This edition of Finish of the Week will focus on a fight from the early days of K-1, the 1995 meeting between Jerome Le Banner and Mike Bernardo. If you haven't seen this fight before you're in for a treat because, as is the theme with this series, it ends dramatically and as the result of a beautiful set up.
Many of you will be familiar with Jerome Le Banner and his many underwhelming performances in K-1 in recent years, but in his prime Le Banner was a collosus, and as a right handed southpaw he posed a unique conundrum. One of the first to advertise the right handed southpaw style in combat sports, he the technical ancestor to the philosophy that other right handed southpaws such as Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and Manny Pacquiao fight with today. Mike Bernardo for his part lived a tragic life, sadly cut short earlier this year, never winning a major tournament but beating many of the best fighters through his career. Hard to deny as the best boxer in the early K-1 tournaments, at his best Bernardo was sublime to watch.
From the start of the bout you can see which man is more a boxer and which man is more a Muay Thai fighter. Bernardo's stance is long and more side on, with his lead foot often pointing in, bouncing back and forth. Le Banner, meanwhile is more square on, with his feet closer together and marches forward looking for kicks.
Le Banner's game at his best was to use his hard left kicks to stop his opponents from circling to his left - which would be unusual as that is normally the power side of a southpaw. Once his opponent was limited to circling towards Le Banner's right, which is also good form against most southpaws, Le Banner would begin using his lead, right low kick to butcher his opponent's lead leg as they moved into the kick.
Le Banner's short stance enabled him to switch kick or to step up and kick, rather than simply catching the opponent with a flicking kick as they circled. Once the opponent began tasting Le Banner's right low kicks they would begin to lose their mobility and overcompensate as they attempted to defend. It was then that Le Banner would catch them on one leg or standing flat footed. Le Banner's bout with Francisco Filho is an excellent example of how ruthlessly Le Banner could exploit an opponent's committing to defending his low kick.
Coming from a boxing background before his move to kickboxing, Bernardo had the habit of turning his lead foot in so as to turn his body more side on and lengthen his reach when he jabbed. For much of the fight he troubled the square on Le Banner with jabs and looping rights, and with a surprisingly strong clinch game (back when K-1 allowed it). Le Banner turned the bout around when he timed Bernardo stepping in with a faked jab and used his lead low kick to step in and kick Bernardo's turned in lead leg. Due to Bernardo's knee being turned in and the strength of Le Banner's right low kick, Bernardo's knee buckled under him immediately and he was unable to rise in time to beat the count.
Low kicking in counter to punches is something that you will very very rarely see done in MMA, partly because of the fear of being taken down, and partly due to it requiring excellent timing only developed through practice. When an opponent is punching his lead leg will either be pointing inward, straight ahead, or outward.
- In the case of the knee pointing inward, as on a boxer's jab, the leg can be buckled by kicking it from outside.
- If the knee is pointing outward, as in many overhands and right handed punches, the stance can be buckled by kicking from the inside - as Buakaw Por Pramuk was fond of doing in K-1.
- If the knee is pointing straight ahead, moderate success can be achieved by kicking it from either side.
The lesson to take away from this masterful low kick knock out is that kicking a man hard in the leg while he is in stance is a hard thing to do. When he is moving, whether forward or backward, his legs are vulnerable. When he is moving forward especially, the leg can be buckled as he begins to put weight on it, increasing the likelihood of a fight ending injury. It's nasty, but it's part of the game, and as you can see from the excellent sportsmanship in this video, there are no hard feelings from either man.
Team Bloody Elbow