Punches tend to be the safest route to striking. It’s the fastest strike you can recover from and it doesn’t compromise your stance as much as kicks can. Not to mention, there have even been plenty of champions who almost never use kicks, like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Fast forward today, times have shifted, new champions have taken the throne, and the game is evolving. Many fighters have adapted with changing times. For example, when he look at Vitor Belfort’s career, using the legs to kick was nearly non-existent in the early days of his reign. Fast forward today, you can see highlight reels of his wheel kick Knockout of current middleweight champion Luke Rockhold.
You can definitely make it to the top without implementing kicking into your striking game. Daniel Cormier has managed to make it with minimal kicking, but allow me to open up perspective on why you should add kicking into your arsenal. My hopes by the end of this is that you open yourself to explore kicking.
You see, there are a lot of benefits from using kicks. There are many puzzles in the fight game that can be best answered with the use of kicks. Not having these options in your game won’t hinder you from reaching the top, but at the same time, without realizing what kicks can do for you, your options to find answers to the opponent’s strategies will be confined to a narrow approach.
Leg kicks can prove to be useful down the line. It’s rare to earn a victory using leg kicks to end the fight. Edson Barboza had managed to rack up two victories off of leg kicks. The truth of the matter is that it’s not a reliable strategy to use every time. When you weigh the risk over the rewards, it’s almost not worth it to use powerful leg kicks to end a fight if your shins aren’t durable enough to handle the impact of an opponent who blocks it.
In Muay Thai, fighters condition their shins with repetitive kicking. What happens in the process is that they create micro fractures in the skeletal structure that will eventually calcify to create denser bones where the point of stress occurred. This process is known as cortical remodeling and will in turn, allow a fighter to withstand powerful impacts on the shin. In addition, the nerves start to deaden after repetitive kicking. The inverse holds true as well. If the fighter stops stimulating the area with stress signals, the bone will eventually weaken.
Do keep in mind that Thai boxers actually compete much more often than your traditional MMA fighter. It’s entirely necessary for them to keep their shins strong. In the landscape of MMA, fighters don’t invest that kind of time to condition the shins. As a result, their shins aren’t as durable. We’ve seen our fair of devastating kicks getting countered with painful shin fractures from fighters like Anderson Silva. Still, we see fighters continue to use them. But why? This is where we explore the strategic value of using various kicks in MMA.
Destroy the Foundation
Leg kicks can cause damage to the opponent’s base. The legs are the foundation of a fighters movement. Whether it’s to attack or defend, everything the fighter does requires movement. By destroying the legs, you destroy the base. If a fighter’s base is weak, everything else above it will fall. Focusing on inflicting damage is certainly a solid strategy, but using it for utility is just as viable to expose the opponent to other set ups. Lets take a look at a few examples of how kicks can be used to break the opponent’s stance.
Aldo temporarily disrupts the stance of Florian. As Florian’s stance falls apart, his guard drops and everything in his stance weakens. Kicks are used for more than just damage, however damage is always a useful goal down the line. The leg kicks can even prove to be effective long-term as the fight progresses. After repetitive damage to the legs, the integrity of the opponent’s stance will degrade and so will their mobility.
These are just a few simple principles one can deduce from observing kicks in a fight. Lets take a look at more creative uses of kicks since we just took a look at the more obvious uses of them.
Solve the Puzzle with Kicks
We discussed how kicks can destroy the base, either by temporary disruption or prolonged damage. By kicking to temporarily disrupt the opponent, you can put a stop to a lot of their movement. A fighters footwork is one of their most valuable assets. Kicks are the most dependable tools one can use to destroy the footwork.
You can use kicks to disrupt an opponent who moves to attack you. Lets look at an example of the sidestep jab. This is a basic strategy, to move at an advantageous angle while simultaneously throwing that long jab or hook. It’s dependable attack that’s not so easy to counter with your own punches. Kicks can solve a problem like this. You see, when a fighter moves to strike, he must use his feet. But the fighter can only focus on one intention at a time. Since they are using their feet to attack, it is impossible for them to block kicks since checking kicks requires that you lift your leg out laterally to shield the damage.
Kicks can be used to take advantage of that small window where the opponent cannot block the kick. Many fighters have used this strategy to disrupt fighters who move in circular motions. Lets take a look at a few examples.
In these instances, the fighters solves the moving offensive fighter by timing the kicks. The range of the kick will beat the range of the kicks, often making the offensive side-stepper fall short of his strike.
