The Anaheim Ducks defenseman has unleashed an MMA-style punch twice this year for devastating results. Is this the evolution of fighting in hockey?
Fighters of the NHL, you’ve been warned. For the second time this season, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa knocked out an opponent with one punch. And not just any old swat – a ‘superman punch.’ After stunning Philadelphia’s Radko Gudas with the move earlier this year, Bieksa turned the trick once again on the weekend, leveling Los Angeles’ Andy Andreoff in much the same leaping manner.
As Bieksa acknowledged after the Gudas fight, he cribbed the maneuver from mixed martial arts – specifically from Canadian legend Georges St-Pierre. Bieksa also pointed out that he’s been using the superman punch for about a decade – he just doesn’t always connect with it. And it doesn’t take long to peruse The Youtubes and find footage of Bieksa jumping into a strike against Mike Richards back in 2009, though Richards managed to recover enough from the blow to continue fighting.
Bieksa is far from the only NHLer to borrow from the MMA world. Many fighters train in related disciplines, improving their balance in the process. Edmonton’s Patrick Maroon even used an MMA-style takedown on Washington’s Tom Wilson a couple weeks ago during a boards meeting earlier this month.
Other tough guys have used different sports to hone their craft, too. Zdeno Chara is already one of the most intimidating players ever to skate in the NHL, but his 6-foot-9, 255-pound frame is backed up by his knowledge of Greco-Roman wrestling – something his Olympian father excelled at. I’m not sure anyone in the NHL has ever been stronger than Chara.
It shouldn’t be surprising that fighters have evolved – heck, the true enforcer is pretty much gone from NHL rosters already, so those left over can’t be one-trick ponies anyway – but it’s interesting to see the manner in which it’s happening. Balance, defense, special moves; it speaks to the uniqueness of a hockey fight, where playing both offense and defense while perched on skates makes a tilt a more difficult than straight-up boxing (though it’s also a lot shorter, with a hockey fight typically lasting one-third the amount of one boxing round, of course).
And few fighters actually like getting punched in the face. Colton Orr was one of the few who thought getting an initial pop in the kisser would help him “wake up” for a fight, but on the whole, most retired enforcers have admitted to a sense of dread the night before when thinking about the opponent they had to face in the next game.
You can argue about fighting’s place in hockey – it’s not something I care to delve into right now; the battle lines are clearly drawn – but it’s still interesting to see how something so visceral can still have a lot of thought behind it.
My question is, how do other fighters feel about Bieksa’s technique? Is it cool, or is he breaking an unspoken rule? Back in 2009 there was controversy when San Jose’s Brad Staubitz appeared to be using his forearms rather than his fists when he was taking on Nashville’s Jordin Tootoo and the Preds even asked the NHL to see if Staubitz had broken an official rule (there wasn’t one on the books, for the record).
I reached out to a couple ex-enforcers on the Bieksa move, but no one replied. Perhaps it is just the evolution of the sport-within-the-sport.