JEREMY STEPHENS LANDED his first kick to Gilbert Melendez‘s left leg 22 seconds into their battle on Sept. 9, 2017. By the two-minute mark, Stephens had smashed Melendez’s leg with 4 kicks, and the limb was starting to swell.

Melendez began hopping round and limping after the sixth leg kick at 3:19 of the primary spherical. The hematoma rising slightly below his knee had bulged grotesquely, to roughly the scale of a baseball.

“It actually does seem like a small animal is trapped below his pores and skin,” analyst Joe Rogan stated on the UFC 215 broadcast.

Stephens landed a career-high 32 leg kicks in a vicious unanimous-decision victory. Most of these kicks weren’t conventional Muay Thai roundhouses to the thigh. Stephens’ most important goal was the calf as he utilized a way that on the time was not frequent in combined martial arts.

At dwelling in Australia, Alexander Volkanovski, then an up-and-comer who had but to even compete in the USA, was watching. It wasn’t the primary time he noticed a low calf kick; he had used it earlier than. However this was the primary time he noticed it lead a fighter to victory.

“That is when it began getting used extra,” Volkanovski informed ESPN not too long ago. “He used it properly, and clearly it did a variety of injury to Gilbert Melendez. So folks took word on it then. They knew it was a legit method.”

On Dec. 14, 2019 in UFC 245, Volkanovski rode the low calf kick to the UFC featherweight title. His 75 landed leg kicks within the unanimous-decision win over Max Holloway have been the second-most ever in a UFC battle and essentially the most by a male. The 2 will rematch for the belt Saturday at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and the leg kicks can be a significant storyline

Used prodigiously by UFC champions Volkanovski, Justin Gaethje and Amanda Nunes, the calf kick has develop into the most popular transfer in MMA. In Might, Gaethje stated on Rogan’s podcast that the method would be the key to his light-weight title unification battle towards undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov later this yr.

“I am by no means kicking above the knee anymore,” Gaethje stated. “Solely beneath. … I’ve gotta contact Khabib there 4 instances, after which he is compromised.”

Volkanovski believes he has the calf kick mastered. He stated it was “crucial” to his win over Holloway seven months in the past and will issue significantly into the rematch.

“Most individuals, their goal behind the calf kicks are purely simply to do injury and harm the calf,” Volkanovski stated. “Clearly, I need to injury the calf.

“[But] if somebody actually needs to maneuver their leg out of the best way or test it or make you miss, once more, you are breaking their rhythm. That is an enormous motion only for you to not land. I am nonetheless making them battle my battle. They will test all of it they need. See what else comes after that. I am breaking your rhythm simply by you worrying.”

For the report, Holloway is not satisfied the leg kicks determined their first bout and does not sound too apprehensive they’re going to play a major position within the rematch.

“If Jose Aldo kicked me 20 instances, I do not know what would come first, the remedy for Coronavirus or me having the ability to stroll,” Holloway stated. “This man kicked me [nearly] 80 instances, and I had an after-party I needed to go to and I used to be dancing the night time away.

“On the finish of the day, I do not know what it was, it might have been the leg kicks, it might have been [judges] counting a few of the leg kicks as vital, it might have been me altering my stance due to the leg kicks and so forth and so forth, but it surely’s a guessing sport. On the finish of the day, he obtained it.”

NO ONE IS certain who was the primary to implement or popularize calf kicks in combined martial arts. Benson Henderson is taken into account one of many first to make use of it as a major a part of his offense on the highest stage throughout his run as WEC after which UFC light-weight champion within the early 2010s.

It is not a standard Muay Thai method — some old-school placing coaches say they do not educate it — although it got here to MMA via Muay Thai instructors.

There is a consensus round two factors concerning the calf kick: It is extraordinarily efficient, and it is a important a part of the game in 2020.

“Now, for those who’re a placing coach within the sport and you are not instructing it and you are not instructing the best way to defend towards it, you are gonna depart your guys liable to be a sufferer of it,” JacksonWink MMA placing coach Brandon Gibson stated.

Gaethje described the influence of the kick as “devastating.”

“We have seen it so many instances within the room,” Fortis MMA head coach Sayif Saud stated. “A man will get hit with a great calf kick, that is it, man. He isn’t gonna be capable of transfer round. Some guys keep like that for just a few days.

“It is identical to the worst Charley horse on the planet, principally. It would debilitate you. You will not be capable of step, you will not be capable of transfer. It’s going to swell up, too. It is a tremendous highly effective device.”

At UFC 249 on Might 9, Henry Cejudo landed 23 leg kicks in a TKO win over Dominick Cruz to retain the bantamweight title. During the last six weeks, there have been two leg-kick TKOs within the span of eight days, by Alex Perez and Chris Gutierrez. Previous to that, there had been solely 10 leg-kick TKOs in UFC historical past, two of them earned by leg kicker extraordinaire Edson Barboza.

One of many issues fighters like finest in regards to the low calf kick is it may be landed at a number of distances and the kicking leg does not have as far to journey. The calf might be proper there for the taking, particularly if an opponent shouldn’t be acquainted with defending it.

“That calf is a bit of bit nearer and simpler to the touch slightly than wherever else on the physique,” Volkanosaki stated. “It is just about a simple goal typically.”

Roufusport head coach Duke Roufus stated low calf kicks are MMA’s newest fad, just like the NBA’s triangle offense within the 1990s. MMA Lab head coach John Crouch in contrast its expanded use to NFL teaching staffs borrowing — or stealing — from each other.

