What Is a Checked Kick in MMA/UFC? (How To Check a Kick)

Uriah Hall checking a Chris Weidman kick

Are you wondering what a checked kick in MMA is or how to check a leg kick in MMA, muay Thai, or kickboxing?

In this article, we’ll look at what a checked kick is, how to check a leg kick, how effective check kicks are, the common mistakes made when checking leg kicks, some of the best check kicks in UFC/MMA fights, and whether check kicks are dangerous enough for fighters to require additional protection.

What Is a Checked Kick in MMA/UFC?

A checked kick in MMA/UFC is a defensive blocking technique in which a fighter blocks a leg kick using the uppermost dense part of the tibia (shin bone) against an opponent’s lower thinner part of the tibia (just above the ankle) or the instep of the foot (arched upper surface between the toes and ankle).

This works because a leg kick is designed to strike softer areas such as the calf or thigh muscles. So, when a leg kick is checked with the much harder part of the tibia, the leg kicker is at risk of being in a lot of pain and possibly breaking their shin or the bones in their foot.

Does a Checked Kick Hurt Both Fighters?

Checking kicks often results in pain for both fighters. However, the leg kicker is going to experience more pain and potentially a serious injury if the kick check is performed correctly.

When a kick check occurs, the kicker is connecting with a lot of momentum so the shin bone faces possible bending or breaking.

On the other hand, the kick checker has their leg lifted slightly and the impact of the kick causes their leg to bend backward so that the calf muscle goes toward the hamstring.

This ability to bend backward helps absorb the leg kick’s energy and acts as a cushion – increasing the impact time and decreasing the force received.

After factoring in how the leg kicker is using the thinner part of the tibia and the leg kick checker is using the denser and thicker part of the tibia, it’s easy to understand how the leg kicker is the fighter at risk.

Can Kicks Be Checked With the Knee?

No, kicks shouldn’t be checked with the knee.

In a fast-paced MMA fight, it’s normal that some kicks connect to the knee or lower down the shin (as seen below) when checking a kick as it’s not always easy to know where an opponent is kicking.

However, the tibia is the second strongest and longest bone in the human body (behind the femur), so receiving a hard strike to the patella (kneecap) is going to be more painful and more likely to cause injury to the checker than if they used the shin.

Anyhow, checking a kick with the knee is unlikely. If the leg is lifted, leg kicks would only glance at the kneecap because of the angle they’re coming from. Checking with the knee is most likely to occur when checking a body kick as they’re higher, but it’s still very unlikely compared to the shin bone.

Photo by Jdcollins13

How To Check a Leg Kick in MMA/Muay Thai/Kickboxing

Checking a kick in MMA, muay Thai, or kickboxing can be done in 5 easy steps.

1. Remain balanced but keep slightly more weight on the back foot so that the front leg can be more easily lifted.

2. Lift the front leg (or targeted leg) vertically with the shin perpendicular to the ground and flex the foot upward to strengthen the tibia and calves, and increase stability when absorbing the kick.

3. Rotate the hip, foot, and leg toward the direction the kick is coming from. Most often this will be outward at roughly a 45-degree angle, but it can also be turned inward to block inside leg kicks.

4. Adjust the height of the upper shin bone to connect with the lower part of an opponent’s shin bone or foot. For checking calf kicks the leg is lifted less, and for checking thigh kicks the leg is lifted higher. Still, the technique remains the same.

5. Be mindful of protecting the body and head by keeping a tight and high guard as kicks can change direction quickly.

Key to Success
Kick checks should be practiced until all 5 steps can be performed in one swift motion. The leg should always be lifted at an angle, as lifting it straight and then turning it at an angle is too slow in a fight.

Fighters can also plant their lead leg facing outward in a check-ready position against fighters who are calf kick-heavy.

Note: Turning the foot and leg inward to check an inside leg kick can also block a body kick if caught at the correct angle. Normally the knee has to be higher to check a body kick and lower for an inside leg kick.

Here’s a short video demonstration by T.J. Dillashaw, one of the best UFC bantamweights of all time, on how to check a leg kick in MMA.

Common Mistakes When Checking Leg Kicks in MMA

The ability to effectively check leg kicks in MMA, muay Thai, and kickboxing is imperative. Without it, the odds of winning are heavily reduced. Here are the most common mistakes to avoid when checking leg kicks.

1. Standing on tiptoes with the back foot
Checking a kick with the back foot on tiptoes reduces structure and balance for absorbing a leg kick. The check will not be as effective, it can lead to being knocked off balance, and it opens the possibility of the back leg being swept more easily.

The rear leg should be planted on the ground in order to carry the body weight and give a solid base for balance and structure when checking.

2. Putting too much weight on the lead leg
This means the lead leg can’t be lifted in time to check a leg kick. It also means footwork and movement are worse and a fighter isn’t able to efficiently slide backward to avoid leg kicks.

Lastly, it’s easier to be knocked off balance; especially forward into an opponent’s punching range.

3. Extending the leg forward to kick check
Lifting the leg up and leaning forward into an opponent’s leg kick is incorrect. Extending the leg forward means an opponent can fake a kick and kick under the extended leg to sweep the back leg.

This is a bigger problem in MMA, as once on the ground you’ll be immediately lept on. In muay Thai and kickboxing, you’ll be able to stand back up but at the expense of giving your opponent easy points.

To rectify this, simply lift the leg, flex the foot upwards, turn the foot toward a kick, and let the kick come to your shin bone. You want an opponent to kick with full force and effectively offer them a brick wall to meet.

