You hear it all the time:
“He won’t let his hands go!” “He’s not getting off!” and “ Fighter A is controlling the action!”
What specifically are the announcers talking about?
There is really a game within a game in each boxing match. Despite the fearlessness fighters will talk about, their caution at getting hit influences much of how they move in the ring.
If a fighter exercises too much caution they will remove any chance they have to score on their opponent. If they take too many chances they will be open to scored upon.
The difference between winning and losing lies in striking a balance between risk and reward. Before punches even land and any damage gets done you can study positioning, balance and distancing to assess what is happening between the boxers.
Watch for these factors to assess who is setting themselves up to score and who has safety on their minds.
Who is willing to cross the neutral zone?
There is a space between the fighters when they begin where neither boxer can land. In order to connect one of the fighters is going to have to risk entering that neutral zone. Noticing which fighter does that will tell you who is exercising aggression. That fighter may be countered for the trouble but if the other fighter continually gives ground then it is clear they are thinking safety first.
Who is planting their feet and committing to the punch?
A fighter who has moved into the neutral zone and throws a punch can demonstrate commitment to that strike by taking further risk of planting their feet. That action leaves the strike open but it also translates to power behind the punch. The fighter who is still light on their feet when delivering a punch is not committed to that strike and their blow will be weakened.
Who is evading but still in position to counter?
Some boxers prefer to counterpunch and let the opponent lead off. That’s a legitimate strategy but to be effective the counterpuncher must risk staying in the danger area while countering. You can’t move out of the area and still land. So though the counterpuncher may seem to be playing it safe they are really not. To be effective they have to remain in harm’s way to deliver their counter shots.
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Watch James Toney evade without moving backwards and throwing effective counters
Watch Marco Antonia Barrera quickly begin to take charge of the neutral zone first by standing his ground and countering and then by leading off. In a very short period Hamed begins to hesitate to commit which makes things worse.
Here’s a smart guide to counterpunching