The elbow strike is one of the most effective and practical weapons from a self defense perspective. For this reason, it is used in some martial arts like Muay Thai, Krav Maga, and Lethwei. However, not all martial arts agree in the effectiveness of the elbows, at least from a sporting perspective. In fact, they are banned in many combat sports, including Taekwondo.
Elbow strikes can be devastating, and depending on the angle used, they can cut as well as bludgeon the opponent. Some elbows are illegal in competition regardless of the sport. The 12-6 elbow (an elbow that moves from a straight-up to a straight down position) is banned in both the UFC and One Championship rule sets. Elbows are also illegal, regardless of angle, to certain body areas, such as the back of the head and the spine.
The spinning back elbow is one of the most exciting elbow strikes to watch and has enormous knockout potential. It’s popularity has risen over the years, but there are plenty of other elbows that pose less risk to the attacker, such as the spear elbow. Sometimes all it takes is one clean elbow to finish your opponent, while other times, a flurry of them may be necessary to bring your opponent down. Either way, here are our top ten elbow wars and finishes:
1- Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustaffson
Jon Jones is considered one of the best martial artists of all time. He was a state champion wrestler in New York, and a defensive lineman for his high school football team. It was there he garnered his nickname ‘Bones’ due to his unusually slender physique. Despite his father’s wishes of him following in his footsteps to become a pastor, he dropped out of university to pursue his MMA career. He debuted in 2008, winning all 6 of his fights with finishes, before signing with the UFC later that year. He has continued to dominate and reign in the UFC for over a decade. He retired recently from the Light Heavyweight Championship division.
Jones’ only career loss was due to a disqualification against Matt Hamill for a 12-6 elbow. Much could be said about this fighter’s triumphs as well as his controversies, but let’s take a look at this spinning back rear elbow against Alexander Gustaffson. He sets up the strike by faking a takedown, simultaneously opening and lowering the guard of his opponent, landing the elbow flush on Gustaffson’s forehead.
Alexander Gustafsson, hailing from Sweden, started boxing at just ten years old. He gained decent traction in the sport, taking up MMA in his late teens. Before he had a chance to compete at the boxing national championships, he signed with the UFC. He debuted in 2009, a year after Bones, only losing once as he rose through the ranks, until he met Jones for the title shot in 2013.
Watch the full fight here.
2- Anderson Silva vs Tony Fryklund
Anderson Silva is an MMA legend. Some, including Dana White (UFC president) and Joe Rogan (UFC commentator), consider him the greatest of all time. However, his early life was shadowed by poverty in Brazil, where he learned jiu-jitsu as a child before adopting Taekwondo, Capoeira, and Muay Thai as a teen. ‘The Spider’ began competing in MMA in 1997, eventually fighting on Pride and Cage Rage promotions before signing to UFC in 2006. There he held the Middleweight Champion title from 2006 to 2013, which included 16 consecutive wins, a record in UFC history. He is expected to retire this year after his planned fight with Uriah Hall in October.
Tony Fryklund is a retired mixed martial artist from Boston, Massachusetts. He started boxing and kickboxing as a teenager, also learning Karate, Shotokan, and earning his black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. His professional MMA debut was with the UFC in 1997, however his loss to Silva was after he left the promotion and fought for Strikeforce. His first-round knockout was due to Silva’s rising elbow.
Check it out here.
3- Yukinori Ogasawara vs Rui Botehlo
Yukinori is a Japanese Muay Thai fighter signed with One Championship. He also competes in kickboxing and shootboxing (a combination of shoot wrestling and kickboxing). His debut fight against contender Rui Botehlo was not going very well, in fact, his opponent was dominating him in the clinch until he scraped back the win with a beautiful spinning back elbow.
Rui Botehlo is a European kickboxing champion from Portugal. His military family insisted he engage in martial arts as a teenager to help him learn discipline and have a constructive outlet for his energy. He began competing 6 years ago, fighting the best in Europe before taking it to the One stage. He was stopped in the second round while throwing a flurry of punches.
Watch the fight here.
4- Phetmorakot Petchyindee Academy vs Liam Harrison
Phetmorakot is a 2 x Lumpinee Stadium champion in two weight categories. Born in Northeast Thailand, he now fights out of Bangkok and is signed to One Championship where he competes in both Muay Thai and kickboxing. He even beat Saenchai in the famed Rajadamnern Stadium and Petchboonchu at Lumpinee Stadium. His credentials are no joke. His style focuses heavily on deadly elbow and knee strikes. It’s no surprise then that he knocks out ‘The Hitman’ with a devastating elbow.
World champion, Liam Harrison, one of the best fighters to come out of the UK. He started training at just 14 years old and had his first fight just a year later. He quickly established himself as an up and coming talent before moving to Thailand to train and fight there. He also faced the legendary Saenchai, but did not manage to secure the win, like Phetmorakot. He has amassed over 100 fights to date. He is known for his brutal leg kicks and heavy hands. Unfortunately, on this occasion, it was a critical error. Harrison, relying on the knockout power in his hands, left himself open for Phetmorakot’s elbow.
See the full fight here.
5- Shane O’ Neill vs Alex Singh
Shane O’Neill, is an Irish champion Muay Thai fighter from Cork, on the South coast of Ireland. He is both a European and an Irish champion. Born into a family of fighters, he started boxing at age 8, but switched to Muay Thai in his teens. He is known for his knockouts using hands and elbows. After throwing multiple elbows against Singh, he gets caught by one himself and barely makes the 8 count. O’Neill comes back to drop Singh twice, finally finishing him with a lead side elbow.
