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Old 09-11-2012, 12:42 PM   #1
dyna
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Default Understanding Boxing Skill

Understanding Boxing Skill

By: Monte Cox
Thanks to Rick Farris for his many contributions made to this article

What attributes make one a masterful boxer? What classifies as boxing “skill”? Contrary to what some fans might think true skill in boxing is not athletic ability. There are two main qualifications that make one skillful in boxing; the first is the ability to think in the ring, and the second is a boxer’s sense of timing and distance. If a boxer has ring smarts and the ability to correctly gauge and judge distance then he has the potential to be a successful boxer. It is these attributes that allow him to use his physical assets and boxing style to be triumphant in the ring.
Legendary trainer Ray Arcel once asked one of his fighter’s “What is your best weapon?” The fighter replied, “My left hook.” “No”, said Arcel. The fighter thought for a moment and said, “Then my left jab, because it sets up all of my other punches.” Arcel again shook his head no. “Then what?” the fighter asked. Arcel pointed to his head to give the correct answer. “Boxing” he said, “is brains over brawn. I don’t care how much ability you’ve got as a fighter. If you can’t think, your just another bum in the park.”

Benny Leonard, the great lightweight champion of the teens and 20's, was just the type of fighter that Ray Arcel considered as one who knew how to think in the ring. “Benny Leonard was a picture,” said Arcel, “He was the one fighter I thought who could name the round with anybody. He could make you do things you didn’t want to do. If you were a counterpuncher, he would make you lead. If you were aggressive, he made you back up. He knew where to hit you. He knew all the vital spots, the solar plexus, and the liver. He knew all the spots. If you look up his record, you will see he always fought good fighters. If you didn’t know how to fight, nobody would match you with Benny Leonard.”

There is an old saying in boxing, a great boxer plays chess and the average boxer plays checkers. The ability to outthink an opponent is a timeless skill and the greatest fighters have this ability. A boxer wants to create doubt in his opponent and make him second-guess himself. A great boxer like a chess master plans his moves by setting up his opponent, takes advantage of tactical errors with pinpoint sharp-shooting, and uses combinations when his opponent is on the defensive. He positions himself where he makes his opponent think he is just out of range and catches him coming into his perfectly timed counterpunches.

A highly skilled boxer is one who is a master of distance. Joe Gans, “The Old Master”, said, “Timing and distance are the two most important words in boxing.” The well-known sportswriter of the period Ben Benjamin described Gans as a master of these qualities writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, “He rarely wastes a blow, his judgment on distance being almost perfect.”

Today, we see a lot of guys who do not really understand the skill of judging distance. They move away with the intention of getting beyond their opponents range, but in doing so, they also place themselves out of the range necessary to score effectively. Younger fans tend to identify the runner as a "boxer" style. This is not true; a boxer is a master of distance, not a marathon runner.

Footwork is important in boxing. One can spring forward with an explosive jab to close distance, or move to one side to keep an opponent from getting set. But footwork is not the only type of movement in boxing. A boxer uses movement to make his opponent miss, and give himself the opportunity to counter. There are many forms of movement in boxing besides just fleet footwork.

Moving the hands, feinting. Moving the head, bobbing and weaving, slipping and ducking by bending at the waist to remain in punching position are all effective types of movement in boxing. Jose Napoles and Roberto Duran are good examples of boxers who used rhythm and motion, without jumping around, while always remaining in position to counter.

There are many forms of defense besides using footwork to get away from punches. There is glove and elbow blocking, parrying, shoulder blocking, slipping and ducking all of which allows one to stay in effective punching range. One of the greatest exponents of glove and elbow blocking was lightweight champion Joe Gans of whom it was said, "There never was a fighter who could block with such skill and precision." Jack Johnson was called by veterans Nat Fleischer, Charley Rose and others as the "greatest defensive heavyweight" because of his skillful glove blocking. Benny Leonard previously mentioned, as well as light-heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran were also highly skilled at blocking and parrying. Some modern examples of good glove blocking could occassionally be seen in the bouts of Evander Holyfield and Oscar Delahoya. The aged George Foreman showed adept blocking and parrying skills in his second career. Famous fighters who have demonstrated good elbow blocking and shoulder rolling include Archie Moore, and more recently Floyd Mayweather Jr. All of these techniques involve upper body movement and can be used to evade punches while remaining in position to counter.
Some kids think that Muhammad Ali was a “defensive master.” When one hears this it is hard not to laugh. Ali was a phenomenally gifted athlete, but do not mistake his athleticism for boxing skill. Ali had incredible physical gifts, fantastic speed, a great chin and the heart of a warrior, but he had no defense.

