MY LEGS FELT heavy as I pushed though fatigue to pivot my hips around and through, over and over, swinging my limbs as hard as I could to kick the pad. I was tired, I was sore—and I realised that what I was feeling was still not even close to the exhaustion that comes in the Championship Round of a big-time MMA fight. But the man holding the pad, Leon Edwards, knows exactly that feeling. He'd found himself with a chance to make the defining move of his career in that precarious state and powered through the pain to become the UFC Welterweight Champion on the back of one of the most exciting knockouts in recent fight sports history.
I was drilling with Edwards at UFC Gym Hoboken to learn the move he used to knock out Kamaru Usman in their title fight earlier this year. Usman, considered by many to be the best active fighter in any division at the time of the bout, had largely controlled the action. But just as the last minute began in the fifth and final round, Edwards made his play for the win. The kick came seemingly out of nowhere, a blur of movement that put the top pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC to the canvas for his first ever loss in the promotion. Edwards shocked the fight world with the knockout, vaulting himself to the top spot in the division.
But if you're familiar with fighting, you'd recognise that it was a textbook high kick, set up by Edwards' canny gamesmanship leading up to that brief moment of explosion. That's what I wanted to learn from the champ—how to throw that type of kick, especially in the most difficult period of the fight.
I was just a few days removed from running the New York City marathon, but any residual muscle soreness would have to be ignored to have the opportunity to learn from the best. If Edwards could last though nearly five rounds of punishment from the world's top fighter before throwing a textbook high kick for the win, I could push through my discomfort to learn the technique myself.
Leon Edwards' Knockout High Kick
The Skill - Low, Body, and High Kicks
Edwards was a welcoming coach—but he didn't want me to begin with the difficult high kicks right away. Instead, we began by running through the motions on air at kicks that aimed low, then at the body (the opponent's torso), then high at the head. His cues were simple: get into a balanced stance (legs staggered as if you're on a skateboard, with the front foot facing forward, back foot slightly off-line and squared, weight distributed between them), then kick forward, pivot slightly on the front foot, and retract the leg quickly. The technique remains the same as you move up the ladder to higher levels, with an emphasis on opening the hips to go higher. Edwards' key cue: engage the core. By the time we made it to the head kick, I was swinging my leg and spinning all the way around, pointing my toes in the direction I needed my body to go.
The Drill - Heavy Bag Kicks
After establishing the proper form, we moved on to kicking heavy bags. "My coach always tells me imagine you're kicking through the bag, not at the bag," Edwards told me. He helped me get into stance a proper distance away from the bag—fingertips just touching it with the front arm extended—then we started with the body kicks. Pivot on the plant foot, swing the leg through, then return back to the starting fight position, ready for your opponent's counter. After body kicks, we moved up higher, simulating the head.
The Main Event - Speed Kicks to High Kicks
Now to put my hard work to the test. Edwards challenged me to finish a round of 60 body kicks—alternating 10 kicks with the right and left legs on a pad until I finished—and immediately land 10 solid high head kicks without taking any rest, all in under a minute. The idea is that the challenge simulates the fatigue a fighter feels in the championship round of a UFC fight, then the immediate precision needed to strike that key blow before the end of the round. If I failed, I would be punished with 30 burpees. I swung through the speed kicks, gathered myself, and then reached deep to strike high with precision and control. It wasn't easy—and it certainly wasn't a championship round knockout—but the steps I learned from Edwards early on helped me land my kicks.
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