5 hardest kickers in the UFC in 2021

UFC 262: Edson Barboza v Shane Burgos
UFC 262: Edson Barboza v Shane Burgos

Kicks have always been an essential part of MMA, but they - calf kicks in particular - have become increasingly relevant over the last couple of years in the UFC.

Dustin Poirier used calf kicks to best Conor McGregor in their highly anticipated rematch at UFC 257, while Pedro Munhoz and Jimmie Rivera compared their severe leg damage after an entertaining fight in February 2020.

Here are the five hardest kickers in the UFC right now.

#5 Rafael dos Anjos

UFC Singapore Fight Night
UFC Singapore Fight Night

Former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos has lost four of his last six fights, but he still kicks like a mule.

A fighter who's always on the offensive and pushes a relentless pace, Dos Anjos wrested the lightweight title from Anthony Pettis with a performance that was dominated by low and body kicks. It wasn't the first instance of the same, with the Brazilian a firm believer in investing in kicks over the duration of a fight.

Against Nate Diaz and Robbie Lawler, Dos Anjos was ferocious with kicks, chopping away at the lead leg and soon rendering his opponents almost immobile. He resorted to powerful calf and body kicks in his fights against Colby Covington and Leon Edwards, even though he ended up on the wrong side of the decision.

Dos Anjos is placed seventh in the UFC lightweight rankings and could still make another run to the title in a stacked division.

#4 Stephen Thompson

UFC Fight Night: Thompson v Neal
UFC Fight Night: Thompson v Neal

A fighter with an enviable kickboxing (57-0 record) and karate background, Stephen Thompson makes kicks look effortless with his languid, crisp style. 'Wonderboy', who shot to fame with a head-kick knockout of Dan Stittgen on UFC debut, has carved a niche for himself as a precise, technical striker.

Perhaps the most telling feature about Thompson's kicks is his versatility. With an arsenal of question mark, wheel, hook, roundhouse and side kicks, he has the ability to attack his opponent from any angle.

Jake Ellenberger, Rory MacDonald and recently Geoff Neal have been on the receiving end of Thompson's consistent kicking prowess, which is arguably his biggest offensive weapon. He will take on Gilbert Burns at UFC 264 on July 10.

#3 Jose Aldo

UFC Fight Night: Aldo v Vera
UFC Fight Night: Aldo v Vera

Jose Aldo isn't the menacing champion he once was, but he remains a lethal exponent of a variety of kicks. The former UFC featherweight champion has made a name for himself as a fighter who boasts of unnatural kicking power and accuracy, something we've seen manifest itself over a storied 13-year career in the WEC and subsequently the UFC.

Aldo brutalized Urijah Faber's leg with savage kicks in April 2010, before meting out a similar fate to Kenny Florian, Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes, Ricardo Lamas and Mark Hominick in the UFC.

Shortly after his devastating loss to Conor McGregor, Aldo veered away from the kicks that made him so successful and attempted to rely on his boxing to fetch him wins. But we've now seen him go back to one of his biggest strengths, as evidenced by his 2020 fights against Petr Yan and Marlon 'Chito' Vera.

#2 Justin Gaethje

UFC 254: Khabib v Gaethje
UFC 254: Khabib v Gaethje

Even before he made his UFC debut in July 2017, Justin Gaethje had built a reputation for being absolutely deadly with his kicks. He had finished three opponents using leg kicks before taking on Michael Johnson in the TUF 25 finale, which too saw him pepper 'The Menace' with constant strikes.

Gaethje's kicking game may not be as well-rounded as the others on this list, but the effectiveness of his leg kicks has never been in question. He chopped away at Tony Ferguson's legs en route to the UFC interim lightweight championship, mauling 'El Cucuy' for almost five whole rounds and causing severe damage to a fighter who was on a 12-fight win streak at the time.

Even in fights he lost, against Eddie Alvarez and Khabib Nurmagomedov, 'The Highlight' showed how difficult it is to check and counter his crippling kicks. Gaethje is expected to be booked next to face Michael Chandler, who incidentally lost at Bellator 180 due to a drop foot.

#1 Edson Barboza

UFC 262: Edson Barboza v Shane Burgos
UFC 262: Edson Barboza v Shane Burgos

The ever-entertaining Edson Barboza slots in at top spot on our list of hardest kickers in the UFC right now.

Owner of the first wheel-kick knockout in UFC history, Barboza has made it a habit of relentlessly picking apart his opponents with well-timed, powerful kicks. He also has the distinction of being the first fighter in the history of the UFC to record a TKO victory via leg kicks, one he achieved against Mike Lullo at UFC 123.

The Brazilian repeated the feat against Rafaello Oliveira at UFC 162, and is one of two fighters in promotion history to have multiple leg-kick TKO wins under his name. Barboza even used a body kick to put away Evan Dunham a year later and has widely been described as the most dangerous kicker ever seen in MMA.

A fighter with an extensive Muay Thai background, Barboza signed a new contract with the UFC earlier this year and notched up a superb win over Shane Burgos last weekend.

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Edited by Atharva Papnoi