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Was Uriah Hall's spinning back kick KO a lucky shot?

Bloody Elbow's Connor Ruebusch breaks down Uriah Hall's spectacular spinning back kick KO, and ponders whether or not it was a precision strike, or a lucky break.

Ken Ishii/Getty Images

On Saturday, Uriah Hall turned Gegard Mousasi, a fighter whose durability is the stuff of legend, into a wobbling mess with a single, perfectly placed kick. If you haven't seen it, avail yourself of the GIF here.

In the aftermath of this spectacular finish, many have started to question the true intentions of Hall's strike. Because spinning back kicks are more commonly used to attack the body than the face, it has been supposed that Hall was more than a little lucky to land his kick precisely on Mousasi's chin just as he was ducking down into its path. After all, how could Uriah know where his target's head was going to be?

Of course, we do have an explanation from Uriah himself, from right after the finish: "For me with my karate background it's all about timing. I knew he was gonna try to shoot in so . . . if I spin or whatever, normally people will duck or flinch, and when I watched him fight that's the only thing I would see him do. He would flinch every time I would throw something."

Simple enough. To me, Hall's explanation is plenty believable. We've all seen enough flying knee knockouts to know that ducking, while it may not be the wisest reaction to an unorthodox strike, is certainly a common one. I've also watched enough Gegard Mousasi to know that, yes, he ducks his head all the time.

Others have not been keen to take Hall's explanation at face value, however. The notion that an experienced karateka with a penchant for spinning kicks could possibly use one to knock someone out is far-fetched, to say the least; Hall is nothing more than a lucky son of a gun. To quote some of my peers, his kick was "a fluke."

So let's break it down, piece by piece.

MEASURING INTENT

Aside from Hall's explanation, there are several details to the kick that lead me to believe in its intent. Let's take a look at the whole sequence from start to finish.

1. Mousasi comes forward.

2. Hall shows him a half-hearted feint with his left hand.

3. Now Hall begins to spin, whipping his arms around as he turns his feet and hips in preparation for the jump.

4. Hall jumps and gets eyes on Mousasi as he starts to duck.

5. Hall follows through as Mousasi ducks into the kick.

There are a few reasons to jump while throwing a spinning kick. Primarily the jump acts as a quick and flexible pivot. By removing his non-kicking foot from the ground, Hall can throw his powerful back kick with no friction whatsoever, increasing the speed of the turn, and therefore the explosive power of the kick. In addition, the jump allows Hall to fire off the kick in a more limited space. Where a typical spinning back kick would require more distance to fully extend through the target, the jumping variety works very well in confined quarters--say, when an opponent is trying to crowd you or take you down. Finally, there is height. While Hall can no doubt hit a spinning back kick to the head without a jump, a few inches of air certainly help in picking off a high target. One look at the final frame of the sequence above shows that Hall gets anywhere from 6-12 inches of additional height thanks to his jump, making it that much easier to find Mousasi's jaw.

It seems completely reasonable to me that Hall, having spent the last round on his back, expected Mousasi to come in low and look for a counter takedown. If Hall studied any footage at all, he would have noted how frequently Mousasi breaks his own posture while defending or looking to shoot. Hell, Mousasi spent most of his last fight doing exactly that, dodging the punches of a more powerful striker and moving under them to take him down. With extensive experience in the "traditional" martial arts, and obvious skill in executing some of their more eccentric techniques, why not believe Hall when he says that he anticipated the location of Mousasi's head?

WHY THE CRITICISM?

Ultimately, I'm much more interested in understanding the derision for Hall's win than I am the mechanics of the technique itself. After all, as a boring, old-before-his-time fight geek, I'd rather spend my time breaking down the subtleties of simple 1-2 combinations than I would violent feats of acrobatic skill. To be honest, I wouldn't have written about this kick had I not seen the public reception it received in the MMA community.

Much of the criticism of Hall's knockout seems to be more . . . let's say pointed than it needs to be. It seems the MMA community has some sort of collective axe to grind with Hall, the man who promised so much during his stint on The Ultimate Fighter and yet utterly failed to deliver.

We've seen plenty of other unorthodox, low-percentage strikes in MMA, even at the highest levels, against very competent opposition. When Anderson Silva front kicked Vitor Belfort into oblivion, no one called it a fluke, even though Belfort ducked right into the blow. Likewise for Lyoto Machida, who landed an even more spectacular jumping front kick to knock out Randy Couture. When heavyweight Shawn Jordan tilted his bowling ball-esque frame to land a hook kick to the jaw of Derrick Lewis, there was far more awe than criticism. And almost exactly two years ago today, Renan Barao landed an almost identical copy of Hall's kick to knock out Eddie Wineland for the bantamweight title. No one accused Barao of possessing an unusual amount of luck then.

The reason seems obvious to me. To a one, all of those men were heavy favorites going into their bouts. We not only expected every one of them to win, but to do so in spectacular fashion. Even Jordan, one of the last men on earth I expected to win by hook kick knockout, received no widespread derision. There was disbelief, certainly, but it was more of the "I can't believe he did that!" variety, and not so much the "Actually, I don't believe he really did that" sort.

There's a kind of sliding scale when it comes to techniques deemed "low percentage." On the one hand, we consider techniques unlikely to succeed because they don't obey certain "rules" of fighting. A bulldog choke, for example, lacks the leverage and positional control that makes a rear naked choke so much more reliable. On the other side of the spectrum, we have techniques that are just unbelievably difficult to pull off. There's a reason most fighters don't go around throwing spinning elbows and tornado kicks--and when they do, most don't have the experience or the athletic ability to do so successfully.

Uriah Hall's problems are many, but striking accuracy and athletic ability have never been among them. He may not even be a top ten middleweight, but he is absolutely among the very best when it comes to spinning attacks in MMA. And when it comes to low percentage techniques, a jump spinning back kick is undeniably on the "hard to do" side of the spectrum rather than the "shouldn't work but does" side. The fact that we would question the abilities of Uriah Hall, known spinning kick connoisseur, and not those of Shawn Jordan, known LSU lineman, is more than a little baffling to me.

"Fluke" is not a neutral word. It has a connotation--a flavor. "Fluke" does not mean "unlikely occurrence" any more than "stench" means "odor." With the latter, I can be fairly certain you're not describing a floral perfume. With the former, a note of derision is unavoidable.

And look, I get it. Hall wasn't supposed to beat Mousasi. He did so in spectacularly unorthodox fashion, and with a strike that, at best, has a very low success rate. But if I had to pick the man to land such a strike successfully, Hall would certainly be on the shortlist.

Want to hear me and Bleacher Report analyst Patrick Wyman argue about this? Tune in to this week's episode of Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face-punching--and face-kicking too.