Once Ali slowed down and the wheels had gone flat, all Muhammad had was that strong chin, that big heart, and his experience to rely upon. Those were the factors that made Ali great and kept him in the game after his best days. Ali was great, but he was not a great defensive boxer.

Although Ali was very popular and promoted the sport of boxing like no one before him he was also a negative influence on boxing in many ways. Ali was a one of a kind original that could not be duplicated. No one before or since Ali has had his rare combination of physical gifts. Many a young boxer who tried to mimic Ali were setting themselves up for failure.

Ali was a great boxer in that he did understand how to think in the ring, he knew how to cause doubt in his opponent’s. Ali was also a master of judging timing and distance. He was often able to slip punches with the slightest movement of his head. He had great boxing ability but fundamentally he was a flawed masterpiece. He held his hands low and he didn’t know how to block punches. He knew Joe Frazier’s left hook was coming and never did learn to block it. Ali didn’t know how to block a jab. This is evident against even slow-handed fighters like Henry Cooper and particularly in the Ken Norton fights. Ali leaned away from punches, a tactic that could be suicidal against a smart boxer who could feint. He also dropped his right hand before throwing an uppercut from the outside, which is a strict no-no. Ali made so many technical errors, but he got away with it because of his unbelievable gifts. Ali fooled people into thinking that dancing and circling is what comprises good defense in boxing, when good defense involves head movement, skillful blocking, slipping, and other tactics not simply relying on moving away.

Many mistake Ali’s rare natural ability as “running.” But a great boxer isn't a track star; he's a master of deception. He'll make things appear one way, and then will show you something different. A boxer sets traps, a runner avoids contact, and hopes that the frustrated opponent will make a mistake and leave himself open for something. Ali, it must be noted, did far more than dance and run. He was a master of timing and distance. Besides Ali, not many fighters had his natural ability to get away with his unorthodox tactics.

In contrast heavyweight champion Joe Louis was a near fundamentally flawless boxer. Louis held his hands in perfect position, kept his chin down and was never off balance. Because of the success of Ali and a misunderstanding of why he was successful, many boxing observers take Louis lack of quick foot movement to be a fault in his style. Nothing could be further from the truth. Joe was a master of distance and deception. Louis used his footwork to put subtle pressure on his opponent’s and then would take small steps back to draw his opponents into him. By pressing forward he would close the distance and then by stepping back Louis would appear vulnerable, but when his opponent’s moved in they were setting themselves up for his lethal counterpunches. Joe Louis hit you twice as hard as you were coming in.

A runner is not a true “boxer” because he does not understand the nature of boxing. A great boxer is one who understands distance and throws perfectly timed punches, whether he is at close or long range. A great defensive boxer is one who makes an opponent miss and makes him pay, and does so by staying in punching position either by stepping to the side, slipping and countering, or blocking and countering. Those tactics define the sport of boxing.

When a great boxer makes an opponent's punch miss, he follows up on his opportunity with a perfectly timed, perfectly distanced counter that not only scores, but also does heavy damage. Instinct will cause the opponent to hesitate before attempting that same move. Hesitation can be fatal to a boxer, and cost him the fight. Suddenly, the opponent has been disarmed of one of his tools, his instincts will automatically tell him not to try that again. Making them miss and making them pay. Outthinking one’s opponent. That is the essence of understanding skill in boxing.
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Old 09-11-2012, 01:16 PM   #2
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a great read, so true about Ali
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Old 09-11-2012, 03:16 PM   #3
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a great read, so true about Ali
No, it really isn't.

He's right that those who know nothing about boxing wrongly sees Ali as a defense master. But the classic thing is to then view oneself as enlighted and make the equally bad mistake of thinking Ali had no defense. "Sophmoric" would be the word for it I think.

Ali had one glaring defensive flaw and another pretty big but also pretty common flaw. The first was leaning back from punches with his hands held low, the other was rarely keeping his hands up. Many greats have been guilty of the latter to different extents.

