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  • Ian Bailey

A hierarchy of defensive skills for boxers of all levels

A hierarchy of defence: The first defensive techniques a boxer will become proficient in, are reactive hand and arm techniques. This is when an opponent is in range, and the boxer sees a punch coming, and reacts with a block or parry of some kind. For a more experienced boxer, this stage of defence becomes a last resort. Why do most of the boxers with the best defences in the world not have both hands up high? Because they don’t rely on blocks.


The next stage of development will be when a boxer becomes proficient in reactive foot and head movement. This is when a boxer sees and attack coming and reacts by using movement to avoid the punch. Although not as risky as relying on blocks, a boxer who has to ‘react’ to everything their opponent does, with movement or otherwise, is relying on them being significantly faster than their opponents, which for most boxers, isn’t always possible. There are anomalies of course, Roy Jones Jr being a great example, in his prime, he would react to avoid his opponents attacks with cat like reflexes that not many human beings could match, but when he entered the latter part of his career, and was reacting a split second slower, he started to get beaten and knocked out by men who would have struggled to touch him in his prime.


The next stage, ‘constant change of foot, head, hand position, level and ring generalship’ is when a boxer starts to make it hard for an opponent to establish the position and distance they want, and require, to attack effectively. Ring generalship ultimately means that a boxer is aware of their position in the ring, relative to the ropes and corners, thus always ensuring they have room to move in more than one direction when an opponent attacks. Constant movement means that although a boxer will still have to react to an opponents punches often, the attacking boxer will find it much harder to ‘set their feet’ to launch sustained attacks and effective combinations.


The final stage in this hierarchy includes skills possessed by the most defensively astute boxers. Distance management means that a boxer controls the most influential factor in the success of an attack in any striking martial art.  If a boxers opponent does not have the distance they require, they cannot throw an effective punch. Counterpunching will make an opponent hesitant to attack. A great defence can never be totally passive. ‘Leaving safe openings’ means that a boxer can at times control which punches their opponent chooses to throw by leaving certain openings and then reacting when the opponent attempts to throw the corresponding punches. Finally, to neutralise an opponents best punches by moving in a particular way, or even by using counter punches (as Gervonta Davis did recently against Ryan Garcia) will force opponents to have to switch to ‘plan b’ and rely on punches that will inevitably present much less danger.


Some of the boxers who fulfil all stages of this hierarchy, and have demonstrated it at the highest level, are, amongst others; Terrence Crawford, Floyd Mayweather, Pernell Whittaker, Guillermo Rigondeux, and Sunny Edwards. Boxers looking to work on their defence, get on YouTube and type in these names!

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