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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h227sP9Gc-I&feature=related

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/h227sP9Gc-I&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

Watch James Toney evade without moving backwards and throwing effective counters

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P15YDmF2PU0&feature=related

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.

Further Reading

 

Here’s a smart guide to counterpunching

http://www.expertboxing.com/counter-punching/10-counters-for-the-right-hand

If professional boxing is about doing damage then it will be crucial to have a mechanism for assessing power.

The amateur judges get off easy in this regard in that they do not have to evaluate damage or power. A landed shot counts, period regardless of whether it was a Joe Louis-knocking-out-Schmeling shot or if it was a punch that wouldn’t crack an egg.

Power is easy to gauge when a boxer is knocked off his or her feet or when a head snaps back or when a fighter loses balance after taking a blow. How do you measure it when none of those things happen?

Again it is important to have a clear criteria and not just a “i-know-it-when-see-it feel.

Here’s a basic series of questions  judges must ask of themselves when it comes to evaluating a punch:

Question 1 Did it land?

Question 2 Did it land with the knuckles of the glove?

Question 3 Was the wrist and arm in alignment?

Question 4 Was the body set and were the mechanics in flow?

Question 5 Were the feet planted and balanced?

Does this mean that only properly thrown fundamental punches have power?

Not necessarily– but the laws of body mechanics will tend to point in that direction. When a fighter gets sloppy with wide swinging shots that pull the fighter away from the body’s center force is reduced. Sloppy shots can land and certainly hurt but not as much as when the punch was properly executed. A fighter off balance will not generate the same power as one that is mechanically balanced.

Watch George knockout Michael Moorer at 2:16. The punch at first looks underwhelming until you watch the trajectory and the body mechanics behind it.

And here’s a clip of some backyard boxing. Notice how often these guys land but how little damage it does.

Further Study

Watch this video on power punching from Fight Science. Notice despite the different styles the similarities in the form when it comes to generating the most power.

Click here to read the rest of this series.

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We have our criteria for scoring:

1 Clean Punching

2. Effective Aggressiveness

3. Defense

4. Ring Generalship

And last time we went over the fundamentals and to some degree the body mechanics of the four punches. How hard can this judging thing be? I mean, all you have to do is see who lands more and with more damage, write it down and hand your scorecard to the referee at the end of the round, right?

If you’re lucky and the two boxers are nice enough to cooperate and give you an easy round. The problem is fighters make things hard.

Consider these questions:

How many jabs equal a cross?

What about body shots that do little damage–how are they scored?

What About aggression that does almost nothing?

What about light jabs that land?

What about sloppy punches that land?

Ugh…there are no absolutes that answer these questions. Now, you can be smug and say “I know it when I see it.” or “You can just tell.” or “That’s what judges get paid the big bucks for.”

There are other stumbling blocks like evaluating power vs. quantity, lack of activity, an abundance of activity and a wide disparity in fighting styles.

When rounds are close, sublime and complex, judges need to be able to have a clear rationale for their judgment. Not everyone will agree but a judge should have a very clear rationale for why his or her score is rendered.

I believe the way to do this is to breakdown the actions of the fighters to their most fundamental components and make a very close examination of their body mechanics. What they do, how they do it and the effect it has should determine what the score should be.

We can do this by making a close assessment of the fighters’ styles and what they are attempting to accomplish and how they are succeeding at that.

Watch round 4 of Ayala v. Tapia. It is very close–how would you call it and what criteria would you site?

This program is going to examine a group of pro boxers who competed throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s.  Hector Camacho Sr., Greg Haugen, Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad were all great fighters and many of them faced each other. They all had different styles, some more similar than others. We can look at what fighters had success and failures in this group and through that process examine the bio-mechanics that made them successful. it will be an excellent means to illustrate the minutia that goes into winning a close  round.

A quick sketch of the fighters:

Hector Camacho- Speed, Defense, Suspect Power

Julio  Cesar Chavez– Will Take 3 to Land 1, Power

Greg Haugen- Busy, Unsophisticated, Tough, Persistant

Pernell Whitaker—Speed, Defense, Suspect Power

Meldrick Taylor- Speed, Power, Too Much Heart For His Own Good?

