The UK has overall been a perfectly respectable place for Thai Boxing. No country is close to Thailand, but Britain has been modestly successful. The popularity of striking arts, combined with a handful of small but successful gyms have produced several prominent fighters who have been able to find success in an international scale and most importantly, in Thailand.
Liam Harrison is the best Muay Thai fighter to come out of Britain.
Training from an early age out of Bad Company Gym in Leeds, Harrison went from being the top fighter in Britain, to one of the top fighters in the world, fighting the best of the best. He is also, without a doubt one of the hardest hitting men on the planet.
Short, explosive punches and devastating kicks have seen Liam Harrison through countless bouts – but what really makes him a dominant fighter is his use of leg kicks.
There are many misconceptions about leg kicks in Muay Thai. For a long time the associations that people made were that leg kicks were the be all and end all of Muay Thai. Rick Roufus famously had his legs smashed in by Changpuek and the world of American karate kickboxing really took it to heart.
The truth is that low kicks aren’t usually a big deal in Thailand. Everyone can throw them, but unless they have a visible effect on the opponent, such as buckling their legs – low kicks simply don’t score. Muay Thai is really about the powerful body kick to the open side. As a result, the sort of fighters who focus on leg kicks aren’t really interested in winning a decision, they are seeking a knock out. Liam Harrison is that kind of fighter. Fast power punches and low kicks are what made him a champion.
There are lots of different types of low kick. While Duke Roufus infamously said ‘it doesn’t take much talent to kick to the leg’ – good low kicks require a lot of set up. It’s quicker to block a low kick than it is to block a body kick, and throwing a low kick without set up can lead to an Anderson Silva style injury.
So, fighters who specialize in low kicks have a variety of low kicks to choose from. The most typical styles of low kicks you see are the chopping low kicks of Thai fighters. These come out and T-bone, with full hip turn over, driving through the opponent’s legs.
The idea being to inflict as much damage as possible with a single kick.
Kickboxers of the Kyokushin mould, especially Dutch fighters are known for low kicks that angle down more. Ernesto Hoost’s low kicks would come up before crashing down and into the leg of the opponent.
Liam Harrison’s are something altogether different. Saying that he’s ‘trying to stick his toe up the opponent’s arse’, Harrison’s kick comes up and to the target with very little turnover in the hips.
A kick like this is actually quite rare in Muay Thai. Harrison’s style of kick has more in common with a kickboxer like Masato or Artur Kyshenko than it does with Pornsaneh or Thepnimit Sitmonchai. That’s not to say it’s wrong though. The quick, non-committal kick still hits hard but more importantly doesn’t take Harrison very far out of his stance. Harrison is a fierce puncher and big chopping low kicks take longer to retract. Harrison’s quick kick allows him to immediately follow up with punches if he chooses to do so.
It’s not enough to have great kicking technique though, finding the low kick is essential. Different fighters set their low kicks up in different ways – some prefer to use punches to distract the opponent long enough to throw the low kick. Liam Harrison does do this but what makes him a devastating kicker is knowing at what time to throw the low kick based on his opponent’s balance.
Harrison will assess whether his opponent’s weight is on the back or front leg before going for low kicks. If the opponent is heavy on the front leg, he’ll be able to land kicks quickly – but if the opponent’s weight is on the back leg, in order to throw the low kick he’ll have to barrel forward and push the opponent backwards in order to land that same kick. He explains the concept here:
If Harrison’s opponent steps forward, or throws a rear kick – their weight must be on the front leg, which means a quick right low kick is almost certain to land. You’ll notice when watching Harrison, his right leg kicks most frequently come as the opponent is stepping forward. Because the opponent commits to bringing their weight down, it’s very hard for them to pick their leg back up to check.
A mistake beginners often make is throwing the leg kick out of nowhere, presumably because they see fighters like Harrison do it, and don’t realise that it’s because the opponent is committing their weight forward that allows the kick to land.
It’s very easy for the aspiring fighter to get bogged down by a myriad of fancy techniques that will help to make them ‘unpredictable’ or give them a deep bag of tricks. The truth is that simple mastery over a few techniques with a wide array of methods to set the technique up – are what make truly elite fighters.
Next time we will look at Israel Adesanya who does just that.