Who knows when boxing started? Homer describes a wild two-person slugfest in the Iliad, and people have been writing wildly about the art ever since. Some forms of boxing were staples of the Greek religious festivities, including the ancient Olympics. What’s the essence of the true boxer, that fine practitioner of “the sweet science”? Some would hold up Muhammad Ali in his prime as the epitome of the bonafide boxer; others might think of a raw toughness, like a Rocky Marciano or a Julio Cesar Chavez; others might choose the quickness of a Sugar Ray Leonard. It’s certain that our personal pick for the ‘true boxer’ says as much about us as it does about them.
But aren’t there certain elements we see again and again in the very best boxers? I think there are.
However strong or powerful, a truly confident, successful boxer must have sound training and fundamental techniques. If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve seen guys who could certainly punch as strong as a young Mike Tyson, but never made it big because they didn’t have young Mike’s clear command of technique. And notice too that it wasn’t Tyson’s power that failed him in his later years, but the loss of his technique–his ability to slip punches and to land his own when and where he liked on his opponent. The slippage also eroded his boxing confidence, until little of ‘Iron Mike’ was left.
You might catch some good press, some good money, and these days maybe even a title belt without a solid technique–but you won’t keep any of them for long.
These techniques include stance, footwork, punches, blocks, feints (fakes), and often an overall strategy for an entire fight–Ali was a master of strategy. The best strategists stick to the most basic principles of psychological warfare:
- Know your opponent as well as you know yourself.
- Be aware of any changes in your opponent, and exploit them; be equally aware of changes in yourself, and try to hide them from your opponent.
- Appear weak when you’re actually strong, and strong when you’re actually weak. (Again, Ali at his best was a master at this.)
- Remember that you’re not just combating a boxer, you’re fighting a human being who, according to their temperament, can be intimidated, threatened, enraged, or confused at the right time–all mental weaknesses which can be exploited at the right moments.
Now let’s start looking at what the masters appear to have shared physically:
This, not simple toughness or punching ability, is the real key to a great boxing style. Without footwork even the strongest puncher won’t be able to maintain enough balance to land the blow he’s hoping for; a capable opponent may see your lack of footwork and simply keep you moving, knowing that your footwork is an easily exploitable weakness. A good stance and fine footwork allow boxers to maintain balance at all times.
In a good right-handed stance, the right fist should be near the jaw to protect the face until the boxer is ready to throw his right; a left-handed stance reverses this position. The chin should be kept down, tucked into the chest/ forward shoulder at about a 45-degree angle or so. The teeth should be closed and clamped tightly to the mouthpiece; this will protect your teeth in the event of a blow to the face.
Strong Training Technique
Today’s training routines hardly differ from those of preceding times. Fighters build strength and overall punching technique by working with the heavy bag, a massive punching bag suspended from the ceiling, and improve their finer reflexes with the speed bag, a smaller bag attached to a pivot at eye level. Rope jumping, cardiovascular exercise, weightlifting, sparring (practice fighting) with partners, and long-distance running are all great training methods. Some top boxers even train at high-altitude locations to improve overall conditioning, especially for high-profile fights.
Let’s be honest, top boxers must possess an arsenal of crisp, solid punches that are coordinated with fine footwork.
Weaker punches, especially a steady straight jab, may help keep your opponent from delivering his best blows upon you and set him in position for your finest punches.
The ‘right cross’ is often a right-hander’s most powerful punch. The boxer feints with a left jab and, before he reaches the mark, drives the right fist straight out while the boxer twists his body to the left and pivots on the ball of his right foot.
The boxer throws a left jab by striking out with his left arm as the left elbow is straightened sharply. A boxer is better protected throwing a jab than any other kind of punch. The jab can also be used to block strikes.
Landing a fine left hook requires top-notch technique and timing. The boxer throws this punch by starting the left arm from the jab position until driving the hand out at about the middle of the blow and circling it in an arc.
Usually landed by the right hand, the uppercut is often best used after a good jab. The punch starts from the boxer’s waist and slams into the chin of the opponent.
Any series of strikes designed to land on the opponent in quick succession are called combination punches. This is usually performed with a flurry of different blows from different angles, such as a left jab followed by an uppercut or a right cross.
Quickly moving the hands or head to baffle an opponent is called fainting. The best boxers will test their opponents by trying various feints; this normally gives him an excellent idea of the character and abilities of the person he’s fighting
A good boxer can defend himself from almost any attack. Solid footwork and quick shoulders, hands, and torso will often protect a fighter. Defensive tactics like infighting and elusiveness matter greatly in the fighting arsenal of any top-notch boxer.
Here the boxer gets as close as possible to the opponent and lands quick, choppy punches to the face or body. Remaining close prevents the opponent from throwing long-range strikes that could end with your knockout. This method is especially helpful to boxers with a short reach; one of young Mike Tyson’s favorite techniques.
The boxer makes unprotected parts of his body as hard to hit as possible. While keeping the feet steady, the fighter moves the head from side to side, keeping the body in motion to avoid becoming a stationary target. A skilled defensive fighter can often either duck punches or elude them completely. Another part of young Tyson’s arsenal, as well as Joe Frasier’s.
Of course, there is always putting each hand close to each side of the head and holding the forearms against the body–but that one’s rather obvious.
These techniques stand as most of the hallmarks of boxing’s “best and brightest.” There is one last tactic employed by all greats: they were students of the game. They studied one another, and past fighters too. They learned from the best to be the best. So should we.