And so ended the era of Anderson Silva, middleweight king. Not with a whimper but with a bang.
Yet this bang inspired little ovation, only a stunned silence. It was the kind of loss which every fight fan hates to see. A grotesque and severe injury. A snapped shin bone. In the replay, it was clear that Silva's leg had snapped to the point that the lower half of his shin was able to move free from the upper half, as if connected like two links of sausage.
Chris Weidman, the defending champion, was quick to shower praise on the fallen great following the fight's anticlimax. Ernest Hemingway related it best: One general will always go to great lengths to praise a general whom he has bested, and this was no different.
It is hard to dispute Anderson Silva's incredible legacy, and Weidman has looked so remarkable that we can only wait with gleeful anticipation to see what he can do against the rest of the division.
One thing is for sure, though, we should see a damn sight more checking of low kicks in mixed martial arts from now on.
It is very easy when analyzing technique to get caught up in the proactive. The drawing of strikes to land favored counters, the use of combinations, angles and feints or the flashy kicks themselves. The check is easy to overlook because it is considered a passive movement. It is not actively striking, it seems a purely defensive action.
Yet the leg check is by far the most valuable asset in one's game against a good kicker because it actively discourages him from kicking and has a good chance of punishing him if he does.
Now low kicks in MMA have a long way to come. They are simultaneously underused and used too carelessly.
For a textbook example of under use, one need only look further down the UFC 168 card to Michael Johnson versus Gleison Tibau. Johnson was showing all kinds of movement around the cage, and Gleison Tibau simply followed Johnson around, swinging a lead hook whenever Johnson came close.
In order to stop someone from simply circling around the cage, low kicks should be employed. The reason that you don't see Dominick Cruz, Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva or Frankie Edgar like movement in Glory or in Muay Thai is that taking a kick to the trailing leg as you are circling is no fun at all. Picking up that leg to check stops you from circling.
If you need someone to stand in front of you, kick at his legs. But Tibau continued to plod and swing, and Johnson moved out of the way of almost all damage. The finishing blow was a rear straight inside of Tibau's lead hook.
This is the counter that the great Barney Ross listed as the most powerful in boxing. It is also the one which Badr Hari knocked Alistair Overeem flat on his face with.
Low Kicking the Smart Way
Now the problem with low kicking is that against someone who knows what they're doing, you should have to work around their checks.
Folks like Ernesto Hoost and Rob Kaman realized that low kicks are awesome, but kicking people shin on shin (or worse, shin on knee as we will talk about in a moment) is as damaging to the kicker as to the opponent. Ernesto Hoost, in his most recent seminars which you can find on YouTube, is often asked how come he almost never ended up kicking shin on shin.
Hoost explains that it was because he always either a) threw a flurry of punches against his opponent's guard to preoccupy them and keep their feet flat or b) kicked as they were stepping in toward him when their weight was on their lead leg.
Now the second is not a good option for MMA. The kick can ride up the thigh, get caught in the hip of the opponent and he can run into an easy takedown attempt or counter punch. This is how James Irvin got knocked out by Anderson Silva after all. But the former method, setting up with strikes, is what everyone in MMA should be trying to do.
It works so wonderfully because even if the defensive fighter picks his leg up to check as you start the combination, you will be punching them while they're on one leg! Who could say no to that?
I'm going to say it now, low kick defense in MMA is mediocre across the board. There are still people coming into matches against Jose Aldo, who is known for low kicking more than anyone else in MMA, and not attempting to check a single kick. This means that low kickers can run into their kicks with less and less care about hurting themselves.
Yet when Aldo clipped Chan Sung Jung's knee with a low kick, he threw just one more before realizing that his foot was badly hurt. Now of course Aldo managed to pull out the win even without his vaunted low kicks, but the effect of a bad connection by a power kicker was clear.
In MMA, fighters are used to being able to simply run into low kicks. So few fighters consistently check their opponents attempts to kick, and that is ultimately what did Anderson Silva in against Weidman at UFC 168.
The Knee Spike
Something to consider when talking about checking kicks is that there are, as with any technique, several approaches to it (and probably many more which I haven't even heard of). Some check with the center of shin because it provides the largest surface on either side of the checking point in case of a miscalculation.
Some like to push their shin toward the opponent's kick and meet it earlier in its path. This is something Duke Roufus talked about in his old instructional series.
And some like to check as close to the knee cap as possible because of its destructive effects on a shin bone. This is something I especially love seeing in fighters because I have always had a great affinity for limb destructions which actually work.
