Hyper extending the conversation around knee kicks

So Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson has once again brought the knee kick debacle into the limelight and I believe it is worth a bit of investigation to see how one single technique can cause such rift amongst fighters and fans alike.

The technique in question is one which was first brought to my attention from polarising MMA icon Jon “Bones” Jones among other fighters from the Jackson-Wink camp but has since spread in popularity and use. It goes by many names as helpfully explained in the video below Jones, these included but are not limited to: push kick to the knee, stop kick, Muay Thai teep and/or oblique kick. Whereas this was once primarily used as a technique to stop an opponent’s momentum as they exploded forward while softening up the lower thigh the technique has taken a turn for the dark side with more fighters targeting the knee more specifically with the purpose of hyperextending the knee of the front leg which paired with the unpredictable nature and lengthy recovery times of knee injuries has many fighters concerned and calling for action to be taken.

Thompson is the latest, but certainly not the first, to call for some action to be taken against this technique. Speaking in an interview to bjpenn.com Thompson had these choice words on the technique.

“I honestly think that strike should be made illegal. It could end somebodies career. You know Robert Whittaker had to have ACL surgery following his first fight with Yoel Romero due to that particular strike. And as you could see, Robert Whittaker made sure to beat Yoel Romero to the punch in their second fight. He threw a lot more than he did this time around. It is just a very dangerous technique. I think a lot of fighters throw that strike but sometimes it is for different reasons. When I fought Jorge Masvidal he used that same side kick to the knee. But when Jorge threw it, he was doing so just to keep me away. Not in an attempt to injure my knee. But when I was in the cage fighting Till it felt like ok this guy is trying to break my leg. It was like he had intentions of ripping everything out in my knee. That’s how I felt anyway. Like this dude is really trying to injure me in here. I think it an ugly strike and that it should be made illegal.”

Thompson who received an MCL tear in his decision loss to Darren Till is clearly not a fan of the kick but is their ulterior motive? It could be argued that the push kick to the knee is the kryptonite to the long sideways karate stance utilised by Thompson and to a lesser extent Whittaker. It limits the mobility of Thompson while also causing hesitation in his blitz style karate offence.

This is a case that goes beyond a single fighter with another noticeable name being that of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson who called out former light heavyweight champion Jones for using the technique back in 2013 stating:

“It should be called the illegal kick. It should be banned and it shows a lot about the fighter’s character that he would throw it. How would he like it if somebody threw it at him and stopped him working for a year?”

The often outspoken Jackson not only brings into question the legality of the kick but also the morality of using a technique considered by so many to be dirty and running a high risk of inflicting long-term injury.

Personally, I have always been of the mindset that the technique is a bit cheap, perhaps this stems from my own personal experiences and inherent fear of knee injuries. Having grown up playing rugby and American football I have had more than one teammate sidelined with horrific knee injuries and it is not the type of thing I’d wish upon my worst enemy. In an effort to tackle my own bias and more thoroughly research the opinions of the casual fan I found myself stumbling through the poorly written yet heavily opinionated message boards that make up the main MMA forums, something I would not recommend for anyone trying to piece together a coherent argument for either side of this polarising topic. There are few fence sitters on this one and I will where best I can, try to summarise the argument that both sides try to put forward.

The main grievance with this particular technique stems from the nature of injuries that occur with the knee. Unlike a straight broken bone, an injury to the knee can cause a smorgasbord of issues with ligaments and tendons that can take surgery and a lengthy recovery period to overcome. Career killing injury is a term that is bandied around with little back up as there is not much evidence of any fight careers being cut short due to this technique as of yet. This  “yet” is important to remember however as the prominence of this technique is on the increase and we have already seen fighters taking lengthy layoffs (Whittaker for example) in order to recover. Certainly just because something hasn’t happened yet is not in itself reason to believe it will not happen in the future. The counter-argument made here is a rather obvious one. If we are worried about fighters getting injured should we make head kicks or haymaker overhand rights illegal? Hell, should we let them fight at all? Although I don’t believe the hyperbole is completely necessary it does paint the picture for this side of the argument. Of course, there are inherent risks with MMA, although it is a sport it is first and foremost a fight and the lack of restrictions is for many where the appeal of the sport stems from.

A little eye break – am I the only one that cringes anytime one of those kicks connects flush?

A rather weaker argument is that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. The technique is not entertaining or skilful in the same way a head kick knock is, and yet the injury toll is too high. I find this argument a little lacklustre, many find the technique a cheap or dirty but what separates it from other “dirty” techniques such as foot stomping on covering the mouth of an opponent on the ground is its effectiveness. I will be the first to say that often the most effective techniques are not the most entertaining, I have never found the wrestle-hump grind style of fighting to be particularly fun to watch but I value it as a style due to its effectiveness in shutting down an opponents offense and imposing one’s own game plan, such as in the recent fight between Colby Covington Vs. Rafael Dos Anjos. In much the same way I don’t believe I will every be a fan of the front leg knee kick but I certainly see its value as a technique.

In summary despite my original position and dislike for the technique I find it difficult to put together an argument for making such an effective kick illegal. I believe that as with many aspects of MMA this may just the evolution of the sport. In time I have no doubt that effective defensive strategies will be developed to counter this technique however I do hope this happens before we see any injuries which brings this conversation back into the spotlight.

Connor Zahariev
mynameisconnorzahariev@gmail.com

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