Matt Hamill's high kick knock out of Mark Munoz at UFC 96, caught most everyone by surprise, no one more so than Mark Munoz.
Hamill had shown some decent punching power in previous fights, but this was the first time he'd shown such devastating kicks.
The highkick knock out has a pretty storied history in MMA, going back to Maurice Smith's shocking wins over Marcus "Conan" Silveira and Mark Coleman. I've discussed Mo Smith's glory run in my mma history series here and here. The shocking part about Maurice Smith winning fights with high kicks wasn't that Smith, a former world kickboxing champion, could throw a vicious high kick, it was that at the time few believed that high kicks were of any use in MMA at all.
The theory was that grapplers like Silveira and Coleman would simply use the kick as an opportunity to score a takedown and win the fight on the ground. Smith proved that if a kickboxer learned enough jiu jitsu to defend himself on the ground, he could employ high kicks to devastating effect later in the fight against tired opponents.
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was the second champion caliber kickboxer to excel at MMA although he never won a top title. Mirko worked his sprawl more than Smith but also had enough jiu jitsu to stall an opponent from his back and get the standup. Mirko was notable also for being a southpaw and his left high kick became universally feared.
Thirteen years later, the shocking part about Matt Hamill winning via spectacular head kick is that he's a guy who came into MMA with a purely wrestling background. It shouldn't really be that shocking anymore, not after wrestler Rashad Evans KTFO'd Sean Salmon back at UFN 8 in 2007. (Gif of that in the full entry.)
The key to both KO's was the way the opponent was lured into leaning forward into the power of the kick. Presumably Munoz, like Sean Salmon before him, or like Mark Coleman all the way back at UFC 17 against Pete Williams, thought Hamill was about to fire off a leg kick and leaned down to block the kick. Big mistake.
The other thing to note is that the impact of the kick is delivered with the shin bone, not the foot. Some martial arts -- mainly Tae Kwon Do -- teach to kick with the foot, but Muay Thai -- the main kicking style taught in MMA -- insists on using the shin for maximum impact.
Lastly, note that Hamill throws the kick with his rear leg. This makes it a power kick as opposed to one thrown with the lead leg -- the kicking equivalent of a lead hand hook.
Of course, Hamill would never have been able to land this kick if he hadn't already established an effective sprawl that foiled Munoz when he tried to shoot in for double and single leg takedowns. By the time Hamill went for the kill, Munoz was already flustered, frustrated and fearful of Hamill's punching.
We'll never really know whether Munoz or Hamill is a better wrestler, but we do know that this saturday, the more complete MMA fighter won the fight.