WHAT A KICK!10 GREAT COMBAT SPORTS KICKSBy Michael SchiavelloAnthony Pettis’ jump-off-the-cage kick sent the Mixed Martial Arts community into a meltdown. It was, in my opinion, one of the most thrilling, difficult and dramatic kicks I have ever seen. As a long-time fan and 14 year veteran commentator of striking sports, I have consistently been treated to stunning kick knockouts all over the world. In the following article, I examine some of the greatest non-MMA kick knockouts I have ever seen, looking not so much at the brutality of the kicks but at the technical excellence of their execution and level of difficulty in the heat of combat. Here’s a few of them…** Click on each kicker’s name to see video of this kick**This kick by Enriko Kehl took place in a WMC 8-man eliminator qualifying fight (WMC is the largest and most credible Muay Thai sanctioning body in the world). While not the flashiest of techniques it is the timing and choice of technique that qualifies this kick as one of the best I have seen. The southpaw Kehl throws a spinning back to as a counter to his opponent’s right cross and connects with precision and power for the knockout. A spinning back kick in any combat sport is a highly dangerous technique for the executor given that for a split second, while the back is turned in spin (and usually with both feet off the ground) he is blind to his opponent. Delivering a knockout kick like this, in Muay Thai competition, and doing so as a counter to a right cross speaks volumes for Kehl’s confidence and ability.
Arguably the greatest combative kick exponent in fight sports history, the late Andy Hug was a Kyokushin exponent turned Seidokaikan superstar turned K-1 Grand Prix champion and true legend. Once told he was too old to become a K-1 champion and that he couldn’t box, the Karateka set about honing his boxing skills while always relying on his incredible array of kicks including his trademark axe kick. Here against Ryuji Murakami under full contact Karate rules Hug delivers an axe kick of the highest order. What makes this knockout so impressive is that Hug sells Murakami a back kick to bring his opponent’s attention to the fake and in one fluent motion steps off slightly to his left and delivers a left-legged axe kick for the win. The axe kick is one of the most difficult martial arts techniques to perform and requires speed, timing (Andy had great timing. After all, he was Swiss!) and elasticized legs. The kick’s aim is to bring the heel (one of the hardest bones in the body) down in a straight 12-to-6 vertical motion (like an axe blade) onto the forehead, nose, jaw or collarbone of the opponent. Initially the axe kick looks like a crescent kick but is then distinguished when the heel is brought straight down sharply while at the peak of its trajectory.NB: Andy Hug fought Anthony Pettis’ trainer, Duke Roufus, in 1996 in K-1 and knocked him out.Badr Hari was just 20 years old when he made his K-1 debut at the Tokyo Dome in 2005. In front of 60,000 fans, Hari rematched K-1 veteran Stefan Leko who had previously knocked him out with a back kick in Holland. In the second round, Hari delivers a right-legged spinning heel kick flush to Leko’s jawline for one of the most spectacular and hardest kicks in all of combative sports history. Indeed as my co-commentator during the fight, Ernesto Hoost said, “this could be the greatest”. What makes Hari’s highlight reel KKO so amazing is the speed and precision with which he delivers the technique. Hari is a 6’6” beanpole but here he delivers a kick with the speed and agility of a middleweight, stepping off to his left ever so subtly to lure Leko into the motion of the kick instead of away from it. This is a kick of pure genius, delivered on a major platform by a young master who with this one technique (as with Pettis’ Showtime kick) turned himself into an overnight sensation. This kick became known as the “Leko-buster”.
There are few more beautiful techniques in the combat sports world than a perfectly delivered Brazilian kick. The Brazilian kick was dubbed such by the Japanese as a kick made famous by Brazilian martial artists, in particular Kyokushin stars Ademir Da Costa and Francisco Filho. The kick is also known in Muay Thai as a question mark kick (because it paints an invisible question mark in the air). Other names used for this kick are: fake front roundhouse, kubi geri (neck kick), tate-geri (upright kicking downwards kick), mach geri (a kick that travels as fast as sound) and upside-down kick. Brazilian K-1 star Glaube Feitosa perfected this kick in competition and truly made it his own. In the accompanying video clip Feitosa uses the Brazilian kick to knock out New Zealand behemoth Toa in just one round. Watch how the kick, thrown off Feitosa’s lead leg, appears to travel as a roundhouse kick to the liver or rib cage then quickly whips over the top of Toa’s right glove and loops around the back of his neck for the knockout. In typical Brazilian fashion, like Ronaldinho crafting an effortless goal, Feitosa makes the kick look easy, even lazy, throwing it off his lead leg while remaining flat-footed on the support leg even as he skips forward half a step to correct his distancing. To gauge the true devastation of this kick, just see how long Toa remains unconscious on the canvas.
