UFC 135 Judo Chop: Rampage Jackson and the Hook Punch

One of Quinton Jackson's main talking points heading into UFC 135 and the big Rampage vs. Jon Jones Light Heavyweight title main event has been the idea of Jones having an untested chin. Rampage has made his plan for Saturday clear - test that chin. The weapon he's most likely to use on that mission? The hook.

The hook punch is one of the staples of boxing, and for Rampage, it's one of his best strikes. He's used it a number of times, most notably to win the UFC Light Heavyweight title from Chuck Liddell, and to gain a measure of revenge against his longtime rival Wanderlei Silva. In this Judo Chop, we'll break down both the basics of the hook punch, as well as Rampage's specific technique.

We'll start with a look at the punch itself. Here's a nice description of the hook punch, courtesy of Fight Night: The Thinking Fan's Guide to Mixed Martial Arts:

The hook punch, along with the rear cross and read overhand, is one of the core, bread-and-butter punches utilized in MMA. It's a boxing-based bent arm, horizontal, outside-in curved punch directed to the head (jaw) and body (ribs, liver, spleen). It is executed with either hand in the lead and rear positions. It is the most potent knockout punch in MMA or boxing because, when hitting the jaw, it torques the brainstem and rattles the brain. The hook punch can be thrown parallel to the ground or at a variation of angles, depending on the opponent's position.

The key to the hook is that idea of torque. Like the vast majority of punches, a well executed hook draws its power not from the upper body alone, but from the entire body working together, starting at the feet. In a right hook punch, the attacker pivots on the ball of his right foot, turning his foot in the direction of the punch. This pivot leads to a slight turn of the hips, to a turn of the body and shoulder until the entire body is twisting, adding momentum to the punch. This increases the force, and when it lands on target, rattles an opponent's brain hard enough to cause a knockout.

It's also one of the tougher punches to properly execute, as it involves proper range, footwork, and defense. Rampage uses all of those aspects to deliver an excellent hook from either the right or left side. Let's take a look at the former champion's technique, starting with his right hook KO of Chuck Liddell at UFC 71.

Gifs and more analysis in the full entry.

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Gifs by BE reader Grappo.

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Here we see Rampage use the right hook to knock out Chuck Liddell and take his UFC Light Heavyweight title. One of the things that really impresses me about this particular punch is Rampage's ability to connect with it in less than ideal circumstances. Rampage has just ducked, his feet aren't firmly planted, and Chuck is moving away, but he connects perfectly anyway.

At the start of the exchange, Chuck throws a right-left combo. Rampage brings his arms up to block the two punches, and also lowers his head to avoid the left. Chuck gets sloppy after that left, leaving his hand down for a moment instead of bringing it back up to his head to defend. That doesn't mean Chuck isn't using any defense though - he's using movement to quickly get out of range. Because Liddell is backing up, Rampage has to both take a small step towards him, and extend the arm more than you normally would on a hook. In an ideal hook, you keep the elbow bent at close to a 90 degree angle. Here, Liddell's movement makes that impossible. Rampage finds the range anyway, and you can see the result with Chuck's head twisting to his right. This is the torque I mentioned above, and it's enough to scramble him and put him down.

One thing I like about Rampage's work here is his footwork. Since Chuck is moving away, Jackson doesn't get his feet planted, so does not pivot on his foot. He makes up for that by taking a hop step towards Liddell. As he takes that step, he maintains proper distance between his feet, while also moving in the direction of the punch to increase its effectiveness.

One of the nice things about the hook is that it can generate great strength from either side. Against Chuck, it was the right hook doing the damage, but in the 3rd Wanderlei Silva fight, Rampage's left hook took center stage.

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In contrast to the Liddell hook where Rampage had to make some adjustments, this one is an almost textbook example of proper hook technique. It starts with the defense. Wanderlei throws his own hooks which Jackson blocks perfectly by sliding his arms up and ducking his head - using his forearms to block the incoming shots. This is great defense as it keeps you in position to quickly return fire.

With Wanderlei coming a bit wild with the hooks, Rampage takes advantage of the opening to land his own. Watch Jackson's left foot as he throws - he shifts onto the ball of the foot, and pivots his foot in the direction of the punch. This pivot moves up his body through the hip and shoulder and adds to the punch. At the same time he is pivoting, he takes a small step with his right foot to step through the punch and again add more power.

Another good point about Jackson's hook here is the placement of his elbow. With Wanderlei in close, he is able to get that 90 degree bend. He also brings the elbow up so that there is a straight line from his shoulder, through the elbow, and into his fist. When he connects with the punch, that straight line travels right through Wanderlei, earning the KO. Contrast that positioning with Wanderlei's elbows when he throws hooks. He keeps his elbows very low, and so his punches do not have the same power behind them.

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One final point - take a look at how cleanly Rampage lands the punch, which you can see better in the above angle. He hits Wanderlei square on the chin, increasing the rotation of Silva's head and applying more strain to Silva. Rampage also connects with the middle knuckles on his hand, which both increases power and lessens his risk of breaking his hand. That kind of accuracy is a huge factor in the cleanliness of this KO.

The hook is a highly dangerous punch, and few in MMA today throw it with the level of skill of Rampage Jackson. You know it's a punch that will be on the minds of both Rampage and Jon Jones Saturday night. If, during the fight, the two men are exchanging, and you see Rampage bring those arms up to block, then be ready for that chin to indeed be tested. How will Jones do if it connects? We can't know for sure - but if history is any indication, a clean Rampage hook could result in a new champion.

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