Expose the Linear Stance
Fighters who become too linear with their feet are subjected to kicks. The nature of this is due to the fact that the more traditional Muay Thai stance requires that your hips are more squared up rather than linear in relation to your opponent like a boxer’s stance.
By being squared up in your stance, you can lift your leg up and outwards to shield kicks. There are many situations where certain techniques forces yours stance into a linear foot placement. The shoulder roll is one of them. The shoulder roll works by parry a strike and redirecting the force away from the chin. It expends little energy but it requires that you turn your shoulder over to cover the area of the head. Because of the natural movement, the lower body becomes more linear, which in turn, makes the fighter susceptible to the leg kicks. You don’t see a lot of fighters using the shoulder roll but it’s still used nonetheless in certain scenarios where it’s your only defense. In the event of strategic opportunities, the leg kicks can prove to be instrumental if a fighter can recreate opportunities where the linear stance comes out.
Fighters often enter a linear stance to use kicks that fire off from their side. In more traditional fighting styles like Taekwondo, the linear stance is ideal to throw the side kick. It often requires you to become linear because of the mechanical dynamics of the movement. However, this stance is another ideal time to use leg kicks to kill their base because of how hard it is to check (block).
Control the Tempo
The oblique kick is one of the longest kicks you can throw. This is the kicking version of a jab. Especially in Muay Thai where the teep serves the same purpose. By using the oblique kick, you can effectively use a longer range tool to keep pressure at bay. Using kicks is ideal to bring the fight into a tempo where you don’t quite want to engage in a volume of strikes. This works well against those really looking to smoother your range.
In general, many fighters throw the oblique kick to the lower lead leg because of the low risk of counters. The kick falls a bit too short for fighters to catch. A fighter who comes in to use his feet to attack will surely have his stance disrupted. The oblique kick is tool Conor McGregor uses often to keep the pace on his term (he may use it often to keep Dos Anjos’s aggression at bay). When you want the tempo to be on your terms against someone’s aggression, stuff the base of the opponents advancement.
- Trap Them
- Drop Their Guard
- Cut Them Off
- Make Them Overextend
What are the reactions when someone is kicked? Some of these reactions may be to eat the kick, the block the kick, catch the kick, or evade the kick, or counter the kick. These are just a few general answers. Using kicks can open up responses that punches normally couldn’t. You see, by having the threat of kicks in your game, you can condition important responses in the opponent to force them into your game. I mentioned the responses that occur from kicks. Lets take a closer look at how one can exploit these reactions. .
An opponent blocks the kick: Allow me to introduce the basic technique of blocking kicks. These can be kicks to the body or the leg. When defending a kick, the guard must go up to protect the body and the leg must lift up to protect the legs. There a different variations of checking a kicks, but they fundamentally work mechanically similar to defend yourself. What does this mean in the bigger scheme of things? It means immobilization. You see, you can use kicks to force an opponent to become stationary, as they will now be forced to block kicks. You can essentially use them to make them stay still. This can prove to be useful for fighters wanting to work off a volume of punches. By using the treat of kicks, you can invite punches into a stationary opponent. However, there is still a possibility to the opponent will evade if they’re not cornered into the cage.
An opponent attempts to throw a simultaneous counter against a kick: Say they decide to time a counter to your leg kick by throwing that power hand. If a fighter can predict this pattern, he can then use the kicks to feint, thereby baiting the opponent to over-commit into a counter. Because kicks operate at a longer range, you have more time to react accordingly to a counter, allowing you to strike back.
It was very obvious that kicks we’re a huge concern for Stephen Thompson’s linear stance. Thompson was fully aware of this weakness and was ready to deal with kicks with counters. In Johny Hendricks case, feinting a kick to bait the counter would have been ideal. Feinting a kick would draw Wonderboy’s counter to come out, giving Hendricks a chance to change levels for the takedown. Hendricks had been the fighter who focused so much on forcing the takedown, he put less emphasis on baiting the takedown.
An opponent catching the kick: Again, say they decide to try timing a catch to the kick. If the kicker can identify this pattern, he can effectively feint to expose the head by threatening kicks. We have seen this numerous times in fights where fighters fake a kick low, than transitions high. Lets take a look at a classic fight between George St. Pierre (GSP) vs Matt Hughes. In this particular fight, GSP mentions he looked low to create the perception that his kick would go low, but instead kicks high as Hughes drops his guard to catch a low kick.
Kicks open up completely new avenues that will allow a fighter to create openings in the opponents guard.
On part two, we look at another important tool kicks bring to the table –the rhythm of deceptive range. Part 2 here: Part 2