Oscar De La Hoya- Straight ahead with power and speed

Felix Trinidad–Similar to DLH but maybe with less versatility?

What variables on the scoring criteria and the idea of damage come into play when these fighters are matched?

Stay tuned.

Further Reading

Check out this interesting article analyzing Mike Tyson’s speed and style.

http://coxscorner.tripod.com/tyson.html

Click here to read the rest of this series.

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Wondering where I’ve been?

No?

Well, you could pretend.

I’ve gassed up the virtual Cadillac and have been touring the country visiting friends blogs. here’s a road map in case you missed any.

Gar Haywood’s crazy interview on Murderati

Elizabeth White’s great book review site where I blog on what’s wrong with most fight scenes

Joe Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publishing where I wrote about risk and the mystery writer

Amy Alessio’s Reading and cooking blog where you get to read about my vegeatarian Buffalo chicken wing recipe

Ebook and Kindle Reader Blog where I wrote about reviving the tired boxing metaphor

Crimespree Blog on how to write a novel in an hour a day

The ABC Basset Rescue Blog where I wrote about the importance of basset celebrations

Dana Cameron was nice enough to host me on the Femmes Fatale blog. i wrote about what people don’t know about boxing

LJ Sellers hosted me on the Crime Fiction Collective on punching up your fight scenes

Deb Baker had me at Cozy Chicks where I wrote about dogs in mysteries

Sueann Jaffarian was nice enough to host my favorite TV personality thoughts on Steve McGarrett at Criminal Minds

If you have a blog and would like me to come visit just let me know!

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Have you ever wondered why there’s really only four punches in boxing?

There’s the jab, the cross, the hook and the uppercut.

Sure there are variations–the 3/4 hook, the hook that comes in an uppercutting fashion etc but these are really variations on a theme.

There are four punches for good reason.

The body that is trying to impart damage while reasonably protecting itself from damage can really only do it these four ways within the rules of boxing.

I used to be a karate instructor and there were 100’s of variations of strikes, thrown in different stances, with the hand in different positions and in innumerable motions. Why doesn’t that happen in boxing?

Well, for one reason the boxing glove doesn’t allow for different hand formations and there is also a scoring of the glove that limits strikes coming from the knuckle area. More importantly, though, is that bio-mechanically other ways of throwing strikes leave the body way too vulnerable in the ring. The boxing stance is the way it is not because it is aesthetically pleasing but because through trial and error it results in the percentage balance of risk and reward.

The boxing stance with one foot slightly forward, the body turned at a slight angle with the knees bent limits the targets for the opponents. It also positions the body to throw punches efficiently and balances the body for movement, striking and slipping. The guard is high with depending on your view positions thumbs at the temples and elbows in to protect from body shots. Most arms are not long enough to protect the head and the body at the same time so a fluid movement between the two areas is required.

Every time a punch is delivered the boxer’s body becomes vulnerable. The punch needs to be recoiled as fast as possible to reduce this vulnerability. A fighter obsessed with safety will fail to commit to a punch and instead will focus on recoiling the jab too much. This will make the jab ineffective and have the reverse effect on the fighter’s safety because now the opponent can step in to counter the weak jab.

A cross travels a farther distance and though more powerful also makes the head of the striker more vulnerable to the powerful hook. The strike has to be in closer to make it work which means they have to cross through a danger zone to position themselves to do it. Coming means rolling the dice on getting caught. When you hear commentators say that a fighter isn’t getting off it may not mean that they are unwilling to punch and may mean that they are not willing to risk getting the position to throw the cross.

The very first knockout (and some of the others) shows well executed crosses.

The hook requires even closer positioning and because of its arc it endangers the striker even more than the cross. Without proper body mechanics it can turn into an arm punch. it may make a loud thud in the ring but that has more to do with it landing on the flat part of the side of the head. If the shifting of bodyweight isn’t behind the hook it is not that fearsome of a punch.

(Joe’s hook comes at :29)

To throw the uppercut a fighter has to be almost chest to chest with an opponent. Otherwise the face is exposed. In tight the risk is minimized.

