Although leg kicks are one of the most popular moves in mixed martial arts, kickboxing and Muay Thai, it’s not often that you see them used to their full potential. When used properly, leg kicks can debilitate an opponent, leaving them tired, beaten down and vulnerable.
We’ve seen it on the grand stage, with the likes of Conor McGregor, Urijah Faber, Warpath, Rampage Jackson and Robbie Lawler all falling victim to vicious leg kicks.
Leg kicks are often used as a range finder – a way keep opponents away and score points. But when used to their full potential, throwing leg kicks can chip away at an opponent’s leg until it's too compromised to properly hold their weight. When a fighter’s legs can’t hold their weight, their power vanishes.
Superstars like Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethjie, Forrest Griffin, Jose Aldo and Edson Barboza have shown us how devastating leg kicks can be. With that in mind, the leg kick is an essential tool in your toolkit as a fighter, and we’re going to break down how exactly to throw a leg kick in this article for maximum damage.
HOW TO THROW A LEG KICK: THE TECHNIQUE
The technique for throwing a leg kick mirrors a head kick. You swing your leg and twist your hips and the rest of your body to generate rotational power as you follow through with the leg kick. Your opposite arm (opposite to the leg that you kick with) should come up to protect your face as you throw the kick.
Leg kicks are viewed by some as a risky technique that can leave you open and vulnerable, but that comes down to how well the move is executed. For example, Dustin Poirier managed to chip away at Conor McGregor’s legs at UFC 257 before finishing him off with a flurry of punches in the second round without taking much damage. Similarly, current Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya attacked Yoel Romero’s legs at UFC 248 to wear down the Soldier of God and score points, which helped him secure the victory via unanimous decision.
Of course, a poorly executed leg kick will leave you in a vulnerable position, especially if you don’t protect your face as you follow through with the technique. A poorly executed leg kick is also likely to be checked by your opponent, which can cause some serious damage (think Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman) or set you up for a brutal pick / counter.
According to MMA World Champion Siyar Bahadurzada, “In order to set up a leg kick, you have to distract them. It messes with their coordination…they become hesitant and they cannot react the same way that they react if they are focused.”
In other words, throwing leg kicks into your fighting style isn’t just a great way to wear down your opponent or score points – leg kicks can also distract your opponent and present opportunities to cause some serious damage. For example, former world champion Georges-St-Pierre recommends leg kicks as way to distract your opponent and catch them off guard with a clinically-timed Superman Punch.
GSP explains that the way to catch an opponent with a superman punch is to set it up with kicks. The kick shifts the opponents focus to try and defend future kicks, which can open them up to a devastating superman punch.
“To set up a superman punch, what I like to do is I, I set up with a kick. I pretend to push the leg,” St. Pierre explains. “At first, I push the leg. And then I’m faking the same thing with my leg, and I go with the punch."
HOW TO SET UP A LEG KICK
There are countless ways to set up a leg kick, but there are a few tried and true methods. Of course, you can always get creative and adapt to your opponents fighting style, but the fundamentals can be just as clinical during a fight.
JAB, LEG KICK
The jab-leg kick combo is a staple in Muay Thai and kickboxing that remains effective at even the highest levels of competition. The technique involves throwing jabs to distract your opponent and have them focus on your strikes, then following up with a leg kick. The jabs shift your opponent’s focus to avoiding your punches, which messes with their coordination and focus, setting up the perfect opportunity to land a devastating leg kick.
JAB, CROSS, LEG KICK
The jab-cross combination is a classic. A properly executed jab-cross 1-2 combo can be enough to take out your opponent, or at least shift their focus to avoiding taking too much damage. When they’re distracted, it sets up a fantastic opportunity to chop away at their legs.
WHEN YOUR OPPONENT IS COMING FORWARD
When your opponent is coming forward, they can open themselves up for a leg kick. If they step forward either to close distance or to throw a punch, the front leg is loaded with their weight, which means it can’t be lifted to check the leg kick.
However, this is one of those situations where awareness and defense is key. A poorly executed leg kick when your opponent is charging forward can be costly.
HOW TO THROW A LEG KICK: CONCLUSION
Leg kicks can be devastating if properly executed. Setting up a well-timed leg kick either through peppering your opponent with jabs, landing a 1-2 jab-cross combo, or attacking their leading leg when they’re charging forward can have lasting effects.
Whether you use leg kicks as a range finder, to score points or to chip away at your opponent’s legs, adding leg kicks to your arsenal is essential as an MMA fighter.