upcoming ebook: 'Tactics of Kickboxing, Boxing and MMA Masters'

by Jack Slack on Mar 12, 2012 3:25 PM EDT up reply actions  

hehe, uhhhh, wait, what?

Steel Plates in his arms? Dude, I am not sure I wanna know what that’s all about, :)

I thought Lay N Pray was a stupid insult until I watched Tyron Woodley fight.

by DankNabbot on Mar 12, 2012 4:58 PM EDT up reply actions  

Great Article as always.

I know a couple posts back I asked if you had read “A Legality of Boxing” – Jack Anderson and you said you haven’t.

I’ve got a copy in PDF format. I know that you are an author yourself, so lets skip the issue of illegitimate copy and how I obtained it. If you want it, let me know and I will send it to you.

Filipino Reccing Machines. Representing the underdogs since 2011.

by LYHL on Mar 12, 2012 9:38 PM EDT reply actions  

Jack Slack

You, sir, are the man. As an amateur MMA practitioner who got beaten by a superior striker in my first match, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your insightful and detailed breakdown of high level techniques. It gives goals to work toward in my Muay Thai training as a prepare for another bout!

by Duh..Angels on Mar 13, 2012 12:00 AM EDT reply actions  

aaaand my handle references my baseball team.

I guess it gives away what sport I started with first.

by Duh..Angels on Mar 13, 2012 12:01 AM EDT up reply actions  

Striking is much easier than Jiu Jitsu - you don't have to be prepared for everything, you just need a handful of tricks.

It’s all smoke and mirrors. Keep at it and you’ll get to be a dangerous striker yourself.

Check out my blog at

Don't miss my upcoming ebook: 'Tactics of Kickboxing, Boxing and MMA Masters'

by Jack Slack on Mar 13, 2012 8:04 AM EDT up reply actions  

Thanks! But I think you're underselling the art of striking!

I started in BJJ, and while there are a million and one things to consider on the ground, I find far fewer places to hide in my striking deficiencies. In particular my lack of reach for my weight class combined with my stubbornness about moving straight in on people.

by Duh..Angels on Mar 13, 2012 9:43 PM EDT up reply actions  

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