There are few sounds more blood-curdling than the slap of a kick to the calf.
Akin to the sound of slamming a ruler on a desk, it rings out through the arena inducing grimaces and gasps from the crowd. It's not the sound itself that draws the reaction, but the action that accompanies it. The slap of skin on skin leaves the audience with no doubt about how well the shot connected – the louder the slap, the cleaner the kick; and they always sound worse in person than on TV.
It's an important weapon in kickboxing and mixed martial arts. Chopping away at an opponent's lead leg limits their offence drastically; it's hard to move freely with a dead leg.
It was a tactic on full display at the King in the Ring: Kings v Legends show in Auckland on Friday night, with the unmistakable slap of foot on calf muscle a common sound throughout the evening.
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Under the heat of 54 spotlights illuminating the ring from above, a host of local and international fighters went blow for blow before the main card – during which four former King in the Ring title winners took on counterparts from Chinese promotion Em Legend.
A constant haze created by smoke machines launched clouds into the air every time a fighter made their way to the ring. Armed with 10oz gloves, they batter one another with a vast array of punches and kicks, targeting every visible part of their opponent's body.
Sweat flies under the fluorescent lights with every bludgeoning blow. Underneath the thump of punches, instructions are called out from the corner.
"Work the body, not just the head."
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"Keep chopping that leg."
"Chase. Chase. Chase."
How loud the corner is can often be a good indication of how well a fighter is doing.
Watching a combat sports event live, even the most casual of fans can pick up on a few basic notes: 1. It's tough to fight with a dead leg. 2. It's tough to fight with a dead arm. 3. Don't let your opponent know you're hurt. 4. Fight to the referee's call – if you stop of your own volition you'll probably pay for it. 5. Be first in exchanges.
For the fans, the event provided plenty of action; legs were battered, blood streamed from noses and cuts on foreheads, and the show moved along quickly and smoothly.
For the Kiwis team on the main card, it wasn't quite as successful a night.
Michael 'Blood Diamond' Mathetha kicked things off in his first fight on home shores since 2017, with his usual acrobatic display of high-energy and high-intensity striking. Against Michael Badato, who took the fight on less than a week's notice, Mathetha fought his way to a convincing decision win.
It was the only win the Kiwis would get in the four-fight crossover.
Arshia Ebadi, who was accompanied to the ring by an entourage carrying his various title belts, started strong in his bout against Liu Lei, but the Chinese fighter found his rhythm in the second and third rounds. The bout was initially announced as a split decision win for Lei, however it was later overturned to a draw due to an error on the scorecards.
In the pick of the fights of the night, the sole South Island representative in the Kiwi team Nikora Lee-Kingi battled to a unanimous draw against Zhu Xu, with all three judges scoring the fight 28-28.
The final bout of the night saw local veteran Joey Baylon square off against Zhao Chuanlin, with the Chinese fighter proving to be too good for Baylon and earning a second-round stoppage on the back of a nasty liver shot.
While results didn't all go the way of the Kiwis, the King in the Ring promotional crossover show provided Kiwi fans with the opportunity to see something that is otherwise an uncommon sight on New Zealand shores.
Since its debut in 2011, the King in the Ring promotion has continually evolved to promote not only some of the country's top kickboxing talent, but boxing and mixed martial arts.
The crossover with Em Legend, which was streamed in China and televised in New Zealand by Sky Sport, provided more than entertainment; it also showed an area of opportunity for the continued resurgence of the New Zealand combat sports scene.
Kings v Legends results:
• Mike 'Blood Diamond' Mathetha (NZ) beat Michael 'Badass' Badato (China) via unanimous decision
• Arshia Ebadi (NZ) and Liu Lei (China) beat fought to a draw
• Nikoria Lee-Kingi (NZ) and Zhu Xu (China) fought to a draw
• Zhao Chuanlin (China) beat Joey 'The Filipino Kid' Baylon (NZ) via second round TKO