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Buakaw finally met his match among the foreigners he’s been fighting. For two rounds, he was battered and pummeled by a younger, and much less experienced but completely fearless Russian Khayal Dzhaniev — a great achievement when the Russian only has 13 pro fights versus Buakaw’s 300+.

It was a close fight with round one solidly going to the Russian with round two a toss up between both fighters (though the Russian slightly wins with some good solid hits on the Thai) and round three definitely Buakaw’s own round.

Overall, Dzhaniev put on an impressive technical performance, dominating Buakaw in the first couple rounds with vicious elbows, throws downs, and strong punching combinations from a southpaw stance.

Buakaw fought back with some good knees and a few good elbows of his own but it was not enough to take the win, especially after Dzhaniev’s dominating performance in round one that had the ref pause the fight for a medical check on Buakaw’s cut.

Five Major Factors that Helped Dzhaniev Win

1) The Southpaw Stance

This southpaw stance is utilized to devastating effect by Dzhaniev which opened up all sort of unexpected angles of attack against Buakaw (who seemed unable to respond effectively against Dzhaniev’s power left and rear elbow). Dzhaniev was able to utilize his rear straight left from southpaw and a number of other power combinations, often punching straight through Buakaw’s guard and landing flush on the face.

For those who don’t know what Southpaw is, it’s simply the stance left handed fighters use, with the RIGHT foot forward and the left foot to the back. Typically, 90 percent of people are right handed, so only 10 percent of fighters are Southpaw. This usually bestows an advantage to Southpaw fighters who are mostly used to fighting orthodox (right handed) fighters, while orthodox fighters are unused to fighting southpaws. Many strikes come at different angles, angles that orthodox fighters are NOT used to seeing.

There is a quite a bit of theory about how to fight southpaws in this article; you may find it an interesting read (or good supplementary information to help understand this article) to check out our ‘How to Fight a Southpaw in Muay Thai‘ article which goes over the theories very specifically and in great detail. In fact, if you feel lost with some of this analysis (and it’s easy because southpaw vs orthodox IS confusing), you SHOULD read it.

It is the southpaw stance that enables the Russian’s effective attacks, provides him with a platform for throwing effective elbows and punches from various angles, angles that seem to work very well against Buakaw’s very linear movements.

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2) Good footwork capitalized on with effective punches (and elbows) thrown at angles

What do you do against an opponent who comes straight forward? You circle and utilize angles to land targeted punches, something Dzhaniev showed proficiency in during the fight. Dzhaniev’s ability to break Buakaw’s guard was greatly helped by his southpaw stance with his punches coming in from strange angles that took Buakaw by surprise more often than not.

In the section below, look closely at Dzhaniev and notice how he does not toss punches from a straight line at the incoming Buakaw, but moves to the left before throwing or to the right.

Lead Right Hooks while moving to the right

(as Dzhaniev circles to the RIGHT)

There’s a few things going on here. Dzhaniev often circles to the right of Buakaw (away from Buakaw’s power rear hand) then throws a LEAD hand right hook from southpaw stance. This more often then not scores hits against the Thai, and the reason being that it’s an awkward and unconventional angle of attack for an orthodox fighter like Buakaw to deal with.

The reason is not so simple, but here’s the explanation: when you are an orthodox fighter facing another orthodox fighter (which is most matches out there), it’s usually the lead LEFT hook from the orthodox fighter you worry about reaching you when you circle to the right — away from your opponent’s power rear hand — of your orthodox opponent. As you circle to the right you move away from the rear power hand, but you also move in CLOSER to your opponents lead left hand and are vulnerable to his left hook which you can walk right into. But in the case of an orthodox vs southpaw, with the southpaw’s reverse stance and left hand to the back, the USUAL danger comes from the southpaw’s strong left rear hook coming at you as he moves to your right which puts his rear left power hand at a better angle of attack because as he moves to your right, his more dangerous rear hand has a more direct line of fire straight into your face.

But.

The young Russian often chooses to throw the LEAD right hook instead of the classic REAR left hook, something which Buakaw is clearly not expecting.

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The net result of this (as you see in the GIF pictures above) is the young Russian lands some solid punches on Buakaw by throwing that lead right hook as he moves to the right AND puts himself in a position slightly  to Buakaw’s right side that prevents the Thai from throwing a counter attack without having to reset his position to fire off shots at the Russian. This goes back to the old boxing adage, use angles to hit your opponent while also preventing him from hitting you.

