Judo Chop: John Makdessi Brings Taekwondo Kicks to the UFC

If the initial purpose of Mixed Martial Arts was to determine which fighting styles are the most effective, Taekwondo and its arsenal of flashy kicks was one of the first styles to be dismissed by pundits. Grappling styles showed their utility first and when striking began to make an impact it was Muay Thai that seemed the most fearsome.  

It's true that TKD techniques like the axe kick and hook kick made big impacts in K-1 kickboxing, most MMA fans remain skeptical of their utility in MMA.

Cung Le has shown that the side kick can be a devastating weapon, but his lack of high level competition has caused many fans to treat him as a one-off. 

Mirko Filipovic has landed an axe kick in the UFC and we did a Judo Chop on it, but even Joe Rogan apparently forgot about it based on his amazed reaction to the 155 pound fight we're going to talk about today: John Makdessi vs Pat Audinwood at UFC 124. 

Makdessi put on a complete clinic. He landed multiple side kicks, spinning kicks, a spinning back fist, an axe kick, a hook kick, even a flying switch kick. 

Not only did he put on a demo of exotic striking techniques, he also lit up Audinwood with a sharp jab, brutal straight right hands and showed excellent hips and ability to get back to his feet quickly when taken down.

If you want to see this amazing fight the only legal way I know of is ordering the UFC 124 DVD which is worth having for the Jim Miller vs Charles Oliveira fight alone.

The Canadian Makdessi trains under George St. Pierre's striking coach Firas Zahabi so it shouldn't be any surprise that he's well rounded and prepared to thrive in the Octagon. 

Makdessi has a black belt in Shotokan karate -- a style with a great deal of overlap with Taekwondo -- but he fights nothing like Lyoto Machida, Shotokan's best known exponent in MMA. He also won a gold medal from the USA Kick-Boxing Association in 2006.

Makdessi will face Kyle Watson at UFC 129. Luke Thomas does a video break down of what to expect from that match up. I expect the fight to be buried on the preliminaries, but if you want to see Makdessi bust out his arsenal of flashy kicks, tweet @DanaWhite and ask him to put the fight on Facebook.

In the full entry we'll hear from Liver Kick's Fraser Coffeen and look at lots of animated gifs.

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Gifs by BE reader Grappo

Take it away Fraser:

One of the chief techniques Makdessi employs is the side kick. 

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You see this kick used from time to time, but it's rare in MMA that you see anyone use it as effectively as Makdessi does here. The side kick is typically thrown from the lead leg, turning your body so that you are perpendicular to your opponent's body. Often it's used almost like a jab, or a front kick, as a way to keep your opponent back. Makdessi uses it in the much more aggressive style. The key to his technique is in his rear leg. Note the way Makdessi jumps forward with his rear leg before throwing the kick. He brings that back leg all the way up to where his front leg was, while at the same time throwing that front leg as the kick. This gives him the momentum to kick through Audinwood, so that the point of impact on his kick is far past Audinwood's body.

Here's another example where you can really see the footwork.

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When the kick lands, that extra momentum jars Audinwood, sending him stumbling backwards. Check out the impact here and the way it drives Audinwood hard into the fence.

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As the fight goes on, Makdessi starts to move away from the side kick, partly because Audinwood begins blocking it a bit, and partly because Makdessi begins having more success with the front inside leg kick.

This leads to my favorite strike in the fight. First, check out this side kick from early in round 2: 

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Again, you see Makdessi bringing that rear leg up, but this time he also adds a very nice feint before the kick. At the start of the sequence, Makdessi gives a quick hop to indicate that he's going to throw the side kick. Audinwood takes the bait and moves to his right to avoid it. When the kick doesn't come, Audinwood comes back to center, and the minute he is back in place, Makdessi throws the kick for real. The result is that Audinwood is still getting his feet reset, and so is unable to dodge the actual kick. Great set up there. Since he can't dodge it, Audinwood tries to block the kick by dropping his left hand. As we see later in the fight, he's also doing this in an attempt to catch the leg and get the fight to the ground, but dropping your hand like that is a big no no, especially against a skilled striker like Makdessi.

