In the main event of UFC RIO 142: Aldo vs. Mendes, UFC Featherweight champion Jose Aldo will make the third defense of that title when he faces undefeated Chad Mendes. It's an intriguing fight; Mendes is the lowest profile and least marketable fighter Aldo has yet defended against, while also having the best shot at dethroning the champ, as Mendes will likely try to use his wrestling to control Aldo and grind him down.
For Aldo, one of the best strikers in MMA today, I anticipate one of his best weapons will be back on display against Mendes. I'm talking about the strike he used to completely dismantle Mendes's Alpha Male teammate Urijah Faber - the leg kick.
More UFC 142 Judo Chops
The leg kick is a great technique to employ against a wrestler; as Aldo lands more and more shots to the leg, Mendes will lose his ability to explode off his feet, hurting his chances to take Aldo down. But there's a dangerous flipside to that - by throwing a leg kick, Aldo gives Mendes the chance to grab that leg and use it to secure a takedown.
So what makes Aldo's leg kicks so good? And why do I think he is still safe to use them against Mendes? Let's break down those kicks in this Judo Chop, focusing specifically on the Faber fight for our examples.
The Basics: Leg Kicks 101
Against Faber, Aldo showed absolute mastery of leg kicks, but that mastery has to start with a solid foundation in the fundamentals. Here is a look at some of those Aldo kicks, starting with the basics of the kick and what he is doing right.
Complete breakdown, with gifs, in the full entry.
On your right you see Aldo landing a kick that fully demonstrates his technique (there are two kicks in the gif - I am focusing on the one shown from a side angle that spins Faber around). There are three specifics to bring to attention here.
1. Hip rotation. As Aldo throws the right kick, he twists his whole body, ending so that his belly button is perpendicular to Faber. By throwing his body so fully into the kick, he increases the force - the power is coming not just from the whip of the leg, but from the twist of the hips, the shoulders... everything.
2. Turning the left foot. Similar to the hip rotation, watch the way Aldo rotates his left foot when throwing the right kick. That small turn of the foot helps with what we discussed above, making his whole body turn to the side and increasing the impact on the leg. I also love the way he immediately twists it back into position when he is done, allowing him to quickly move back and avoid any counter shots.
3. Striking with the shin. This is the most devastating part of this kick. Aldo lands it perfectly, not with the top of his foot, but with his shin. That is the ideal weapon. If you land with the foot, you run the risk of breaking bones in your own foot, while also striking your opponent with a much softer tissue area. The shin is all bone, and keeps you safe while maximizing damage. Landing with the shin is easy to say, harder to do because your opponent is often moving away from the kick, but for a leg kick to be truly effective, that needs to be where the attack comes from.
4. Bringing the right hand down. You can see this more clearly in the 2nd kick actually - as Aldo lands the kick, he brings his right hand down in a chopping motion, again adding to his momentum, and increasing the torque behind the kick. This is the common Muay Thai way of using your hands in a leg kick, but it's also a source of some debate. A lot of fighters prefer to keep that hand up, as bringing it down leaves your right side exposed to counters. Here, Aldo chooses to sacrifice defense in the name of power.
With those fundamentals in place, Aldo already becomes a dangerous combatant with leg kicks, and already puts himself in the top tier of MMA fighters using this strike. But Aldo takes the kicks even further with some extra details.
One of the things that makes Aldo's leg kicks so dangerous is his ability to land them on an opponent who may perceive himself to be out of range. He does this by stepping in with the kick, as shown on the left. Before throwing the strike, watch how Aldo uses two steps to close the distance quickly, catching Faber off balance. Even though Faber lifts his lead leg to throw a push kick, Aldo still connects on the back leg because he has gotten so far inside. Two little details really set this movement apart. First, watch Aldo's left foot. On the second step, he brings it a little further out, so that he is immediately in position for the kick - great economy of movement there. Second, this time he keeps that right arm mostly in front of him instead of chopping it down. Because Faber is trying to strike back, Aldo makes the adjustment to use that arm for defense, not power, keeping himself safe from a Faber left hook.
Aldo also makes the most of the low kick by both repeatedly coming back to it, while also mixing it into a wider arsenal. The leg kick is not a one shot KO kind of blow - it takes a few to really do damage (though, when thrown by someone like Aldo, not many). Aldo keeps coming back to it, landing in the same spot to really weaken Faber's legs. But he also doesn't become repetitive and predictable. Sometimes he throws the kick by itself, sometimes he sets it up with a punch. Here, a bit later in the fight, he has Faber thinking about the leg kick, so comes up high with a head kick instead. Because Faber has begun to drop his hands in anticipation of the leg kick, his head is more exposed. That is a superb use of the leg kick to both do its own damage, while also opening the door for other strikes.
The last great asset for Aldo's kicks is one you can't really see in this slowed down clips - speed. He throws the kick with great speed, catching Faber before he has time to defend. When Faber switches stances, putting his right leg forward, Aldo quickly attacks that leg. And not only does he strike quickly, he brings the leg back quickly as well. That is perhaps what will serve him best against Mendes - the ability to land the strike, then quickly bring the leg back before it can be grabbed and used for a takedown.
The Featherweight title defense against Faber was one of Jose Aldo's finest moments, and it is largely a result of this absolute clinic in leg kicks. For any fans of striking, it was a beautiful thing to watch, and I can't help but hope that we see the majesty of these kicks once again on display in full force Saturday night in Brazil.