But he also did many good things. He actually had a very good and correct defensive head movement for a HW when he used it and his footwork, balance and positioning was among the best of any HW ever. He was also very skilled at blocking and parrying when fully committed to it, which is how he survived the Foreman onslaught.

So saying he had very poor defense is as ignorant as saying he had a fantastic defence. But what bugs me is that those who, like Cox, go along the first line see themselves as educated to something most others miss when they actually only see half the picture themselves.
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Old 09-11-2012, 04:16 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Bokaj View Post
No, it really isn't.

He's right that those who know nothing about boxing wrongly sees Ali as a defense master. But the classic thing is to then view oneself as enlighted and make the equally bad mistake of thinking Ali had no defense. "Sophmoric" would be the word for it I think.

Ali had one glaring defensive flaw and another pretty big but also pretty common flaw. The first was leaning back from punches with his hands held low, the other was rarely keeping his hands up. Many greats have been guilty of the latter to different extents.

But he also did many good things. He actually had a very good and correct defensive head movement for a HW when he used it and his footwork, balance and positioning was among the best of any HW ever. He was also very skilled at blocking and parrying when fully committed to it, which is how he survived the Foreman onslaught.

So saying he had very poor defense is as ignorant as saying he had a fantastic defence. But what bugs me is that those who, like Cox, go along the first line see themselves as educated to something most others miss when they actually only see half the picture themselves.
Please explain his condition now, if he wasn't hit that much. Ali's main strength at the beginning of his career was speed, and excellent reflexes. When a guy boxes with his hands down, that is a strategy to draw the opponent in. The opponent is thinking, "Yeah boy, this is going to be easy", and as many found out it was a trap that left them open to Ali's punishing shots. As Ali aged, the speed and reflexes weren't the same and he got caught more, in a way old Ali was relying on young Ali skills, and either he stopped learning other defensive skills or refused to learn, and that is a shame.
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Old 09-11-2012, 06:17 PM   #5
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Default Re: Understanding Boxing Skill

Willie Pep is regarded as one of the greatest defensive fighters ever and he ended up with pugilistic dementia. It happens because the human body is not built to absorb repeated trauma to the head.
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Old 09-11-2012, 08:48 PM   #6
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Roy Jones Jr is another classic case of great defensive reflexes but lousy defensive technique. Tyson is another.

Vitali Klitschko is an example of partial defensive master with is well educated slip, slide and roll. But he doesn't have a parrying or ducking plan.

But Mayweather and Ward have complete defensive packages and Pacquaio's is getting better all the time.
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Old 09-12-2012, 01:46 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by dempsey1234 View Post
Please explain his condition now, if he wasn't hit that much. Ali's main strength at the beginning of his career was speed, and excellent reflexes. When a guy boxes with his hands down, that is a strategy to draw the opponent in. The opponent is thinking, "Yeah boy, this is going to be easy", and as many found out it was a trap that left them open to Ali's punishing shots. As Ali aged, the speed and reflexes weren't the same and he got caught more, in a way old Ali was relying on young Ali skills, and either he stopped learning other defensive skills or refused to learn, and that is a shame.
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Willie Pep is regarded as one of the greatest defensive fighters ever and he ended up with pugilistic dementia. It happens because the human body is not built to absorb repeated trauma to the head.
This.

Ali is not worse for wear than many other fighters. And the punishment he took late in his career is somewhat overstated. He gets called a human punching bag more or less, which is far from true. Shavers landed some truly crashing blows, and Ali's tendency to lean straight back is partly to blame for this, but who didn't Shavers hurt? If Holmes didn't have great chin and recuperation powers he could have been 0-2 against Shavers.

Ali, in fact, di pretty well afte his speed left him. He was generally underprepared and unmotivated for his fights in the latter half of the 70's, but still only suffered one beat-down, and that was against prime Holmes when poisoned by Thyrolar. Even against Berbick, when shot beyond belief, he made it competitive. And that was without virtually any speed whatsoever.

You have a lot of great boxers that have looked worse while in much better condition physically.
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Old 09-12-2012, 01:47 AM   #8
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Roy Jones Jr is another classic case of great defensive reflexes but lousy defensive technique. Tyson is another.
Say what now?
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Old 09-12-2012, 02:50 AM   #9
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This.

