There's something great about a flying KO. Flying kick, superman punch, jumping elbow - they are all glorious. But for me the quintessential flying KO move for MMA remains the flying knee. There's no shortage of flying knee KO highlights in MMA, but one of the best comes from UFC 143 headliner Carlos Condit. The last time we saw Condit in the Octagon, he was standing over the prone body of Dong Hyun Kim - the victim of a nasty Condit flying knee at UFC 132.
In this Judo Chop, we'll get ready for UFC 143 and Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz by breaking down Condit's big KO over Kim and see how Condit's technique compares to other famous flying knees. And don't forget to take a look at the other side of this weekend's main event with Kid Nate's Judo Chop covering Nick Diaz's boxing and grappling techniques.
Let's start by examining the basics of the flying knee. There are a number of different variations on this move depending on which leg you strike with, where you position your hands, and the direction your movement travels in. For example, kickboxer Chris Ngimbi is well known for his beautiful flying knees, which he often delivers by jumping straight up, bringing his knee up like an uppercut. But the most common kind of flying knee seen in MMA is the one essentially used by Condit.
Assuming a fighter is standing in orthodox stance (meaning his right leg is in the rear power position), start by jumping both up and towards your opponent in a sort of diagonal. In mid-air, bring that right leg forward, with your foot aiming down and your knee in the lead. If you time it right, you'll drive the point of your knee into your target - ideally your opponent's chin. It's a great move because it quickly closes the distance, so can land from what your opponent perceives to be outside of striking range, and because the knee is such a hard striking surface. By giving it that forward and upwards momentum and driving all of your momentum into the point of your knee, you can easily score a KO if landed clean.
Here's a somewhat goofy video explanation courtesy of Human Weapon (why do the models have to be naked?) that captures the basic idea:
More breakdown, with gifs, in the full entry.
There are tons of examples I could use of this basic flying knee (and if you want to see gifs of many of them, check out this great gallery at Chicago's MMA). Above is one prime example from Pride 32. This is Robbie Lawler landing the knee of Joey Villasenor. Lawler is fighting in southpaw stance, but the movements are the same. At the start, his left leg is back - he then leaps forward, bringing the left knee up as he jumps, driving it into Villasenor's head. The result is a KO victory for Lawler and a spot on highlight reels.
Against Kim, Condit took this basic flying knee and added a small, but beautiful variation. Like Lawler, Condit is in southpaw, with his left leg back. He jumps up, and initially brings his left knee up to land the knee in the more traditional style. But at the last moment, he switches in mid-air, bringing the right knee up instead. It's an absolutely devastating change that really shows off Condit's technique. By switching in mid-air, he gets even more momentum behind that right knee, landing it with KO force. This switch also allows Condit to land the knee clean. Note that Kim is throwing a punch on Condit's left side and turning his head away - had Condit stayed with the left knee, the strike would have been at least partially blocked. But Kim's strike leaves his own left completely exposed, and that is where Condit lands. Beautiful adjustment there.
A quick side note on Condit's stance - Condit will switch stances, but is primarily an orthodox striker, meaning his right leg would be back. Against Kim, who is a southpaw, Condit switched stances frequently. He was in southpaw at the time he threw the knee.
There's one other important aspect of this strike that we have only touched on, and that is hand positioning. If you compare the Lawler and Condit gifs, you'll notice that their hands are in very different places. Lawler brings his down to his sides. Again, this is more traditional, and when you see images of a flying knee, the hands are usually down and back in this position. The idea is that this motion gives you more power in your jump, which translates to more power in your knee. But there is a decided danger in this move, as it takes your hands away from your head and leaves the head exposed. A skilled opponent can capitalize on that opening to land a hard counter - as famously shown by Fedor Emelianenko vs. Andrei Arlovski (right). Arlovski went for the knee, dropped his hands like Lawler, and Fedor put him out.
Condit takes a different approach with his hands that is often used in Muay Thai. As he jumps, he brings his hands up, and in fact slides his left hand around to the back of Kim's head (notice how at the end, his left is fully behind Kim). I prefer this movement as it serves a number of purposes. First, it keeps your own hands near your head, which helps to protect you from being Arlovski-d.
Second, if timed right, you can use that hand behind your opponent's head to pull his head down into your flying knee. This is a great asset, as the impact of the knee is significantly increased if you combine your upward motion with a downward motion from your opponent. You can get that downward motion by timing the strike to land as your opponent comes in (as you see in this gif of Anderson Silva KO-ing Carlos Newton in Pride), or by pulling his head down yourself. Finally, if you don't get the KO, this hand position puts you in a better position when you land. With his hand behind Kim's head, Condit could have immediately grabbed the Thai clinch and started throwing knees from the ground.
With his use of the double knee, as well as his hand positioning, Condit demonstrated not only that this is an effective technique, but also that he has the high level skills to masterfully pull it off. At UFC 134, we'll see how well he can use those skills against Nick Diaz as he fights for the UFC Interim Welterweight title.
And finally, since we're talking about flying knees and Condit's technique of switching knees mid-air, I feel compelled to leave you with this - Jose Aldo's classic double knee KO of Cub Swanson. Enjoy: