Archive for December, 2011
When I first started boxing I had a textbook amateur stance and style; hands high, left hand about six inches away from the chin, fairly upright stance and active defense with a focus on ‘cover and counter’ type rhythm. It wasn’t long before my coach pulled me aside and said that this was not going to work. He had me pull my hands to my chin, square up just a bit and start working on my head movement with immediate counters and punching while the opponent was punching. Did he know that I loved Mike Tyson!? Who knows, I’m sure I gave it away somewhere in my training. This ‘new’ Peekaboo style took me to a new level in the gym, I felt like I had a style all my own (of course this wasn’t true), I imagined I was Mike Tyson, slipping and countering, and knocking guys out!
Style is one thing, ability is another, and the ability to execute your style is even another thing. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t have the punching power of Mike Tyson, most guys don’t, even the pros. After many beat downs in the first 6 months at the gym I started to get into my rhythm and style, and in my first fight I was like a white Mike Tyson, I bobbed and weaved and came ahead with heavy blows. It wasn’t all glory, I was gassed by the end of the second round from all the aggression. I won that fight, mostly from solid defense and the ability to land clean shots when it was my turn to throw, I didn’t knock my opponent out and it wasn’t the Mike Tyson-esque performance I imagined. Which brings me to the purpose of this post, a reader writes in:
… I also noticed at the amateur level, everyone learns to box the traditional way. However, I really like the unpredictability of Floyd Mayweather’s style, or the ambush style of Sergio Martinez. I believe much of their success has more to do with their unorthodox style than just there natural ability.
What are your thoughts on fighting like the above-mentioned fighters…Sergio and Roy Jones Jr. often drop their hands, yet it seems to work for them. I don’t have amazing quickness, but would certain drills or repetition help me achieve similar working styles at the amateur level?”
There are a couple things you should keep in mind with any kind of style:
1) Your style is how you put each piece of your boxing repertoire together in action. To keep it basic, one guy likes to catch the jab and counter, the other guy likes to slip the jab and counter. This is the beginning of style. Boxing is about position, technique, patterns and rhythm. You can emulate Roy Jones or Mayweather, but you will always be you with your own style, this can be good or bad. Take what you learn and make it your own, remember you are trying to win and good fighters do what it takes to win. Style is secondary to winning. Just look at how Mayweather changed up his style right after he got hit by Mosley in round 2 of their fight.
2) Fight based on your competitive arena. Most top pro boxers started with a traditional amateur style. This is because the amateur game is based on punch connects and judges don’t like fighters who stray from the amateur style template. They think that you are ‘showboating’ when you drop your hands. I’ve never seen a guy who has dropped his hands in the amateurs win against an evenly matched opponent, the judges just won’t score for him. In the amateur game you have to play to the judges favour, you can drop your hands a bit and work an evasive style, but I wouldn’t go too far from this, unless you know you can clean up your opponent.
3) Dropping your hands has it’s purpose. The main reasons to drop the left hand into a Philly shell position or to drop both hands and be cagey are; first, you can move your head quicker based on weight distribution along your body, second, you can see punches a bit easier, third, you can shoulder roll to set up counters, and fourth, you can throw punches from outside of your opponents line of vision. If you are going to drop one or both of your hands then make sure you can back it up with real technique.
4) The best way to develop any style is to take risks in sparring and practice what you are trying to achieve. You have to take risks if you want to improve and not rely on what works all the time. You have to put your ego aside and risk losing a round or two to try something new, that’s the best way to learn.
5) Understand that distance and rhythm are critical to your boxing style. Look at Mayweather who likes to pot shot and pick opponents apart from the outside, he controls the distance and paralyzes his opponents mentally. Look at Pacquiao who moves well side to side, moves his head and the comes in with quick combos and moves a bit only to come in with a second set of combos. Look at Manuel Marquez who has slick and measured counterpunching as he waits for you to create the opening, and look at Victor Ortiz who barrages you with punches and forces openings.
All in all, your style is going to come down to your mentality, your level of proficiency with each technique, and your ability to put pieces together. Practice the techniques until you have them down and work your new style in sparring, take risks during sparring.
Having said all that, I like this guy’s video below on how to work on the Philly Shell defense.
Every now and then you’ll come across this guy, he is less skilled than you, doesn’t believe much in defense, has no patterns or combinations, and just comes straight ahead with rapid fire machine gun style punching. I’m not talking about rapid fire high volume punchers like Pacquiao or P. Williams, these guys have style and slick head movement and footwork to compliment their onslaught. I’m talking about the ignoramus who just comes straight ahead. The trouble is that he probably has a decent amount of endurance and speed, and if you are not sure how to handle this guy you might have to wait until the third round to really get his number, if you are having an off day then even that might not happen. These guys make can make you look bad as they unleash a fury upon you, and all the more so if they brought their girlfriend along to impress.
There are three ways I’ve handled these guys, not all will work the same depending on the speed of your oppenent and your current level of fitness. These are fight strategies, general strategies that you’ll find work especially well against machine gun fighters of lesser skill.
1) Tighten up your defense and crowd him. The rapid fire puncher usually has no clue how to move backwards, let alone fight moving backwards, they expect you to follow the game plan that if he is going to come ahead you will either move back or stay where you are. This is perfect for him as he can guage distance (the way he does on the bag) and use momentum to chase you down as you retreat. The other thing he loves is a brawl, it brings you down to his level and negates the finer points of your game. So this is what I recommend, adopt a Winky Wright style defense, hands high, elbows tight to your ribs, forearms like pillars, make sure your hands are slightly open and the heel of palms are turned a bit inwards to prevent uppercuts from easily finding their way (see image below, I’ve left one glove off so you can see the position of the hand).
Once you’ve adopted this posture move towards your opponent, walk into his punching range, and when he starts firing take another step closer. It helps if you can twist your body left and right to time and absorb the blows but it’s not necessary, try to make him feel uncomfortably close, if he tries to adjust the distance then get closer. Most often he will step back to gain space or catch his breath, and this is when you go on the attack. It’s very rare that I recommend leading with a straight right hand, but this is one of those times, the moment he steps back you step in and unload the straight right hand and left hook, if you connect then throw a few more shots and reset. I recommend staying close but walking to the right or left, don’t give him space, create angles. Most of all stay relaxed, and keep your eyes on his upper chest or neck, don’t let his onslaught throw off your vision.
2) Go on the run. If your opponent has poor footwork and has trouble chasing down a mobile opponent then use your lateral motion and quick in and outs to go on the run. Let him know that he is going to have to take risks to catch you, he’s going to have time you perfectly, and get you up against the ropes or in the corner to have a chance. I have most often used this strategy in the first round of a fight when my opponent thinks he is going to intimidate me with a barrage of offense and grunting. Don’t let it fool you, your skill and ability to weather this storm is the mark of a true boxer, stay calm and go on the run with tight defense, and don’t forget to return the favour a minute into the round. The beauty of knowing that you can outrun your opponent is that you can most likely catch him when you decide to go on the offense.
3) Punch when he is punching. This is a bit of Jeet Kune Do theory here, and boxing already has it built in. For the rapid fire puncher I would avoid throwing if he is in the middle of his attack, the best time to throw is when he starts.
Stay light on your feet and guage the distance and keep moving side to side, when he gets within range and is about to fire then YOU fire. There are a few rules for this though:
- Keep your head off the centre line when you throw, this means slip and jab and follow up with more shots, or slip while throwing the right hand, or drop lower and throw to the body. Don’t come in straight with your head up the middle, that is where he will be firing
- Do NOT stand still when you throw, either step in with your shot and intercept him, or step back and throw the left hook while stepping back. Don’t be a sitting duck.
- This applies all the time but be especially conscious of your chin and the non-punching hand. If you are going to walk into a fire of punching then stay tight, this is not a time to be loose and slick.
I have a quick motto that I tell myself when I’m training, it goes like this, ‘head hands feet’. I repeat this to myself during my workouts every now and then to remind myself that I should be moving at least one of these three things at all times, ideally you should have two or three moving. You’d be surprised how many good boxers don’t adhere to this and have limited their potential.
For example, ‘head’ and ‘feet’ means you are slipping punches and moving to create angles. ‘Hands’ and ‘head’ means you are slipping while throwing shots. ‘Head, hands feet’ means you are punching while moving in with your feet and slipping your opponent’s shots. Either way, the specific grouping is not important, what’s important is that your training and your boxing is dynamic! Constant motion, ‘head hands feet’. This is how to fight to be superior, and this is how to train to win.
