Technique of the Week: The Calf Kick that Crippled Conor McGregor

Calf Kicks Technique Of The Week Poirier And McGregor

There may not be a more efficient and effective technique in mixed martial arts today than the calf kick. This was never more apparent than on center stage at UFC 257 when it spelled the end for Conor McGregor in his rematch against Dustin Poirier.

McGregor, unlike in his first meeting with Poirier, adopted a boxing heavy stance with his legs wide and probably 60% of his weight on that front leg. Conor was touching the chin of Dustin and he wanted to put him away.

I get it, for sure, but looking back, it was a terrible mistake to play Poirier’s game.

I know Conor is very confident in his boxing skills but take the calf kicks out of the equation even, and I still think it was a mistake for McGregor to stand in the pocket with a pocket boxer when he didn’t have to.

Outside of the calf kick, Conor is a much better all around kicker than The Diamond. This was never more obvious than when the two men met for the first time back in September of 2014. Conor kept Dustin guessing the whole time and was able to fire and score from range with ease because he set up his punches with his kicks.

On Saturday night, Conor McGregor was trying to set up his hands with his hands while DP was setting up his kicks with his hands. McGregor was giving him the heavy lead leg and it was even turned in a little bit.

Tisk tisk. I would always rather have my lead big toe facing a little bit out than facing in. If it is in, then that opens up the calf kick as well as the opportunity for your opponent to find your sciatic nerve as it wraps around the back of the thigh.

Please Note:
I am aware that MMA is different but in Muay Thai, we are taught to point the top of our head at our opponent which keeps our chin tucked and the head going with the strikes adding a great deal of power. We also point something else at our opponent. Let’s just call that the groin area. This is where I start to lose so many students. They don’t want to be square because they’re concerned with getting hit. So they turn and twist and blade and do everything they can not to stand square. It’s annoying but you can only tell people so many times before they have to learn the hard way.

Part of the reason that the calf kick isn’t utilized much in Muay Thai is because of the stance. There is also the fact that the Thais have already conditioned their bodies for this type of impact. The Thais have thicker bones too which obviously helps.

In MMA, though, fighters can’t stand with their weight mostly on the back foot. They can’t stand tall like the Thais do. This is because by standing straight up and down, I am giving you my hips.

I had better have the best hips in the division if I want to play that game every time. In Muay Thai, you can trip but you can’t shoot in on the legs like in MMA so fighters like to stay tall a lot of the time.

In mixed martial arts, there is the major threat of the takedown at times and because of this, fighters must lower their level and pull their hips back away from their opponent. This makes your stance wider which means it is that much more difficult to pick up your leg to check. Not only that but if your toe isn’t already pointing out when you go to pick up your legs to check a kick, you are likely to still take damage from the technique. The peroneal nerve runs up your calf and ties in just above the knee.

Remember Sean O’Malley vs Chito Vera? Sugar Sean tried to say that it wasn’t the kick from Marlon that made his leg not work. Well, what was it then, genius?

That guy has to be the most annoying and immature athlete on the roster. It was sad to see him not accept defeat but at least he still has belief in himself, something, that a lot of fighters lose within seconds of facing a certain level of opposition.

That is two fights Salty Sean was smashed with low kicks. Conor McGregor got his first taste over the weekend at UFC 257. He was and likely still is limping considerably from those kicks.

Let’s further break down the technique, it’s application in modern day mixed martial arts, and also list some fighters who do it the best.

We can check to see if those fighters have anything coming up and if they do, we will do our best to handicap and predict the fight from a betting perspective.

The Calf Kick

Is the technique superior to the traditional Thai leg kick to either the inner or outer thigh?

For MMA, I think it is. I really do and this is coming from a guy who absolutely adores kicking people in the leg, particularly the quad or around the side towards the hamstrings if I’m lucky.

Kicks can surely get you taken down in an MMA fight but if the majority of your kicks are low and to the calf, that’s great because your opponent can barely reach them. I’ve seen some guys time the leg kick and shoot off of it and have some success but that really isn’t going to happen with the calf kick.

  1. The kicker has to sacrifice less anatomically when he or she is just kicking low at the calf as opposed to kicking higher in the thigh and, of course, to the body also. That will really get you caught up quickly.
  2. The kicker can go to the head as well to stay out of the possible takedown but it only takes 1-2 good ones and no matter who is fighting, the person on the receiving end of those kicks is going to feel it.

I was shocked to hear that Conor McGregor had never experienced the calf kicks before. The last thing you want to happen in a fight is for your opponent to do something you haven’t seen or felt before.

We normally don’t have to have this conversation when talking about title contenders but McGregor is behind the times and he paid dearly for it. There is simply no excuse for not being prepared and especially, having never felt a couple of solid calf kicks in the past.

As a police officer, you must get tazed and we even got tear gassed in the military.

The reason is you need to understand what kind of weapon you’re using and how powerful it is. Cops have to get tasered and maced before they can do it to anybody else.

How does a fighter the level of Conor McGregor, who fights in a time where the calf kick is extremely popular and known as a fighter changer, not know what it feels like to take a calf kick? The fight is the last place you want to feel something for the first time.

This blows my mind but it makes sense. Conor is disconnected from the game for the majority of the year. Dustin Poirier, conversely, is down at American Top Team with the best coaches and sparring partners in the world.

They keep him sharp every day and I promise you that there was no special kick that he learned and implemented on Conor McGregor. Conor thought he was checking the kick property but he was still taking some of the brunt on the muscle.

From experience, I can surely promise you this:
The muscle bruise on your shin hurts infinitely worse than the bone bruise. I have these Fairtex shin guards and they didn’t cover my knee or even a few inches below it. So, whenever I checked a kick, I was taking it full board on the shin. Bone to bone, I was fine. No problem. But when they landed with a pad on my leg where there was no pad, it eventually started to wear on me. We sparred every day so there wasn’t a lot of time for it to recover. I was good at checking kicks too but for months, I would check the kick and immediately be in some pain on the muscle. All you can do is tough it out.

I think there was a 4 month period or longer when I had to deal with this just about every day because once that muscle is compromised, it is going to take much longer than just a few minutes of a cage fight to heal.

Who are some of the best calf kickers in mixed martial arts today?

Chito Vera

How can you now love this guy? That is, as long as you aren’t a huge Sean O’Malley fan and if that’s the case, I don’t know what to tell you.

Anyone who watched Chito Vera shock the world with calf kicks as he completely immobilized his opponent by attacking one of his most vulnerable targets. Even when you brace for the calf kick, let that thing hit in the right spot and you will be in some serious debilitating pain.

It’s unclear who Chito Vera will fight next but it took a hail mary surprise takedown by Jose Aldo to beat him. I wasn’t entirely upset as we did pick Jose to get it done but more than anything, I was impressed by Chito Vera.

He has the ability to compromise any in the division’s legs.

Chito doesn’t have his next fight scheduled as of yet but I will likely be backing him due to a likely undervaluing of his odds along with the fact that Marlon Chito Vera is a DOG!

Dustin Poirier

We might not have heard much about Dustin’s calf kicking ability before this fight. We had seen those from him before but never had he applied them as well as he did this past Saturday night.

McGregor played it off for a while but they both knew after the second one that landed that the lead leg of Conor McGregor was now severely compromised.

For a fighter who relies on his movement like McGregor, the calf kick was the perfect technique and executed at the perfect time to get the said desired results. I think this is something that we will see from Poirier in his upcoming fights should he need to.

Douglas Lima

Not to be confused with his lesser little brother Dhiego, Douglas Lima, who fights out of the Bellator cage, is one of the best calf kickers in the world.

He was able to destroy the leg of Rory McDonald when the two men first met in 2017.

Who brought the calf kicks back to modern day MMA? From what I can gather, the kick was used extensively in old vale tudo fights against the guy who was looking for the takedown.

You need to be heavy when you’re going for a takedown but that heaviness plays right into the hands of the coiled calf kicker. It seems like American Top Team is pumping out more fighters who are throwing and also having more success with the calf kick.

In Conclusion

Dustin Poirier eliminated the movement of Conor McGregor when they fought this past weekend at UFC 257 and that quickly led to the demise of The Notorious one.

Conor has always said:

They don’t move like I move and they don’t tink like I tink. He’s right. This time, though, they controlled his movements and now they are tinking like their coach told them to.

Attack the calf and attack the calf again. That’s the thinking right there.

McGregor beat Poirier with kicks and movement in their first fight. He could execute neither at the high level oppositie Dustin Poirier. A huge part of this is the injury caused by powerful low calf kicks. Conor was winning the fight until all of a sudden, those kicks took effect and now he was losing. Before he knew it, McGregor was drowning in there. 

If your lead leg is cashed money like that, what else can you do?

I expect Conor McGregor to learn from this, practice the technique quite a bit himself and, of course, come back stronger than ever and fight Dustin Poirier for a third time. Conor McGregor’s betting odds have plummeted for their next fight but that’s cool with me.

I think McGregor gets it done if they fight once more. He just has to steer plenty clear of that gnarly kick.


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Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.

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