It’s difficult for a Muay Thai fighter to break the mould and transcend the genre. There are so many Muay Thai fighters, especially in Thailand, where they start fighting as young as five years old, that they pretty much all look cut from the same cloth: enter Saenchai Sor Kingstar. Any list of the best fighters on the planet in recent years would be ignorant to not have listed Saenchai. The Thai fighter is so good that he won Lumpini championships in three weigh divisions and often gives up as much as 5lb in weight to find people to fight. Two-time Thailand Sports Writers Fighter of the Year and multiple world champion, he holds an amazing record of 231-53-2. Along with Anuwat, Buakaw and Yodsanklai, Saenchai is arguably the world’s most famous Thai fighter. What sets him apart from his peers, however, is his unconventional style. Always an improviser and innovator, Saenchai is renowned for executing an array of kicks that would put Tony Jaa to shame. His patented cartwheel kick, as featured in the accompanying video, is spellbinding. It can be argued that the kick should be outlawed, given that Saenchai’s gloves touch the canvas, but the skill level required to deliver this kick is phenomenal considering that the entire body is inverted and his weight supported on just one hand. Watch here as Saenchai performs this kick against K-1 World Max 2010 u-63kg champion Tetsuya Yamato, earlier this year, in their fight in California. He embarrasses Yamato with cartwheel kicks then knocks him onto the astral plane with a left roundhouse after selling a quick fake step up off the lead (right) leg. Sheer brilliance!
Here is another example of a single knockout kick propelling a fighter to overnight worldwide fame. In 2006 in Auckland, Peter Graham fought Badr Hari in the quarter finals of the K-1 Oceania Grand Prix. The two men genuinely hated each other and came to blows at a press conference (hosted by yours truly). For two rounds and 165 seconds of this fight, Hari dominated Graham with power and speed, using his reach to repeatedly tag Graham with jabs and tenderize Graham’s legs with hard kicks. Then, with around 10 seconds of the fight remaining, Graham launched his patented “rolling thunder” to produce one of the greatest knockouts ever seen in fight sports. The result: Hari’s jaw was broken in four places. Throughout his K-1 and kickboxing career Graham used the rolling thunder to great effect. He would often wait until the final 10 seconds of a round and use the technique as a Hail Mary shot or a round-stealer. His delivery against Hari, as you see in the accompanying clip, was perfect. The rolling thunder, otherwise known as a rolling heel kick (the kick is often used by Kyokushin exponents, of which Graham is one), is an enormously difficult kick in that the executor’s entire body is airborne when it lands. The executor is also blinded to his opponent. This is, quite bluntly, an “all your eggs in one basket” technique. Watch as Graham checks Hari’s leg kick and uses that as his gauge to set the rolling thunder. As soon as Hari retracts his back leg from the lazy leg kick, Graham sees that Hari’s hands are down, his chin is in the air and his feet not yet back in full stance. That is the split second Graham needs to execute the rolling thunder, which requires him to sell a step-through-fake off the right leg and then launch his entire body weight behind the heel of his left leg for the knockout.
In the years 2003 and 2004 one name dominated the Oceania kickboxing scene for stunning kick knockouts: Stanley Nandex. Dubbed by super promoter Tarik Solak as “The Headhunter”, the Papua New Guinea native with the size 16 feet proved a revelation in Australia as he tore through a series of opponents with the most stunning array of head kick knockouts ever seen. The accompanying video is a Fox Sports Australia compilation of Nandex’s amazing knockouts. From leg kicks to face smashing roundkicks to flying spinning kicks, there was nothing Nandex could not achieve with Taekwondo great Jemal Hassan in his corner. In particular look at the knockout at the 3:56 mark. This fight against Daniel Nixon took place in Melbourne in 2004, when Nandex was at the peak of his powers. Here we see Nandex deliver an amazing flying hook kick that covers three quarters of the ring from its starting point. Pause the video at 3:55 and behold something truly out of this world. Nandex’s body is suspended mid-air completely vertical! His kicking heel is well over six feet in the air when it connects to Nixon’s temple and causes the concussed recipient to do a chicken dance Zab Judah would be proud of! Then watch Nandex’s recovery as he lands on both arms, rolls off like a Romanian gymnast and springs back to his feet to celebrate as Nixon flails about like a fish out of water.
