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A Look at Striking in MMA

Of all the techniques in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) nothing gains more awe or time on the highlight reel than a good strike. Takedowns and throws can be jaw-dropping, and the puzzle-like submission game is a sight to behold, if you know what to look for. But, when fist, elbow, shin or knee lands on the opponents head or body, heart rates mysteriously rise and fists start pumping the air. It is this thrill that people often mistake for bloodlust, but it is merely a reaction to a well-executed strike, a strike that could have easily missed.

Fighters and competitors employ various styles of striking in their MMA game. Some combatants primarily use their fists while others are predominantly “kickers”. And then there are others who utilize the “science of eight limbs” to incur as damage as they possibly can to their enemies.

Boxers, like the Diaz brothers, use lightning quick punches to soften the defenses of their opponents and then land a haymaker to shut out the lights. Seen as a sport for hundreds of years, boxing combines fast hands with evasive footwork and head movement to dodge counters. Known as the “sweet science”, boxers in MMA are usually known for their stamina, elusiveness and of course, their knockout power. The phrase “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” may have been coined by the great Muhammad Ali many decades ago, but it is seen in practice in today’s octagons. Even with all its accolades boxing has one glaring shortcoming when it comes to the striking game. How do you hit someone when they are beyond reach?

Tagging an opponent when they are beyond the range of a punch can be difficult, but then that’s when legs come into play. Those who practice tae kwon do, such as Anthony Pettis use kicks as their primary weapon. Using the heel, shin and foot, “kickers” are able to reach opponents while staying out of danger. Everything from front kicks, to side-kicks, to “spinning techniques” like the spinning roundhouse or spinning wheel kick, fighters are able to deliver crushing blows to the body and head from a dizzying array of angles. Such was the case when “Wonderboy” Thompson landed a devastating kick on former Welterweight champion Johnny Hendricks, effectively ending the fight.

On the other hand, kickboxers enjoy the best of both worlds and are able to utilize kicks from a distant range and punches in closer quarters. Kickboxing was in the spotlight for much of the 70’s and while it is still a very effective striking art, its pure use is mainly in decline as fighter who prefer this fighting style gravitate toward its more damaging cousin. After all, why settle for only four weapons when you can have eight?

Muay Thai or Thai Boxing, is known colloquially as the science of eight limbs. Where most martial arts only attack with the hands and/or feet, muay thai also turns a fighters elbows and knees into artistic implements of destruction. Brazillian fighters like Jose Aldo and Anderson Silva, use this striking art with surgical precision. When an opponent is in very close proximity, in a range where a punch or kick can open the attacker up to a quick counter, an elbow or knee strike would be the better course of action. Much slower than boxing and less showy than kicking arts like tae kwon do, the goal of muay thai is to cause as much damage to your opponents body.

While there are a number of example of muay thai being used in MMA two particular events come to mind. The first is Jose Aldo versus Urijah Faber. In this title bout, Aldo, a one-time soccer hopeful, took out the wrestler Faber’s base by repeatedly slamming his shin into Faber’s thigh. Faber had a hard enough time standing let alone mount an offense. Aldo won the fight and Faber’s leg was swollen to twice the size for the next two days. In a more recent fight, Michael Page executed a highlight reel flying knee into “Cyborg” Santos’ head causing an immediate stoppage. X-rays later revealed that Cyborg suffered a skull fracture to the forehead and a broken nose.

These are but three of the more common striking styles used in MMA. With each punch, kick, knee or elbow thrown there is uncertainty, Will it land? Will it be effective?, but there is also a whole lot of excitement. There is a reason why the highlight reels are full of knockouts. Sparks fly when leather meets skin as they say.