If you’re anything like me, one of the things that attracted you to boxing from the outset would be the wonderful weapons and tactics woven into fighter’s styles. In any given match-up, these could be brought to bear to great effect by the victor, or prove ineffective to disastrous results for the vanquished. The oldest of boxing adages, “styles make fights” encapsulates this truth and when talking about the fighters we love (or love to hate), part of what captivates us so is the uniqueness of their arsenals, their specialties and why a fighter would prevail against some fighters and not others regardless of overall ranking. Tommy Hearns’ booming right cross, Muhammad Ali’s flicking up-jab, Floyd Mayweather’s patented shoulder-roll, Micky Ward’s liver shot, Frazier’s bob-and-weave, Hagler’s orthodox-southie switch… the list goes on…the myth of the moves gets fight-writers to scribbling effusive prose and gets hardcore fans preaching and perpetuating legend. Here are five of my favorites:
1. Head-feint: Roberto Duran
Duran could do just about anything in the ring, but he was an in-fighting specialist. To get to his office, he employed some of the best head-feints I’ve ever seen, causing his opponents to flinch or fire tentative, inaccurate punches, disrupting their rhythm entirely and allowing Cholo to move in on them in a blink where he would proceed to tear into them like a rabid dog…and do it all with a grin. There was a man who loved his work.
2. Short Right: Joe Louis
Ring magazine lists this as the best punch of the best puncher in their 100 Greatest Punchers issue from 2003. It certainly wasn’t the hardest right hand ever thrown by a heavyweight, but it came out of nowhere, was deadly accurate, and the seeming lack of leverage Joe had when throwing the punch disguised its potency. If he caught you cold it was light’s out; if you managed to stay standing, it wouldn’t be for long.
3. Lead Straight Left: Manny Pacquiao
Earlier in Manny’s career, I was not a fan of his style or this shot; Pacquiao had an unhealthy dependency on it, often overcommitted to it, and many times, looked downright clumsy throwing it. Still, what a hammer it was even then, and it’s arguable that it’s what made Manny a star. As he added polish to his power and tightened up his technique and balance through his legendary rise in weight, I must say I’ve developed an appreciation for the more sophisticated and versatile version of his straight left. No, it’s not the bomb it used to be in the lower weight classes, but it’s sneakier, stealthier, and still plenty powerful. Truly a remarkable weapon courtesy of the man Bert Sugar considers the greatest southpaw of all time, and while the right hook has become a thing of beauty in its own right, the blinding straight left is still, and always will be Pacquiao’s signature. BANG! BANG!
4. Short lead /check hook: Sugar Ray Robinson
Before Floyd Mayweather Jr. ever made this punch famous by bouncing it off poor Ricky Hatton’s noggin, the REAL greatest fighter ever carved his legacy out of opponent’s heads with this quick, powerful shot delivered with a near imperceptible twist of the hip, and to most devastating effect when used with an opponent’s momentum. The one that dropped Gene Fullmer as if he’d been shot is one of the prettiest punches I’ve ever seen--and one of the deadliest.
5. Weave and Roll: Willie Pep
Different from the bob and weave wherein a fighter remains, for the most part, in front of an opponent, The Will O’ the Wisp would take a short side step in one direction while bending slightly at the waist (the weave), draw his opponent’s fire, duck under the shot, and emerge on the other side (the roll) and counter-- or just disappear by dancing off to that side and repeat the trick going the opposite direction. Magic.
What are your favorites?