Silva vs. Weidman: “Knee Destruction” and Dignity in Combat Sports

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by Tariq Rahman

Last night at UFC 168 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Anderson Silva fractured his tibia on Chris Weidman’s knee after throwing a kick to the defending middleweight champion’s leg. The same injury has occurred in the past, in both Muay Thai and UFC bouts, and considering the length of time typically required to recover from such an injury as well as Anderson Silva’s age, it is doubtful that we will ever see “The Spider” inside the Octagon again.

At the post-fight press conference, Weidman stated, “Last fight, the one thing that he really capitalized on was legs kicks, so probably the most important thing we focused on for this fight camp was stopping his leg kicks. So, Ray Longo [Weidman’s coach] he’s actually broke a guy’s leg in training using it, what he calls “the destruction” which is knee on shin, so when he goes to kick you put your knee on his shin.”

When a reporter followed up on this statement, asking, “Were you consciously trying to do the knee on shin thing tonight then? Is that what you’re saying?” Weidman responded, “Yeah 100%. I didn’t want him to feel comfortable kicking me all night. If I don’t put the knee on his shin he’s going to kick me, he’s going to hurt me. So, that’s how you check a kick.”

Contrary to Weidman’s claim, “knee on shin” is not “how you check a kick.” The basic technique to check a kick is to use your shin, thereby causing enough harm to your opponent to make them think twice about using that technique again, but certainly not enough to leave them critically injured. “Knee on shin” is an adjustment of the basic shin check technique designed to attack the opponent, and apparently, with the knowledge that it can have catastrophic results.

This is an interesting quandary because in MMA (unlike Muay Thai, where both the leg kick and kick check are derived from) techniques intended to break limbs are utilized. However, such techniques are restricted to the “ground game,” and opponents have an opportunity to “tap out” before the worst-case scenario occurs. This is not the case in the “striking game,” where there is no time to comprehend the technique that is being employed against you and thus forfeit the fight for the sake of preventing a devastating and potentially lifelong injury.

The only precedent I can think of for “knee on shin” is the push kick to the knee. As with leg kick checks, there is nothing dangerous about the basic technique (push kicking an opponent’s thigh), but when the technique is modified (in this case, to strike the knee) it becomes capable of inflicting permanent damage and therefore such strikes are not used in either Muay Thai or MMA. Interestingly, the relationship between MMA fighters and push kicks to the knee is the same as the one that exists between Muay Thai fighters and “knee on shin,” which is that although the technique is legal, it is not to be done, at least not intentionally. Importantly, the rejection of potentially catastrophic yet legal techniques in striking should not imply that the style is less tough or more graceful than wrestling and Jiu Jitsu, but rather that the operation, and thus consequences of such techniques differ greatly between those worlds, as noted above.

Not too long ago, my Muay Thai trainer made the point that fight sports are not the same fighting. There are restrictions to every combat sport, whether they disallow punches to the face, striking, wrestling, weapons, etc. Unfortunately, not every rule can be codified, and that is where dignity is supposed to step in. The acknowledgement between fighters that they are playing a fight sport rather than fighting is the reason that there aren’t push kicks to the knee in MMA even when such strikes are not illegal. There are an infinite number of ways to win a fight, but there is only one way to win a game – by the rules, and with dignity, nothing else can be considered a victory. I am not suggesting that “knee on shin” should be made illegal or if that is even possible. What I am arguing is it is a dirty, and frankly, dishonorable technique, and one that has unfortunately ended the career of the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

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Former college student, activist, musician. In 2010 I was an amateur with a couple fights and a few years of training. I sold everything I owned and moved to Thailand with no plans to return. I lasted 10 months.

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