With Georges St. Pierre’s UFC 129 defense of his welterweight title against Jake Shields only days away, I wanted to do a Judo Chop breaking down one of GSP’s signature moves: the spinning back kick.
Sure there are other fighters more associated with the spinning back kick. Dennis Siver has seemingly carved out an entire UFC career with the SBK as his go-to finish strike. GSP’s old friend and training partner David Loiseau scored a highlight reel KO over Charles McCarthy at UFC 53 with a beautiful spinning back kick.
Fancy kick artists like Anderson Silva and Cung Le and the up and coming John Makdessi have all sprinkled spinning back kicks liberally into their repertoire. The Ultimate Fighter 1 finalist Stephan Bonner relied on the SBK as a go-to move in his epic war with Forrest Griffin in 2005.
Nor was GSP particularly a pioneer of the move in modern MMA. Akihiro Gono used a SBK to finish Ivan Salaverry at a Shooto event way back in 2001 and Chuck Liddell landed a nasty one on Vitor Belfort at UFC 37.5 in 2002.
Nevertheless, GSP landed what I consider my personal peak fan experience spinning back kick on Matt Hughes at UFC 50 in 2004.
It’s been very entertaining to watch the spinning back kick evolve from a move “everyone knew didn’t work” in MMA to a not uncommon strike that has a well-earned place in the striker’s palette.
In the full entry we’ll look at the gif of it as well as several videos on the move and some general info about the kick and GSP’s martial arts background.
Gif by BE reader Grappo
GSP has developed a reputation with some fans for being a conservative fighter who primarily relies on his wrestling and technically conservative striking game to cruise to dominant decision wins. But once upon a time he was the avant garde of MMA. He was among the first of a new generation of fighters to grow up watching MMA on TV and who started training young enough to develop as full-fledge mixed martial artists rather than as exponents of a particular style.
But GSP started out as a karateka and those lessons informed his style as a young fighter. Here’s GSP talking to Black Belt magazine about his martial arts background:
BB: Why did you choose karate?
St. Pierre: I liked karate better because hockey is a team sport and in karate, like any other martial art, you’re alone. You decide your own destiny. Sometimes when you play hockey, you play very well but your teammates don’t, so it messes up everything.
BB: Has karate affected your personal growth and discipline?
St. Pierre: I’m very happy that I learned karate when I was young. A lot of people told me that it’s useless in fighting, but they’re wrong. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t be at this level today. Karate made me a lot stronger, and it made me flexible and athletic like I am right now. When I’m fighting, I’m not doing kata, but I use a lot of kicks and techniques that I learned from kyokushin.
BB: When did you begin to branch out and learn ground skills?
St. Pierre: I started learning jujutsu because when I was 12 or 13 years old, my karate teacher died. Before he died, he gave me my second-degree black belt. I stopped doing kyokushin and started doing muay Thai. I liked muay Thai, but then I saw the first Ultimate Fighting Championship with Ken Shamrock, and those guys inspired me to become a mixed-martial arts fighter. As soon as I saw the UFC, I wanted to train for it, but at that time jujutsu didn’t exist in Montreal. I decided to train in muay Thai, and later on I got my third-degree black belt in karate. When I was 16, I found a good place to do Brazilian jujutsu. When I was 18 or 19, I started wrestling and boxing.
Before we get to the famous kick some background on the fight where it occured: GSP vs Matt Hughes at UFC 50, October 22, 2004. They were fighting to claim the vacant welterweight title. GSP came into the fight as a 23 year old with an undefeated 7-0 record. Hughes at the time was a 32 year old proven quantity at the peak of his powers with a 36-4 record. Ultimately Hughes’ experience made the difference as an over-awed GSP made an egregious error in the final seconds of the first round and went for a kimura without having guard. Hughes knew the counter — an arm bar — and applied it perfectly to get the win and the title with only seconds left in the round.
But before he blew it the young GSP gave Hughes a big scare and the kick below was a huge part of it:
Note that GSP blatantly telegraphs the move with his left shoulder before throwing the kick. This gave Hughes a little bit of notice and allowed him to begin backing up away from the full impact of the kick. Nevertheless, GSP gets beautiful extension and plants his right foot hard into Hughes’ chest and extends with enough power to drive Hughes backwards like he’d been kicked by a mule.
Note the difference between GSP’s version of the kick and the one GSP’s good friend and training partner David Loiseau used to KO Charles McCarthy a few months later at UFC 53. Loiseau plants his heel in McCarthy’s liver rather than the center of his chest and doesn’t fully extend on the kick. The power of this kick comes from the spinning motion rather than the extension of the leg as in GSP’s use case.
I’d be very interested in hearing from karateka and TKD students in the comments as to the various derivations of these two variations on the spinning back kick.
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