When you look at your boxing combinations there is a lot at play: ryhthm, footwork, head movement, angles, fakes, set ups, punches, counterattacks, speed, conditioning and situation; there’s much more involved than just punching. Punching is the fun part, it’s easy. Getting to your opponent safely, striking, and then moving out of danger is the hard part, he’s not going to take it lightly that you are coming in to knock him out.
Below are the stages of a real boxing combination, all your combinations in the gym and in the ring should have elements of each part, train with these components in mind and don’t stray from them.
1) Opening rhythm. There is rhythm in boxing, it’s not a dance beat, it’s a serious of broken sections of beats that are fast, medium and slow. Your footwork, head movement and speed all set the pace for each attack. When you are in front of your opponent you are expressing your rhythm, you are faking, stepping in and out quickly (pendulum steps), rocking your head back and forth, posing, circling your hands or keeping them tight to your chin. Before your throw any punches you want to eliminate the chance that your opponent can time you coming in. Before you throw, fake with your head, fake the jab, step in and out and then back in, circle your opponent to the left and to the right etc. The last thing you want to do is stand still and come straight in, even advanced boxers tend to revert to this.
2) Jab. Most combinations start with the jab and I advise it 80% of the time, the trick is not to throw the same jab over and over again in the same way. Slip your head left then jab, slip right then jab, jab to the lower chest then to the head, jab to your opponents jab hand and then jab to the chin, throw a backhanded jab and then come through with the right hand. Mix up your jab’s power from a snap to a thrust. Read your opponent and mix it up.
3) Throw your combination. Most boxer’s rely on a set of combinations that work for them and I advise this, you need to have ‘go to’ combos that your mind will think of in the heat of battle. Believe it or not, the simplest combinations can work on the toughest of fighters. In all my boxing I have had more success with this combination than any other – jab, jab, straight right, left hook. Not to fancy, but it works. This combo alone is not good enough though, you need a lot more.
You have to understand that combinations are not just a string of punches, there can be quick breaks before you restart your attack. For example, jab, straight right, slip your head right, straight right, left hook. In this combo I applied the pressure, I then took a quick break by slipping my head to the right, in this break I am able to take an extra step forward and avoid any counters from my opponent, I then resume my attack. It’s all about rhythm again, you need to learn to throw a quick combo, move your head or step to a new angle and then restart the assualt. The biggest problem beginner and intermediate boxers have is that they only throw one set of punches at a time. Once you learn to throw a combo, move your head and feet, and restart all in one flurry your boxing will see new heights.
4) Step back and move to an angle or step out to the side. Once you are finished your combination it’s essential that you don’t just lay there, you need to step out of danger and this has to be a part of all your combos in the gym. If you don’t practice this way then you’ll be a sitting duck come fight time. The only reason to stay put after your combo is if you know you are a better inside fighter and intend to stay there. After spending energy on your combination you will need a brief recovery period of a second or two, this is your opponent’s best time to attack you and the time where you need to let him know that you won’t be easily caught. Once your combo is done, step out. If you step back make sure to immediately step to the side, don’t step straight back and stand there.
Motivation, or lack thereof is one of the biggest factors in determining how far you go in the sport of boxing. We all come to this sport with a drive, a will to be better, to dominate and to win. The biggest problem I found throughout my training was not how to stay motivated, but rather how to prevent becomeing unmotivated. Life finds ways of eating at your positive energy and there are things I believe you can do to mitigate these erosive factors. The wear and tear of training, sparring and fighting take its toll, staying motivated even when life is perfect is not guaranteed, it’s easy to give in to guilty indulgence at almost any time. In a punishing sport like boxing, what not to do becomes just has important as what TO do.
1) Keep your relationships simple. There is only so much you can do to stop the demands of a parent or spouse. Even the most considerate will draw you into their world and away from yours. Boxing requires time, energy and focus that some people will never understand. Nevertheless, the spouse or parent is the least of your worries, at least they are predictable and have most likely been in your life for awhile. What you need to be concerned with are any new women in your life, especially if you are young (between 14 – 24). They are hard to resist, rendering the word ‘no’ almost impossible to utter.
