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Striking Breakdown: Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong's Left Leg of Doom

Having trained from his infant years and started fighting under professional Muay Thai rules at eleven years old Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong is a master of his martial art. There are innumerable things to be learned from watching him but here we are going to look at some of his left leg work, because that thing is a murder weapon.

Sitthichai delivers a flying knee to Canada's Josh Jauncey at GLORY 22 FRANCE
Sitthichai delivers a flying knee to Canada's Josh Jauncey at GLORY 22 FRANCE
James Law/Glory Sports International

Sitthichai's left leg is a baseball bat. It is a meat tenderizer wielded by a person of robot-like endurance who will throw it as hard at the end of a fight as he does at the beginning, over and over until the opponent's right side is a crumbling wall of pain and fire.

It is no secret that the left kick is southpaw Sitthichai's best weapon but knowing something and dealing with it are two different things. Both former champion Davit Kiria and Canadian prospect Josh Jauncey were well aware of it prior to their GLORY 22 FRANCE encounters with Sitthichai, yet had big problems all the same.

Kiria got the worst of it; Sitthichai became the first fighter to stop the Georgian karate stylist in professional kickboxing (and possibly ever; Kiria competed for years on the Kyokoshin Karate circuit but a complete record of his fights in that sport is not available).

Jauncey fared better by taking Sitthichai the distance, but he too felt the power of the kick repeatedly. It kept him on the outside, jammed his counters and disrupted his offense.

Muay Thai masters are experts at tricking, misdirecting and programming opponents in order to open their defenses up for clean shots to land. Let's take a look at two examples from his fights in the GLORY 22 FRANCE tournament.

1: Programming

Good strikers ‘program' opponents to react in certain ways, creating a pattern and then breaking it unexpectedly. The opponent reacts to what he thinks is coming and in doing so opens himself up for what is actually coming.

It has been shown repeatedly in everything from mathematics to art that the human brain is particularly sensitive to patterns of three, and the striking game is no different. Often you will find that if you feed somebody a combination twice, he will read and react to it on the third instance - that is the point at which you break pattern and do something different so that the opponent is misdirected. This is known as The Rule of Three.

The first stage of programming an opponent is establishment. You imprint on the opponent's mind the techniques and pressures that you want him to record.

Up until this point Sitthichai has been hammering the left kick into Jauncey's body to make him wary of its power. This means that rather than standing solid and letting the kick bounce off his block as he would with a kicker of less power or prowess, Jauncey is somewhat over-reactive when Sitthichai's left leg is on the way.

His desire to block/redirect the blow bends his stance out of shape; this is exactly what Sitthichai wants to see - over-reaction creates openings and also means your opponent will be very responsive to feints and misdirection.

Having established the power of his kick, Sitthichai now sets about exploiting pattern-forming and pattern-breaking via the Rule of Three:

(i) Sitthchai first sails in with his full-force left body kick. Jauncey sees this coming and uses the classic arm-and-glove block, shielding the ribs with the same-side arm and using his opposite-side glove to come across and make a pad next to his elbow to intercept the kick. This still hurts, but it takes the edge off the blow.

(ii) The kick has moved Jauncey backwards and he does a little bounce to find his feet. Sitthichai goes again; this time the kick is low, aimed at Jauncey's right thigh. Jauncey reads this and moves to catch the kick but he is not quite on time. He has also pulled his hips back to draw his legs away, temporarily breaking stance.

Taking a couple of steps backwards to recover his base, Jauncey posts his left arm out. This stops Sitthichai coming in to clinch and knee, which Thai fighters will often do after making an opponent break stance with a low kick (either by moving them or making them shin-block).

(iii) Jauncey is out of position; he drifts to his right to re-engage with Sitthichai and stand square. But as Jauncey steps to his right he is moving towards Sitthichai's left leg. Sitthichai lets the left leg go again.

With the previous two kicks having gone low, Jauncey's mind instinctively anticipates the third attack going in that direction. Instead this kick goes high; Sitthichai has successfully opened that route up and the kick lands cleanly, though Jauncey - as commentator Frank Shamrock notes - handles the considerable impact with excellent composure.

II: Feinting/Misdirection

Kiria felt the power of Sitthichai's left kick repeatedly in the first round, but also took some low kicks from Sitthichai's lead right leg. Having established kick attacks with both legs, Sitthichai was then in a position to trick Kiria with feints, making as if to throw a kick from one side and then throwing something from the other side instead.

The finish in the second round came about this very way. Sitthichai backed Kiria up and then jumped forward as if making a switch-kick with his front leg. Kiria reacted to it, moving to defend what he thought was going to be an attack from Sitthichai's right leg, and ended up exposing his own right side in the process. This was a fatal mistake; Sitthichai's mid-leap change of legs planted his left shin full force into Kiria's undefended torso.

Kiria is one of the toughest fighters on the GLORY roster, tougher than a piece of old leather which has been boiled for a week then left out in the desert sun. Andy Ristie stopped both Robin van Roosmalen and Giorgio Petrosyan in one night at GLORY 12 but couldn't put Kiria away at GLORY 14 and ended up exhausting himself in the attempt, allowing Kiria to stop him in the fifth.

That context is important when you look at the effect of Sitthichai's kick. Kiria has never shown himself to be in any kind of hurt or discomfort in any of his GLORY fights to date but after taking that left shin of Sitthichai's he staggered backwards looking like he wanted to puke. He did a good job of keeping his face as straight as possible but his pain could still be clearly read.

The full clip was too long to make one gif from so I had to separate it into two:

After taking the left body kick full force in Gif 1, Kiria circles out and away; Sitthichai comes after him in Gif 2. First he targets the body with a long searching push kick from the rear left leg; Kiria backs onto the ropes and looks at the Thai with trepidation. Sitthichai gives a flick of his right hand as he steps in and Kiria goes to a double arm-cover, anticipating a head attack.

Instead Sitthichai goes low, smashing a left cross into the body. As he retracts his cross, he uses that motion of pulling his upper body back to drive his hip forward into a left knee strike of such force that it passes clean through Kiria's earthly form and hits him in the soul. The tough Georgian falls down into his own private hell while the referee counts him out.

(It has been calculated that a cleanly-landed knee strike from a professional Muay Thai fighter has the same impact as being hit by a small car, and they don't come much cleaner than what Sitthichai hit Kiria with.)

It was the knee which finished the fight but the left kick which marked the beginning of the end. Both blows came about via misdirection, a key component of the Thai art. The ease with which Sitthichai handled Kiria completely matched his pre-fight predictions - he did not rate Kiria at all highly - and should scare his fellow lightweights.

He will now go forward to face the lightweight champion Robin van Roosmalen - himself stylistically quite similar to Kiria - and the Dutchman's team will want to do some serious game planning for that one.