A brief word on "destructions." Chris Weidman used the term in the post event interviews and recalled that this is the term Ray Longo favors for checking with the knee on the opponent's shin. Limb destructions are not the many terrible "catch the punch, lock the elbow and ease him to the floor" techniques which fill volumes in traditional martial arts.
Limb destructions are the few grains of brilliance in traditional martial arts which can be applied to combat sports techniques and make them far more potent. Elbow blocks are a brilliant example, getting the point of the elbow in front of the opponent's punch can destroy his hand and put him at a huge disadvantage for the rest of the fight.
Catching a kick and delivering an elbow onto it (though not a 12-6 one in MMA at any rate) is another brilliant example of something which can easily mess up an opponent's offensive options.
The knee spike is just one of those brilliant techniques. If an opponent is kicking without set up, or his set ups are predictable, there aren't many better options than attempting to injure the kicking leg by checking with the knee and the top of the shin.
A similar style of destruction is something which turns up a good deal in Filipino martial arts. Often you will hear about using the hands and forearms to check a mid-level kick down onto a rising knee.
Some are claiming that Silva's injury was a freak injury. In truth, the snapping of the shin bone in that manner was a rare injury, but when a fighter runs full power into a kick which connects on the opponent's knee, it's not uncommon.
Within that scenario, it is a very common outcome that the shin will be injured to some degree. Whether the fighter can fight on it or not, he will not want to kick again too soon, and that is the purpose of checking with the top of the shin and knee.
How come we don't see so many of them? The event of a hard low kick into a knee is not that common. Good fighters set up their low kicks; most MMA fighters don't even check low kicks. In kickboxing, most fighters are smart enough to set up their attacks because they are used to having to work around an opponent who is willing to check.
Similar circumstance to this only really arises when you have one man who is comfortable checking kicks and another who is far too confident in his own power kicks. A brilliant example is Ray Sefo versus Ernesto Hoost. Hoost was an old man in the fight world by then, and Ray Sefo was on the rise. Yet Sefo threw a low kick without set up at Hoost and quickly discovered that age doesn't matter when it's shin on knee.
To draw a parallel, running into a power low kick without set up is like coming out against an older boxer and only throwing power punches because you reckon you can put him away.
Some will say this injury was a fluke because they want to believe that Silva's 38-year-old shin couldn't hold up to a good check any more. But in the post-fight presser, Weidman talked extensively about training to put his knee on Silva's shin. We're not talking about a good kick that rode up, we're talking about a poorly planned kick which was checked well.
To see the difference a check on the knee makes just look at Weidman's first check on his lower shin and then his second, the one which broke Silva's leg.
The neatest thing about both is that Weidman kicked first to draw a kick out of Silva. Weidman is not a particularly good kicker, but both times he kicked, Silva kicked back immediately, and Weidman was able to check.
No, freak injury implies it was simply misfortune. There was nothing accidental about Silva getting hurt. When a hard kicker kicks a knee, he hurts himself. Sometimes it's enough to finish a fight, sometimes it's just enough to stop him from kicking for a while, but kick a knee Silva did.
This fight was for me, as for most other long time MMA fans, bitter sweet. Weidman dominated and showed (once again) that he is the real deal, but one of the fight world's great heroes was carried out screaming on a stretcher. Many would have preferred to simply see Silva knocked out, stand up and congratulate Weidman. Nobody wants to see their hero in that kind of anguish.
But on another flat note, it pointed to how far striking in MMA still has to come.
The truth is that Silva hurt himself throwing powerful low kicks without set up, against someone whom he didn't expect to check. Do not interpret that as a justification to the ridiculous "Silva beat himself" narrative running through this rivalry, though. He is hard to dispute as the most accomplished striking based fighter in MMA, yet he was finished by expecting such a low standard of ability in his opponent.
Two things could happen as a result of this fight. For the next nine months, we could see hundreds of fighters trying to check more kicks, as we saw front kicks after Silva versus Belfort. Or we could see a massive decline in the use of low kicks out of fear of an injury.
But this is how sports develop. Muay Thai and kickboxing look as they do now because of a series of developments over many years. In Muay Thai, the teep and checks developed to counter power kicks, then kicks to the arms and other less easily defended areas came in to work around those defenses.
It would be very interesting to see how Jose Aldo, Jon Jones and the many other great low kickers in MMA would respond to an increased popularity and understanding of proper low-kick defense, though.
Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking from his blog, Fights Gone By.
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