In the opening bout of UFC 136: Edgar vs. Maynard III, former WEC champion Steve Cantwell suffered a unanimous decision loss at the hands of Mike Massenzio. This marks Cantwell's fourth straight loss in the Octagon, and will very likely result in his dismissal from the UFC. That's a shame, because for the opening minutes of the fight, Cantwell was landing some nice, slick striking that deserved attention.
In this Judo Chop, we break down one of Cantwell's most unique and impressive strikes in the fight - a fake push kick to head kick that connected beautifully to open round 2.
The head kick is one of the most devastating blows in MMA. When landed cleanly, it can end anyone's night - just ask the Pride-era opponents of Mirko CroCop. But a good, clean head kick requires a well thought out set-up. Because fighters keep their hands up by their heads, it's easy to block an incoming head kick. Fighters must somehow get their opponents to lower their defenses before hitting the kick. There are many ways to do this, and the strategy employed by Cantwell is an interesting variation.
To start, we have to look back at round 1. Throughout the round, Cantwell used a variety of kicks, with an extra emphasis on the push kick. This is a pretty basic kick, though one that is somewhat underutililized in MMA. Let's break down the mechanics of the push kick.
To start, a fighter brings his leg straight up, almost as if delivering a knee to the body. This is called "chambering" the kick. This can be done with either the lead or rear leg. With the leg off the ground, the attacker then pushes forward from the hips, sending his foot into his opponent. Typically, the abdomen is the desired target, though you can bring it higher or lower. Like the jab, the push kick can be used with different degrees of power for different purposes. Throw it with less power and it's a good way to gauge distance, push an opponent back, or set up another strike. Throw with more power and you can knock the wind out of your opponent.
Here's a nice, brief video demonstrating the mechanics of the push kick.
Video plus full analysis in the complete article.
In the Massenzio fight, Cantwell uses his rear leg (since Cantwell fights orthodox, that's the right leg) to land this push kick throughout round 1. He also uses some nice punches to the body. The end result is that Massenzio is thinking about protecting his body as he comes out for round 2.
Which brings us to the kick itself. Let's take a look:
Cantwell starts by bringing the right leg straight up as if he is chambering it for the push kick. Massenzio reads it as a push kick, and tries to protect his body by bringing his right arm down across his abdomen, and dropping his left elbow to cover the ribs. That leaves the head more exposed, and Cantwell switches from the push kick to the head kick, landing cleanly. A few specific aspects of Cantwell's kick are worth a mention here.
First, this is an extremely rare set-up. Fighters will often fake a low kick or body kick to open up the head, then switch to a head kick. But to use a push kick is difficult because of the change in momentum. For the push kick, your energy is coming forward, while the head kick brings it around from the side. Making that kind of transition mid-kick is tricky, and Cantwell does an impressive job of it here.
I also really like Cantwell's footwork to start things off. Watch his left foot - just before throwing the kick, he takes a small step to his left, putting his own lead foot to the outside of Massenzio's. Because Massenzio is a southpaw, the two men have opposite lead legs. In that case, you establish superior positioning by putting your lead foot to the outside of your opponent's - this gives you better angles. Cantwell takes that dominant position in anticipation of the kick. It's a small detail, but those details are what technique is all about.
If there is a criticism for Cantwell here, it's in the way he pivots on that left foot during the kick. Watch how his left foot turns as he throws the kick. He's right to have that pivot, as it gives more torque to the kick, but he executes the pivot on his heel. Typically in Muay Thai, you pivot on the ball of your foot, lifting your heel off the ground. This adds a bit of extra power to the kick, which Cantwell sacrifices by remaining flat footed on the pivot.
Finally, watch Cantwell's right hand. As he kicks, he throws the hand down and to his side. This small movement is always a subject of much debate in kickboxing and Muay Thai. By bringing the arm down, he adds more momentum to his kick, thus increasing the power. But he also leaves his head open on the right side. A skilled striker with good timing could make him pay dearly for that opening. So, power or defense? Cantwell opts for power, which is a good choice in this particular instance. But there is definitely a school of thought that would argue against his arm motion here.
Unfortunately for Cantwell, this kick was the last real highlight of the fight, as Massenzio took over the striking shortly thereafter and never let up. Still, this shows that Cantwell has unique skills to bring to the table. Here's hoping he tightens up his overall game at the regional level and makes his way back to the UFC ready to capitalize on nice moves like this.