Joaquin Buckley finished Impa Kasanganay last week in their UFC fight with the single most vicious knockout of the year.
Buckley hit Kasanganay with a picturesque spin back thrust kick, ending the fight just two minutes into the second round.
The 26-year-old has been on nearly every single MMA highlight reel since last Saturday’s victory, but he has higher aspirations than being known for one physics-defying kick. The win against Kasanganay should elevate Buckley’s spot on upcoming cards, putting him in a position to challenge fighters closer to the top 20 in the middleweight division.
Back home in St. Louis, Missouri, Buckley spoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss his viral victory in Abu Dhabi, share his take on Saturday’s Brian Ortega-Chan Sung-Jung fight, and explore the possibilities for the next step in his career.
Justin Barrasso: Taking us into the moment. When Impa Kasanganay grabs hold of your left foot, what were you thinking?
Joaquin Buckley: He had control of my foot, but I had something to counter that. There were two other times he grabbed my foot. When he grabbed my foot the first time, I kicked my foot back and got myself out of trouble. The second time he did it, he had good control and pushed my weight back. I was falling back, and I had to turn my leg over.
I realized I was in a position for a kick—almost a mule kick with my lead leg, but I was turning too heavy and he was pushing my momentum backwards, so I couldn’t do it. That’s when I told myself, ‘If I kick again and he catches my foot, as soon as he whips my leg around, I’m going throw the kick.’ And that’s what happened. Once he grabbed my foot again, I turned, I looked back toward my shoulder, and I threw the kick as hard as I could. That got the result I needed.
Barrasso: Did you think the kick was going to lead to a knockout?
Buckley: No, not when I initially threw it. I knew I made perfect contact, but I didn’t know I knocked him out until I turned my body. Then I saw him slowly falling down, and that’s when I said, ‘That’s game.’
Barrasso: How many times have you watched the replay?
Buckley: I ain’t going to lie, I’ve watched it a million times. I still can’t believe it myself. It’s all over my newsfeed, all over Instagram. I couldn’t even hide from it if I wanted to. It’s a blessing.
Barrasso: The clip went viral, and there is even a Subzero-inspired Mortal Kombat video of your KO.
Buckley: I saw that, it’s one of my favorite videos. It’s pretty lit.
Barrasso: There is a massive time difference from St. Louis to Abu Dhabi, but despite the early time of your fight, I’m guessing you and your team had some kind of celebration following such an incredible victory. What did you do after the fight?
Buckley: I was with my squad, and when we got back to the hotel, the hotel workers shot confetti and they were cheering for us. That was really nice. And when I got back to the room, there was champagne waiting.
We didn’t do too much partying. There isn’t much to celebrate yet. I’ve still got more fights to win. I didn’t come home to celebrate, either. I went right back to work. This kick hasn’t changed everything. This still a lot more I have to prove.
Barrasso: This is your first UFC win, and it certainly puts you on the map in the middleweight division and in line for some really good matchups. What would you like to happen next?
[Following the interview, the UFC announced that Buckley will fight next at UFC 255 in November, facing undefeated Jordan Wright]
Buckley: Like you said, some really good matchups. I want to just keep fighting. I want to get back in there and show everybody that this was not a fluke. I’m always going to be an entertaining fighter to watch, and I want to get back in there and do the same thing, and that’s make history again.
Barrasso: Ideally, would you like to fight again before the end of the year?
Buckley: Yes, I want to fight again before the end of the year. It just all depends if they find someone for me or get me on a card. We’ll see. At the end of the day, I can’t make those decisions.
Barrasso: This Saturday’s UFC card is headlined by a fight pitting Brian Ortega against “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung. What’s your take on this fight?
Buckley: The last time Ortega fought was his loss against Holloway, so it’s been a minute for him. I’ve got Korean Zombie as my pick. He’s always going to bring that battle, always going to bring that fight. I’m pulling for Korean Zombie.
Barrasso: I know it’s a different weight class, but it made me think of your aspirations beyond your viral KO. Zombie was on the opposite end two years ago, suffering a heartbreaking knockout loss with one second remaining in his fight against Yair Rodriguez two years ago.
Buckley: Vicious. That was vicious. That was nasty by Rodriguez. And Zombie was winning that fight, so it’s unfortunate he got caught right at the last second of the fight. But hey, at the end of the day, Zombie is going to come in there and do what he does. He won’t be phased by that at all.
Barrasso: That is a lot like your future. You won last week’s fight with a kick that went viral, and it will always be on your highlight reel, but your goal also isn’t to be defined by one fight.
Buckley: That’s right. The goal now is to keep moving up the ladder.