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Jonathan Haggerty’s Journey To Muay Thai Stardom

Jonathan Haggerty

On the 11th December, Jonathan Haggerty will face Japanese Thai and kickboxer, Taiki Naito as the main event of ONE Championship Big Bang II. In this article we examine the key points in The General’s professional Muay Thai career which has led him to this bout.

The early days

The General’s early professional career can be defined by extreme aggression and a series of victories over experienced opponents which far exceeded the usual expectations of such a young career. Taking his first eight victories via stoppage the adolescent brought an electrifying mix of technical prowess and raw aggression to the ring.

From the outset, Jonathan Haggerty showed elements of his distinctive style that would make him a world champion. Utilising a narrow stance, Haggerty probes his opponent with teeps, keeping them uncomfortable before feinting the teep and delivering rapid switch left kicks. The speed of these kicks can easily be measured with the rapidness in which he dispatched James O’Connell. This was mixed with unbridled aggression where Haggerty would seemingly abandoned this measured, delicate approach for wading in 1-2 boxing combinations and trying to fold elbows over the top of the guard.

The tension of Haggerty’s early fight was that you always knew that, despite the initial ranged kick strikes, it was only a matter of time before the young fighter would launch into a tirade of elbows in an attempt to stop the fight.

Haggerty also has a tendency to adopt an extremely high guard then surge forward jutting the lead elbow out. He typically uses this when he feels pressured against the ropes and wants to regain some space.

Jonathan Haggerty

The stumbling block

In October 2017, Haggerty faced his biggest test to date. Facing Ja Kiatphontip, a veteran of the sport with over two hundred fights, represented a colossal hike in the level of competition. The side bet of several thousand pounds added another element to the already compelling fight.

Haggerty’s previous fights can be summarised as Haggerty initiating exchanges early and throwing his maximum power into them from the outset. Until this point, none of his opponents had been able to weather this storm, Haggerty had yet to meet an opponent who could drag themselves through that early stage and take Haggerty into the later rounds.

Ja Kiatphontip entered the fight with a huge experience advantage with over two hundred fights to his name compared to Haggerty’s dozen. From the outset, Haggerty began switching his strong left teep and round kick. He quickly began to throw the kitchen sink at the Thai with all his shots in an attempt to stop Ja in the opening rounds. Despite a slow start, Ja weathered this early barrage and quickly started to increase the pressure on Haggerty from the second round.

Ja began to move Haggerty around the ring, not allowing him to set to throw his teep and round kicks. Whilst Haggerty was still able to land the left kick, he was often doing so whilst moving back limiting the damage and effect as a deterrent. The forward pressure of Ja also had the effect of making Haggerty hyper active in an attempt to throw shots powerful enough to give him a respite.

The Thai also did an excellent job of using his wealth of experience, tying up Haggerty in the clinch and wearing the Brit out further. Whenever Haggerty was pinned against the ropes, he had a tendency to take a high forearms guard and march forward projecting his elbows in front of him (as previously mentioned). However, this had the effect of allowing Ja to grab a low body lock or a seatbelt grip over the Englishman’s shoulder as Haggerty’s arms were too high to prevent it. The forward movement of Haggerty also allowed Ja to slide sideways with the grip, swimming under the arms and take the back of the young boxer. A big score in Thai boxing.

Jonathan Haggerty

Despite a rally from Haggerty in the fifth, Ja’s use of pressure and the clinch sealed Haggerty’s first professional loss.

Back to business

Despite this setback, Joanthan Haggerty quickly took two more victories over European opponent’s first against the tough Spanish fighter, Isaac Araya and the Scottish Muay Thai veteran Keith McLachlan. Both were stopped within the opening two rounds. It seemed as though Haggerty was back.

Whilst he was still showing bursts of aggression, Haggerty did appear to be more patient than his previous fights. Taking the time to build off his feints particular the lead teep, a common trait of many who are taught by his coach Christian Knowles. Indeed, through many of Haggerty and his stable mates bouts, you can often hear Knowles calling “Remember your feints!”.

This more patient approach saw Haggerty score more on the counter as well as on the offence. Including the stunning head kick knockout of McLachlan. As the Scot tried to move in past Haggerty’s teep, the younger fighter skipped back and caught the tough veteran with a perfectly timed kick to the head as the Scot’s guard lowered.

Superlek

Perhaps one of the biggest shames in Haggerty’s career to date was the result of the fight with Superlek. Regarded as one of the top Thai boxer operating on the international stage, Superlek represented another challenge – much as Ja had – for Haggerty to prove his worth against the elite Thais.

The opening of the fight was the more measure from Haggerty and showed the shades that would later win him the world title at ONE Championship. Feint with the lead leg as usual, but feinting it almost as much as he was throwing it for real. He also showed a quick step to inside low kick with his left leg which also served to camouflage his round kicks above the waste and teeps to the chest and lead leg of Superlek.