If you want your boxing to stay level, then beware of lust, love and the women that inspire it. Don’t underestimate the power of the dopamine rush they will send to your brain. Training sessions will be replaced with ‘hangin’ out’, runs will be replaced with phone calls, and pugilistic thoughts will be replaced with poetry and sexting. Remember, the line from the first Rocky movie, “Women weaken legs!” They also weaken minds. It’s actually quite easy to convince a woman of your dedication and have them understand, the problem you’ll most likely face is that you will want to spend time with them over boxing. You’ll lay your own trap and walk right into unbeknownst to yourself. Don’t give yourself too much credit when it comes to willpower with women, just stick to training hard.
2) Keep your financial house in order. Less energy spent chasing money means more energy spent in the gym, however you should still chase hard after the money you need to sustain yourself. If you are young and need money for clothes, a phone, transportation and the occasional outing then make sure you’re not dropping your dollars on frivolous things. You can probably downgrade from the pair of Jordan’s and extra bling until they discover a gene for Jordan and bling dependency. Spend only what you need and get in the habit of putting money aside if you can afford to. If you are out of school then this advice is all the more meaningful. It’s great to know that you are dedicated to boxing and don’t want work to get in the way f your ‘future’, but sometimes you need to suck it up and put in the hours, or get the job that has the hours. I spent the early part of my twenties broke doing part-time jobs and had lots of time for boxing, I can tell you that the blow to your pride and self-esteem from barely making ends meet will leave you laying around on the couch all day instead of doing roadwork. A busy person tends to stay busy, don’t beat yourself up if you had to work overtime and missed a workout. I know what it’s like to wash dishes until 5am and go home beat. Hold on to some cash and focus on needs, not wants. Keep your financial house and your independence in tact, train your ass off when you have the time, you’ll go much further.
3) Stay away from drugs, alcohol, sugar, and fast food. Do I need to say more on this? Nothing will bring your training to a halt faster than occasional use of a substance that becomes too occasional, and trust me it will, so why even bother? Your prime will be over by your mid to late twenties, and by then you’ll know if you have potential, after that you’ll have the rest of your life to ruin, why start now?
As for sugar and fast food, don’t be fooled by the fact that they’re natural substances, so is asbestos! Do some research on sugar and the hormone dopamine and it’s psychological effects. You are an addict and don’t even know it. Too much sugar will leave you wanting another late snack, it will make want to leave the gym a bit earlier than you should, and will kill you when it comes time to making weight. A good fighter should stay in good shape year round (Ricky Hatton the exception) and always be ready to fight. Get in the habit now of treating yourself right, when your fight career is over you are not gonna like being known as the fat guy who used to box.
The jab is the king of all punches, it’s versatile, it sets up the big ‘payday’ shots like the right hand, left hook, and uppercut. You can throw it while moving in almost any direction and it leaves your balance in tact. It goes without saying that having a good jab can take you from average to above average, and from good to great. What constitutes a good jab lies in how you deliver it, your ability to use it frequently to clear the road ahead, and to apply it in various scenarios to suit your purpose. The jab is a thinking man’s (or woman’s) punch.
TECHNICAL ASPECTS (the description below assumes an orthodox fighter who jabs with his left hand)
The delivery of the jab is critical for both your offense and defense, you need it to be fast and efficient to set up ensuing shots while at the same time leaving you covered against potential counters.
Here are some absolutely essential aspects on delivering the jab.
1) Keep the elbow down until the last second when you deliver the jab and extend your arm. A flared up elbow will leave your jab coming sideways (in some cases you will want this, but not for a basic jab) and it will also leave your jab a bit short, throw that jab with the elbow down and deliver it like it’s being thown down a pipe.
2) Turn the fist over. There is a time and place for the backfisted jab and the intentionally misplaced jab, in most cases however, you need the jab to come straight through to the opponent’s chin. When you turn the fist over with your pinky finger facing the ceiling your shoulder will roll up that bit higher to protect your chin. Of course, you also need to remember to tuck your chin like you’re holding a wad of cash to your upper chest.
3) Do NOT drop your fist even in the slightest upon delivery. This is the biggest mistake I see beginners make, they drop their fist an inch or two from their face before throwing the jab straight out. The only time to drop the hand before throwing the jab is when you’re faking a punch and are following up with something or if you are in a position with your hand down. To train this habit, get yourself close to a mirror, right up close, just couple feet away. Throw a hundred spontaneous jabs and keep your eyes on your punch. It should come out almost like you are punching over a table that is at the height of your neck. Do NOT drop that hand.