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Footwork, ladies and gentleman, is highly underrated but when used RIGHT, can be devastatingly effective — even in Muay Thai.

Rear Overhand Left / Rear Straight Left

(as Dzhaniev circles to the RIGHT)

This is the CLASSIC southpaw attack that’s effective against orthodox fighters. And it’s also the go-to attack you expect a southpaw to throw (and the one he usually lands on an orthodox fighter).

Below, you can see the young Russian move his lead right foot just outside of Buakaw’s lead left foot. The battle between a southie and orthodox fighter is often a hidden battle between the lead foots of both fighters which in a classic orthodox vs southie stance are practically touching.

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IF a southpaw fighter can keep his lead foot to the OUTSIDE of the opponent’s food, he has a direct angle for his rear hand — either a straight left or an overhand left. Conversely, if the orthodox fighter can keep his lead foot to the outside of the southpaw fighter’s lead foot, he can control the angle and take away the southpaw’s angle of a rear left power punch.

Except, in this case, it doesn’t work for Buakaw — Dzhaniev’s spend quite a bit of his time INSIDE of Buakaw’s lead left foot and delivers most of his best strikes here, something you don’t usually see a southpaw fighter doing.

Hence, the interesting thing is that Dhzaniev lands MOST of his best attacks NOT with the classic ‘move to the right and through the straight left’ attack that is the bread and butter of a southpaw boxer, BUT by in fact moving to the LEFT, into the power hand of the orthodox fighter while throwing the rear straight left or rear left hook.

Let’s look at this effective and unorthodox attack below.

Rear Straight Left Punch or Overland Rear Left Punch

(as Dzhaniev circles to the LEFT)

Also note that Dzhaniev takes full advantage of basic footwork circling around Baukaw rather than running straight forward as some fighters are wont to do. Rarely does he just sit and throw but circles slightly then throws a punching combo or throws a punching combo THEN circles slightly to the left or right immediately after.

What’s interesting is that Dzhaniev often circles fearlessly to his left (straight into Buakwa’s power right hand angle) but, more often then not, by doing so the Russian manages to land a clean straight left punch or a left elbow right through Buakaw’s guard. This sort of circling into the power hand is an unusual strategy for a southpaw fighter, who usually opts to move to the right of an orthodox fighter, which opens up a better angle for rear left hand.

You can see this below in these attacks. WATCH the young Russian move his lead foot to the inside of Buakaw’s lead foot while he throws his rear left hand.

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3) Non-Stop Elbows from ALL angles

The vicious elbows leveled by Dzhaniev virtually non stop through the  3 round fight. Dzhaniev landed a non-stop barrage of both rear and leading elbows from his southpaw stance, with many landing clean on the face. The logic for WHY this works against Buakaw is exactly the same given in the section above — the southpaw stance and the Russian fighter’s tendency to circle to the left or to the right before throwing elbows (and punches) opens up Buakaw to clean-landing elbow attacks.

By the end of even the first round, Buakaw was leveled with cuts and Dzaniev continued to land strong elbows even until the bell sounded in the very last round. At one point, the young Russian even threw a cheeky spinning elbow straight into Buakaw’s face as the Thai moved straight forward walking right into it.

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4) Good Clinching Skills

Dzhaniev’s impressive clinching skills that neutralized Buakaw’s ability. While Buakaw may be the more experienced clincher, Dzhaniev was good enough (and strong enough) to hold back the bulk of Buakaw’s clinching — enough anyways, to keep the Thai from dominating the clinch, something the Thai is used to when he fights foreigners.

Buakaw was unable to use is clinching skills as normal and was unable to control Dzhaniev. Several times, Buakaw was even thrown down by the foreign fighter:

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5) Dzhaniev’s lack of fear and aggressive, yet technical attack on Buakaw

Dzhaniev did not back up or give any ground to Buakaw but continued to stalk him the whole fight, using strong clinching skill, strong boxing, and flurries of elbows to keep Buakaw off balance. The young Russian attempts all sorts of spinning kicks at will, keeping Buakaw off guard with these (he even lands a solid one during the fight).

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6) The Judging

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It would be amiss to ignore the judges and how they looked at the fight. By some measures, Buakaw perhaps did enough on the point cards to take a win.

