George Roop planted Josh Grispi flat on his ass with a front push kick at The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale. The front kick is a move that is very common in Muay Thai but until recently was fairly rare in MMA. I asked Dallas Winston to share his thoughts on the kick:
Isn't it odd that we first saw a kick like this employed with dramatic success almost sixteen years ago at UFC 6? Pat Smith came vaulting out of his corner in 1995 and planted a front kick on Rudyard Moncayo that knocked him completely off his feet. It's one of the techniques that always stood out, mostly because what seemed like an effective distance weapon and power attack never really took hold.
This kick has many advantages when properly adapted to MMA. I'm convinced the future evolutions of MMA lie within striking, particularly with the wide array of traditional kicks that can be acclimated and by integrating the library of short-range elbows in Muay Thai.
For longer and taller fighters, taking advantage of your height, reach, and leverage is always important, but it becomes paramount when you're the striker trying to stay afoot against a grappler. Distance is key, so any tool you can use to be effective from afar is a trusty one. Let's use a metaphor with swordplay: In fencing, any straight kick like this would be more akin to a plunging thrust, with the blade parallel to the floor and needling straight forward, than a wide-arcing slash.
Think of the difference between lunging forward with a straight and long thrust versus swinging in constant slashes and arcs like in Return of the Jedi. In the first, you can penetrate very deep, yet stay on balance and keep your center of gravity. This allows you to defend accordingly based on your opponent's reactions, which in the case or Roop vs. Grispi, would likely be the takedown. Having a strong base with good balance is essential to fighting off a takedown attempt. It's also a fairly simple and controlled strike, so the thrower can stay composed and have his hands and arms free to defend or even follow up with more offense because the kick's stance is conducive to reaction.
Besides the distance you can reach and the steadiness you retain to respond, the other benefit to this kick is it's quick recoil. When you're swinging an arcing kick out, it has to travel somewhat of a circular course. Even with low kicks, the power is generated by torquing your hips over, so the thrower has to compensate with balance for the rotation. If you go out in your front yard and try to throw a monster roundhouse kick with no balance, you'll fly off your feet -- and that's why executing a proper kick is so technical, because your body is constantly adjusting to maintain balance while your leg extends out over a curve.
This type of straight kick is more like a piston firing directly forward, so all of the energy and inertia normally associated with roundhouse kicks are condensed into a perfectly linear pattern. It's the difference between the motions of throwing a baseball to homeplate and throwing an on-balance, straight jab. The ability to both deliver and recoil the kick quickly and in a straight line, especially factoring in the strong balance that accompanies it, makes this a lower risk technique for the striker, and more difficult for the grappler to grab the leg and hold on to it.
Keeping with the swordplay analogy: If you were trying to grab the blade (leg) of the fencer (striker), it would be much easier to both anticipate and intercept the blade with the slashing arc (roundhouse kick) versus the plunging thrust (straight kick). With the curvature of the slash, you can hook your arm under or even over it, but the reciprocating travel of the straight kick leaves only the heel on the slippery leg to grasp. In the rare occasion the defender is quick enough to latch the heel with his hand, we often see the thrower simply lift the leg straight upward and hop backward with a spin to avoid being tied up.
In the full entry Fraser Coffeen will look at gifs from the TUF Finale as well as UFC 6 with some bonus down memory lane commentary from Kid Nate.
Gifs by BE reader Grappo.
What Roop is executing here is a pretty nice front kick. It's an extremely close relative to the Muay Thai teep kick. Muay Thai fighters use it often, typically as a replacement for the jab. That's partly because the length of your leg gives you more range than a punching jab, and partly because in Muay Thai using punches scores less than using kicks. Muay Thai purists will tell you that a teep and a front kick are totally different, but it's a pretty subtle difference - the teep tends to be delivered very quickly from the lead leg and is usually accompanied by a lunge while throwing the kick. Since Roop uses the back leg and keeps himself planted during the kick, we'll stick with the front kick name.
The basics of the technique are rather simple. The fighter brings up his back leg and drives the foot into the abdomen of his opponent.
When striking with this kick, you're looking to land with the ball of the foot (although some prefer to land with the heel to lessen the chance of breaking toes), and you are aiming to push the kick straight through your opponent's body - hence the alternate name of "push kick."
Taking a look at Roop's version, he does a lot of things very well with it. Once nice thing about this kick is that you can land it from outside the normal striking range, and that's what you see here.
Grispi thinks he's out of range, so is not 100% committed to his defense (as evidenced by the fact that he wipes his nose or something at the start of the gif). The front kick closes that range very quickly, catching Grispi totally unprepared. Since Roop is a tall fighter, his ability to close range with the front kick is even greater, as his long legs let him strike from an increased distance. He's striking while being outside the range of Grispi striking back, which is ideal.
I also like Roop's footwork coming out of the kick. You can see this better in the overhead shot, but watch how Roop swivels his hips after landing the kick. He effectively switches his stance, letting him bring that lead leg back to its proper position faster, while also keeping that closer distance that the front kick provided. This also puts him right back into position to defend or attack again.
Finally, Roop does a good job adapting this kick for use in MMA. This is always an important point in my opinion, as Muay Thai and other striking techniques become more useful for MMA when you make small adjustments based on the rules. A front kick will often knock your opponent down, and here, Grispi begins to step forward as the kick comes in, which puts him off balance and leads to him being knocked on his back. In Muay Thai, simply knocking your opponent down adds points, but in MMA of course you can continue the fight, and as this sequence ends, you see Roop quickly moving in to engage on the ground.
He's essentially used the kick as a takedown, while not opening himself up to the submissions or counter striking you normally risk with take downs.
Above we see some grainy footage from a VHS copy of UFC 6. Patrick Smith, a finalist at UFC 2 whose only MMA losses as of UFC 6 were to Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock and Kimo Leopoldo, comes roaring across the cage and welcomes Rudyard Moncayo to the UFC. Moncayo made the rookie mistake of coming out and raising his arms to the crowd. Smith saw his chance and took it with this running front kick to the chest.
UFC 6 was the first UFC pay per view I ever saw on live television. I'd been watching the videos of UFC 2, 3 and 4 obsessively since first being turned onto the UFC when a bandmate brought UFC 3 to practice.
Smith-Moncayo followed the debut of Tank Abbott and Paul Varelens vs Cal Worsham, both ultra-violent brawls. The following quarter-final, a 0:57 submission of Dave Beneteau by Oleg Taktarov, brought the total run time of the first four fights to around 3:30 total. It was a jaw dropping night of mayhem and Smith's front kick was as awesome as any of it.
Smith pulled out of the rest of the tournament with an illness and was later allegedly assaulted in the hotel elevator by Tank Abbott and a pack of his friends.
It would be years before anyone else scored with a front kick in MMA.