Leg Kicks in MMA

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In lieu of Edson Barboza taking on Justin Gaethje, we take a look at some of the best leg kickers in the game. An underrated strike in MMA, leg kicks, when used correctly can almost completely immobilize a fighter and massively hinder their game. The benefits of leg kicking in MMA are obvious, obliterate your opponent’s base and limit their movement. They do however come with some risk, as we saw with Anderson Silva when he faced Chris Weidman. Weidman successfully checked Silva’s leg kick attempt, instantly breaking the Brazilian’s leg.

We look at the five of the best leg kickers currently in the UFC. We also give props to some underrated leg kick performances in the UFC.

Edson Barboza

The human highlight reel Edson Barboza has finished three of 20 wins via leg kick. If he doesn’t finish the fight with leg kicks, he certainly looks to hinder his opponent by chopping at their base. Inside or outside, Barboza doesn’t discriminate. Using his muay thai style, what arguably makes Barboza’s leg kicks so dangerous is the threat of the high kick. Whether it’s to the head or to the body, Barboza hides his kicks well and mixes them up constantly. We saw just how damaging Barboza can be with his leg strikes when he faced Dan Hooker.

In his UFC debut, Barboza finished Mike Lullo with a TKO via leg kicks. Throughout, he worked the legs and it became a real factor within the fight. Commentator Joe Rogan described Lullo’s leg as ‘doomed’, proving what a toll it had. In the third round, Barboza landed three heavy leg kicks, twice knocking his opponent off his feet and got the finish. One thing is for sure, even when Barboza does get his leg kicks checked, they still hurt. With his fight-ending leg kick power, Barboza is a fan favorite and always exciting to watch.

Justin Gaethje

Justin Gaethje, the man who joins Barboza in the main event at UFC on ESPN 2 is known within hardcore MMA circles for having some of the most brutal leg kicks in the game. Similar to Barboza, Gaethje is one of the few high-level fighters to have ever finished fights due to leg kicks. Not only is this an impressive feat on its own but he’s done this on three different occasions. His ability to chop the legs was on full display in his Fight of the Year, debut performance against Michael Johnson.

Gaethje’s insider fighting style suits his love of leg kicks as he throws them without having to wind up a lot. Managing to generate enormous power from short range with his leg kicks, it often takes his opponents by surprise. During his fight with Dustin Poirier, Gaethje constantly attacked the legs of ‘The Diamond’. Although he came up short in the fight itself, Poirier took to Twitter after the fight to show the damage done to his legs. With his walk forward style as well as Barboza’s exciting style of fighting, their fight guarantees to be one to keep an eye on.

For highlights of Gaethje’s leg kicking ability, check out this article written last year!

Jose Aldo

The former 145lbs king Jose Aldo has been known to be one of the most effective leg kickers in the game. Aldo has always claimed that his success with leg kicks and the reason he is able to generate so much power is that he has a background playing soccer. Although he has neglected using his leg kicks in recent fights, he still has them in his locker. With his black belt in BJJ, and the best takedown defense in the history of the sport, Aldo doesn’t fear being taken down so throws leg kicks with little hesitation.

Aldo put on one the best displays of leg kicking in MMA history at WEC 48 when he faced Urijah Faber. He showed how a well-executed kicking game can debilitate an opponent. Aldo cruised to victory, and in the process seriously injured Faber. Aldo’s leg kicks are well discussed in this article, explaining his successes when using them and whether they are a myth. Although he hasn’t thrown them as often as he previously did, they are still a real weapon in his arsenal.

Rafael Dos Anjos

Although not someone that would automatically come to mind, Rafael Dos Anjos can certainly do some damage when attacking the legs. It first became obvious how much of a weapon they are when he faced Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 13. Dos Anjos was able to attack the base of Diaz, who notoriously stands heavy on his lead leg. The Brazilian reduced the effectiveness of Diaz’s boxing style as a result of his leg attacks. Possibly the reason this work so well is because they both stand in the southpaw stance. This allowed Dos Anjos to effectively chop the lead leg of Diaz with heavy outside kicks. Numerous times in the fight he forced Diaz to switch stance due to his lead leg being eaten up. Dos Anjos very much wrote the blueprint for Conor McGregor in his rematch with Diaz as to the effectiveness of the leg kick.

Another performance where Dos Anjos utilized leg kicks with great effect was when he faced Robbie Lawler. Dos Anjos’ game plan was clear, to eat up the legs early and often. The Brazilian was able to back Lawler up to the fence multiple times throughout the fight and unload on him. This was made easier due to the hindered movement of Lawler as a result of the leg kicks.

Jon Jones

Similar to Dos Anjos, Jon Jones is not the first person who comes to mind when considering world class leg kickers. Despite this, we all know how effective Jones can be when he uses them, in particular, his oblique kick. The oblique kick itself has become known as a tactic of Jones’ throughout his fights and is difficult to defend against. The oblique kick is essentially a stomp to the area just above the knee. An effective strike to stop the forward momentum of an opponent, it hyperextends the knee and can do serious damage.

The oblique kick has come under great controversy as it has caused a number of injuries inside the octagon. When Robert Whittaker faced Yoel Romero, Romero landed an oblique kick on Whittaker early. The strike lead to Whittaker’s knee hyperextending, and he suffered a grade two medial ligament injury to the knee.

Similarly, when Darren Till faced Stephen Thompson in Liverpool, Till used the oblique kick. Thompson believed that this hindered his performance as he suffered a torn MCL. Following his bout with Till, Thompson called for the strike to be made illegal. He stated in an interview with BJ Penn’s Chris Taylor that it could ‘end somebodies career’. The strike is currently still legal in MMA and it isn’t likely to be outlawed any time soon.

Honorable Leg Kick Performances

Stephens vs. Melendez

Jeremy Stephens put on one of the best displays of leg kicks we’ve seen in modern years when he faced Gilbert Melendez. Stephens completely debilitated Melendez, chopping at his lower leg throughout and rendering Melendez unable to walk.

Munhoz vs. Johns

This performance featured on our Lumberjacks: Best Leg Kicks August 2018 segment. Current #4 ranked bantamweight Pedro Munhoz attacked Brett Johns’ legs with savage accuracy. Knocking Johns down, and almost finishing him, Munhoz’s leg kicking ability is certainly something to keep an eye on for his opponents.

Cerrone vs. Rocha

When Donald Cerrone faced Vagner Rocha he landed 86 significant strikes, many of which were to the legs of Rocha. Using his extensive muay thai and kickboxing background, Cerrone didn’t discriminate against the inside or outside of Rocha’s legs. Cruising to the unanimous decision victory, Cerrone’s leg kicks were a real factor in this fight.

Think we’ve missed out on any notable leg kickers currently competing in the UFC or any more notable performances? Let us know in the comments below!

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Frazer Krohn has been with MMASucka for nearly 5 years. He is the host of the MMASucka podcast, which is released every Monday. He's the author of a series of six books about MMA, which were published in 2023.

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