4) Twist your body and extend your shoulder so that your back is rounded on the jab side, you want to stretch your shoulder blade forwards. Just doing this will put your shoulder to your chin when you finish the shot to give you extra coverage.
5) Do not move the right hand when you jab, it should be planted on your face with your upper arm resting comfortably on your ribs. A lot of fighters pull a ‘shot gun’ pose when they jab, it’s easy to catch these guys with the left hook. Some fighters open up their arm near the ribcage and are susceptible to a counter left uppercut. Don’t give anything away for free, you can prevent a lot of shots from scoring simply by keeping the opposite protective hand in position. To train this you need to spend time shadowboxing and thinking about the non-punching hand when you throw combos. Bodily self-awareness is critical in boxing.
6) For most jabs your arm should be loose and relaxed, and the punch should snap without telegraphing. The best way to train this is to train in front of a mirror and watch yourself for telegraphing cues. Your hand snaps and the rest of you is calm like an unrippled pond. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t moving the rest of your body, it just means that you are in a rhythm and do not have any fist pumps or tensing up that gives you away. In your mind you are thinking “stay loose, maintain rhythm, and fast delivery” That being said, not all jabs need to be loose and snappy, sometimes you need to stiff arm them just a bit to drive somebody back, the key is to apply force without leaving your arm extended for longer than a millisecond.
In amateur boxing, MMA, and Thai Boxing, footwork is an often overlooked aspect of a complete fighter’s arsenal. When viewing two fighters, it becomes apparent rather quickly who has superior footwork, and how that will affect the outcome of a fight. In simple terms, solid footwork will take you where you want to go, and take you away from where you don’t want to be quickly and effecitvely. This allows you to set up your strikes and counters, it allows you to re-attack quickly, it allows you to adjust small distances and create angles, and it saves you from having to stand and trade with an inferior opponent. All of these are top notch reasons to take your footwork very seriously!
The first way to improve your footwork is to focus solely on footwork drills and practice during training. It’s not uncommon for a good fighter to spend 15-20 minutes a workout focused on footwork.
Second, incorporate active footwork into all aspects of your training such as bag work and sparring. Spend rounds moving a bit more than usual. Switch up from an offensive mindset, to a counter-punching mindset, to a defensive mindset and watch how your footwork changes.
Third, watch pros in your sport during their fights, most notably boxing. Watch Roy Jones, Mayweather, Ali, Tyson (for inside footwork). Study Anderson Silva and GSP. Notice what they do, and incorporate it into your training.
Fourth, Learn from a variety of disciplines such as Muay Thai, wrestling, fencing, and other martial arts. The top MMA fighters of today such as A. Silva and GSP, have primarily adopted a boxing style of footwork with components of Muay Thai and Wrestling for various transitions.
Fifth, train plyometric and agility drills consistently to improve your capacity to sustain a high pace.
Check out my Footwork video on my Youtube page – www.youtube.com/user/tripleVVV3
In this article, I’m going to talk about the long term goals of your training so that you can have a perspective on what you want to accomplish this week, for your next fight, and for the toughest fight you’ll ever have. Like most of us still in the fight game, we haven’t reached our full potential just yet, and the positive aspect of this is that we have a lot to look forward to in terms of work to be done, skills to be had, and fights to be won.
The problem however, is that fighters don’t have standard metrics to measure themselves against, they don’t really know their current level or what’s possible. It’s often a guessing game. If you are a 100m sprinter aiming for the olympics, then you know that you have to pull off sprints somewhere under the 10.50s mark if you want to be remotely competitive. If you are an aspiring pro basketball player, then you are measured by points scored per game, or rebounds per game, free throw percentages, your vertical jump height, your actual height etc… coaches and scouts can get get a pretty good idea of what this will translate into at the professional level.
