The MMA Discourse: Calf Kicks

This specific technique has been a hot topic for the past few years. Michael Chandler suffered a quick, devastating loss after his lead leg effectively went dead, following a small number of very precise calf kicks. A similar fate almost befell Henry Cejudo in his final title defence, but the now-retired bantamweight champion was able to defend himself until he was able to regain mobility in his lead ankle.

The efficacy of the technique is not in doubt, but there is a chorus of voices — and one that is steadily growing, it would seem — who are demanding that someone do something about this scourge. Yes, calf kicks are the latest thing that is ruining MMA.

Until Conor McGregor was on the receiving end of a lopsided defeat at the hands of Dustin Poirier, everyone seemed resigned to the fact that this was simply the new hot trend in MMA technique. However you want to classify McGregor's statements, that he was surprised by the tactic and handily neturalized by it as well. This kicked off another round of debate about the technique which culminated in Michael Bisping and Paul Felder spending a significant amount of Pedro Munhoz / Jimmie Rivera talking about calf kicks as though they were some kind of Cheat Code — something you can't possibly train for let alone defend.

Now, I am not a professional fighter; I've never trained with pros and my experience with combat is limited to sloppy fights against other untrained imbeciles such as myself. Obviously I can appreciate that professional fighters — a former UFC middleweight champion in Bisping's case — know a thing or two about sparring and training to fight strikers in MMA. That being said, this technique is mainly effective because MMA fighters don't check kicks as a rule.

There was a time when American kickboxers frowned on the mere concept of leg kicks. Duke Roufus' brother, Rick, was famously routed in brutal fashion by Changpuek's vicious leg kick assault. Duke was quoted as saying it "doesn't take much skill to kick someone in the legs." This isn't to mock Roufus either, he — and the rest of his peers in the kickboxing world — changed their tune, adapted, and the sport moved on. MMA will do the same thing; someone's going to get their oh-so clever calf kick checked and their foot is going to twist like saltwater taffy, and The Calf Kick era will be over immediately.

The same sort of non-discussions arose when Jon Jones was fighting more regularly, and exploiting both his absurd leg reach and fighters' inability to deal with kicks to the oblique area of the knee. Arguments were always some kind of appeal to etiquette, as though damaging a major joint is somehow more of a violation or physical assault than bludgeoning a person into unconsciousness.

Published: March 5th, 2021.