The most distinctive change was that he wasn’t trying to take Superlek’s head off with every shot he threw. Varying the power between them and not exhausting himself early on in the fight. It was a Haggerty-Knowles special without burning the candle at both ends.

That’s not to say Superlek did not have his moments. Flustering Haggerty by pulling his lead leg to right side and stepping up so that Haggerty was facing away from the Thai. The go to response for Haggerty was to hop backwards on one leg whilst maintaining a block with his lead leg to prevent a score. This prevented him from pivoting to face the Thai and often resulted in him with his back against the ropes, facing away from Superlek whilst the Thai had his sights trained on him.

The bout was simmering nicely throughout the first and second round and just seemed ready to ignite fully when disaster struck. Receiving a cut above the right eye, Haggerty lost the bout as the referee ended the fight on advice from the doctor much to the dismay of the fans and Haggerty alike. Whilst you can’t fault somebody for being cautious about the sight of a fighter, it is a colossal pity that the UK fan base never got to see the third round and potentially beyond. Indeed, according to Christian Knowles, “We weren’t going to start working until the third”.

Fight Record

Entry into ONE

Joanthan Haggerty made his first appearance for ONE Championship in January 2019 against Italian Joseph Lasiri. Lasiri is a crowd pleaser, with his style mainly consisting of him constantly charging forward at his opponent and drawing them into a brawling style fight. Whilst Haggerty had previously struggled with the forward pressure of Ja, Lasiri proved an easier task to deal with.

Lasiri lacked the clinching ability of Ja to tie up Haggerty in order to wear him out. In addition Lasiri seemed somewhat allergic to throwing kicks which made him a more two dimensional fighter to deal with. Haggerty put on a clinic in the opening, scoring with the left switch kick, both from a distance then skipping back as Lasiri launched himself in a straight line toward him. Lasiri’s stiff, high guard left him somewhat exposed as it didn’t give him the flexibility needed to parry or catch the kick as Superlek had done.

Haggerty also showed his love of mixing his trademark teep feints with the elbow, stepping forward when he raised the knee and bringing his elbow down on the top of the Lasiri’s head.

One of the benefits of Haggerty’s style when paired with the small four ounce gloves used in ONE is his all in or out style. We have seen many accomplished Thai boxers struggle to adapt to this equipment and suffer crushing knock outs from a split second error. The traditional ‘ear muff’ guard is mostly ineffectual when the gloves cover so little of your head and the incoming blows are able to sneak through the smallest of gaps. However, Haggerty at his best is either far out, using his teep to switch kick to skip inside low kick. Or he is feinting to get into elbow range and ties up with his opponent in the clinch. He does not remain long in a trading boxing range and so limits the damage and risk of the smaller gloves.

However, Haggerty does still sometime get drawn into these exchanges, in the second round against Lasiri he allowed himself to get drawn into a firefight. Still displaying his tendency to overreach to connect with his right cross and catching himself well over his base which gave Lasiri more of an opportunity to land his own blows. The early count for Lasiri also encouraged Haggerty to go hunting for the elbow more rather than maintain his more balanced mix of kicks and elbows.

It was still an excellent debut victory for Haggerty which would give him the chance to face a Muay Thai legend and a shot at becoming a ONE World Champion.

Living legend

Propelled by his victory over Lasiri, Joanthan Haggerty got the opportunity to fight not just for the ONE World title, but against a living legend of the sport, Sam-A Gaiyanghadao. The Thai was in the midst of a career resurgence after taking a year off in 2017 but coming back to win his first two Thai boxing matches for ONE. The first against Lasiri and the second Sergio Wielzen which secured him the ONE Muay Thai Flyweight title.

This was yet another fight where Haggerty was forced to markedly alter his style, this time to suit facing a southpaw. His trademark lead leg kicks were less effective when fired at an opponent in open guard (one southpaw and one orthodox). The lead teep can slide more easily off the narrower target to the outside and the opponent also has their lead shoulder to duck behind. To adapt, Haggerty used the rear legged teep and round kick which was more suited to the situation, with it being aimed down the centre line of Sam-A. When he did use the lead teep he targeted the top of the thigh and hip, breaking the posture of Sam-A but also less risky then aiming for the body which could slide off.

Sam-A did a fantastic job of catching the lead teep, sweeping it across to his left so Haggerty’s back was turned before firing the left hand. Alternatively he used it to drive Haggerty to the ropes then tried to time an elbow as the Englishman rocked back off the ropes.

Haggerty was able to drop Sam-A with a feint to right hand in the third round. Once again, Haggerty showed his aggression, smelling blood he abandoned the more measured game and started trying to stop Sam-A with every shot.

Come the fourth, it was Sam-A who came out the blocks fastest, realising he needed a big round to counter the knock down he had just suffered. He was able to pin Haggerty against the ropes and showed that the young fighter struggled when suffocated of space, often covering up whilst he looks for an opportunity to break out of the pin. This was the blueprint that Rodtang would ruthlessly exploit.

