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The Double-Edged Sword of the Low Leg Kick

Saturday April 24th 2021 will go down as a day that we won't soon forget in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. It marked the first time that the UFC had fans in attendance to an event in over a year, as 15,000 fight hungry fans piled into the VyStar Veterans Memorial arena in Jacksonville, Florida to watch a stacked UFC 261 card that showcased 3 title fights. The energy in the building was palpable, and it definitely created an intense atmosphere that could be felt through your TV screen, as the crowd roared during even routine action inside the cage.

Beyond the fans and the 3 title fights, the event was memorable for the entertainment value of the fights that actually took place throughout the night. Maybe it was the fighters feeding off of the energy that was being produced by the crowd, but regardless, almost every single fight was intriguing at some level.

All 3 title fights were highly entertaining, but what stuck with me the most was the gruesome, yet ironic, broken leg that Chris Weidman received while throwing a low kick at Uriah Hall 17 seconds into the first round. What made it so mind-blowing is that Weidman was on the receiving end of one of these kicks from Anderson Silva back in 2013 at UFC 168 that infamously ended up snapping Silva's leg in the same grotesque manor. The irony is next level and can't be understated.

I'll have to admit, I'm a bit obsessed with the low leg kick and how it's revolutionized the striking game in MMA over the past handful of years. I love watching a fighter slowly pick away at his opponent with mounting low kicks. It can take the wind out of the sails of even the most seasoned fighters, ala Conor McGregor when he was chopped down with low kicks by Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 back in January. I think what adds an element of mystique to this technique is that it really just became prevalent in the sport over the last 5 years or so. A testament to the evolving nature of the young sport.

I was able to catch up with Primo Bellarosa, owner of Vision Quest Muay Thai in Newport, Maine, to talk with him about this technique and how it's being utilized in the sport today. Primo is one of the best striking/Muay Thai coaches in New England, and holds a 14-1 pro Muay Thai record. I thought it was important to get his perspective on this because it originated as a Muay Thai technique. He made an interesting point that this technique isn't utilized too often in professional Muay Thai bouts because of the high cost of failure, and that high-level Muay Thai practitioners defend it well and can cause serious damage to the person throwing it if it is checked properly.

We reviewed tape and dug into the differences between the technique when Anderson Silva threw it and broke his leg, and when Weidman through it last weekend and broke his leg.

"In the Weidman/Silva fight it was an inside low kick that Silva threw that caused his leg to break. Weidman didn't check the kick with the best technique, but the way that Silva threw the kick was essentially what caused his leg to break. Silva didn't commit to the kick. He didn't rotate his hips or shoulders into the kick, and Weidman was able to lift his leg just enough to inflict the grotesque damage. With Silva not fully committing to the kick, it caused the angle of the bone on impact to be weaker than if thrown with proper technique, thus causing Silva's leg to snap in two."

Bellaros compared the angle of the shin bone to a ruler. It's tough to snap a ruler if putting pressure on the thin edge, but as soon as you rotate it 45°, the ruler becomes very easy to break. Think of the shin bone as a ruler. If not delivered at a proper angle, it can break pretty easily. Silva delivered his low kick with an improper angle due to poor technique. This scenario is different from when Weidman broke his leg this weekend, and Bellarosa credits Uriah Hall's proper technique in defense for causing the damage.

"Weidman committed to the strike, unlike Silva in their contest, but the problem that he encountered was that he didn't setup the strike and threw a naked kick at the beginning of the fight. Hall sees it coming, slightly turns his hip and foot outwards, and plants his foot into the mat. This creates a bad angle for Weidman's shin bone to make contact with Hall's leg, and Hall was also able to "sit down" on his lead leg, creating a solid point of contact for the strike, thus increasing the likelihood of a significant injury."

This was an interesting perspective, and when watching the tape of both fights with Bellarosa, I saw exactly what he was talking about. As you can see in the photo below, Silva didn't commit to the low kick, and also threw it with his weight leaning backwards, creating a perfect situation for a leg break.

When Weidman threw his kick last Saturday he definitely committed to it, but Hall maybe a very slight adjustment as the kick was coming in; turning his knee to the outside, and putting more weight on it to make the impact more forceful from a defensive perspective.

The same technique, but two totally different results. One you can blame on the offensive side, the other the defensive side. Regardless, the low kick has turned into one of the most interesting techniques in the sport of MMA. Its effectiveness is undeniable, but the consequences of failure may be the highest of any other technique in the game. It's truly a double-edged sword. Don't get me wrong. I love watching a fighter pick apart his opponent with low kicks, but deep down inside I cringe just a little bit as it lands, hoping not to see a snapped limb at the end of the strike.

There has been 3 broken legs from throwing low kicks in UFC history, and Chris Weidman has been involved in 2 of these fights, ironically. It's also important to point out that after Silva snapped his leg on Weidman's shin in 2013, Weidman pranced around the cage with his hands raised, like he had actually did something to win the fight. A classless move in my opinion. The karma gods played a hand in his leg break from Saturday night, as no one should ever celebrate a grotesque injury of their opponent like he did at UFC 168 when Silva was on the mat writhing in pain. Uriah Hall was 100% respectful and remorseful once Weidman went down on a true professional. I don't feel bad for Weidman after suffering this injury. The universe had it out for him. Regardless, the low leg kick has become the most high risk/high reward technique in the sport of MMA, and I love everything about it!

In the video below Kevin Ross, widely known as the best American Muay Thai practitioner, goes into detail on how to properly defend the low kick. An interesting watch to say the least after last weekend's events.

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