During your hours spent watching the replay of Dan Henderson's brutal knock out against Michael Bisping from UFC 100, you likely wondered at some point who the striking coach behind that devastating overhand right was.
Well, that man was Gustavo Pugliese, who recently took some time to talk with Bleacher Report about Henderson's upcoming fight with MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko, which will take place on July 30, 2011.
Prior to becoming a striking coach at Henderson's Team Quest, Pugliese was an All-American boxer and strength-and-conditioning coach at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. Eventually, Pugliese was introduced to Henderson by Henderson's training partner, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou.
"I used to train [Rameau] Thierry Sokoudjou before," Pugliese said. "Thierry was working with Team Quest at the time. He came to me just to work technique for his fights back then. Dan [Henderson] was getting ready for his fight with [Rousimar] Palhares. That was his first fight back after he lost to Rampage. He didn't have a striking coach at the time, so Sokoudjou talked to him about me and he set it up. I started working with Dan, not with Team Quest, just Dan. So I worked with him the entire camp. Then, after he fought Palhares, he offered me the position to be the boxing coach for Team Quest."
Obviously, there are several differences between striking technique in boxing and striking technique in MMA. As a former boxing coach, Pugliese was forced to make some alterations in his teaching approach when he began exclusively training MMA fighters.
"The fundamentals are the same," Pugliese said. "Whether you are a boxer or an MMA fighter coming from whatever background, the fundamentals are the same. The difference between MMA is the distance is a little longer range because you have to worry about kicks, you have to worry about takedowns. I put a lot of focus on footwork in MMA and working the fundamentals as sharp as they can.
"In MMA, when you're in close range, you're working clinch, elbows and all that. So for me to teach an MMA fighter the way to fight inside the way I teach a boxer, that's not realistic."
Henderson was landing his patented overhand right long before Pugliese joined his training camp, but Pugliese has worked with Henderson on setting up that go-to strike. While most fans see Henderson as a one-trick pony when it comes to striking, Pugliese says Henderson brings much more to the table on his feet.
"It's funny when people say how to train Dan is just hold the mitts for his right hand," Pugliese said. "People just don't understand that in order to land his right hand there are so many things that come first. Dan is an extremely intelligent fighter, very aware of how to trade, how to throw punches. In order to throw the right hand, you have to set it up. If you watch the way he's been knocking people out, he's doing so many things before he throws the right hand. He knows when he can land it. He's just not going to waste it.
"If you watch Dan at the beginning of his career and you watch is last 5-6 fights, you'll see he's a little more conservative. He's more patient. He's studying the opponent a lot more."
Having competed in MMA for more than a decade, Henderson has seen just about anything a fighter cane see in the sport. However, Pugliese believes there is still room for the 40-year-old Henderson to make small improvements in his striking.
"I always say that there's always room for improvement," Pugliese said. "Of course, he's been doing this for a long time now. You can perfect some things and add a little bit more finesse. Dan, it is what it is, he's not going to be the most beautiful technician. If you watch him, he's not the kind of guy that has beautiful technique because of how he fights and his body type. But there's many different things he does that make his strikes look sharp. The way he throws his right hand, the way he puts his body into it, his shoulder coming behind the punch, turning his gloves over and finding his range. Those are other things that he can always work on."
Because Henderson's overhand right has become such a dangerous weapon in so many of his fights, all of his opponents are now prepared to defend it. For that reason, Pugliese needs to work diligently to find new set-ups for the overhand right for each of Henderson's opponent.
"For each fight, the camp is going to change a little bit," Pugliese said. "We can do certain things that can catch the opponent in a different way. Everybody knows how Dan fights. Everybody expects that he's going to throw the right hand. Now, we are going to have to change how we set it up. We gotta keep the opponents guessing."
Emelianenko now has three losses on his record after losing back-to-back fights for the first time in his career, but the Russian heavyweight has never been knocked out. Pugliese plans on preparing Henderson to be the first fighter to do just that when the two legends of the sport finally meet.
"If Dan wants to fight someone, it's because he knows he can beat the person," Pugliese said. "Even though it's a big challenge, deep inside he knows he has a chance to beat the guy. Dan wants to beat him. He wants to be the first guy to knock Fedor out.
"Everybody's excited, all the teammates and coaches. This is probably the biggest fight for Dan and the biggest fight for everyone involved. We can't wait. A month and a half from now, it's going to be a very explosive fight for sure."
By Sean Smith