This is all Boxing 101 and important to fighters. It is also crucial for judges to understand when it comes to evaluate what is happening in front of them. When a fighter isn’t throwing a cross it may be because the opponent is controlling the ring and their counters are controlling the action. An arm hook may land but shouldn’t be given the weight of a good all-body hook. A jab that paws, doesn’t snap and only reaches the opponent’s gloves isn’t a scoring blow even if the loud “thwack” that the fans cheer makes it seem so. And uppercuts inside thrown without the benefit of a bending of the knees and twisting of the torso are merely arm punches that don’t account for much damage.

Sure, boxing is simple but the better word for it is elegant. Elegance connotes a beauty within the simplicity. A well delivered punch is elegant and appear uncomplicated but there are many micro units of it that add up to it’s elegance.

More importantly, a well delivered shot does damage.

For other blogs in this series  click here.

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I spend a lot of time thinking about boxing. I’m a professional judge and I love the game but I also am entirely fascinated with the sport, psychology and science behind it.

Probably the biggest complaint about the sport is inconsistent judging. When the wrong guy gets awarded the decision it is bad for the sport and heart-breakingly unfair to the wronged fighter and his entire camp.

Unlike other sports boxing scoring is in the subjective hands of the three men and women paid to evaluate it. We have a criteria and are supposed to score bouts based on the famous factors that Harold Lederman let’s us know about before each bout:

1. Clean Punching
2. Effective Aggressiveness
3. Defense
4. Ring Generalship

Intuitively these criteria make fine sense. In practice they aren’t much help.

Why?

I remember the classic Bill Cosby comedy album “Why Is There Air.” At one point he talks about teaching kids math. It goes something like this:

Teacher: “Okay class, 1 + 1 +2, got it?”

Class: “Yay! 1 + 1 = 2!”

Teacher: “Got it? You sure?”

Class: “Yes…but one question?”

Teacher: “Yes?”

Class: “What’s a 2?”

Clean punching, effective aggressiveness, defense and ring generalship, like a 2, are hard to objectively define. Like the supreme court’s view on pornography, you may know it when you see it, but that is far from a criteria that would stand up to the scientific method.

Professional boxing is about damage. It may not be polite, it may not be how we all want to see our artful science but it is about damage. The four criteria are about doing damage or setting oneself up to do damage.

In this series of blogs we’re going to discuss damage, how fighters do it and how it is set up. We’ll look at the fundamentals of boxing like footwork, balance, body mechanics, movement and style…all as they pertain to doing damage.

This is about having a sound rationale behind your scoring. I think it is important that even though we may know it when we see it we must also be able to verbalize, understand and make others understand why a round and, ultimately a fight, is scored the way it is.

Hope you’ll join me.

Floyd Mayweather on clean punching. Look how easy it is to see and score these shots.

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Mike Tyson vs. Trevor berbick and effective aggression.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/0OP8nr81daA&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

Willie Pep on defense and ring generalship

Further Reading

“You Be The Boxing Judge.” Tom Kaczmarek

“Professional Boxing” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_boxing

For other blogs in this series  click here.

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Today as I guest post over at Amy Alessio’s

http://amyalessio.com/

and don’t forget to enter to win the Kindle Fire!

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I’m guest blogging today.

Come visit me at the Crime Fiction Collective

And don’t forget to enter to win the Kindle Fire!

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I haven’t sparred in a couple of months because of travel,my trainer’s schedule, judging fights and vacation. I’ve been working out but I haven’t been sparring.

Sunday I got back into it and felt awful.

I was sore from a Friday boxing workout and that might have made the joints creakier than usual but I think it had more to do with muscle memory. Sparring felt foreign, not at all natural and my movement felt clunky.

I figured the first round would warm me up.

It didn’t.

The toughest blow wasn’t a head or body shot it was to the ego. I could tell my trainer was holding off. He always brings it to my ability but I could tell even if he didn’t say much that he was being careful.

I went straight back. I left the jab out. I gave ground too easy. I clinched stupidly.

I’m glad i did it. I’ll be better next time if not too much time goes by which is a big if.

My shoulders tightened up bad that night which also told me how tense I was.

I hope this isn’t the week Holyfield calls.

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Okay, you’re threatened by an imposing character. it is going to get physical.

You have no choice.

But your opponent is a talker and makes the mistake of leaving himself open for one clean shot.

Where do you strike?

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