Monday, July 02, 2012

UGBG (UnderGround Guest Blogger) Leon Mata makes the case for Soccer kicks in MMA. Follow Leon on Twitter.

On June 23rd at ONE Fighting Championship 4, former rising UFC heartthrob Roger Huerta lost his fourth consecutive fight via getting his head kicked into the third row of Stadium Negara.  A video of the brutal conclusion was posted online shortly after the fight and not surprisingly, fans were passionately divided on the issue of whether or not soccer kicks should be legal. This isn’t a new debate – it has been a struggle that has been raging since the old Pride glory days. 

One notable opponent to the legalization of soccer kicks in MMA is Dr. Johnny Benjamin, also known as the “Fight Doc.”. As an orthopedic spinal surgeon, Dr. Benjamin’s opinions carry a lot of weight and should be given due deference. But coming from the good ole School of Hard Knocks, I have a tendency to take everything with a grain of salt. In his column, Dr. Benjamin claims that based on the force generated by a typical soccer kick by an adult soccer player (1,000 – 1,200 pounds of force) and the threshold at which the human neck will break (roughly 800-1,000 pounds of force), the “risk of significant catastrophic injury is far too great.”

I have a few issues with Dr. Benjamin’s analysis. First of all, the mechanics of a true soccer kick and a soccer kick in MMA are different, so it’s difficult to directly compare the two. Secondly, the measurement of the soccer kick’s strength presumably was based on the full impact of the kick. I can’t recall many instances where a soccer kick landed flush to a fighter’s head (though admittedly, the kick landed by Zoro on Huerta was close). Finally, Dr. Benjamin admits that the likelihood of a cervical spine fracture is dependent on a number of variables other than the force of the impact, including the positioning of the head at impact and the direction and magnitude (vector) of the blow. In other words, and I do not say this lightly, it appears that it would require a “perfect storm” of variables for a soccer kick to actually break a fighter’s neck.

Even if we were to assume that the legality of a head strike should be based upon the force the technique generates, shouldn’t we then also examine other techniques using the same measurement? Running a quick google search I discovered that a TKD spinning back kick (similar to the one landed by Edson Barboza on Terry Etim) can generate over 1,500 pounds of force, punches can generate over 2,300 pounds of force, and takedowns can generate 2,700 pounds of force.

Taking a look at another contact sport, it has been shown that a football tackle can generate 3,200 pounds of force – and that’s on a stationary object. Imagine the force of two juiced-up monsters wearing armor slamming into each other at full speed. Surely it would be death on impact, right?

To put it another way, if we are going to ban some techniques in MMA, shouldn’t we really start with the most dangerous techniques and then work our way backwards? Perhaps the most dangerous technique is the powerbomb (ala Bob Sapp v. Big Nog) or the forward somersault when a fighter is strapped to your back (ala Alan Belcher v. Yushin Okami). Or perhaps it is Allistair Overeem pulling an opponent’s head down in a plumb clinch into an horsemeat fueled Uberknee. Although the soccer kick may be brutal, surely there are other techniques that generate more force and in a manner that put the spine at greater risk.

So why does Dr. Benjamin feel so strongly about banning soccer kicks? Perhaps the answer can be found in his column where he states that watching Huerta’s head get punted made him “cringe.” Perhaps that is all it is – a natural, gut-instinct reaction that “kicking a man while he is down” is plainly too brutal and barbaric. But should that be a sufficient argument to ban the technique?

If this argument seems familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve heard it before. It’s the same argument that ignorant, male-grandmother politicians use to keep our beloved sport of MMA from entering their state or country. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for fighter safety, but in my mind, until you can definitively show that a particular technique puts a fighter’s health at too great of a risk, not based on speculation and conjecture, but rather on proven facts and science, you have to let that technique be part of a fighter’s arsenal.

I have also heard the argument that the soccer kick should be banned because it requires no technique. Really? I guess we should ban haymakers and Leonard Garcia from MMA too while we are at it if that is the threshold we are using to determine legality.

And if you really think that a soccer kick requires no technique, you should go watch some old Shogun footage in Pride. That my friends, is a ballet of destruction, and is one of the reasons that I am firmly on Team Soccer Kick.

Zoro Moreira: Yuki Shimada instructed me to “Finish Him!”