Certain MMA fighters have proven how effective and powerful striking martial arts can be in full-contact competitions that allow the use of both grappling and striking arts. These days it’s much different than the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, back when there weren’t really any experienced fighters entering the tournament and you mainly got a weird Hodge-podge of fighters that just wanted to fight. Back then, grapplers were wiping the mat with Karate men that really looked clueless in the Octagon. Not to say there weren’t any good strikers back then. Orlando Weit comes to mind. He was smooth and swift, a Muay Thai practitioner that was wiping out the competition. But even he seemed lost when it came to dealing with a seasoned grappler. Just like Pat Smith; an experienced Kickboxer that was winning until he faced the likes of Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, two very effective grapplers who attacked his neck and joints.
However, as time went on, MMA started seeing some very experienced and well-versed strikers who practiced very effective striking arts who applied their crafts with precision and power, knocking out skilled fighters and winning with devastating punches, kicks, knees and elbows.
Here I present who I consider the best of MMA’s strikers, their arts and why they won.
Chuck Liddell. Source: Keith Allison, Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Chuck Liddell: Hawaiian Kempo
Chuck Liddell is a real fighter. He’s a street fighter, a Kenpo fighter and a wrestler. His brand of Hawaiian Kenpo is derived from Kajukenbo, an already hybrid art that combines boxing, Jiu Jitsu and Kenpo, stripped down and made for real fighting. Liddell has also had practice street fighting with drunks in the college town he’s from. He spent time fighting full-contact, no style divisions, before he entered the UFC and won the championship.
The reason why is that he applies real Kenpo principles to his winning techniques. Kenpo is based in sound and logical principles that take into account scientific principles of physics and practical considerations of position and angle, timing and movement. Chuck times his knockouts, uses sufficient force and body mechanics, and is quick and precise. He is one of the best examples of an effective striker in MMA.
Anderson Silva: Muay Thai
Anderson Silva is a joy to watch. He’s smooth, quick, powerful, graceful. And he comes off with some crazy surprise attacks. I think the element of surprise is his main advantage, along with his devastating technique. He lands flying knees, outward elbow strikes and front kicks: Yes, front kicks! Before Silva, I don’t think anyone would have thought a front kick could have been pulled off in MMA. That’s the beauty of his career. He’s shown that such things can be done.
He’s trained heavily in Muay Thai kickboxing, a system rooted in real technique that works in full-contact fights, with crushing elbows and knee strikes, strong boxing technique and crippling low kicks to the thigh nerves. One of the things that differentiates the Muay Thai kick is that it isn’t retracted, it’s followed through as if you are kicking through the target so that it has maximum power. Anderson uses all of these techniques effectively, landing them out of the blue; but really he has this extraordinary timing that scores knockouts cleanly, precisely and powerfully.
I have to wonder if some of his training in Capoeira has helped him to become elusive. His opponents never see the knockout coming; obviously or they wouldn’t get knocked out.
Silva is another one who learned the hard way, growing up in poverty in the streets of Brazil. He originally learned Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from the neighborhood kids because he couldn’t afford lessons. Then he trained in some Capoeira and eventually got some strong training in Muay Thai.
Strong, graceful and entertaining, Silva is definitely one of the top strikers in MMA.
Maurice Smith: Kickboxing
Maurice is big, powerful and a vet when it comes to fighting in the ring. He is famous for being the first striker to win MMA championships. Like Liddell, he can effectively defend against takedowns, with use of the sprawl (a wrestling technique). At some point Smith began training with famed shootfighter Frank Shamrock and vastly improved his ground game.
Kickboxing has many things going for it as far as an art to use in MMA. Boxing techniques are always good and all MMA fighters use them; they are fast, efficient, make use of body mechanics and so have power and are versatile in terms of angles and movement. Of course, boxing technique is part of Kickboxing’s repetoire. The other obvious advantage is that Kickboxing is meant for full-contact fighting and a seasoned Kickboxer has had experience in full-contact bouts. This kind of thing is necessary for success in MMA. And that’s what Maurice had.
Lyoto Machida. By Marcos Joel Reis (Flickr: Lyoto Machida) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Lyoto Machida: Shotokan Karate
Lyoto Machida has been doing Shotokan Karate since he was a little boy. He was trained by his father, a Japanese immigrant who landed in Brazil and found his Shotokan knowledge had to be modified to suit the fighting environment of his new home. So, Machida’s branch of Shotokan makes use of varying angles in the heat of battle, throwing off the opponent and landing those notorious hard Shotokan kicks and punches.
Machida has shocked the MMA world, a world that had been dominated by wrestlers and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighters, along with some Kickboxers and some other strikers, by pulling off traditional Karate technique in the Octagon. Machida’s training has been a mixture of Sumo, Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu; he knows how to grapple and defend himself against a take-down, in addition to understanding the devastating power of a Muay Thai kick. But what has amazed fight fans is his ability to pull off something like the “Karate Kid Kick”, like he did when he knocked out formidable grappler Randy Couture.
Machida is deceptive, always has control of distance and timing, confuses and frustrates his opponents and, when the time is right, he strikes and stings like a snake. He’s an expert counter fighter, waits for and baits his antagonist until they are lured in and then he nails them with a hard Karate technique. He dropped Tito Ortiz with a knee to the body as Ortiz rushed in, he nailed Bader with a punch as he came in; he times his technique with precision and uses the strategy of a Samurai. Truly, Machida is already a martial arts legend and definitely one of the best strikers in MMA.
One thing that should be noted is that all of these fighters, though primarily strikers, also had training in grappling. It’s best to know all ranges of fighting and know what to do in a variety of circumstances; this, of course, includes knowing what to do on the ground or how to defend against a grappler trying to take you to the ground.
All of these fighters, too, have good experience in real, full-contact fights with very limited rules and divisions. This is an obvious must for MMA fighters because they must have experience dealing with the real thing and all of its lack of predictability. Those early UFC fights involved a lot of people who just relied on their limited arts and limited knowledge and most of the fighters were inexperienced. MMA sort of forced us to step outside of our own boundaries, by necessity, and explore other options and knowledge. Fortunately.
A practical mind-set and a willingness to explore arts outside of just one is required to be a good fighter and definitely necessary in MMA. Silva proves that you never know what’s going to work, it’s totally unexpected. Liddell proves that wild and heavy punches can be effective when thrown at the right time, at an obscure angle and when you position yourself where your opponent has difficulty getting you. Smith proves that open-mindedness will assure you that you can be victorious, since you apply what is necessary just like you learn what is useful. Machida has proven that Karate technique can be used in MMA, with the right strategy, good timing and control of distance.
All of these fighters have held the striking arts up to the light, applied good sense and strategy and proved that it can be done.
In 1981, at the age of 11, I began training in Goju Ryu Karate at a local community center on the Central Coast of California. I trained there for about a year. In 1984, my family moved to Northern California, where I began training in Kenpo Karate under Professor Charles "Chuck" Epperson. I trained at Professor Epperson's dojo for about a year. I left the dojo, but returned in 1994. I earned ranks up through second-degree black belt under Chuck Epperson. I tested for brown and black belts in front of Master Richard "Huk" Planas, first-generation Ed Parker Kenpo black belt. I taught classes at Professor Epperson's dojo from 1998 to 2002. I have also taught private lessons for friends and family. I have training in Doce Pares Eskrima under Charles Epperson and have attended seminars by Master Anthony Kleeman and Grandmaster Cacoy Canete. I have also trained in DeCuerdas Eskrima under Professor James Muro. In addition to my martial arts training, I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, have worked in the Human Services field since 1996, and currently spend most of my time writing web articles.