Luke Rockhold: Shutting down his Signature Check Hook

We’ll be looking at a signature counter that UFC Middleweight champ Luke Rockhold has found a lot of success in using. His signature check hook as landed him several successful counters across various fights. The check hook is one of his main counter strikes he goes to when the opponent moves into the pocket to exchange punches. Rockhold will change his head elevation to move his head away from strikes while throwing his lead hook simultaneously to catch his opponent’s coming in.

(The examples in this write up will be best viewed on a PC as it may take time for Gifs to load)

rockhold check hook comp.gif
Check hook.

One consistent habit in this technique is that Rockhold will generally enter a linear stance and move his head low to counter. By looking at Rockhold’s history, we can find certain openings in this technique.

There is one particular opponent who has been able to exploit this counter –Vitor Belfort. In the short bout between Rockhold and Belfort, Rockhold would repeat his same counter strikes by timing a counter as the opponent moved into the pocket. Rockhold had been so use to timing this counter in the pocket that Vitor was actually able to time a kick to Rockholds head. When your opponent becomes comfortable countering exclusively in just the punching range, you can counter his attack by advancing with a range that the opponent wouldn’t expect –the kicking range. That’s exactly what Vitor did. Check out this example.


vitor ko rockhold.gif
In this sequence, Rockhold cocked his hand back ready to throw his signature check hook but Vitor instead comes in with a kick.

To counter Rockhold’s check hook, if an opponent can get him into a pattern of punching in the pocket, they can draw the check hook out and counter it with a kick. By countering with a kick against an opponent looking to land in the punching range, the opponent will fall short on their shot. We can see another example of the concept in this next sequence.

rumble punch kick range manipulation
Here, Rumble counters an opponent looking to throw a check hook. He falls short on his counter and eats Rumble’s kick to the head.

The drawback of Rockhold’s check hook is that he’s mainly displacing his head away while everything else remains in the same position. Every other part of his body still remains in the in the pocket to pursue a takedown, body shot, or kicks.

Rockhold showed his tendency by attempting to catch the opponent with his check hook in the pocket against Chris Weidman. In this following example, Rockhold was in the rhythm of countering in the punching range, but when Weidman approached with an attack from the kicking range, Rockhold’s rhythm was thrown off.

weidman times a kick to rockholds check hook.gif
Here Weidman lands a kick as Rockhold attempts to throw a check hook that falls short when Weidman uses his kicking range to counter the counter. Rockhold’s check hook misses.

One of the main keys to drawing out the counter check hook is by establishing a rhythm where the opponent gets use to countering in the punching range. Rhythm is all about patterns. Drawing them into the pattern of punching range, then change rhythm by switching to kicking range, and it’s likely one can exploit openings. This can be done through a variety of ways.

It’s worth noting that kicks to the leg are also viable since Rockhold becomes linear in his stance, making more difficult to check kicks. Likewise, if timed right, Rockhold can not check the kick while throwing his check hook. Fighters use their footwork to pivot during strikes, so while striking, they cannot effective check kicks.

Aldo counters with leg kick lamas.gif
Aldo parrying the punching range to catch the leg. Lamas is unable to check while throwing his own lead hand to attack, falling short on range.

The most important part of Rockhold’s check hook is his head moving low. It can prove dangerous down the line if a fighter were to time a kick at the very moment he moves his head down to throw the check hook. I viable strategy could be to attack the body and then switch to the head like this following example.

josh body to head kick.gif
Josh Thomson goes low. He than feints low but goes over the top with a kick. Note Josh often moves his head to the weak side.

The over the top roundhouse is also a signature move demonstrated by Anthony Pettis. At 1:13 he describes the dynamics of how it’s landed.


Additionally, since one of the main counters Rockhold uses comes from his lead hook, fighters can move outside his lead foot to hit an angle where the left hook can’t necessarily reach well. By moving outside the lead foot of Rockhold, it takes away the effectiveness of counters from his power side as well as his lead hook. Rockhold mainly fights in southpaw, so an opponent can move out to Rockhold’s weak side to shut down his effective countering. Here’s an example of Rockhold boxing to demonstrate this angle.

escape shifting.gif
The boxer, Andrew Tabiti, throws his cross, shift his stance and pushes off into an angle outside to Rockhold’s weak side.

In a more craft-oriented application, we can see a masterful use of footwork in the MMA environment demonstrated by T.J. Dillashaw. This sequence shows how T.J. is able to move into his opponent’s weak side (the angle outside of Barao’s lead leg where his attacks are limited).

TJ wide power shifting
T.J. throws his cross while shifting his stance and bumping even further outside of Barao’s lead leg. From there, T.J. is in advantageous position to attack again.

If you’re interested in seeing a more in depth description on how T.J.’s footwork and craft is done, visit my previous write up on his fighting style.

Body Shots

As I mentioned previously, although Rockhold moves his head, his body still remains in the same position, open for body shots. It may prove to be a viable option to double up to Rockhold’s body and move the strike upstairs to his head.

Cruz doubles up and level change then escapes
Cruz Doubles up to the body than upstairs to the face. Note Cruz’s use of placing his head into T.J.’s weak angle outside his lead leg.


weidman body shot.gif
Not quite clean, but the shot is there for the body.
body shot, phs, power hand.gif
Alternatively, the body shot can be thrown and followed up with by hopping out into the opponent’s weak side to double up to the head.

By moving to an angle outside of the lead leg, the opponent will be forced to adjust to that new position. It’s very common that a fighter will have a split window of timing to land a open shot while the opponent adjust.

max moves outside weak side.gif
Here Holloway moves outside the lead foot, pivots off into an angle. Note that his head moves away in the weak side where Miller misses his check hook. Miller is forced to adjust angles but is caught in the process.


Honorable Mention

This sequence is quite risky but Alistair Overeem managed to counter Junior Dos Santos’ check hook with level changing. See this example.

overeem crouch into simultaneous counter
Low posture to high posture.

Here, Overeem is seen in a low crouched position. When your head posture is low, the opponent uses that low position as a reference to attack. When Overeem went in to attack, he quickly changed his head level from low to high while throwing his own rear hook to catch Dos Santos as he attempted to throw his own check hook. Note that the check hook Dos Santos had be thrown at that low reference point where Overeem’s head no longer was at. This can be risky because it relies on the use of manipulating where you want your opponent to strike. While Overeem does change his head from low to high, he leaves his guard open down the middle but manages to successfully land his counter with good execution.

If you enjoyed my work, you might also enjoy my other works on fighters like Conor Mcgregor, Jose Aldo and various fight breakdowns fighters and fans have found useful. Visit my home page for my list of other breakdowns.

(If I have time, I’ll try continuing a series of shutting down signature habits for various other styles and fighters)


One thought on “Luke Rockhold: Shutting down his Signature Check Hook”

  1. Great analyzis! I love all of your work, it gives such a good insight to the game. Do you recommend any litterature to understand stand-up fighting better?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s