Having said that, your goal as it pertains to the fight game is twofold:
1) Start to define these metrics for yourself through your own experience
2) Keep an open mind as to what you are capable of and the work you are willing to put in (don’t sell yourself short)
In boxing, you don’t always know for sure what it takes to be a champion. You are only as good as your competition and it’s hard sometimes to even know how good they are at the international level. Even if you’ve won a solid amateur title it still comes down to how good the competition was and how you performed on that day. And unlike a lot of sports like tennis, basketball, soccer, hockey you can’t afford to play hundreds or thousands of matches to figure out what works. In the fight game, that’s just a bit too much wear and tear.
So, ask yourself this:
1) How can I take the guess work out of what it takes to be a solid fighter at all levels. How can I tell now if I will be good before I take a beating that wakes me up?
2) What’s it going to take in the gym to become the best fighter I can possibly be in the long run?
The most important thing you can do is focus on what you can control, and the answer to both of the above is threefold:
1) Set goals
2) Benchmark your training
3) Continuous improvement
I’m sure you’ve heard the sayings, ‘the harder you work the luckier you get’ or ‘the more you sweat the less you bleed’, you need to turn those sayings into hard data, something you can measure, and we’ll start with the end in mind. Ask yourself, what you would need to do, how would you need to train to beat Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Roy Jones jr. in his prime, or Bernard Hopkins in his prime. Your goal as a fighter is to build up to that level of training. There is a direct correlation between how you train in the gym and how well you do in fights, even if you are the type of fighter who has mental issues when you step in the ring for the real deal.
A fighter like Floyd Mayweather throws around 5,000 – 6,000 punches per workout, guys like Pacquiao often perform 40-50 rounds of total work in the gym on any given workout. Let’s say you typically run 3-5 times a week, and when you hit the bag you usually do 6 rounds, with 3 on the speed bag, 3 on the double end, 3 for shadowboxing, along with some padwork, burpees, ab work, weight training etc. These are decent workouts, but the hard truth is that they’re not enough to beat Manny or Floyd. To be successful, you have to be extremely critical and self-confident at the same time.
Unfortunately, we are all limited by our current level of fitness and ability (nobody expects you to beat Floyd tomorrow), plus we have limited time (you may need to work or go to school full time to get by), motivation is a factor (getting motivated for an amateur show is not the same as fighting for $20 million in front of the whole world). I understand that this plays into your life, which means that even more so you have to take advantage of the time you have.
Let’s talk about what it’s gonna take.
1) Set Goals: Take serious note of what you are doing now, how many times a week are you in the gym? How many rounds do you do on the bag? How many punches do you throw per round (video yourself over 4 rounds to get a feel)? How many miles a week do you run? How often do you perform sprints? How many burpees can you do in 5 mins? How fast can you run the 800m, 400m, 100m over multiple sets with a minute rest? How often do you spar? How many total rounds do you perform each workout?
2) Benchmarking: Set standards for yourself that indicate whether you are in shape for your current level. I know I’m in decent shape when I can bust out 100 burpees in 5 minutes anytime, anywhere. I also know I’m in decent shape if I can run the mile in around 5 mins 30 seconds (of course I have other measures, but those are examples). Start to set standards for yourself in anything that you can think of. Measure by total rounds, speed, punch output, number of times per week etc…measure what you can control, and take advantage of what you can control. When you get ready for a fight, you build up to these measures and maintain them for a couple weeks before the fight. You can’t keep training the same way you always have, you have to constantly look for weaknesses and opportunities to improve in your training.
3) Continuous Improvement: Gradually increase your output, frequency, intensity and start to train the way you would need to in order to beat Manny, Floyd, a prime RJJ, B-Hop etc…add rounds to your workout, add punch volume, punch intensity, more sprints, more rounds of sparring etc. Do it one piece at a time, one brick at a time, don’t try to knock it out all in one month. One thing to keep in mind is that you will need to have breaks and down times, and this is where benchmarking comes in again. As you get better over the long run, you set your benchmarks higher so you know what you need to get back to in order to continuously elevate your game. 6 rounds on the bag per workout might have been good in your first 3-4 fights, but your gonna need to step it up to 10 eventually, or make sure that those 6 are at a hard pace where you crank out 250 punches per round. The specifics are different for everyone, but I think you know what I mean.
This endeavour should take years, and that’s the whole point of the time you are investing, to realize your full potential as a fighter, as an athlete. Your coaches can help you, they can guide you, your stable-mates can motivate you, and work with you, but it’s ultimately up to you to take it to that level. Nobody is going to hand it to you!