All I knew was that his upper body, outside of range an instant ago, was suddenly in range and the big blue glove that covered his right fist was expanding and filling my field of vision as time slowed. I realized that I, standing there flat on one foot, was about to be caught with a Superman punch that was going to put me on my ass.
A Superman punch, for the uninitiated, is basically just a big flying overhand right (assuming an orthodox lead) coming in when you are expecting a kick. A common setup is to throw a couple low kicks or knees, then a faking a low kick by lifting the knee, then kicking the same leg back while jumping in and throwing a big punch with the rear hand. It can be done off a leg check as well, but that’s less powerful.
The idea behind calling it a Superman punch is that it can be almost horizontal, and on leg is back and one arm is forward looking like Superman flying through the air. The dynamic for the version I learned is like a rocking motion or a contraction then expansion as the leg is brought forward and then kicked backwards while the fist is hurtled towards the target. In all fairness, any flying overhand could probably be called a superman punch.
As far as it’s origins, anecdotal evidence places it as a muay thai technique at least as early as the 1980s, although most arts can probably claim a technique vaguely similar.
We were sparring in a kickboxing class, switching partners every round, when I was matched with a lanky fellow without shin pads. “How rude,” I thought, as his kicks occasionally landed. Not that they were hard, but still, it’s simply not done for just one person to wear pads because someone’s obviously getting the better end of the deal. I don’t recall much of the sparring match, except when he floated in with that big right hand that got bigger the closer it got. At the last moment, the foot I stuck out to check him (teep) connected with his abdomen and halted his progress just in time. I was so preoccupied with getting drilled that I had forgotten it was even out there to check what I thought was an incoming kick.
Relief washed through me and the rest of the match we ran out the clock; he was frustrated with not getting in, and I was happy to just coast after avoiding that punch. It wasn’t the first time I had seen the Superman punch, but it had been awhile and it almost got me.
It can be an effective technique because it is unexpected; consequently the biggest danger is overuse because it’s easy to avoid and counter if someone sees it coming.
Here’s someone instructing a form of the technique:
Sorry, looks like that one was pulled.
Without a doubt, the highest level of competition in which it’s been employed was the George St. Pierre v. Matt Hughes fight at UFC 65. GSP misses the first time, but eventually after setting it up with low kicks he manages to land it and follow up, knocking Hughes down. Sorry, no video, Zuffa keeps pulling it from youtube.
But here’s a quick one that happens at about 13 seconds: