We've written a great deal here about Chuck Liddell's role in history on the occasion of his last fight at UFC 115, but we may have overlooked the final fight of someone nearly as big a legend -- Mirko "Cro Cop" Filopovic.
Cro Cop was the first top tier K-1 competitor to convert to MMA full time at the peak of his powers. UFC Heavyweight Champion Maurice Smith was certainly a top tier kickboxer/K-1 contender, but he was well past his physical prime when he blazed the trail for strikers in modern MMA.
Cro Cop never made it to the title in either K-1, PRIDE or the UFC. In K-1, his nemesis Ernesto Hoost (ironically he was also the man who snuffed Maurice Smith's K-1 title hopes) kept him from the title. In PRIDE he lost to the two greatest heavyweights in history -- Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria. In the UFC he lost to himself, Father Time and a wave of much bigger heavyweights who just overpowered him.
So it's very exciting to me to announce that we have such an excellent Judo Chop today about the axe kick Mirko "Cro Cop" Filopovic landed on Pat Barry at UFC 115. Cro Cop tagged Barry with the axe kick before beating him down with a combination of punches and finishing him with a rear naked choke on the ground. It wasn't a devastating finish with the axe kick or anything, but it's such a rare treat to see one successfully used in MMA that I thought we'd feature it. I was also pleased to score analysis of Mirko's set up and use of the kick from Head Kick Legend's Fraser Coffeen. If you want to understand more about striking in MMA and pro kickboxing, head over there and learn up. Also don't miss his series on Cro Cop's great K-1 fights against Mike Bernardo and Bob Sapp,
Joe Rogan informed the UFC 115 PPV audience that Mirko taught himself an array of flashy kicks based on martial arts movies he saw as a kid, especially Jean Claude Van Damme movies. He was also a protege of the kickboxing legend Branko Cikatić who was the first Croation fighter to make a big mark on the Japanese scene.
At UFC 115 Cro Cop pulled out his arsenal of strikes, using his trademark finishing left high kick to the head as an opener to set up the strikes that did hurt Barry, including the axe kick.
Here's more about the Axe Kick, from Mark's Training blog:
If anyone is familiar with the great Kyokushin Karate Fighter Andy Hug (RIP) you will know of the axe kick. Sometimes called the drop heel kick or Otoshi Geri it is one of them rarely thrown kicks that if landed can do a great deal of damage.
To execute it from a fighting stance you simply swing your back or front leg up keeping it straight and drop it down on your opponent. As your foot makes a decent from its highest position you lean slightly backwards from your upper body so as to keep stabilised, well balanced and for further reach. On contact try to avoid having the striking leg completely straight but bent slightly so as to not damage the knee. Your striking weapon is the heel of the foot. As with all kicks its best to have your standing leg slightly bent also for extra balance. Targets for striking include the top part of the head, collar bone, shoulder, your opponents back (if they are bent forward) and your opponent's front thigh (if the leg is bent enough).
This is a technique that can work well in most kickboxing and MMA fights. These fighters are used to attacks from the front (straight techniques), from underneath (uppercuts) and from the side (hooks and roundhouse kicks). Rarely do they get attacked with techniques from above coming down which is precisely the route the axe kick takes.
Gifs by Chris Nelson
One of the keys to any good strike is the set up. Get your opponent's defenses moving away from your intended target and you can increase your effectiveness. The best set up for an axe kick is to feint a left high kick - as a result, the axe kick is an excellent choice for Cro Cop. Opponents know to anticipate his left high kick, and so it is easy for him to fake them out. In this particular fight, faking out Barry is especially important, as Barry establishes in round 1 that he is a faster striker than Cro Cop. For Mirko to land, he will have to rely on superior technique, rather than simple speed.
In the opening moments of round 3, Mirko throws that left high kick (above). Barry blocks by using both hands to cover the right side of his head. This is a more effective block for the high kick, as it limits the impact on your head, however the negative is that it leaves your left side open. The axe kick is the perfect way to capitalize on that opening.
Mirko feints two more kicks to get Barry moving and off balance (above: feints a right side kick; right: feints the left high kick), then throws the axe kick. As expected, Barry initially reads it as a left high kick, so moves to block his own right.
As Mirko extends his kick over Barry's head, Barry makes the adjustment, throwing his hands up to block the downward strike. Mirko threads his kick through Barry's defense beautifully, bringing down his heel (the perfect striking point) on Barry's shoulder. Barry's head movement back and to his right allows him to escape without further damage.
Because you are bringing your leg straight down, and because it is so easy for a defender to move his head side to side, the axe kick is difficult to hit effectively - the late, great Andy Hug is one of the few men to consistently score with it. But Mirko uses it very well here, employing perfect technique to land a clean, strong blow against his faster opponent.
One thing I'd like to add to Fraser's excellent analysis is this: it really is a must to use both arms to block a high kick from a powerful striker like Mirko. As Frank Shamrock learned against Cung Le and Randy Couture learned against Gabriel Gonzaga -- and Rich Franklin against Chuck Liddell -- blocking kicks with one arm is an excellent way to get a broken forearm.
Here's from Wikipedia about the axe kick:
In Japanese, kakato geri; in Korean, doki ba chagi. An axe kick, also known as a hammer kick or stretch kick, is characterized by straightened leg descending onto an opponent like the blade of an axe. It begins with one foot rising upward as in a crescent kick. The upward arc motion is stopped and then the attacking foot is lowered so as to strike the target from above. The arc can be performed in either an inward (anti-clockwise) or outward (clockwise) fashion.
As a bonus, here are some gifs of the absolutely "scary" right hands Pat Barry landed on Cro Cop in the first round before breaking his hand.
Here on the right we see the first big bomb Barry landed. Not how Cro Cop fires first with a straight left that Barry sees coming from a mile away and easily ducks under. This sets Barry up perfectly to fire a short sharp right hook that plants Mirko flat on his ass.
This is a great illustration of the danger that right hands from strikers in the orthodox stance present to southpaws. In a southpaw vs orthodox fight, both men have their power side unprotected by the lead arm and shoulder, this creates danger and opportunity for both fighters.
On the left we see Barry jump into a right hook that again drops Mirko. This is the one that appeared to shatter the left side of Mirko's face. I'm dying to know what the injury report on Filopovic will be.
The fact that Cro Cop came back from these blows to win the fight says as much about his will and heart as it does about Barry's limitations as a fighter -- once his primary weapons were taken away after he broke his right hand and foot, he had no offensive alternatives. He changed into southpaw stance throughout the remainder of the fight, but never really fired anything serious from there.
One of the exciting things about MMA in 2010 is we are still just scratching the surface of flashy moves and innovative styles, particularly in striking, that will be used in the sport. Someday we'll have an MMA fighter who assembles a HL reel as flashy as Andy Hug's (ok, Anderson Silva and Cung Le might already be there).
Here's a great gif of Cro Cop using landing the axe kick on Mark Hunt in PRIDE, by way of BE reader MyrkN:
Here's a HL reel of the late great kickboxer Andy Hug who virtually patented the Axe Kick in sporting competition: