The Striking Zone: Cung Le brings Sanshou and spinning back kicks into UFC 139 debut

Photo of UFC 139's Cung Le landing a spinning back kick to the mid-section of Scott Smitth via

Later this evening (Nov. 19, 2011) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will return to pay-per-view (PPV) as UFC 139 takes place live from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California. Not only is the area the homebase for Zuffa-owned Strikeforce, but it will also mark the promotion's first-ever "Shark Tank" venture.

Coming off record network television numbers, the UFC hopes to use that fire to promote yet another successful PPV this weekend, which is headlined by legendary light heavyweights Mauricio Rua and Dan Henderson and includes a fight card full of other interesting match ups.

One of those match ups will be between Pride FC psychopath and mixed martial arts (MMA) pioneer Wanderlei Silva and Cung Le, who will make his Octagon debut after a promising and attention-grabbing run under the Strikeforce banner.

The match up itself is one of intrigue as  "The Axe Murderer"  will bring in his vicious, violent and aggressive striking style once again into the Octagon, while Le brings with him a very unique, flashy style.

For more on that, Le's Sanshou striking, follow me into the extended entry as we break it all down (.gifs included, naturally):

With a near-perfect MMA record (7-1), Le is one of the more talented strikers in the sport. While arguably unproven against top competition inside MMA, Le sports a flawless (17-0) kickboxing record, as well as being a black belt in Taekwondo.

However, it isn't his record or background that is the most intriguing about Le.

Le is one of the most notable practitioners in MMA who uses the discipline of Sanshou as a primary base. Too add to his kickboxing world titles and perfect record, Le is also undefeated (16-0) and a world champion in Sanshou competition, too.

What is Sanshou?

Sanshou is a Chinese hand-to-hand combat discipline that when translated can mean "hand fighting" or "free fighting. It was developed and based upon traditional Kung Fu, evolving with the addition of other technique such as takedowns and most wrestling skills.

Le has a very unique stance and is incredibly quick in his strikes, probably most notably his kicks. Now, we will take a look at some of those kicks from his previous fights.


Cung Le's most notable fights outside of his fight with Frank Shamrock were the two fights he had with Scott Smith. Even though the pair split the fights, it was very one-sided both times. And in one fight, "Hands of Steel" caught Le and was able to finish the fight while being down on the scorecards.

Le is most known for his spinning strikes, in particular, the spinning back kick. While very unorthodox and risky, the move has made Le's career up to this point.

In the clip above, Le feints as if he may throw a low kick with his left leg. As a southpaw, Le is already in a very difficult stance to begin with, and as he launches the fake kick toward the legs or possible body of Smith, he forces him to retreat, which is very important to accomplish.

Should Smith circle instead of back up, then a kick would whiff right by and put Le in a very vulnerable position. Smith backs up and anticipates the kick to the body as seen by his arms coming tightly together to defend and cover his mid-section and liver area.

Instead of attacking the body, Le goes higher and lands beneath the chin on the hands of Scott Smith. Le plants down on the foot he feints with, pivots around in a 180-degree motion and propels his right leg in a very tight motion toward his target. The force in which he throws it actually causes Le to momentarily leave the ground completely. Smith drops from the impact and force.


This time around Le feints with his hands. He throws a very non-committed "one-two" combination that once again forces Smith to retreat, which he does so by back pedaling once again. With Smith once again walking straight back, Le unleashes another spinning back kick.

This time it isn't visible to see where he lands; however, the kick often lands with the heel on the side of the torso. That spot is left open when someone covers the center of their torso with their arms. Even if the kick lands on the arms, there is a chance the kick powers through and the arms still accumulate damage. Le forced Shamrock into defeat by breaking Shamrock's arm while defending a kick.

The kick once again sends Smith to the canvas because of the force of the kick, the momentum added to his back pedaling and quite possibly the impact of the kick, too. Being hit in the body by any strike feels anything but good.

These two kicks in particular do two things that can prove to be very crucial in any fight. For one, these sorts of kicks and set ups cause immense discomfort when standing in front of Le, preventing fighters from being able to let go of their own strikes. It disrupts the timing and willingness to engage.

The second thing it does is it keeps Le's opponent constantly on the defensive. It allows him to press the action, and in doing so, the more times he lands forcing retreat and hitting the body he opens up strikes to the face and saps cardio all at the same time.


Spinning strikes are so unpredictable to read defensively and so hard to counter against when they are coming as fast as Le can throw them. To begin the round Le starts with yet another spinning kick.

In one quick motion, Le plants the rear leg forward after a small step and hurls that initial lead leg tightly toward Smith. The kick has to be tight because a wide kick takes much more time to land and it is easier to block. Think of that being a hook punch in comparison to a straight punch.

Instead of attacking the body, Le goes high, which is extremely more difficult in terms of balance to pull off. Le lands the kick and rocks Smith forcing him back into the fence. As the aggressor, Le chases him down and looks to attack.

As you can see Smith is now very skirmish in his posture and hand placement. He doesn't know where to defend and his timid demeanor shows his lack of comfort and confidence standing in front of Le. Without any sort of offense, Le attacks the solely defensive Smith with another spinning kick this time to the body. Though it lands, Smith stays upright.

Even more timid and uncomfortable then before, Smith does zero but wait for whatever Le throws next. This time Le throws a head kick that partially lands.

The diversity in the same set up is what makes it so hard for Smith to defend or offer Le any sort of danger. Though he spins the same and sets up the kick the same it very rarely lands or targets the same place. When being kicked in the liver as hard as the kicks are landing, you want to protect the body because of the intense pain that goes along with the strikes. However, doing that leaves your head exposed.


This particular clip shows the extensive damage and finishing ability of Le's spinning kicks. Again, he sets up the kick with a feint combination and he catches Smith vulnerable and exposed as he attempts to counter with his punches.

The kick lands heel into the liver area of Smith and with the force in which the kick is propelled, Smith drops to the canvas in pain clutching the injured area. This goes with my statement earlier that it is very hard to counter something so fast especially when that strike is designed to attack the area that is exposed when attempting to punch.

These sorts of strikes also are defensive. Kicks are longer than arms. And when propelling the spinning kick toward an opponent it is always outside of the punching range of a counter strike. And the spin itself creates a lot of momentum that while the strike may not look powerful it lands with tremendous force.

This has been Cung Le's bread and butter thus far in his career inside mixed martial arts. How will it be utilized when he faces Wanderlei Silva's brawling style? Probably the same way it was against Scott Smith.

But, only time will tell. Tune into UFC 139 to find out.

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