#10: Shinya Aoki‘s Flying Guard Pull/Japanese Backpack
(Aoki vs. Cavalcante and Moore, respectively.)
When you fight Aoki you know he wants to get things to the ground, and he knows that you know it. Takedowns and sweeps can be hard to come by against an opponent looking to defend them and almost nothing else, so Aoki has had to find other , more creative ways of getting the fight where he wants it, even getting thrown and briefly mounted from time to time. One of our favorite maneuvers is his flying guard pull. It may look silly, but more often than not you’re coming down with him and playing the ground game. If you defend that, he can always jump on you from behind like a kitschy Japanese backpack. Think “Hello Kitty,” only way more dangerous.
When wrestlers first emerged as a dominant force in MMA they faced an obvious problem: nothing in their background had prepared them to finish fights. In the UFC, pinning dudes will just get you boos and a call for action from Big John, so you’d better come up with something else. Matt Hughes did, and that something was his farmboy slam. He knocked Carlos Newton out with it at UFC 34, and used it as a staple in his game for years. Even if it was rarely as effective in ending fights as it was against Newton, it still looked cool when he walked across the cage with an opponent on his shoulder like a sack of flour, and it sure got the fans fired up, like it did in Hughes’ dramatic comeback victory against Frank Trigg at UFC 52.
Ever since he won his first pro fight by heel-hook, Masakazu Imanari has been on a one-man crusade to elevate the leg lock from an underappreciated, sort-of-dishonorable gimmick attack into one of the most fearsome finishing moves in mixed martial arts. The Ashikan Judan (“10th-Degree Black Belt in Leglocks”) has scored eight of his sixteen career victories by way of his signature submission, and once defeated Mike Brown and Yoshiro Maeda in the same night via leg-subs to win DEEP’s featherweight title. It doesn’t matter that at this point Imanari’s opponents know it’s coming; watch the above video of his fight against Jorge Gurgel and you’ll understand why. Imanari attacks knees and ankles ferociously, relentlessly, and with extreme prejudice. He’s taking your leg home with him, and you won’t be able to do a damn thing about it.
My Muay Thai instructor once referred to Brock Lesnar’s trademark ground-and-pound attack, not unkindly, as “masturbation punches,” which is about as good a description as we can offer. Think about it — they’re short, rapid, furious, and performed by a panting, red-faced man on the brink of ecstasy. Of course, when those punches are coming from Lesnar, a 280-pound behemoth with XXXXL fists, it’s the furthest thing from a joke. Sure, maybe Brock’s hammer fists would be more effective if he calmed down a little bit and threw them from higher up. But when he’s on top and there’s blood in the water, the frenzy takes over. It’s less about the one-punch knockout and more about creating an onslaught that his opponent can’t breathe under. Referee Steve Mazzagatti saved Frank Mir from being hammer-fisted to death by Lesnar during their first match last February; next time, he might not be so lucky.
#6: Chuck Liddell‘s Looping Overhand Right
(Liddell vs. Ortiz @ UFC 47, 4/2/04)
It’s the kind of punch that drives boxing fanatics crazy. It doesn’t come in straight and doesn’t look all that technically sound, yet Liddell’s looping right hand has found its way past the defenses of some of MMA’s best light heavyweights, and when it lands it spells trouble. Like most things in Liddell’s arsenal, it works best as a counter-attack (see: Liddell vs. Couture, parts 2 & 3), but if you’re just going to stand there and cover up like a frightened Tito Ortiz he’s not afraid to unleash it as part of a combo. Far less effective is Liddell’s Uppercut-While-Leaving-Chin-Unguarded, though it’s also become a signature move of a different kind in recent months.
Double-leg takedowns are for the commoners — when a true martial artist wants to get you to the mat, he simply hooks his foot out and delicately pushes you over it. Yes, it’s a little strange to see a technique from the karate classes of our youth being used to punk some of the world’s top fighters. But Lyoto isn’t concerned with inflicting more damage than anybody else, or finishing fights as quickly as possible. His only goal is to showcase the superiority of his style. He’d rather break an opponent down mentally than physically. Hence, the foot-sweep, which comes out of nowhere, turns your momentum against you, and frustrates you out of your gameplan. When performed by the Dragon, it’s poetry.
#4: Anderson Silva’s Thai Clinch
(Silva vs. Rich Franklin @ UFC 64, 10/14/06)
Ciudad Juarez. North Korea’s Gulag. Anderson Silva’s plum clinch. Not the best places to be, to put it mildly. Rich Franklin learned that the hard way (and woke up without a championship belt) at UFC 64, when Anderson Silva latched on a double-collar tie about a minute-and-a-half into their fight and didn’t stop throwing knees until Ace collapsed. Franklin was completely helpless in Silva’s Thai clinch, and said afterwards that he had not been prepared for the Spider’s strength in that position. Well, now we know. Victory Belt is currently working on an instructional book dedicated entirely to Anderson Silva’s clinch, so one day even you can turn the deceptively simple controlling-hold into a death sentence.
#3: Cro Cop‘s Head Kicks
(Cro Cop vs. Aleks Emelianenko @ Pride Final Conflict 2004, 8/15/04)
Back when he was the second best heavyweight in Pride, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic’s left high kick was the stuff of the terrifying, wet-the-bed kind of nightmares. Not only could it scramble your brain even if you managed to block it somewhat, he could also flick it out there at any time, no telegraphing or set-up required. The fact that he dispatched so many opponents with it made it all the more ironic when Gabriel Gonzaga felled Cro Cop with his own favorite weapon at UFC 70, making the Croatian’s career seem even more like a Greek tragedy. The head kick giveth, and the head kick taketh the hell away.
For a dude with lovehandles, Fedor Emelianenko is shockingly nimble. Though he gets just as much credit for the inhuman velocity of his power punches, it’s Fedor’s bear-trap-like armbars — which he has used to take out fighters like Mark Coleman (twice), Matt Lindland, and Hong-Man Choi — that have made him truly legendary. His first ‘bar against Coleman, which you can watch above, is our favorite because it barely makes sense on a physical level. A simple bounce of the hips and Coleman is snapped up in the alligator’s jaws. How does he make it look that easy? Where does the power come from? “Only God,” Fedor might say. To which we’d reply, “No, seriously.”
1. Bas Rutten’s Liver Shot
(Rutten vs. Jason Delucia in Pancrase, 6/25/96. Liver shot #1 comes at the 3-minute mark. It only gets worse from there. The narration is priceless.)
“El Guapo’s” left hook liver shot is probably MMA’s first signature move, and, much like the famed Jackalope, its legend has only grown over time. One of the only body shots that can reliably end a fight, Rutten put it to good use in his Pancrase days when those sissies wouldn’t let him punch people in the head with a closed fist. Now the punch has its own t-shirt, instructional videos, and anyone who has ever worked out to Rutten’s thai boxing CD has combinations like “right straight/liver shot” seared into their brains. No one will ever do it quite like Bas, though. Just ask poor Jason Delucia.
Think we missed any? Of course you do. Might as well let us know in the comments section…