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It was clear by the end of the third round, the fight was actually very close, despite Buakaw’s rough, bloody start.

Buakaw delivered more kicks and knees than did the Russian. The fight came down to the Russians’ hands and elbows vs. Buakaw’s kicks and knees — and in Muay Thai rules, kicks and knees always count more than do punches and elbows. The event was also hosted by Top King, one of Buakaw’s bigger sponsors, so it’s a bit surprising the Russian got the nod by the end.

I’m not sure who the judges were (Thai judges or a mix between Thai and Non-Thai or Non-Thai only) as the fight took place in Hong Kong, outside of Thailand. Muay Thai matches are scored quite a bit differently in Thailand than in other countries, with Thai scoring a far more holistic approach than the western style. If the judges were scoring by western standards, Buakaw lost because the Russian delivered more damage and won with punches and elbows. But in Thailand, kicks and knees count for a lot — the Russian may not have taken a win under Thai-style rules.

But either way, its was a great fight, an exciting fight, and a close fight — despite Buakaw’s loss, it has been his most interesting fight in many years. The Russian did more overall damage and Buakaw’s poor first round and the Russian’s dominate elbows and multiple off-balancing throws must have swayed the final decision in his favor.

Summary of the Fight

Dzhaniev utilized his southpaw, his youth and agility, and his strong boxing skills to stop Buakaw in his tracks for a good two of the three rounds with the last round taken by Buakaw (check out our strategies against a southpaw article for more information about the southpaw advantage, and how to counter them).

Near the end, it was a close fight with Buakaw landing a few solid hits, elbows, and strong knees to Dzhaniev. But overall, the damage done to Buakaw took its toll, both physically and on the judges score cards. By the middle of round three, both Buakaw and Dzhaniev looked exhausted and both were bloodied from cuts. Baukaw tried a last minute flurry in the final round, but it was not enough. Even as the bell tolled, Dzhaniev continued to stalk Buakaw with elbows, nearly landing an overhand elbow on Buakaw as the ref jumped in.

It’s pretty clear Dzhaniev has got the skills to pay the bills.

Word is, he’s had quite a few amateur fight and recently went pro. But credit given where credit is due, finally a foreigner has stopped Buakaw with a solid win (Masato, the Japanese fighter, handed Buakaw a stinging loss in K-1 tourney with strong solid boxing and good footwork years ago) and a foreigner with only a handful of pro fights to boot. Also impressive is this win was under full Muay Thai rules — Buakaw’s bread and butter style (we will ignore Buakaw strange walk out in the middle of his last K-1 fight last year, after losing to the German fighter).

If you follow this article closely, you’ll see Dzhaniev, with his superior boxing, footwork, angled attacks and strong clinching has MAY have shown a template for how to beat Buakaw. However, it remains to be seen if a NON-southpaw fighter can capitalize on this as much of Dzhaniev’s success in this fight is owed to his southpaw stance and his ability to capitalize on this advantage.

Is Buakaw ‘done‘? Definitely not — one loss doesn’t end a career and it remains to be seen how strong Buakaw can come back from this, both physically and psychologically (it’s not easy psychologically to lose in such a public arena against someone you should have completely beaten on paper). There will certainly be a rematch between Buakaw and Dzhaniev – and we’ll have to see if Buakaw has an answer to Dzhaniev or if Dzhaniev can bring it twice.  Buakaw did not look himself in this fight and his celebrity and age may have finally taken the inevitable toll. One cannot always win, especially in the sport of Muay Thai.

Is Buakaw still the best? Well, in fact, Buakaw has really never been ‘the best‘ as far as pure Muay Thai goes (there are better Thai boxers fighting in the top Thai stadiums as is commonly acknowledged here in Thailand among Thais). But he’s without a doubt the most popular Muay Thai fighter in the world. Buakaw is a superstar and has brought a lot of attention to the sport.

In Thailand, among those who follow the local Thai boxing circuit, it’s commonly agreed there may be better foreigners than Buakaw fighting in Thailand. A common complaint is that so far the Buakaw camp has steered clear of these potential matches, opting to keep Buakaw on a winning streak against foreigners with little experience. What was surprising is that the Russian fighter with so little experience ‘on paper’ was able to fight toe and toe with the more experience Buakaw. But as stated previously, the Russian is no amateur with quite a few amateur fights to his name (apparently).

Video of full fight here: