If you ever witness us train a fighter, you might get tired of hearing something that alludes to “Always finish with defense. Always use your defense to set up your offense”. In our opinion, effective defense is the key to winning and extending a fighters career. Sun Tsu recognized the importance of both offense and defense many moons ago when he said “Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack. Based on our previous comment you may be thinking, “how can a fighter win without offense?” And that is a valid thought. Barring an injury to the opponent when delivering offense (e.g. a broken hand), a fighter is not likely to win without offense. But what do we mean by effective defense? Consider this…each time a fighter throws, he or she is attempting to capitalize on a perceived opportunity to “land” a strike. But often times fighters forget that, when an opponent is in a position to land a strike, they are also within striking range. In their eagerness for a knock out, many fighters forget that the Sweet Science is about hitting and not being hit. Masters of defense like Mike Tyson, Pernell Whitaker, Floyd Mayweather, and Muhammed Ali (early in his career) understood that an opponent’s offense was more of an opportunity than a threat. Each time an opponent threw punches, they provided them with an opportunity to capitalize with a well-timed strike.
Let’s take a look at a couple of well-known fighter’s styles to see how they effectively used defense to set up their offense as there are different types of defense that can be used depending on the fighters physical attributes and game plan.
In many folk’s mind’s eye, they have a vision of Mike Tyson doing what he did “best”, knocking people out. But go back and review many of his fights before he fought Buster Douglas. Pay special attention to what he was doing just before he landed that big punch. That’s right, he was effectively using his defense to set up his offense…this is what we believe he did “best” during the pinnacle of his career. What you will frequently see is Tyson throwing a punch, quickly moving his head to avoid the counter, and then immediately “countering the counter” if you will. He does this time and time again, throwing a punch, finishing with defense, and then using this defense to set up his offense. This defense can be called “slipping and ripping” and it is best used as a short range style (see If Styles Make Fights, What Makes Styles for a deeper explanation). If you watch Tyson post Buster Douglas, you will see a decrease in the use of his defense, and what we believe to be an over reliance on his incredible punching power.
Let’s contrast Tyson’s style with Muhammed Ali’s. While Tyson was moving forward with guard high, lots of head movement, and exploding from a crouched position, Ali used a long range style as he stood tall with his guard lowered and often moved slightly back and laterally. Ali’s defense, what can be called “draw and fire”, was primarily based on foot movement and distance where he was able to effectively use his reach to parry and capitalize on an opponent’s aggression. Essentially his defense was to “touch” his opponent with a jab, “draw” them forward with foot movement, and then capitalize on their aggression by “firing” a punch using his distance enhanced by slight angles. Larry Holmes is another model of a fighter who used this strategy very effectively. The strength of the defense incorporated with this style is that it can be used to draw (bait) the opponent into a counter attack or give the illusion that this technique is being used which can psychologically wear the opponent down as he over thinks his strategy. In this sense, the opponent’s offensive attack is being altered as he may be reluctant to commit offense in fear of being countered; in addition, he may perceive an opening that is not actually there, thus increasing the opportunity for a counter attack as the opponent attempts to capitalize on this “bait and switch” technique. Finally, the defense incorporated into this style can be used to “psych” the opponent into believing a counter is imminent, when in actuality, the fighter is simply recovering. Because the opponent suspects the counter, the reduced offense results in “not getting hit”….aka defense!
Finally, in between these two styles (long range and short range) is what can be referred to as a mid-range style. Mid-range styles rely more heavily on what can be called “catching and throwing” or “catching and releasing” whereby fighters use their hands, arms, and shoulders to absorb or “catch” the opponent’s offense and then immediately “throw” back. This style is the “default” style if you will and is used as some level within short range and long range styles. Fighters that effectively employed this style include Floyd Mayweather, Julio Ceasar Chavez, James Toney and Felix Trinidad. This style and the short range style can be effectively combined in the right situations. For example, a good time might be when the opponent has limited striking abilities or is not a power puncher. Under these conditions, a tight guard with subtle movement can be more safely used to close the distance on the opponent allowing the fighter to either slip or catch strikes using areas of the arms and shoulders. Once within striking distance, tight and fast counter punches to different target areas (e.g. hooks to the head, uppercuts, body/liver shots) are available in response to the opponents strikes. Fighters can also use what we call pivot/shift techniques. This allows the fighter to change the angle of attack, and at the same time reduces the opponents counter ability by placing the fighter off the center line or firing zone while providing an opportunity to counter.
Remember, while power thrills and speed kills, intelligent and elusive defense sets the stage for aggressive offense while having the extremely important result of keeping a fighter safe and extending their career. For developing defensive and other skills, check out “I Cud’a Been a Contenda” and the follow up. We hope you enjoyed our article!