(This is a collaboration between KJ Gould and Fraser Coffeen. Main text and diagrams by KJ Gould, additional insight by Fraser Coffeen where stated.)
South Carolina's Stephen Thompson made his debut at UFC 143 last night where he displayed his Kempo Karate skills on a world stage. His unorthodox stance and movement bewildered opponent Dan Stittgen who could only remain flat footed while throwing haymakers in an attempt to catch the undefeated Mixed Martial Artist and Kickboxer.
Fraser Coffeen gives his insight into the Kick and setup used by Thompson:
When you really break it down, this is essentially just a straight roundhouse kick. Because Thompson comes from a karate background, he chooses to land the kick with the instep of his foot as opposed to the shin, as you more commonly see with fighters from a Muay Thai background, but aside from that small change, what you have is a roundhouse kick.
Where Thompson really shines is the set-up. He has two nice elements to his set-up – one common, and one that is a bit more unique. First, he hides the head kick by beginning it as a leg kick. If you watch his thigh, you can see that he is at first aiming towards the leg, but then brings it up to the head at the last minute. This is a relatively common technique in various kickboxing styles, as it lulls your opponent into letting their head defenses down a bit. You don’t see it as much in MMA, and Thompson does it very well here.
The second way he sets it up is by brilliantly incorporating it into a combo. The kick comes fast behind a right cross. That punch turns Stittgen’s body and head slightly to his own right, away from Thompson’s right side. With Stittgen turned aside, he doesn’t even see the kick coming or know to defend it, and as a result he completely drops his left hand down to his waist. Thompson brings the kick over Stittgen’s shoulder, landing clean on his now totally exposed head, and that is that. Really great timing and combination work from Thompson to use the punch in order to move his opponent into position to properly set up the kick.
After the jump, a closer illustrated look at the setup and kick that ended the fight and netted Thompson the $65k Knock Out of the Night bonus.
In Karate and other Japanese arts, the names for moves are often descriptive of the entire process and end result. For example, Geri means 'Kick', Mawashi can refer to 'circular' or 'roundhouse', and the part of the body that's used such as Haisoku meaning 'instep'.
The technique Thompson used then can logically be called an instep roundhouse kick or Haisoku Mawashi Geri. As it was aimed at and hit the head or Jodan, it could also be called a Haisoku Jodan Mawashi Geri.
Here is an animation of this move from KarateTest.com
It's been debated by some that Thompson threw his kick low first and switched it to kick high much like the Brazilian / Question Mark Kick. However after a closer look I myself believe the kick was simply 'chambered' in the karate style, and through Thompson's hip mobility he was able to bring it up and over the shoulder.
Some kickboxing coaches are against chambering - the bending at the knee before the extension - due to the decrease in power that can be achieved compared to a straight roundhouse which is like an iron bar coming up from the ground. The benefit of chambering though is the smaller space and closer proximity a kick to the same target can be executed within, and sometimes the surprise element makes up for the lack of power. Power is great, accuracy with enough power is better.
In the case of Thompson it appeared it was his lead leg that landed, rather than an all out power kick from the rear you'd usually associate with Muay Thai. However on closer look after he retracted his kick he brought it down rather than back and switched stances to compensate, so his right leg became his lead. In other words at the beginning of the sequence he was in orthodox stance, and by the end he was in southpaw stance.
Thompson slips the left jab of Stittgen while landing a left jab of his own, and then throws a right straight. Stittgen throws a wild left hook that misses as Thompson leans back, raising his chambered leg and extends so it lands past the shoulder and the instep striking Stittgen in the jaw.
Thompson pivots on his supporting leg to help drive the power into his striking leg and keep himself stable while balancing. He turns the hip over on his striking leg so that he is able to clear Stittgen's shoulder as he extends - without this hip mobility and stability that comes from years of conditioning his muscles to work in a certain way, Thompson would be unable to land as precisely and risks hitting the back or arm instead. Because Stittgen over committed on his wild hook he left himself open for an attack he would never see coming. Even if he had tucked his jaw behind his left shoulder, the dexterity in Thompson's kick meant it would still have landed though a bit higher, at the ear-line or temple.