It wasn’t to be for Sam-A, the Thai was once again dropped in the fifth round as Haggerty was able to outlast his rally in the fourth. A jumping knee to right hand caused the count to be given and on the final bell there was no doubt to the result. Haggerty had become the second flyweight world Champion in ONE History.

The Tank

ONE Championship certainly didn’t throw Haggerty an easy first title defence, calling upon one of the toughest Thai boxers on the planet, Rodtang Jitmuangnon. Whilst many transitioning from the larger glove to the smaller four ounces have struggled with the extra damage these inflict, Rodtang has yet to be fazed. Whilst we have seen him absorb significant punishment (including head kicks from Haggerty) this has never once slowed him down. The phenomenal toughness leads itself well into Rodtang’s style, a non stop combination of ring cutting and marching his opponent’s down.

In the opening two round of their first fight, Haggerty put on a strong start. Mixing his teeps and left kicks, feinting the teep before coming forward with the elbow. He also did an excellent job of retracting his leg backwards from Rodtang’s low kick, using his long frame to it’s maximum.

The end of the second saw the preliminary for what was about to come. Rodtang herded Haggerty into the corner of the ring and cut of his space to sidestep. Haggerty covered up like he had with Sam-A, trying to find an opportunity to project his high elbow guard and make some space. Haggerty’s long frame, which served him well in the ranged exchanges in the centre of the ring, was now to his detriment. He was not able to bring his leg up past Rodtang who was so close to push him away.

The third and fourth round were tough for Haggerty, Rodtang’s relentless pressure and output when he got Haggerty against the ropes prevent Haggerty from scoring as effectively as he had previously. Rodtang was aided by the square ring, he has struggled in the past when fighting in ONE’s circular MMA cage to cut the ring off as effectively (such as against Sergio Wielzen). But against Haggerty, the acute corners provided the perfect trap for the Thai.

The truly decisive moment came as Rodtang began to switch targets. Whilst he had taken a fair amount of damage, Haggerty had avoided getting a count so far. But Rodtang began to target the Englishman’s body with as much ferocity as he had the head and legs. Caught with a winding shot, Haggerty tried to sidestep along the ropes away from Rodtang. His hands dropped to protect his body, as he did so Rodtang caught him with a blow to the head.

Haggerty was able to rise from the referee’s count, but had so play a defensive game for the remainder of the fight. Indeed this is a talent in itself and one we had not seen Haggerty need before. He mixed moving around the ring to avoid engaging with bursts of kicks and teeps to prevent Rodtang from closing the distance. Whilst not effective for trying to even the score offensively, to keep Rodtang off him whilst the Thai smelled blood in the water is an achievement in itself.

Either way, the result was disappointing for Haggerty, losing his world title to Rodtang. That being said, he but a strong showing against a Thai who is possibly the best suited to ONE’s rule set and scoring system.

Rodtang II

The previous bout caused such interest from the international Muay Thai community that a rematch was ordered within weeks. Unfortunately for Haggerty, Rodtang found the spot he could exploit and did so with ruthless efficiency.

Both fighters had a higher work rate from the opening bell, this time Rodtang did not take a few round to assess Haggerty. This time he was barraging the formed world champion from the outset. He particularly favoured feinting the right cross to the head before digging in the left hook to the body.

The relentlessness of this body work caught up with Haggerty rapidly and was eventually stopped in the third round. Whilst he had made a good account of himself, Rodtang had once again proved a step too far in his professional career.

To Kill A General?

Rodtang showed how Haggerty could be convincingly defeated, the only issue for any of Haggerty’s opponents is that it’s doubtful any of them could execute it as Rodtang had. For all his skills, power and high work rate, Rodtang does heavily rely on his incredible durability. He has walked through shots, such as head kicks from Haggerty, which would have stopped most other fighters at their weight. To overwhelm Haggerty so completely requires such toughness to wade through Haggerty’s world class left kick and then his elbows. Does anyone else posses such a quality?

That being said, there are a number of points Taiki Naito may be looking to target. The first as we mentioned is pressure. From Ja to Rodtang, Haggerty does not operate as well if he is constantly being forced to moved, upsetting his base for his A game. This could be from forward pressure like Rodtang or catching and sweeping the left teep as Sam-A had done. Alternatively take the Superlek approach, using the caught leg to drive Haggerty to the ropes. Haggerty’s long frame is more a detriment if you are being forced to fight in a phone box and it prevents him using his favoured left kicks.

The second is body work, Haggerty has a very long frame for the weight class and it’s very difficult to condition your body to take a shot when your natural stature is so tall and lean. Although, as we mentioned, trying to close the distance to do that is a task in of itself.

The final key element is whether or not Naito can draw Haggerty into a more brawling fight. We have seen Haggerty operate slickly for a few rounds, but then if he smells blood or gets pulled into a war, he is sometimes too happy to oblige. Throwing everything behind his punches and overextending his base which could be exploited. This element is down to Haggerty, does he keep the safe ranged kicking game, or will he get drawn in and try to take Naito out with every shot?

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