The night seemed to have started out well for Chris Clements. In his comeback fight against Stephen Thompson at UFC 165, he hit one of the coolest moves I've seen in a long time, a spinning sweep kick. Then Thompson promptly knocked him out. Then the greatest light heavyweight fight in UFC history happened, and everyone kind of forgot about all the stuff that happened before.
Well I won't stand for it!
Clements' kick was a great moment amidst many great moments, and it deserves to be broken down. To be honest, I don't think I've ever seen a spinning sweep kick executed in MMA before. The kick exists in many disciplines, though it is rarely seen in practice in any of them. It's usually an unlikely technique reserved for Kung Fu movies. All the more reason to examine it. Check out the GIF.
Of course, the first person kickboxing fans thought of upon seeing Clements' kick was the late Andy Hug, a kickboxer almost as talented as Wonderboy himself. Many will remember Hug breaking down Mike Bernardo with leg kick after leg kick only to finish with his signature "tornado kick," a spinning hook kick to the thigh.
But Hug's kick was really at its best when, like Clements, he used it to counter a kick from his opponent. Look at this beautiful counter to an opponent who cheekily tried to use Hug's other signature move, the axe kick, against him.
You'll notice that, different from Clements' version, Hug does not dramatically drop levels to throw the kick, using his hands for balance, but instead leans back to put his head out of range. This is the version more commonly used in knockdown Karate styles like Kyokushin, which is Hug's background. The advantage is that Hug avoids putting himself too badly out of position by staying upright. The disadvantage is that he compromises his balance and defense, though only an equally dynamic kicker would be likely to capitalize.
The only other notable fighter I am aware of who used the spinning sweep kick was the underappreciated Steve "Superkick" Vick, seen here wearing some truly hideous clothes and knocking his opponent clean off his feet by countering him with the sweep kick.
Still, the best aspect of Clements' kick was the fact that he used it as a counter, first feinting the side-on Wonderboy into throwing a hook kick at him, and then sliding right under the leg to land the kick. We see a lot of spin kicks in MMA these days, but rarely do we see them put to the purpose for which they are best designed: as counter attacks.
The best way to counter with a spinning kick is naturally to spin the correct way. Had Thompson been in an orthodox stance, for example, and used his left leg to throw a hook kick, Clements may have spun right into Thompson's heel. Typically Clements would spin the way he did against a rear leg kick from an orthodox opponent, which would take his head out of range and cause the opponent's kick to either fall short or glance off his back. In TKD you see a lot of kicks being deflected by the opponent's buttocks mid-spin. The mechanics of the spin make it very difficult to attack an opponent from the side opposite to which they are turning.
Typically when countering, one would spin with the opponent's kick. Here you can see a Kyokushin competitor decapitating his opponent by doing just that.
As the left kick comes, he turns away from it, launching his spinning hook kick and catching the opponent mid-attack. Were the opponent's kick to have fully extended, it would have glanced off of his back. In TKD you see a lot of kicks deflected via buttocks just before the kicker is hit with a devastating counter. Turning the opposite way would put the kicker at too much risk of being hit cleanly while attempting to counter.
Clements' spinning sweep kick, however, is designed to strike the inside of an opponent's base leg. Compare this to Hug's tornado kick, which connects with the outside of the opponent's thigh. As such, he drops to his hands while spinning, to completely avoid any high or mid kicks from his opponent. In Clements' case, the direction of the opponent's kick matters less than the level at which it is thrown. Clements clearly did a good job baiting Thompson's characteristic high kicks and taking him out.
It's not as if the spinning sweep is the most effective move in the world. It's just that it's practical enough to work, and cool enough to care. Imagine if you saw somebody pulling that kind of technique off and winning? Unfortunately for Chris Clements, he was facing the greatest kickboxing talent ever to grace the UFC, and this may in fact be Clements' last fight in the organization. But his use of unorthodox technique is much appreciated, and he carried off that technique with aplomb.
For more analysis, check out Connor's new podcast Heavy Hands, featuring interviews, fight breakdowns, and banter. A new episode is coming later today!
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