Few Muay Thai practitioners have brought as much flair and creativity to their work as Saenchai. Today we look at just a couple of his tricks.
In continuing my series offering a brief glimpse into some of the finest strikers on the planet I have tried to include most of the common disciplines. I started with the points karateka, Rafael Aghaev a few months back and in the last week have examined the kickboxing genius, Giorgio Petrosyan and offensive boxing prodigy, Roy Jones Jr. Today then, it is the turn of the traditional Nak Muay and of those there have been very few who could stand up to the standard set by the great Saenchai Sor. Kingstar.
I will be the first to admit that despite my love of the art of Muay Thai, I do not closely follow the tournaments and events which take place under Muay Thai rules (which allow elbows and clinch work where kickboxing organisations such as K-1 and Glory do not). I can tell you what a few personal favourites are up to but I have no idea over the goings on in that community. One thing that I can tell you is that Saenchai Sor. Kingstar, whose career I have had the pleasure of studying in better detail than most Nak Muay, is a genius. As with the other two articles I have written in my farewell series, this one will be a brief overview at best, shedding light on just a few details of Saenchai's style and science.
We will, as with the last two pieces, be working from a video. This one is longer than most so watch it all or read on for the times of specific techniques. I must stress that there is MUCH more technical finesse on show in this video than I could hope to do justice to in a thousand words!
21 minutes of Saenchai (via fimeu90)
The Leg Drag
As seen at: 8:00 - 8:50
The leg drag is an absolutely sublime means of deterring an opponent from throwing kicks and punishing him violently if he persists. The leg drag is a fairly basic but massively underused technique - fighters often opt to catch kicks against their body (which has a much higher chance of failing). While Saenchai catches kicks in both ways, the leg drag is set up off of my preferred type of catch. Taking the kick on the forearm - as one would if he were planning to come back with punches - the non-blocking hand scoops underneath and traps the opponent's leg between the catcher's forearms. From here a step back is taken and the non-blocking hand drags the opponent's leg across to the opposite side - exposing all kinds of nasty counters.
1. Saenchai takes a kick on his left forearm and scoops his right underneath to trap the opponent's leg.
2. Stepping back to create space, Saenchai uses his right arm to drag his opponents leg across his body.
3. Saenchai steps in behind the leg, all the way to his opponent's back. Saenchai slides his forearm up to the back of his opponent's knee to get more purchase, and places his left glove across his opponent's face. Hooking the standing leg with his own left leg...
4. Saenchai sweeps the leg, lifting his opponent's leg high and pushing his head towards the mat.
The leg drag is simply the act of taking an opponent's leg across his body, making it hard for him to follow up and placing him in a poor defensive position, but Saenchai's most common follow up is the throw demonstrated above. Throws in Muay Thai are an excellent means of hurting the opponent, either with a kick or knee on the way down (as you will have spotted Saenchai doing in the highlight a few times) or by having them land on the back of their head. I'm sure anyone who has seen a slam KO in MMA, or even the great Minoru Suzuki knocking himself out in Pancrase as he attempted to pull guard, will be aware of just how dangerous and effective slamming an opponent onto the back of his head can be.
This particular leg sweep is brilliant for injuring opponents because as the leg is lifted and the head is pushed back, one can deliberately drive his opponent's head into the canvas first - preventing him from breakfalling and protecting his head as he could on many other throws and trips.
Here are two such unfortunate opponents whom Saenchai dumps on their brain stems.
Though Saenchai's dumping sweep is his favourite technique from the leg drag, there are plenty of others which he attempts. I'm not going to look in great length at Saenchai's cartwheel kick because the move is more gymnastics than striking and that is not really an area I know anything about, but if you like watching overzealous sparring partners at seminars get knocked out, wind to 9:39 of the highlight.
1. Saenchai takes a kick on his left forearm, scoops his right underneath to catch.
2. Saenchai steps back, dragging the leg across himself but holding at the calf to maintain distance.
3. Saenchai steps his right foot across himself and drops his right hand to the floor.
4. Saenchai springs up onto his ahnd and lands an almost vertical downward left kick, knocking his sparring partner unconscious.
Teeps and the Bicycle Kick
As seen at: 8:50 - 9:40.
Saenchai's teeps, or "push kicks" are a huge part of his game and dictate the opportunities presented to him by his opponents. You will have noticed the frequency with which Saenchai will fake a kick, just to get his opponent to pick their legs up and then sweep the other leg instead. Aside from his brilliant lead leg teep, lead leg side teep and rear leg teep, Saenchai is particularly well known for using faked lead leg teeps to set up rear leg kicks. This can be as simple as picking up his lead leg and then throwing a rear leg round house kick, or as exciting and unique as his bicycle axe kick.
1. Saenchai jumps in with his right leg elevated, as if to perform one of his famous push kicks.
2. But instead lands a left high kick.
3. In the next exchange Saenchai jumps in with his right knee raised again.
4. But this time lands a push kick between the hands of his opponent who is expecting another roundhouse kick.
Here is another excellent example of Saenchai jumping in as if to teep with his lead leg and then switching to a rear leg kick, catching his opponent completely off guard.
As I said at the beginning, I cannot even begin to do justice to Saenchai in a thousand words, but for those of you who haven't seen much of this phenomenal tactician before, I hope this piece has inspired you to seek out more video of Saenchai. I will be back tomorrow with a look at Renan Barao vs Michael McDonald ahead of Saturday's card.