Ali is not worse for wear than many other fighters. And the punishment he took late in his career is somewhat overstated. He gets called a human punching bag more or less, which is far from true. Shavers landed some truly crashing blows, and Ali's tendency to lean straight back is partly to blame for this, but who didn't Shavers hurt? If Holmes didn't have great chin and recuperation powers he could have been 0-2 against Shavers.

Ali, in fact, di pretty well afte his speed left him. He was generally underprepared and unmotivated for his fights in the latter half of the 70's, but still only suffered one beat-down, and that was against prime Holmes when poisoned by Thyrolar. Even against Berbick, when shot beyond belief, he made it competitive. And that was without virtually any speed whatsoever.

You have a lot of great boxers that have looked worse while in much better condition physically.
Shavers was just a b-skilled guy throwing very wild swings.
Sometimes it would be succesful against much better guys, but that overhand right that dropped Holmes was something he shouldn't have gotten hit with.
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Old 09-12-2012, 02:52 AM   #10
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Please explain his condition now, if he wasn't hit that much. Ali's main strength at the beginning of his career was speed, and excellent reflexes. When a guy boxes with his hands down, that is a strategy to draw the opponent in. The opponent is thinking, "Yeah boy, this is going to be easy", and as many found out it was a trap that left them open to Ali's punishing shots. As Ali aged, the speed and reflexes weren't the same and he got caught more, in a way old Ali was relying on young Ali skills, and either he stopped learning other defensive skills or refused to learn, and that is a shame.
Ali his reflexes were pretty much gone once an opponent was close.
Sometimes he would a defence but it was closer to an exception than a rule.

Also didn't he need smelling salts one fight to stay in touch?
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Old 09-12-2012, 07:42 AM   #11
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Shavers was just a b-skilled guy throwing very wild swings.
Sometimes it would be succesful against much better guys, but that overhand right that dropped Holmes was something he shouldn't have gotten hit with.
But he was in both fights. Worse in the second than the first.
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Old 09-12-2012, 07:49 AM   #12
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Ali his reflexes were pretty much gone once an opponent was close.
Sometimes he would a defence but it was closer to an exception than a rule.
He stood in front of Foreman for seven rounds, making him quite ineffectual for the most part.

For glimpses of Ali on the inside you can watch the fight against Buster Mathis or Frazier III. Also, him stalking Bugner in their first fight, slipping and countering.

Quote:
Also didn't he need smelling salts one fight to stay in touch?
And?
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Old 09-12-2012, 09:02 AM   #13
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Say what now?
Didn't Tyson, like Jones, take regular clobberings as soon as his speed and reflexes diminished? As opposed to other ageing fighters who maintained competitiveness with more efficient defence like McCallum, Hopkins, Toney?

Sure, it looked sensational, like Zab Judah at his slipping and sliding best. But when you're getting dropped and rocked on a more than occasional basis, what is the use of all the fancy clean slipping?
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Old 09-12-2012, 09:19 AM   #14
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The author contradicts himself a fair bit in his examples. Deconstructing Ali who indeed did make mistakes while praising other boxers who made different mistakes

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Didn't Tyson, like Jones, take regular clobberings as soon as his speed and reflexes diminished? As opposed to other ageing fighters who maintained competitiveness with more efficient defence like McCallum, Hopkins, Toney?

Sure, it looked sensational, like Zab Judah at his slipping and sliding best. But when you're getting dropped and rocked on a more than occasional basis, what is the use of all the fancy clean slipping?
I suppose Pep and Benitez had a poor defence using your logic
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Old 09-12-2012, 09:41 AM   #15
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Didn't Tyson, like Jones, take regular clobberings as soon as his speed and reflexes diminished? As opposed to other ageing fighters who maintained competitiveness with more efficient defence like McCallum, Hopkins, Toney
If Hopkins and McCallum gave up as much as Tyson in height and reach I'm pretty sure they'd get hit more. Tyson didn't have the luxury to stay at range. Hopkins didn't look very good against Dawson for example, who could pick him off at range. Actually, Tyson never looked as plain awful tecnically coming in on his opponent as Hopkins did in that fight.

And that Tyson wasn't on the same level as the best defensive fighters of the last decades isn't the same thing as his defense being bad.

He had a very good guard and great head movement. It's there to see.

Picking apart Tyson's defense just goes to show how ludicrous these discussions become. That even great fighters had flaws is hardly the same as them not being skillful.
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