Anaheim Ducks defenceman Kevin Bieksa sent shockwaves throughout the sports world, and ripples across Radko Gudas’s face, Tuesday night after landing a perfect “Superman punch” in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
One-punch hockey fights are a rarity in the NHL, but not nearly as rare as the technique Bieksa used to drop his hulking opponent.
Fans of kickboxing, Muay Thai and mixed martial arts in particular will be familiar with the strike since it’s always memorable when it lands.
It’s called a Superman punch because the person throwing it is momentarily suspended in mid-air with nothing connecting them to the ground. A fighter will make a quick leap forward with their lead leg in order to close the distance, extending then retracting their lead arm, while simultaneously throwing a cross with their power hand.
Since the person’s feet are not connected to the ground when throwing the cross they need to extend their back leg to generate torque, otherwise the punch would have little mustard on it.
WWE fans might recognize it as one of Roman Reigns’ signature moves. Understandably, his version is a little more telegraphed and dramatic.
It’s legal yet seldom used in boxing because the most effective versions of a Superman punch are set up by kicks to an opponent’s legs or body. Also, in boxing, taking away your base by being suspended in mid-air even for a split second is not conducive to success.
MMA legend Bas Rutten was the first to throw a Superman punch in UFC competition when he did so against the late Kevin Randleman during their heavyweight title bout at UFC 20 back in 1999.
Former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre perfected the technique. The Canadian superstar used it effectively in his second fight with Matt Hughes en route to winning the title. St-Pierre also frequently turned to a variation of the standard Superman punch—a Superman jab.
Since Bieksa couldn’t set his shot up with kicks, he took a slightly different approach.
You’ll see in the video at the top of the page, as soon as the two players dropped their gloves, Gudas aggressively skated towards Bieksa. Instead of engaging right away, Bieksa feinted as if he’s going to grab Gudas’s jersey with his left hand. This kept Gudas honest and halted his forward momentum. Then Bieksa, standing in an orthodox stance with his right hand cocked, paws with his left. Gudas is reactive to Bieksa’s left hand and freezes just long enough for Bieksa to land flush to the beard.
One reason why it’s a risky move in boxing, and subsequently in hockey fights as well, is the fact that it’s a low-percentage strike and if you were to miss your target you’re left exposed to a counter à la Aaron Downey and Jesse Boulerice.
Now, in this example, Boulerice didn’t throw a superman punch but hypothetically had Bieksa missed his punch he would’ve been susceptible to a left-hand counter.
What’s wild, though, is despite Superman punches being rarely utilized in hockey, Bieksa has victimized a Flyers player with the maneuver before. Mike Richards ate one back when Bieksa was a member of the Vancouver Canucks in 2009.
Bieksa’s affinity for the Superman punch likely won’t spawn a new trend in NHL scraps but his one-shot-drop is a highlight hockey fans won’t soon forget.