In case fans haven't noticed, Rodtang Jitmuangnon has been transforming himself into a more methodical fighter – and it seems to be working.
Last month, "The Iron Man" used his new approach against England's Jacob Smith in the ONE flyweight muay Thai world grand prix quarterfinals and scored a dominant unanimous decision win to reach the semifinals, where he'll face Savvas "The Baby Face Killer" Michael.
Rodtang's performance against Smith was very impressive, but it also left some fans baffled.
The reigning ONE flyweight muay Thai world champion showcased a variety of high-level skills, though he also chose to ride out a comfortable win instead of going for the knockout in the final round.
Perhaps "The Iron Man" wanted to preserve himself for the rest of the grand prix, or maybe he's simply rethinking his approach to fighting.
In either case, let's look at the Thai superstar's latest performance inside the ONE circle.
A more crafty approach
In the past, Rodtang wasn't known for taking advantage of subtle opportunities that present themselves in the midst of his chaotic battles.
But against Smith, he noticed openings that usually only elusive muay Thai stylists – known as muay femurs – pick up on.
After the first round, Rodtang fought from within the pocket like he'd done dozens of times before. He used his right hand to close the distance and then racked up damage with jutting elbows.
However, instead of waiting for the referee to peel him and Smith apart so he could resume trading blows, Rodtang finished his attacks by sweeping his foe to the canvas in graceful movements that matched his grit.
A less aggressive 'Iron Man'
When the "The Iron Man" exits the ONE circle post-fight, he usually does so in an iron tank, rumbling over the rubble he's left behind. But following his matchup with Smith, the debris required less cleanup.
Instead of tearing the circle to shreds, Rodtang spent more time on the back foot – an anomaly for the aggressive Thai – as he let Smith walk forward and strike with elbows and kicks at will.
It seemed to be part of the flyweight Muay Thai king's gameplan, as he smacked his challenger's arms and hands away to create openings for his own elbows.
We haven't seen Rodtang employ this strategy much in the past, but it paid off in his clash with Smith.
A better counter-fighter
One way to stop a strong puncher is to throw even stronger kicks – unless that puncher is Rodtang.
It was clear that Smith and his Bad Company team were targeting the Thai's right arm with left kicks, as the Englishman blasted away with those strikes over the course of three rounds.
They had little effect on "The Iron Man," though.
Each time Smith tried to use that weapon, Rodtang immediately countered with a straight right, a right elbow, or a left elbow. Sometimes, the flyweight muay Thai king even countered with a right low kick.
And even while absorbing plenty of kicks into his right bicep, the power in Rodtang's punches never once waned.
These smart and powerful counters showed an evolution in the 24-year-old's arsenal that will benefit him in the next round of the ONE flyweight muay Thai world grand prix.
A more evasive striker
Most of Rodtang's highlight reels feature at least one clip where he absorbs multiple punches to the chin, chews them up, and then asks for more.
It's a style that ONE featherweight kickboxing world grand prix champion Chingiz "Chinga" Allazov recently criticized as reckless. However, Rodtang's fight against Smith had none of that.
What it did have, in contrast, was lots of slipping and swaying. Whenever Smith flung punches, "The Iron Man" swayed back or slipped sideways to avoid taking any damage, then countered with punches, elbows, or low kicks.
The evasions didn't offer the same excitement that gobbling up punches did in the past, but it'll help Rodtang's longevity in the sport and shows that he's becoming a more complete Muay Thai competitor.
It's a key development as his level of opposition increases – not only in the tournament, but also in the stacked flyweight muay Thai division as the talent pool deepens.
This story first published at ONEFC.com.