The Best Elbow Wars and KO’s in MMA and Muay Thai

The elbow strike is one of the most effective and practical weapons from a self-defense perspective. For this reason, it is used in martial arts like Muay Thai, Krav Maga, and Lethwei. However, not all martial arts agree on 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 rulesets. 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 strikes to watch and has enormous knockout potential. Its 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 five elbow wars and finishes:

  1. Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson


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. 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. 


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.

  1. 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 retired last year.


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.  

  1. Yukinori Ogasawara vs Rui Botelho

Yukinori is a Japanese Muay Thai fighter signed with One Championship. He also competes in kickboxing and shoot boxing (a combination of shoot wrestling and kickboxing). His debut fight against contender Rui Botelho 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 Botelho is a European kickboxing champion from Portugal. His military family insisted he engages 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 elbow. Watch it 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.

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