There is something special about a 180lb fighter knocking out a 280lb fighter. But when that fighter achieves said knockout in the K-1 World Grand Prix with a jumping flying roundhouse kick, he deserves to be etched into the annals of immortality. In 2004 Kaoklai Kaennorsing was a K-1 revelation. A blown-up middleweight competing with the largest kickboxers on the planet, few gave the cagey Muay Thai stylist a snowflake’s chance in hell at K-1 success. Kaoklai combined a hit-and-run gameplan against large, power-laden opponents with Muay Thai strength that made sure any strikes he landed were delivered with impact. Even though Kaoklai had beaten Tsuyoshi Nakasaki, Denis Kang and the great Alexei Ignashov in the lead up to this quarter final match with Mighty Mo, most pundits believed the Thai would be routinely squashed by Mo’s ferocious hooks and overhand rights. At 2:40 in the fight Kaoklai changes tact in his clockwise footwork. He makes a quick path to his left (counter clockwise) to draw power to his right leg. Mo senses this and, rightly so, lines up his trademark overhand right seeing Kaoklai suddenly drift onto the American’s power side. Springing off his lead left foot, Kaoklai times a jumping roundkick to the face with perfection as Mo’s right hand is chambered, thus leaving his face exposed. The result is a first round face-smashing knockout that became a K-1 highlight reel favorite and forever proves the theory that speed and technique can overcome size and power.
In 2003 Remy Bonjasky was being hailed as the future of K-1. An exciting Muay Thai stylist trained by the great Andre Manaart, Bonjasky brought a style of fighting more reliant on kicks than any K-1 competitor since the late Andy Hug. In this match against Vernon White in Las Vegas in 2003, Bonjasky delivers a spectacular flying roundhouse kick in just 1:55 of the opening round. Bonjasky would go on to defeat Jeff Ford and Mike McDonald to win the K-1 Las Vegas tournament, and at year’s end would win his first ever K-1 World Grand Prix title in Tokyo. Bonjasky’s flying roundhouse kick starts from the neutral corner as he takes a run up and springs off his lead left foot. The Dutchman propels himself into the air and during hang time manages to remarkably turn his hip over and smash his right instep onto the right side (not the usual left side) of White’s head. Pause this video at exactly 7:37 and you will see Bonjasky, still at full extension, at least ten feet in the air. To deliver such an acrobatic kick with precision, timing and knockout power is the sign of a true master craftsman.
At first glance you may think there’s nothing too special to Andy Hug’s turning back kick that won him the 1996 K-1 World Grand Prix against Mike Bernardo. But upon close inspection you will appreciate just what an amazing kick this is, the level of difficulty in performing the kick and why it remains a stalwart of K-1’s highlight reel archives. This kick, dubbed by the Japanese as the “Hug Tornado Kick” is nothing more than a Karate turning back kick, otherwise known as Ushiro Geri. In traditional Karate the Ushiro Geri is used from Heiko Dachi stance to defend against an opponent standing behind you. Over time the Ushiro Geri developed into a spinning back kick against an opponent standing in front. The spinning back kick itself is not an uncommon technique. What makes Hug’s variation so special is that he threw the kick to Bernardo’s thigh, rather than delivering, as is usual, to the opponent’s midsection. No sooner had the kick been thrown did it become an international sensation and everyone in the world began attempting spinning back kicks to the thigh (just as we’ll no doubt see many Pettis “Showtime Kick” clones). To this day, however, in my many years of watching and commentating combat sports, I have never seen another fighter execute a spinning back kick to the thigh for a knockout. Take into consideration that Hug performed this technique against the more highly-fancied Bernardo in the final of the biggest martial arts competition on Earth and you can appreciate the complete spectacle of this technique. The back kick can be seen at 10:14 in the accompanying video. Watch how as soon as Bernardo goes down, Hug casually puts his hand in the air to declare victory. Even with the referee counting the downed South African, Hug knew his history-making kick was a winning technique that catapulted him to Godlike status in Japan.