Not surprisingly, Makdessi picks up on that, and makes him pay with a gorgeous hook kick 

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Again, this is all about the feint, as Makdessi does the same side kick hop, making Audinwood believe that another side kick is coming. As he did the last time, Audinwood drops his hand, exposing his head. Makdessi brings the kick up, but instead of connecting with the body, he puts his foot just off to Makdessi's side, then whips the kick back in a hook kick that lands square. This is just beautiful stuff here. Not only is the hook kick a difficult kick to properly execute, but the set-up is also flawless. Effective strikes land not just because of the technique at that moment, but also because you have used previous techniques to create a needed opening. With this hook kick, we see Makdessi's side kicks, feints, and reading of Audinwood's defenses all come together to create a perfect opening.

A few other quick bits to point out:

Watch Makdessi's use of footwork here to control Audinwood:

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Audinwood starts by circling away from the cage, which is a good tactical move. But as he circles, Makdessi takes two quicker steps in the same direction, both closing the distance and making Audinwood think a strike may be coming (notice the way Audinwood uses his left hand to block a non-existent strike). As a result, Audinwood moves back to his right, towards the cage.

When he gets close to the corner, Makdessi does the same thing again on that side, Audinwood steps back to his left, and suddenly he's trapped against the cage. That right there is Octagon control at its finest. Also, take a minute and watch the gif focusing on nothing but the feet. The contrast in each man's footwork is telling - Makdessi's feet never leave their striking stance, even when he is adding extra steps in, while Audinwood's feet show his hesitancy and indecision, often ending up in a stance where he cannot possibly throw a strike.

Also, I'd be negligent if I didn't mention the crazy jumping side kick into spinning back kick Makdessi throws near the end of the fight.

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This starts off as a jumping side kick, which is different from the side kicks he used earlier. Instead of striking with the lead leg, the jumping side kick comes from the rear leg. Here's a good example of the technique Makdessi starts with:


But, instead of just landing that kick with the rear leg, in mid-air Makdessi adds an extra rotation, bringing the front leg around in a spinning kick. The kick actually lands cleanly (and really, can you blame Audinwood for not seeing that coming?), but because he's switching in mid-air, there's no base, so no real power on it. It's flashy, and fun, but with a very low chance of actually doing much damage. Still, I like that he throws it - shows his confidence at this point and his willingness to try things. Reminds me a lot of the famous Anthony Pettis kick - not in its technique, but for the fact that this is a young fighter looking to make his mark, and just going for it all. And in the end, that kick worked out pretty well for Pettis.

Let's look at some of the other techniques Makdessi unleashed:

Axe Kick: I talked about the axe kick once before in a Judo Chop, when Mirko CroCop used it against Pat Barry. Here, Makdessi uses the proper technique, bringing the rear leg up from the hip, before bringing it down quickly into Audinwood's face. This is a good kick for Makdessi to throw here because of the huge defensive hole Audinwood is leaving on the left side of his face.

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Watch how low he carries his left hand before the kick comes - that's a big opening that Makdessi takes advantage of. Comparing it to the CroCop axe kick, you see both an advantage and a disadvantage for Makdessi. The advantage is speed. Take a look at CroCop throwing the kick and compare with Makdessi:

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It's night and day with the speed, as Makdessi gets the leg up and down very quickly. Because of this, Audinwood does not get his hands up to block in the same way Barry does - the kick just comes too fast for him to do so, and the shot lands clean. The disadvantage for Makdessi is reach. You can see how much shorter Makdessi's legs are compared to Audinwood, so he keeps a bit of distance when throwing the kick, and ends up connecting with the bottom of the foot. This is not the best way to land the kick, as you want to connect with your heel. The way Makdessi lands causes damage, but not a significant amount. Given the reach in this fight, I think it was a wise move for him not to go back to the axe kick.

Spinning back kick: Joe Rogan is rather critical of Makdessi's spinning back kick, saying he is telegraphing it (though it should be noted that at one point Rogan says the kick is coming and it doesn't).

I agree that it's not his best strike, but it's not bad. You can best see the telegraphing here in round 2:

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Note the way Makdessi squares his shoulders, body, and legs so that they are in a perfect line just before he throws the kick. It's a bit more of a deliberate motion - take a step, throw the kick - instead of the more fluid way he throws most other kicks, and you can see Audinwood read it and avoid it here:

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