Watch it here.
6- Saeksan Or Kwanmuang vs Thanonchai Thanakorngym
Saeksan began training aged 9 in South Thailand. Heralding over 200 fights, he is known for his aggressive and forward-moving attacks. He is a Muay Bouk, which means his style is distinguished by aggressive punching and elbows. He is a Rajadamnern and Siam Omnou Stadium Champion as well as having won title belts from the WBC and IBF. His series of fights against Thanonchai often resulted in becoming Muay Thai highlights of the year.
Thanonchai started training a little later, at 12 years old. From the North East of Thailand, he was taken to learn from Sangtiennoi Sur Rungroj, both a Lumpinee and Rajadamnern Champion. In 2015, he started training under Golden Era Legend, and one of the greatest Muay Thai fighters of all time, Samart Payakaroon. His fights against Saeksan, he considers to be the hardest of his career. The pair fought a total of 6 times, only once resulting in a knockout. This fight ends in a decision win for Saeksan, but the elbow war that takes place in following fight is one of the best out there.
7- Tiffany Van Soest vs Bernise Alldis
California native, Tiffany ‘Timebomb’, started sports at 5 years old. After three years of soccer, she tried martial arts, taking Shorin-ryu karate. She became a second-degree black belt, earning titles at all levels from state to world championships, becoming a world champion at 18 years old. She started Muay Thai while studying kinesiology in university, before signing to Lion Fight Promotions, where she became a two-division champion. Most recently, she won back her Glory title after two unsuccessful attempts against powerhouse, Anissa Meksen.
Bernise Alldis is a British and World Champion Thai boxer. She started training Muay Thai at 13 years old. In 2018, she made the move to MMA, where she retains a record of 3-0. Pound for pound, she is considered one of the best female fighters from the UK. She gives Van Soest a tough fight, but catches a nasty spear elbow to the cheek in the first round, which ‘Timebomb’ exploits relentlessly, and ultimately costs Alldis the fight.
Check it out here.
8- Tony Ferguson vs Josh Thomson
Tony Ferguson, born Anthony Armand Ferguson Padilla, is an American mixed martial artist. A lifelong athlete, Ferguson competed in football, baseball and wrestling in high school, taking wrestling all the way to university, where he became a national wrestling champion. He transitioned to MMA in 2007 and went on to compete multiple times on UFC’s reality tv show, The Ultimate Fighter, winning the 13th series. He has remained with the UFC ever since, where he is one of their biggest names, and a former champion. He famously conditions his elbows on steel poles, so it is no wonder that he was able to slice Thompson’s forehead so effortlessly.
Josh Thomson took a little longer to find his place in MMA. A tumultuous childhood saw him serving time in juvenile hall. After his release, his father got him involved in wrestling which he continued into college, amassing a record of 40-3. In 2000, trouble struck again as he got into another fight that resulted in a charge and subsequent sentencing for felony assault. He served six months of a 3-year sentence. The following year he had his MMA debut, with his UFC debut coming 2 years later. He fought 3 times before deciding to fight abroad for Pride, and in return chose to sign with Strikeforce, where he remained for the chunk of his career. He did return to the UFC, but lost 3 out of 4 fights, his final match being with Ferguson. He briefly competed with Bellator before finally retiring.
See his final UFC fight here.
9- Zhang Weili vs Jessica Andrade
Zhang Weili is the current women’s UFC strawweight champion. Hailing from China and inspired by Kung Fu films, she took up Sanda ( Chinese kickboxing) aged 12 after initially trying Kung Fu for herself. She went on to try BJJ and eventually MMA. She spent much of her career with Kunlun Fight and Kunlun MMA promotions, where she became a champion with a 16-1 record. From there she went straight to the UFC. After 3 successful fights with the UFC she had earned herself a title shot against Andrade.
Jessica Andrade grew up in Brazil where she spent most of her childhood working on her parent’s farm. During these years, she also started training Judo and very shortly after, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She also achieved her childhood dream of becoming a professional footballer, but her parents forbid her from leaving her hometown to compete with the professional team. She made her MMA debut in 2011 and signed with the UFC in 2013. In 2019, she became the women’s strawweight champion when she beat Rose Namajunas with a knockout slam. However, she would not retain this title for long; a few months later she was beaten by Weili in extraordinary fashion with this epic combo of elbows and knees.
10- Sakmongkol Sithchuchok vs Jongsanan Fairtex
Sakmongkol is a Golden Era legend. He reigned at Lumpinee Stadium where he was a 3 x champion. This ‘King of Muay Thai’ had over 200 fights and faced Jongsanan 7 times in total. Their 5th fight is simply titled ‘The Elbow Fight,’ as it is considered the greatest elbow fight of all time.
Jongsanan Fairtex also goes down as one of the Golden Era’s most notable fighters. Fairtex is a 2 x Lumpinee Champion who was known for his knockout power and impressive sweeps.
Check out the infamous rivalry here.
Clearly, elbows are extremely effective in devastating an opponent. They are the hardest and sharpest point of the body and are one of the best striking tools to have in your arsenal. They are often explosive, difficult to anticipate and defend, and have serious KO potential. They are even used by Israeli soldiers and Navy Seals. It truly takes a warrior to be able to take one and still get back up. What is your favorite elbow finish? Tell us in the comments below.