This is the second piece in a two=part series. The first part can be read here.
Katsunori Kikuno: The Crescent Kick Terror
Katsunori Kikuno is a fighter whom I have enjoyed watching for a long time.
Watching him compete in DEEP and then in Dream, his kicking game is like nothing I have seen in MMA. Kikuno is a Kyokushin karateka, and as such, loves snap kicks to the body.
There's a ton to write about Kikuno. In truth, he deserves his own article for style alone, but until he picks up a UFC win, let's just cover him in brief.
Similar to Semmy Schilt (perhaps the most successful kickboxer of all time and a Kyokushin-based fighter), Kikuno loves to deliver snapping kicks with the ball of the foot.
Koshi, as the ball of the foot is called in Japanese, is used in Muay Thai mainly for the teep, the push kick. Round kicks in Muay Thai are delivered with the shin. In karate, many round kicks are delivered with the ball of the foot to the midsection, and front kicks are often delivered in a snapping fashion.
As with anything, there are multiple approaches to snap kicking.
In Shotokan, the leg is chambered tightly.
A few years ago Yukko Takahashi, an accomplished female Shotokan karateka, spent a good amount of time explaining to me the benefits of chambering the heel almost to the buttock before throwing the snap kick forward. What Schilt and Kikuno do, however, is to barely chamber their kicking leg at all.
This is because their kicking game is based around deception rather than speed.
They want their snap kick to the midsection to look like their low kick and they want their high kick to look like their snap kick. Here's a nice sequence of Kikuno chaining all three together and throwing his opponent's composure into chaos.
I have been using the term snap kick because, in truth, Kikuno's body kicks come in from a number of different trajectories.
They can come in almost straight as with a front snap kick, or they can come up at 45 degrees as in this example.
The danger of kicking like this is that a fighter may catch the top of his foot on an elbow and perform his own limb destruction. The only way around that is to practice it and learn to recognize the openings. I can guarantee Kikuno will have accidentally dead-legged himself scores of times in training while getting as good with this kick as he is.
I asked the Bellator lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez, who fought Kikuno in DREAM, about Kikuno's style, and Alvarez recounted that the difficulty with Kikuno is in telling whether it will be just another low kick or if it will curve up towards your liver.
While Kikuno lost that bout, he certainly gave a respectable account of himself against the best fighter he has met thus far and one of the best strikers in the game.
Kikuno's stance is another thing which deserves touching on because depending on what Kikuno shows in the opening seconds of his bout, we can expect him to either fight well or take a ton of damage while thinking he is fighting well.
Kikuno gained recognition for his weird "zombie style".
Not dissimilar to George Foreman or Sandy Saddler, Kikuno carries his hands in front of his shoulders, kind of like the cursed mummies from old films. Foreman and Saddler, however, used this to smother their opponent's hands and to parry punches in the course of cutting off the ring. Kikuno uses it to do that sometimes, but often carries his hands wide so as to draw a punch down the middle.
At that point Kikuno will slip and deliver a beautiful counter right hook. Here are a couple of examples from his kickboxing match in 4-oz gloves (I'm not joking, that happened) with Nagashima.
Now in some of his bouts, Kikuno has pretty much ignored what made him so dangerous and gone straight to wushu nonsense.
For instance, against Daisuke Nakamura, Kikuno decided to fight the entire bout with his hands at his sides. He took a ton of unnecessary damage and dragged out a fight against someone he could easily have bested from his normal, safer stance.
Kikuno's real skill, however, is not far removed from those of Bas Rutten (yet another Kyokushin karateka).
He will kick hard near the ropes and then come in behind it with a salvo of punches. Neither are great technical boxers, but they are hard hitters who you can't get stuck on the ropes with. Except where Rutten would use the teep to get his opponents onto the ropes, Kikuno uses the snap kick.
Now the effects of the snap kick with the ball of the foot are pretty unspectacular.
There is no flashy KO, and his opponents don't collapse clutching their midsections. But the fight clearly changes. For instance here, where Kikuno's opponent's hands sag and his head comes up just in time to be knocked unconscious by punches.
Andre Dida, who floored the great Buakaw in K-1 and coached Mauricio Rua for his matches with Lyoto Machida, is certainly a tough customer, but one of Kikuno's kicks to the midsection had him gasping long enough that Kikuno was able to take an easy takedown and pound Dida out.
Now we started this two-parter by talking about properly setting up power low kicks, using a brilliant example in Tarec Saffiedine.
But you might have noticed that Kikuno is the polar opposite.
He doesn't set up his low kicks at all. This is because his low kicks are a set up to his middle kicks and his high kicks. As soon as an opponent is bracing for the low kicks, that is when he arcs the kick upward.
With these two men fighting on the same night, we are truly in for a treat. If nothing else, it will highlight that while there are general rules to striking technique, every single one can be ignored, broken or approached from a different perspective.
We could talk for hours about Kikuno because he is such a remarkable oddity.
We haven't even touched on his stance switch to throw his preferred left snap kick, and there's plenty more to be said about the actual technique of his kicks. Whether he lives up to the (rather limited) hype, or fails to deliver on Saturday, he will always be worth a watch.
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