Warning - this post contains some gruesome images/gifs/videos.
On the weekend Tyrone Spong became the latest unfortunate victim of a broken shin-bone via having his leg-attempt ‘checked’ by his opponent, who had raised his own shin in defense.
Anderson Silva became the most recent victim of a hard shin-check before that when his rear-leg inside-low kick to Weidman’s lead leg was met with a poised knee.
For some reason, message boards were full of posters who thought Weidman and his team had invented some incredible new technique, complete with its own name.
Actually the shin-check is a staple defensive technique of Muay Thai, Kyokoshin Karate, Dutch Kickboxing, and any other striking system derived from those or which allows low-kicks to the leg. If you train in any of these you will learn the basics of it within your first few lessons.
Like all the best techniques it is at once simple and intricate. Simple in that all you are doing is lifting your shin and turning it outwards so that your attacker’s kick meets a wall of solid bone.
Intricate in that its deployment requires sharp reflexes and timing. Anybody can block a few kicks but you need to be good to block most or all of them in a fight with a high-level opponent who is doing his best to trick and misdirect you.
Those who are really good with it can make sure to catch their attacker with the upper part of their shin, where it is thickest, or even on the knee itself. When this happens, and the attacker is kicking full-force, serious damage is possible.
The shin-check is designed as a deterrent. Shin-on-shin is ridiculously painful for both fighters but it is more so for the attacker, especially if he finds his lower shin colliding with the defender’s upper shin or knee.
Some of the sport’s biggest names and most accomplished strikers have fallen victim to a hard shin-check, as the five examples below illustrate.
It is important to remember though that the credit lies with the defender - at its absolute best, this is what the shin-check is designed to do and these injuries are the result of them deploying the technique in the right way and at the right time.
Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman II, UFC 168, December 2013
Given the outpouring of seemingly genuine amazement and incredulity which followed this fight, you could be forgiven for thinking that the shin-check never existed before it. Fans by the truckload lapped up talk of this apparently brand-new ‘Pump-Action Turbo Leg Destruction’ technique.
In fact it was nothing more (and nothing less than) a perfectly-timed and excellently-placed knee-block to a very, very obvious kick attempt. Weidman had experienced some trouble with that kick in their previous fight and had trained the timing on it extensively in the run-up to their second meeting.
You can check out a gif of the leg break here.
Aside from the dramatic outcome, this wasn’t an unusual move by any means; really it is Kickboxing 101.
But it has sparked such a flurry of conversation and debate about kickboxing technique that - apart from the 10th Planet-esque naming which followed - those of us who are aficionados of the striking arts should be grateful (and no, it isn't a dirty technique. It's just part of the art of kickboxing.)
Tyrone Spong vs. Gokhan Saki II, GLORY 15 ISTANBUL, April 2014
The only meaningful light-heavyweight title in kickboxing was on the line when these two - ranked #1 and #2 in the division respectively - met in what looked certain to be a master class in skill, heart and aggression.
Having won their semi-final fights - Saki by first-round TKO and Spong by decision over a tough Saulo Cavalari - the two were ready to lay it all on the line for their weight-class’ top honor. Sadly the fight didn’t go as long as fans hoped, and it also ended in unfortunate fashion for Spong.
An inside low-kick brought Saki’s lead leg upwards and inwards to defend it. But it was a ploy. As Saki reset his foot, Spong immediately let rip with outside low-kick to the same leg, a classic Muay Thai trick designed to catch the defender off guard.
Gif via ZombieProphet
Here is where Saki must be praised, and where talk of freak accidents does him a disservice. Because he didn’t miss a beat - that lead leg came up in textbook fashion, rotated outwards and actually came forward a little to meet Spong’s shin with as much force as possible. Spong’s shin lost.
Whether Saki’s defense was based on reflexes or whether he read Spong’s intentions we don’t know, but it was a superb piece of defense which he should be getting a lot of credit for. Most fighters would have ended up eating that second Spong kick full force.
Jose ‘Pele’ Landi-Jons vs. Bryan Gassaway, TKO 32, February 2008
Throwing hard leg-kicks with no setup is the equivalent of winding your right arm in a big circle before throwing an overhand. It is something you could get away with only against the most terrified and/or inept of opponents.
For some reason Jose-Pele, a vastly experienced Vale Tudo legend and also 2-0 against Anderson Silva under Muay Thai rules, felt he could get away with it in this fight. His early efforts landed, but Gassaway was just getting his timing.
Landi-Jons’ final effort was to be his last. He threw a hard kick, met a wall of bone and snapped his shin clean through before collapsing to the mat in agony. He made a full recovery and returned to fighting but still, his tactics in this fight were incomprehensible given the depth of his experience.
(Note: Landi-Jons has gone 5-1 since the injury with all five wins inside the distance. He must surely be one of the hardest men in the world.)
Corey Hill vs. Dale Hartt, UFC Fight For The Troops, December 2008
Another example from the UFC, this time from its lightweight division and two fighters a lot less famous than Anderson and Weidman .
After Hill’s leg snapped round Hartt’s there was a lot of talk about his height (6’4") and bone-structure playing into it. That may be true to an extent; long thin bones will snap easier than short thick ones. But if your kick is timed or set up correctly then you won’t be ploughing it into an immovable object in the first place.
Gif via www.chicagonow.com
A kick is - or should be - a full-body movement which throws the entire weight of the attacker into a damaging blow. It can be high reward but also high risk; the large degree of movement involved means it is easy to read and the opponent can move, counter or block.
So he really needs to be distracted before the kick comes in. That is why the typical Dutch Kickboxing combination will begin with hands and end on a kick while the opponent is still thinking about punches.
Gustavo Franca vs. Magno Alexandre, WOCS 24, March 2013
Our final example comes from Brazil, where Team Belfort fighter Gustavo Franca met Magno Alexandre of Nova Uniao in a March 2013 fight for regional promotion WOCS.
Three minutes into the match, Franca went for a low kick to Alexandre’s lead leg. There was no set-up (seeing the pattern here?) and Alexandre’s shin went through Franca’s like a knife through butter.
Alexandre’s reaction was similar to Gokhan Saki’s at the weekend. Rather than celebrating, he comforted Franca then wandered round the ring looking shocked and concerned.
Franca has not fought since while Alexandre has gone 0-2, both quick stoppages in the first round. Has the outcome of the Franca fight spoiled his focus for good?