There is an old saying in Boxing – Speed Kills….
If I was to ask you to name any two boxers in history, chances are you would name at least one probably both of the following names, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. Both boxers were fast with quick hands, Ali changed Heavyweight Boxing for good, his unique blend of size and speed was a first for a man big enough to be a Heavyweight. Boxers with blazing hand speed have dominated the sport, the ‘Sugars’ Ray Robinson and Ray Leonard, are also considered two of the fastest punchers in history and both, along with Ali almost always appear in lists of the top ten boxers in history, Robinson and Ali often in places 1 and 2. Most recently, Manny Pacquio is known for his fast hands, another boxer with great speed headed for the hall of fame.
So what happens when you find yourself sparring or fighting someone in the ring who is quicker than you? How do you counter act their speed to give you a better chance of winning? Before I go on, I will touch on some advice to help you get set up, so heres what not to do…..
Don’t Flinch – if you find yourself instinctively shutting your eyes when someone is throwing punches at you or turning your body around to defend your head, stop sparring and get out of the ring. I don’t like it when people cover their head and look down at the ground whilst punches rain in on their head either, always keep your eyes on the opponent. Flinching here and there is forgivable, sometimes a punch catches you by surprise(usually when you’re countered) and you might flinch or momentarily close your eyes, but if you’re doing it more often than not, you need to start again with slow sparring and more technical sparring(such as jabs only) and look to gradually build from there.
Relax – if you’re the type who goes crazy when someone hits you and you get drawn into a brawl, you wont have much luck against someone with fast hands, it is not a street fight, you might be able to kick his backside in the street, but here in the ring, you’re going to get pummeled if you lose your cool, especially against an opponent with fast hands. You must relax and keep cool whoever you are fighting but especially so against a Boxer with hand speed, we’ll get into why shortly….
Keep your gloves up and guard tight – Try not to drop your hands against a faster opponent, we’re not all blessed with amazing reflexes, they may be able to jab faster than you can move your head to slip it and I don’t want to find out whether I can until I have had some time to get used to the extra speed. Ensure your hands are OPEN in your gloves when your guard is high, don’t clench your fists in the guard position, because if your opponent punches you and you catch it with your gloves using clenched fists, there’s a good chance you will end up punching yourself and that’s not nice. There’s a reason every time you see a Boxer shadow box in the guard position their hands are open.
OK so now we’ve covered some basics you’re good to go and we’ll move on to some key concepts to keep in mind against a faster boxer. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just simply some tips I have found which works for me. You won’t always be successful, you’re going to get hit but I hope these give you some ideas to give you a better chance of avoiding punches and hopefully coming out on top.
My rule no.1 when it comes to fighting a faster opponent – Body punching. You must work the body, faster boxers tend to have a high work rate, they can usually overwhelm you just through sheer volume of punches and speed of combinations. If someone is constantly firing out punches, you must attack their body, preferably with the jab or cross to disrupt their rhythm. Body punches add up, you might land and think it hasn’t effected your opponent, but believe me even if it doesn’t appear to, it adds up and shots delivered to the body slow your opponent down. Landing body shots also effects the cardio system, so a high work rate or volume puncher will end up slowing down as a result. If you are fighting inside, speed tends to be negated somewhat as a fast boxer needs space to throw his arms so you can consider throwing hooks and uppercuts in close range. Once you have fully adjusted to their speed, you can also try getting the hooks in which we’ll cover below.
Earlier, I touched upon keeping your cool and remaining relaxed, the reason why? Because Timing beats speed, and if you’re not relaxed there’s no way you can time your punches especially against a faster puncher. Floyd Mayweather Jnr is the perfect example of this, he is quick of course, but he has handled plenty of quicker boxers in his time, Manny Pacquio being the most famous of these, the reason being Floyd has an uncanny sense of timing.
I would suggest taking at least a round to get a good look at your opponents speed, don’t go jumping in trying to out punch them in the opening round. Most Boxers have patterns, pick up on their patterns, a fast boxer for example might throw a lot of quick 1-2 combo’s, you need to see them do this, keeping a tight guard and then look to time your punches in return. If you know after the cross your opponent will step back and come again, after that cross, as soon as you feel their glove hitting yours, either fire back your cross or fire your rear hand uppercut to their body.
If your opponent is throwing a lot of quick jabs, you might prefer to block with your lead hand and throw your jab over the top of theirs(all in one motion). There is also the cross counter, which involves slipping to the outside of the jab and throwing your cross over the top. Your counters depend on the pattern you have picked up from your opponent. Some boxers can time you so they are punching you as you are drawing your hand back from punching, whilst this is great, it takes a lot of skill and practice to get to this level but this is something else you can work on.
Until you have fully adjusted to the speed, I would suggest keeping your punches straight, this means jabs and crosses, the fastest route to a point is a straight line, if you haven’t yet adjusted to your opponents speed, the chances are if you throw a hook, they are going to land their own punch before yours does simply because they are quicker than you. If you want to work the hook in, then you need to feint the cross and then throw your hook. For example, if you are a right handed(orthodox) fighter, to feint the right cross you need to throw the right cross without actually throwing it, so your body turns in position to throw the right cross, but don’t fire it,just turn your shoulder so you are in position to throw it, you can throw the right cross only half way if this helps you get into position, from there you throw your left hook, off the right cross feint. Don’t feint the cross until you have actually landed it previously during the fight, there’s no use in feinting a punch which hasn’t yet landed. Going back to my earlier point on throwing the cross or rear hand uppercut off your opponents right hand, once you’ve got used to the speed you can then slip outside of a cross and throw your shovel hook to the body.
Cutting off the ring. Efficient footwork will be necessary against faster boxers who tend to enjoy having the space to free their arms and fire off their shots so cut off the ring and take away their space. George Foreman was once referred to as ‘The Mummy’ by Muhammad Ali due to his slow plodding style of hunting you down, but Big George was a great Boxer who was great at cutting off the ring, this helped him beat many Boxers who were quicker than him and when he got older, beat Boxers much younger than him, of course it also helped he had arguably the heaviest punch in Boxing history. In simple terms, cutting off the ring is almost like mirroring your opponent, move side to side, if they move to the left, so do you, if they move right, you do too, keep them in front of you. Don’t just walk forward following them, this allows your opponent to get around the side, back up instead, so you are keeping them in front of you.
Feinting. This is used to draw a reaction from your opponent, if you can force your opponent to hesitate in any way, especially one who is faster than you, then that split second they flinch in reaction to your feint, may be enough to slow them down just enough for you to make up for the deficit in speed between the both of you. You are also forcing them to think about what you are doing, and when they have to think about your next move, that in itself will slow them down, even if it is just a little, it is often all you need in a game decided by milliseconds. To read more on how to feint, read my article here
Head Movement. This goes without saying, it will help against any particular fighter, but against faster boxers who also have a high punch output, the ability to move your head and slip punches, added to landing body shots will tire them out much quicker, punching air and missing with your punches wastes a lot of energy. Ensure you are moving your head, not only does this help your timing because many shots can be thrown off a slip, it helps to disrupt your opponents timing if they are trying to land punches on a moving target. A good example of this was the fight famously referred to as the fight of the century when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met for the 1st of their illustrious 3 battles in 1971. Ali was the faster puncher, but Frazier’s legendary trainer Eddie Futch was able to come up with a plan to ensure his smaller and ‘slower’ boxer, Joe Frazier won the fight and inflicted Ali with his 1st defeat. Frazier was constantly bobbing and weaving, moving his head to avoid Ali’s jab and famed 1-2 combo. The fight is also an excellent example of using timing to beat a faster opponent, in the lead up to the fight Eddie Futch had noted that Ali technically threw his right uppercut incorrectly, leaving himself open to the left hook in the process as it often came out wider and lower than it should. What Frazier did was time his left hook when Ali threw his right uppercut, the punch was to land on several occasions, including the one which floored Ali in the 15th round.
So those are my tips on Boxing against a faster puncher, its not going to be easy but I hope this gives you more to work with when sparring and if you want to improve your own speed, have a look at my article how to punch harder part II which covers the basics of speed training.