This is part two of “Why Fighters Should integrate kicks into their striking game.” If you missed part 1, go here: Part one of the article
Rhythm of Range
By having the threat of kicks in your game, you now open up an extra tool to use at your disposal–the perception of range. Kicks and punches operate at two different ranges. Fighter who can migrate between two different ranges can manipulate the opponent’s sense of distance. By using kicks, you can establish a long range. By using punches, you can establish the punching range. The fighter how can mix the two ranges can deceptively expose the opponent. By making the opponent comfortable fighting in the rhythm of one range, you can quickly change the rhythm to fight in another range. Manipulating range is unique to a fighter who possesses the threat of kicks.
Lets look at previous examples of how useful this can prove to be. In this following example from previous breakdowns, Anthony Johnson’s opponent became comfortable reacting in punching range. Here Johnson quickly changes the range to land a kick while his opponent’s check hook falls short.
Lets look at another example. Here we look at Luke Rockhold throwing his signature retreating lead hook. Rockhold looks to step back, let the opponent come in just enough to fall short of their punching range, then clips them with his own lead hook.
In this next situation, it’s apparent Rockhold was looking to land that lead hook. His linear stance and the cocking back of his hand telegraphs the beginning of the hook counter. Unfortunately, he realizes that Vitor Belfort’s advancement is not from a punching range, fails to adjust properly and eats the kick.
Kicks give you have the luxury of using a strike from a different range. So if you can detect that an opponent is looking to throw a simultaneous counter within punching range, you can throw the kicking range to catch their counter.
This particular case worked so well because Aldo didn’t expect kicks much from Chad Mendes, especially since head kicks don’t come too often from his striking game.
Since we’re on the topic of range, kicks can be used to alter the range against an opponent with significant reach. Taller, longer fighters tend to like using the long jab to keep the opponent at bay. Often times when the smaller fighter attempts to move in, the jab will fire out to stop the fighter. Kicks generally outreach the the longer opponent who punches. By throwing the kick, the opponent will be forced to use his lead hand to protect themselves. By using the threats of kicks, the smaller fighter can feint a kick to temporarily occupy the longer opponent’s long lead hand. This allows the shorter fighter to enter the range without interference of the opponent’s jab.
It’s common that fighters us both their hand to block a kick. You run the risk of breaking your arm by only absorbing kicks with just one arm, which is why using kicks often occupies both the arms of a fighter.
Here’s another example where kicks can be used to introduce an fighter’s punching range. Saenchai typically fights larger opponents, yet he doesn’t seem to have issues finding his range because of the variety of options at his disposal to manipulate range.
Punish the Opponent
Since kicks cover such a long distance, it can be used to punish circling opponents looking to circle out and away from them.
kicks are the most ideal tools to use on the slipping opponent. The trajectory of a kick follows a path that cover a tremendous area where the head moves to slip, therefore making it ideal to punish the slipping opponent. The slipping punch is an ideal scenario where one can counter the attack with a head kick. By feinting or throwing a combo, one can bait the slip and time a kick to counter the head movement (similar to the head kick GSP landed on Matt Hughes).
Certain kicks hit angles that punches otherwise couldn’t. When we take a look at Conor McGregor, he has the spinning back kick to hit that area outside his weak side (the area outside his lead foot where punches are limited in that range). By having the spinning back kick, you can cover unique angles.
In the next following example, Uriah Hall throws his spinning back kick against another orthodox opponent but catches his head in a low angle.
For fighters who aren’t quite the strongest when it comes to the grappling exchanges, fighting on the outside might be the safest options to keep the fight in their favor, similar to what Stephen Thompson did to Johnny Hendricks and what Holly Holm did to Ronda Rousey. Kicks offer important tools for the modern day MMA fighter who seeks to keep the fight out the outside range. If even if the fighter has strengths in wrestling or grappling, kicking is still a powerful tool to use. Luke Rockhold holds true as a dynamic kicker who still incorporates kicking utility into his game.
Time to recap some of the uses of kicks, we look at the following:
Manipulate the rhythm of range
Destroy the footwork
Cut them off
Manipulate their openings
As you can see at this point, integrating kicks into the stand up game opens up a variety of utility for a fighter. Is it detrimental if you don’t include kicks into your game? certainly not, but it will expand your options to create unique reactions and broaden your creativity as a complete striker.
I leave with this quote by Bruce Lee; “To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.” Expand your arsenal, open your world to a diverse array of strategic tools and use it to create more opportunities.