The Head Kick
Before we get into the details of mastering the head kick, let's take a quick look at some of the most devastating head kick knockouts in the UFC:
The head kick is perhaps the most devastating technique in a mixed martial artist’s arsenal. Even the toughest fighters are subject to the threat of being turned off by a properly executed head kick.
There are a variety of different kicking styles that can reach the head of your opponent, but ultimately the goal is the same: to use the strongest muscles in your body to swing the longest limb on your body into the most vital body part of your opponent.
When properly executed a head kick has the potential to end a fight immediately, but when thrown with poor form you leave yourself vulnerable to a variety of counter attacks.
Let’s take a look at how to correctly kick your opponent in the head, as well as the tactics used by the best fighters in the world to set up a head kick knockout.
Aspects Of The Perfect Head Hick
To land a head kick with knockout potential you will need a perfect mixture of mobility, strength, timing and accuracy.
Mobility doesn’t just mean flexibility. You can be flexible without being strong at the end of your range of motion.
Having good hip and hamstring mobility means that not only can you move your legs through a wide range of motion, but you can be strong throughout.
The mobility required to throw a strong head kick can be improved through a variety of stretches and exercises designed to increase the range of motion.
If you know you need to work on hip and hamstring mobility, start by doing these mobility exercises for a minute at a time, in sets of three, four times per week:
- Pigeon Pose
- Wide Legged Forward Fold
- High Lunge
- Seated Twist
All of these exercises require you to maintain some tension in your muscles while stretching them, rather than simply hanging limply. This is the key to increasing mobility rather than flexibility.
Strength comes in a variety of forms. Muscular endurance, isometric endurance, and raw lifting power are all important forms of strength, but to deliver a devastating head kick knock out you want to maximize your explosiveness.
Explosiveness is developed by moving weight quickly, but in a controlled manner. Exercises to increase your explosiveness must be trained with extreme care and caution.
Have a trainer or educated friend analyze your form when doing any of these exercises.
That being said, here is a great workout routine for developing explosiveness in your legs:
- Three sets of twenty-five kettle bell swings (for this one start out at a low weight and work your way up)
- Three sets of twenty-five box jumps (24 inches is a good starting height for these)
- Three sets of twenty five burpees t
- Three three-minute sets of jumping rope.
These exercises should be performed in a circuit, meaning you can do one set of each exercise in a row and cycle through them three times. Make sure you get a good stretch in after these workouts (the mobility exercises listed above would be perfect).
Timing & Accuracy
Timing and accuracy are the hardest pieces of the head kick to learn.
A precisely timed head kick can only truly be perfected by practicing on an opponent, but this skill can be developed through various other means that don’t involve giving brain damage to one of your friends.
Practicing on a heavy bag will help improve the fluidity of the kicking motion, but accuracy and timing will be better developed by training with a partner holding pads.
Your training partner can then move to simulate the fight experience.
In this way you can practice combinations, and learn the timing, accuracy and distance control required to execute a head kick.
Lull Your Opponent Into a False Sense of Security
Now that you know how to throw a head kick, it is important that you realize your opponent will not simply allow you to clang your shin off of the side of his head.
You’re going to have to trick your opponent into expecting a different type of strike.
One tactic we see used by pro MMA strikers is to start the fight off throwing their kicks at different body parts.
Outside and inside legs kicks thrown to the meat of your opponents thighs will cause him to start checking your kicks with his shins.
Liver kicks and other kicks to the body will bring the hands of your opponent down to defend these kicks. By doing this over and over again you can create a neural pattern in your opponents mind that will cause him to start defending his thigh and his stomach as soon as he sees you throwing a kick.
Then, when you send one flying at his head, he will be a split second slow on bringing his hands up to stop the kick from contacting his skull, and a split second is all you need.
A beautifully executed example of this can been seen in the UFC 214 main event: Jones vs. Cormier II. Jon Jones threw a smorgasbord of different kicking techniques at Daniel Cormier.
Oblique kicks, thigh stomps, teep kicks, and traditional Muay Thai leg kicks were coming in non-stop from Jones. Then, when Jon “Bones” Jones pulled the trigger on the head kick that ended the fight, Cormier actually leaned into it, and moved his hands as if he was expecting to defend a kick to the body, but instead he received a shin bone to the temple.
Even the most experienced fighters are subject to trickery. Set up your head kicks by getting your opponent to defend other parts of his body, and you will be able to land an undefended shot to the head.
Hide Your Kick Inside of Combinations
Here is an amazing video by Coach Firas Zahabi on setting up the head kick:
A second, but equally effective tactic for setting up a head kick is to include it at the end of a Muay Thai or kickboxing combo. One of the most popular Muay Thai head kick combinations is the Jab, Cross, Hook, Head Kick.
This technique begins by closing the distance on your opponent. Once inside of striking range, unleash the classic boxing strike: the jab. This strike is thrown with your lead hand, and will close the eyes of your opponent for a split second, allowing you to get a step ahead of them on the rest of the combo.
Also, if you're looking for a guide to get you started with Muay Thai, check out our Ultimate Guide to Muay Thai for beginners.
The next strike in this combination is the cross. This is a punch thrown with your back hand “across” your body. Immediately follow that punch with a lead hand hook.
Since this punch attacks the side of the face, your opponent may have to obstruct his own vision in order to defend against it. Finally, throw a head kick with your back leg.
Practicing this combo on a heavy bag will help you develop the fluid transition from one strike to the next, and then practice it with a training partner holding pads to develop the timing and accuracy needed to land it on an actual opponent.
The most recent time this combination was flawlessly executed in an MMA fight was during UFC 202 when Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone completely dismantled his opponent Rick Story.
The combo was thrown with such precision and ferocity that GIFs of the event were shared across the internet, including several that featured Cerrone turning into a super hero character while executing the technique.
The head kick is a brutal striking technique that very few fighters have ever been able to recover from. Add it to your arsenal and you will become a genuinely dangerous competitor. Learn to set it up and throw it correctly and you will be unstoppable.