4. Lifting the leg straight up and forward
Lifting the leg straight up and forward and attempting to check a leg kick results in the kicker connecting with the outside of the leg and calf.

The leg should be lifted and pointed toward the kicking direction. Most often this will be a 45-degree angle.

5. Bending the body downward
Bending the body downward when lifting the leg to check is bad posture, causing instability and vulnerability to head strikes. If someone fakes a leg kick and goes up high to the head with a superman punch or head kick, you’re open and leaning into it with momentum.

When checking a leg kick, the upper body and lower body must be isolated from each other. The upper body should stand tall with good posture while the leg is lifted to check the kick.

6. Leaving gaps between the knee and elbow
Lifting the leg up to check a kick but keeping the hands too high leaves gaps between the knee and elbow for body strikes.

When checking, the leg should be lifted up to the elbow so that the elbow is touching the outside of the knee. This effectively provides a shield down that side of the body.

The elbow shouldn’t be on the inside or top of the knee as the arm will cave inward and body kicks will get through.

7. Bringing the elbow down to the knee
This leaves the head exposed to strikes. If a fighter sees their opponent continually bringing the elbows down before lifting the leg, they’ll fake a leg kick and go high with a head strike such as a kick, hook, or cross.

The correct way is to first lift the leg up and then bring the elbow down to close the gaps if needed. First and foremost, the hands should be focused on protecting the head.

Is Checking Kicks Effective in MMA?

The ability to check kicks isn’t only effective but it’s essential to success. Leg kicking and calf kicks in particular are very popular in the UFC today because they’ve been successful for so many.

In order to defend against leg kicks, or stop an opponent from continually throwing leg kicks – the ability to check a leg kick is a must.

Checking kicks are effective in MMA for the following reasons.

1. Seriously hurt an opponent
Checking a leg kick takes minimal effort and can stop an opponent from throwing any more leg kicks throughout a fight because of the damage leg checks can do. Well-timed kick checks can break bones and render a fighter unable to stand on their foot; ultimately leading to a TKO victory.

2. Stops an opponent’s weapon
Timing leg checks perfectly in a fight takes a lot of practice and skill. If a fighter manages to do this, an opponent will throw a lot fewer leg kicks because they know they’re going to be checked.

Because of this hesitation to now use leg kicks, the fighter who checks well now has the upper hand because they don’t have to worry about leg kicks as much and can dictate the pace and distance of the fight.

3. Check kicks can be used to counter
Once a leg kick has been successfully checked, it leaves the opponent hurt and in a position to be countered.

With the same leg, immediately throw a kick to the opponent’s opposite inside leg, liver, stomach (teep), or head. This can be done faster than the opponent can get their leg back under them because the leg used to check is already lifted.

A successful leg check also means the distance can be closed and a takedown or clinch can be initiated.

4. Energy efficient
Checking leg kicks in MMA is effective because they’re energy efficient. Continually sliding backward in and out of range uses a lot of energy and is less likely to stop an opponent from leg-kicking.

Simply lifting the knee at an angle and checking the kick is much quicker and saves energy. This is the preferred method for heavy fighters not as nimble with their footwork.

Fighters can also plant their lead leg facing outward in a check-ready position against fighters who are calf kick-heavy. They can also walk forward and constantly initiate the check by quickly lifting the leg up and out every time the front leg goes forward.

Can You Counter a Kick Check? (Yes, Here’s How)

Checking leg kicks in MMA and other combat sports is very effective for the aforementioned reasons, but they can be countered in the following ways.

The aim when countering a kick check is getting an opponent to lift their leg in preparation for a kick check. This has them on one leg and vulnerable to a variety of counters.

The best way to get an opponent anticipating leg kicks is by simply sending some low kicks their way. Once they start reacting, there are some good counters to leg checks. 

Here are a few examples.

1. Fake a leg kick into a superman punch.

2. Fake a leg kick, stutter step closer, and leg kick the rear leg. This often results in sweeping an opponent to the floor or delivering a very hard leg kick.

3. Fake a leg kick and shoot a single or double-leg takedown while the opponent is standing on one leg.

4. Fake a leg kick and oblique kick the opponent’s standing leg to hyperextend their knee.

Best Check Kicks UFC/MMA/Kickboxing Examples

Here are some of the best check kicks in the UFC/MMA that ended fights and resulted in some of the worst UFC injuries of all time.

  • Dale Hartt checked Corey Hill’s leg kick and broke his leg (UFC FN:16)
  • Chris Weidman checked Anderson Silva’s leg kick and broke his leg (UFC 168)
  • Uriah Hall checked Chris Weidman’s leg kick and broke his leg (UFC 261)
  • Conor McGregor broke his leg by stepping backward heavily – Dustin Poirier claimed to have broken it by checking some leg kicks earlier in the fight (UFC 264)
  • Gokhan Saki checked Tyrone Spong’s leg kick and broke his leg (Glory 15 Kickboxing)

Overall, some of the best leg kick checkers in the UFC are:

  • Jose Aldo
  • Jan Blachowicz
  • Sean O’Malley

The Bottom Line

So, ‘what is a checked kick in MMA?’

A checked kick in MMA is a defensive blocking technique in which a fighter blocks a leg kick using the uppermost dense part of the tibia (shin bone) against an opponent’s lower softer part of the tibia (just above the ankle) or the instep of the foot (arched upper surface between the toes and ankle).

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