Just one week after Mike Pyle landed a picture-perfect spinning back elbow against TJ Waldburger (which I broke down here), Dong Hyun Kim saw fit to outdo him. After two and a half rounds of uncharacteristic brawling, Stun Gun executed a perfect counter, and nearly executed John Hathaway in the process, knocking his opponent out cold with a spinning back elbow to the mug.
Today I'll be breaking down the technique behind that strike, and the actions of the rest of the fight prior that made it work so well. First, let's look at the finish itself.
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1. Kim pushes out of the clinch and ends up on the edge of boxing range with Hathaway, who waits for an opening.
2. Kim feints, and Hathaway responds by stepping into an elbow, placing his left foot outside Kim's right. He doesn't step far enough, however, and ends up leaning with his upper body in an effort to make contact.
3. Kim slips to his left and steps his right foot across Hathaway's body, turning into his spin.
4. Hathaway, caught in the act of reaching for his strikes, falls face-first into Kim's elbow as the Korean torques his hips around and follows through on the strike.
As with most knockouts, this was a potent combination of one man's prowess and another man's blunder. The fact that Hathaway was struck with his head moving forward, well past his own feet, one of which wasn't even on the ground, certainly contributed to the knockout. Balance and stability are key to absorbing any blow, and sacrificing those while moving forward into a counter is a surefire recipe for a KO.
Having acknowledged that, I am compelled to say that I do not, however, want to take any credit away from Kim, whose application of this technique was near flawless. Some, noting the numerous other spin attempts by Kim in this fight, have suggested that he just happened to throw a spinning strike at the same time that Hathaway was moving forward into a strike. This is clearly not the case. First, Kim saw that Hathaway, who had enjoyed success countering Kim in the second round, was waiting on him to lead. Kim feinted with his right hand, and Hathaway took the bait, no doubt expecting Kim to follow his jab with a wild left hand and run right into his elbow. Instead, Stun Gun pulled back just enough to dodge the strike, and simultaneously put his feet into position to counter Hathaway. His timing, accuracy, and set-up were all perfect, and he deserves credit for the knockout.
That said, there are some improvements that Kim could make if he chooses to continue life in this new, berserker rage-fueled form. Hathaway's downfall could have just as easily been Kim's own, as he showed spotty footwork throughout the fight.
1. Kim walks forward, out of stance, right into Hathaway's range.
2. Wisely, Hathaway doesn't go for the kill, but steps to his left, using a long left hook to pin Kim in place.
3. Now Hathaway has a dominant outside angle--note that Kim's feet and hips are turned in a completely different direction from Hathaway.
4. The Englishman clips Kim with a right uppercut as he turns to face him.
Hathaway used this exact sequence later in the second round to better effect (GIF), but the UFC has some sort of vendetta against camera angles which show the fighters' feet, so this one will have to do. In any case, you can easily spot the fundamental mistake made by Kim in the first frame. As a rule of thumb, a fighter should never cross his feet, and never simply walk around the ring. There are some fighters who, with creative and unorthodox footwork, fool their opponents into thinking that they are out of position, only to punish them for their overconfidence--men like Jersey Joe Walcott.
Dong Hyun Kim is not Jersey Joe Walcott. Against Hathaway, when Kim looked out of position, he was out of position, often walking casually forward with no real sens of range. Whether he was just in a hurry to get the knockout, completely unafraid of Hathaway's power, or ignorant of the risk of his approach is unclear, but he would do well to shore up this hole in his newfound high pressure/swarming style.
Fortunately, the fix is relatively simple. It's called the hop-step.
Above, you see modern marvel and boxing great Bernard Hopkins executing the hop-step against Karo Murat. Twice Murat attempts to counter him as he moves forward, and both times Hopkins easily avoids the shots. This is because his footwork allows him to move forward quickly and efficiently without sacrificing his position. In other words, he is facing the same way with the same weapons at the ready even as he steps.
In the second shot of the GIF you can see the mechanics of the hop-step. Hopkins' rear foot comes forward first, and just as it touches down his lead foot moves an equal distance forward. In this way, Hopkins keeps his right foot underneath himself, leading with his left foot to gauge the range. This is why he is so easily able to pull out of Range of Murat's punches: his left foot and hip precede his head into range, and give Murat the impression that he is closer than he really is. Murat, on the other hand, leaves his feet behind as he punches, having nothing but the sting of Hopkins' counter punches to help him judge the distance.
The hop-step would be perfect for Kim, particularly given the fact that it facilitates the transferring of weight as one moves forward or backward. As the forward step demonstrated by Hopkins is initiated, the weight is on the left foot--a left hook can be thrown as the step is executed. Then, after the step is done, the weight is situated over the back foot, from which Kim could unleash one of his blistering left hands. This is even better when one takes into account Kim's natural understanding of weight transfer. Just one look at the combinations he was throwing (GIF) tell you that the man knows how to put, in the immortal words of Rampage Jackson, his ass into his punches. At the risk of hyperbolizing, Kim's weight transfer is Jack Dempsey-esqe. Just, you know... without all the defense.
In fact, I'll leave you, on that note, with this GIF showing the monstrous four punch combination that Dempsey himself used to knock out poor Jess Willard, not only as an example of tremendous weight transfer, but of imperfect footwork. To Kim's detractors: yes, Stun Gun's style was far from perfect, but fighting isn't always pretty, and there's more to a knockout punch than perfect technique. Kim, like Dempsey, has confidence in his power, and this wouldn't be the first time that confidence alone proved to be more than enough.
For more fight analysis and fighter/trainer interviews, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast that focuses exclusively on the finer points of face-punching. There's no episode this week, but be sure to check out our technique-centric recap of UFC 170. Please take a minute to rate and review the show on both iTunes and Stitcher.