Rodtang against Superlek was a fight for the ages – two decorated Muay Thai fighters with polarized fighting styles, fanbases, and body types. After much anticipation, matchmaking drama, and Superlek's missed weight cut, the two fighters finally met in the ring and gave the fans a performance worth talking about.
A big cut on Superlek painted a deceiving picture of the fight for some – a close fight where Rodtang should've won. The contentious knockdown, protested by Rodtang at the time, along with ONE’s not-so-standard knockdown scoring, only made Superlek's victory more muddied. Through this breakdown of Superlek's masterful control over Rodtang the entire fight, we'll see that first impressions aren't always accurate.
The opening round was Rodtang's best round. 'The Iron Man' had a great sequence of elbowing his opponent, opening a large cut, and finishing with a sweep.
However, what happened the rest of the round? The first half of the round was almost entirely Superlek finding Rodtang's weaknesses that he'd eventually exploit heavily the rest of the fight. Rodtang reacted to feints, lost ground to kicks, and showed hesitancy around Superlek’s knees and clinch.
Superlek keeping Rodtang on his toes with feints.
After the cut inspection, the fight continued. Rodtang seemingly landed big elbows but Superlek defended intelligently, more often than not making Rodtang whiff or land uncleanly. All while blood dramatically seeps down Superlek's face and the crowd roared at every big arm swing.
Elbows are ducked, rolled, or stuffed by Superlek's arm control.
Rodtang lands 2-3 elbows and a couple of glancing hooks in the last minute of the first round. While Superlek still peppers him with teeps and kicks.
Also, check out this cheeky redirected kick into a long shin shield Rodtang uses to stifle 'The Kicking Machine'. He's not just a brawler.
While Superlek was scoring with more consistent work, it was Rodtang who ended up winning this round due to the large cut he opened. According to ONE's scoring criteria, damage (internal, accumulated, and superficial) is the most important factor in scoring a fight, next to knockdowns.
In the second round, Superlek and his corner showed their experience and fight IQ, continuing the success they found in the first half of round 1. Key to the turnabout was Superlek's hand control.
Whilst Rodtang's hands were guarding, Superlek blocked obvious routes for punches and elbows and could simultaneously apply the threat of his own elbows or clinch entries. Rodtang's discomfort with the tactical choices was apparent with the way he was backed up to the ropes and with the freedom with which Superlek could land kicks and knees.
Rodtang adjusted to the hand control, electing to bypass playing 'patty cake' and went for looping left hands instead. The little success he found was immediately dampened with more hand control. At this stage, Rodtang essentially took 3 long knees to deliver one glancing hook.
Shortly after, Superlek evolved his hand control to wrist control.
The small 4-ounce gloves allow ONE's Muay Thai fighters to grab with a more natural grip. Superlek gripped Rodtang's wrists like a kid holding two ice cream cones. This gave him a greater sense of control and impeded Rodtang from looping punches around his arms - like an early warning system. It also became a handy grip for moving Rodtang’s frame back.
Superlek would back Rodtang up with wrist control, then wait for Rodtang to open up to make a clinch entry. He often knees Rodtang and ends up in a dominant position - sort of a standing arm triangle where in traditional Muay Thai, Superlek could've been awarded more time to knee.
Eventually, Superlek's control and spacing culminated in the knockdown. Whilst not a clear-cut situation, Rodtang clearly lost his footing after getting folded and turning away - not something the reigning champion would willingly do of his own volition. Those familiar with Muay Thai should be used to acts of toughness to reassure the judges that in fact the fighter is not hurt.
Rodtang turned up the heat and landed a few more glancing hooks and elbows. Rodtang, despite being hit cleanly, has a great poker face. Superlek's rolling from punches is more sound defense than Rodtang tanking hits, but it can make Rodtang appear to win exchanges.
The final round is a real culmination of Superlek's intelligence gathering and dominance over Rodtang. Almost every sequence in this round is very similar: Superlek gains the advantage on the outside with either feints, strikes, or wrist control, hits Rodtang while ducking underneath incoming hooks and elbows, and using the clinch to knee or land overhand rights.
Rodtang shows signs that he’s game, such as this sequence where he times a left hook well and finishes with a sweep.
However, this was not a consistent tactic. Over half of this round, Rodtang was noticeably behind. Rodtang couldn't aggress without being countered or backed up in response.
Superlek has figured out Rodtang's timing up close.
A big knee after folding Rodtang, a big score in Muay Thai.
Superlek's control over all ranges.
Outside of the cut, this fight was not particularly close. As the fight went on Superlek grew more and more comfortable and bold in exploiting Rodtang’s inability to deal with:
- Clinch entries and exits
- Head movement
- Getting the last word in exchanges
- Aggressive hand & wrist control
These facets of Superlek's game became more and more obvious as the fight went on, yet Rodtang could not muster a consistent answer. Rodtang made some notable adjustments with timing his hooks, elbows, and sweeps. But they were few and far apart. Admittedly Rodtang's body language and reputation along with Superlek's more subtle gamesmanship make this a hard fight to judge on casual viewing. Rodtang was never out of the game, but he was rarely ahead.
In a rematch I'd expect Rodtang to perform better, especially assuming both fighters come in at weight. 'The Iron Man' could pose a greater threat to Superlek if he were better prepared for his opponent's use of hand or wrist control and studied Superlek's tendency to duck upper body weapons. Rodtang would be wise to anticipate Superlek's rapid phase-of-combat shifts - the whiplash of long-range kicks to elbows and clinching and all the way back seemed to catch Rodtang by surprise. Rodtang's poker face and durability served him well in the fans' eyes but weren't enough for the judges or more seasoned veterans. But with lessons learned, things could turn out differently in a rematch.