“Within the NFL, they’re going to name a sure set of performs or a sure offense will work actual good,” Crouch stated. “Then, the following yr, all people is doing it. That is how it’s on the highest stage of sport. If one thing is efficient, everybody goes to copycat that.”

KATEL KUBIS, ONE of American Prime Workforce’s lead placing coaches, believes he was one of many first coaches to show low calf kicks in MMA. Kubis stated he discovered it in Brazil from his mentor, Fabio Noguchi, who used it throughout his Muay Thai profession within the 1990s, after which Kubis introduced it to the USA as a coach in 2009. Kubis stated American Prime Workforce fighters did not belief the method till 2012 when longtime ATT athlete Wilson Gouveia landed 17 calf kicks to beat Dwayne Lewis at a Most Combating Championship occasion.

“After that battle, all the opposite fighters began asking me in regards to the calf kick,” Kubis stated.

The calf kick has develop into a part of American Prime Workforce’s “model,” Kubis stated. Thiago Santos used it to nice impact in a loss to Jon Jones at UFC 239 on July 6, 2019. Jones got here to the postfight information convention in a wheelchair. Junior dos Santos had early success with the method in a heavyweight title battle towards Stipe Miocic in 2017.

“In the event you kick beneath the knee, near the ankle, it is very laborious to test,” Kubis stated. “[The opponent is] gonna lose their stability. It’s extremely laborious to defend and it hurts fairly dangerous. You are able to do that form of method with any form of measurement opponent.”

Then there’s Nunes, the ladies’s featherweight and bantamweight champion. Kubis stated her kicking sport is on one other stage, even at a fitness center that boasts standouts like Jorge Masvidal and Dustin Poirier.

“I used to say she has the heaviest kick in the entire fitness center,” Kubis stated. “Beside her, you might have Junior dos Santos. As a result of he is a heavyweight, it is laborious to check. But when Junior dos Santos is not coaching, Amanda is kicking tougher than him.”

Nunes efficiently defended her featherweight title towards Felicia Spencer at UFC 250 on June 6. On the prelims of that card, Perez, utilizing calf kicks, stopped Jussier Formiga by way of leg-kick TKO within the first spherical. Formiga is an American Prime Workforce fighter, and Kubis was in his nook.

Two days later, Kubis was again on the Coconut Creek, Florida, fitness center telling his fighters that the longer term is now studying the best way to defend and counter the calf kick. The method has grown far past the American Prime Workforce partitions.

“Now it is time to work the protection,” Kubis informed his fighters. “You guys did not belief the offense earlier than. Now you belief and imagine within the offense. Now the following step is you guys need to discover ways to defend. As a result of the opposite groups, the opposite fighters are gonna use the method towards us.”

Stephens, who discovered the kick from Muay Thai coach Jhanex Alvis, stated there are 3 ways to defend the method: blocking — or checking — it by turning your knee and shin towards the kick, evading the kick or countering with an old school haymaker.

“In the event you get a great test on a kind of calf kicks, most definitely they are not gonna be throwing it once more anytime quickly,” stated Battle Prepared placing coach Eddie Cha.

Whereas a number of coaches and fighters really feel the kick to the calf is safer for the kicker than kicking the thigh, Muay Thai coach Bob Perez of Houston’s Major Road Boxing is skeptical.

“I do not educate the calf kick,” stated Perez, who coaches UFC fighters Derrick Lewis and Lauren Murphy. “I do not just like the calf kick. It is an efficient kick — it freaking hurts. However it’s really fairly harmful to the kicker himself, as properly. I believe that is what folks overlook. You will snap your s— for those who throw it incorrectly.”

Dr. John Neidecker, a number one ringside doctor, stated the calf kick is “threat versus reward.” It is efficient for a similar motive it could possibly be detrimental.

“The low leg kick has the potential for extra injury, as a result of there may be much less tender tissue to soak up the blow,” Neidecker stated. “Nevertheless, there may be extra threat to the striker in injuring himself or herself for a similar motive.”

STEPHENS SAID WHEN he sat down and watched the following UFC card after his efficiency towards Melendez, he noticed a number of fighters utilizing the low calf kick. Alvis, Stephens stated, joked that “they’re taking your transfer.”

“It’s what it’s,” Stephens stated. “However I really feel like they noticed the effectiveness of the calf kick. Gilbert was desirous to stop within the second spherical.”

Volkanovski took some inspiration from Stephens’ UFC 215 victory. However he stated he has modified and perfected the method. Volkanovski stated he makes use of the low calf kick for various means — not simply to inflict ache. It may be nearly like a model of a jab, simply along with his leg.

“If somebody thinks they are going to test a kick and it should be that straightforward, it should be an extended night time.”

Alexander Volkanovski

“If somebody thinks they are going to test a kick and it should be that straightforward, it should be an extended night time,” Volkanovski stated. “They won’t have a sore calf, however they’re going to be sore all over the place else.”

That is how quickly fighters can adapt in a sport that is lower than 30 years previous. Ways might be seen and absorbed, then months later might be altered, mastered and used on the highest stage to win or retain UFC gold. The low calf kick is simply the most recent instance.

“That is the cool factor about MMA in 2020,” Gibson stated. “There have been totally different kinds of martial arts 100 years in the past the place nothing is actually confirmed and every little thing is below this cloak of secrecy. Now, we get to see dwell assessments of what works and what does not and watch the sport evolve.”